Monday, August 20, 2012

A Brief History of Hookah Pipes

For centuries, Hookah smoking has been looked upon as an art form that's been passed down from generation to generation throughout the Middle East. These water pipes were quite common during the 17th century, frequently found in coffee shops along the narrow streets of the region. Since this time, the Hookah Pipe, also known as a Narghile or Narghila, Shisha or Sheesha, Water-Pipe and/or a Hubbly Bubbly (all depending on your location on the globe), has inspired many great discussions. Such topics included politics, religion and everyday common events as the pipe was set in the center of a gathered group and the attached hose is passed from smoker to smoker, all while partaking in some interesting conversation and sharing some all-around good times.
It's believed that the very first Hookah Pipe design was crafted out of a coconut shell in either India or Persia, and then quickly spread through the rest of the Arab world. But it was in Turkey that the Hookah was given some finishing touches and found its final form, not really changing at all in the 350+ years since. When the 20th century arrived, the Hookah Pipe was such a fashion icon that upper-class Turkish women were photographed with their pipe, making it a significant status symbol in the process. Western artists captured the Hookah essence by adding its exotic image in their Oriental paintings.
The Hookah uses all five senses. First, it's visually appealing as a collectable piece of art. Touch is obvious through operation of the pipe. Taste and smell are satisfied through smoking, and the audible component is found in the gurgling water. Such a combination is nothing short of pleasing and relaxing to the masses that gather around the world to partake in Hookah smoking.
What did they Smoke in Hookah Pipes?
Shisha (also referred to as Tombac, Gouza, Moassel or Sheesha) was and still is the premier choice of Hookah smokers around the globe. This special blend of dark Shisha leaves, fruit pulp, molasses or honey, and glycerin contains only 0.5% nicotine and no tar. Shisha flavors have grown to include some interesting blends like Banana Split, Cherry Cola, Double Apple, and Pina Colada. Classic favorites like melon, Mango, French Vanilla and Tropical Pine will always have a loyal following. Many Hookah smokers will occasionally opt to add ice, fruit juice, milk, or even wine to the water in the glass base to alter the texture, taste or effect of the smoke.
Recent years have seen a growing demand for Hookah Pipes in the US, as a new restaurant at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas features a Hookah smoking lounge for gamblers who simply want a break. Both coasts have seen an increase in demand for Hookah Pipes, as clusters of hookah smokers can now be seen in Chicago and South Beach nightclubs, as well as outdoor California coastal cafes.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Hookahs Coming of Age in America

A hookah is an elaborate and extravagant water pipe. At its barest, a hookah consists of a base, stem, hose and clay bowl. A hookah is used to smoke Shisha: flavored tobacco mixed with molasses. After securing the stem into the base as well as the hose and clay bowl into place, shisha is packed into the clay bowl with a lit coal atop it, the hose is then used to pull and taste the flavorful shisha.
The water pipe (hookah) idea originated in India. But not fully developed, then it was only made of coconut shells. When the concept of hookah was fully developed it branched off to Iran, where it then spread fast throughout the entire Arabian region. Finally reaching Turkey, the hookah took off like a wild fire. There, the Nargila (as they call it) became one of the oldest and deeply rooted traditions in Turkey, hitting its highest point of popularity during the time of Murat II.
It was found fashionable for upper class women of the 19th and early 20th century to smoke hookah, many even had themselves photographed with it. Hookah was used as a social activity, much like alcohol or food in other cultures; hookah was their social environment creator and enhancer. With time, however, Hookah became less popular as cigarettes and cigars became more accommodating.
Now as the evils of cigarettes are more apparent, the hookah is becoming more and more popular due to its complete lack of tar, water filtration and several other suspected health advantages over cigarettes. Today hookah is smoked in groups usually no less than 2 at hookah bars, lounges, at home, or even on the beach. The recent popularity has caught on like a wild fire to the college community. Students find the social environmental advantages of hookah to be more attractive than alcohol or cigarettes previously favored advantages, with fewer disadvantages e.g. hangover, harsh cigarette smoke.
With the increase in demand, hookahs which aside for the 70's had never infiltrated the American culture now had to be supplied not only to immigrants from Middle Eastern countries but to Americans as well. Over 300 hookah bars have opened up in the past 5 years in the United States.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Different Hookahs What To Expect

With all the hookah choices available today, it's hard to tell exactly what you're getting. Sure pictures are nice, but does that really tell you what you want to know? Lucky for you, here's a bit of information to help you decide.
Egyptian hookahs are the traditional sort, the kind you'll see in the authentic hookah bars. They're usually tall, around three feet, elaborate, and offer an exceptional smoke. They're nice pieces to have around the house, but they're not too easy to move around, so if portability is a concern, you might want to consider other options.
Then there are Lebanese hookahs, ornate pieces that are usually hand-crafted set these apart from most. Shiny, yet elegant, they are a definite conversation starter. They have all the tassles you'd expect, and bases wrapped in decorational metal work, often with jewels adoring the bass. You can also expect colored inlay in the stem.
Modern hookahs are a culmination of old-world style and new-world convenience. With portability as a key factor in most, they will fit your on-the-go lifestyle. On the upper end of the modern spectrum, you'll find larger hookahs, some rotating, with snazzy, and often space-aged looking stems and bases. They're not as common at cafes, but for use at home, they're a definite contender.
Turkish hookahs are a breed of their own, ranging from very small to extravagantly large. They come in all shapes, as well, from simple and down to earth, to elaborate and absolutely breath-taking. They're a group hookah, many coming with two or more hoses, so it makes sharing easy. You're likely to see these nowhere else than in the comfort of your own living room.
Syrian hookahs are arguable one of the best. Seemly and wee-crafted, they offer smoke that is almost incomparable. They're strong, stylish, and best of all, quite uncommon, which makes them a crowd-pleaser. The attention to detail is astounding, and so is the pleasure you get from using them.
Last but not least comes the Bohemian variety, which are on the larger side, but very well-constructed. They, more often than not, featuring an interesting threading system, with the stem literally screwing on to the stem. Not only does this make them far more stable, but also guarantees virtually no leakage, so you're getting all the smoke you want. They have a certain charm to them, making them unobtrusive yet savvy all at the same time.
So next time your shopping, see where these hookahs come from. Think about what's important to you in a hookah, and read this article. A little attention to detail saves a frustrating experience later on.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Best Hookah You'll Ever Have

People have gone to great lengths to make the ultimate hookah, but it's really no further than your local market. Pick up some juice, apple, grape, fruit punch, any mix you want or can think of. While you're there, pick up some produce to, a small melon, an orange, lemon, lime, apple, orany of the softer, smaller fruits will do. You might as well pick up some ice, too, while you're at it, unless, of course, you have an ice maker at the house.
Now unpack your hookah, pack the bowl, or if you're feeling particularly industrious, carve the apple from the middle out into a cone, leaving the outside and the skin intact. Instead of using the porcelain bowl, use the apple. Just sprinkle some tobacco in it and proceed as normal, foil, coals, etcetera. Next, empty the juice you bought into the case to the point where you'd normally fill it with water. If you think it might be too strong, you can dilute it to desired strength. For those of legal drinking age, you can put cheap liquor in the base for an added buzz, but beware, it is intoxicating, so make sure you're not driving.
Slice up your fruit, drop a couple of pieces in the base, and throw some ice in there as well. Now assemble it, light it up, and prepare to be impressed, though, just as a forewarning, it may take a few sessions to get it just right.
Some of our favorite combinations are V8 Pina Colada with coconut shisha (think tropical), fruit cocktail with fruit punch and a slice of orange, grape with grape or apple or both and a slice of lime or lemon, and last but not least, V8 Pina Colada mixed with rum and coconut shisha.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Hookahs? What Is The Allure?

Any public hookah smoker knows the price you pay for smoking a waterpipe at Starbucks. While many restaurants and cafes are slowly coming around and allowing hookah smokers to smoke their hookahs on their porches and dining patios, one problem still exist. That problem is the few, the unintelligent, and the ignorant.
Sure, hookahs resemble devices used in the 1970's for marijuana consumption but they are by no means a "bong". Yet despite their artistic evolution, continual quality enhancements, and overall westernization, the inevitable ignoramus is bound to come up to the relaxing hookah smoker and say "Hey, I had one of those in college."
As amusing as the comment is the first time, then the second time, thereafter it becomes insulting rhetoric. Followed by the statement of the ignoramus, you are then inclined to express your innocence by declaring the hookah's sole purpose as being for tobacco use only. In fact, according to a survey conducted by my company, 99.7% of anonymous hookah smokers surveyed online stated they never use their hookah for anything other than smoking shisha (hookah tobacco).
After explaining such things to the self amusing hookah crasher, the question that always comes next is, "Your not smoking pot? Then what's the point? What does this shisha do to you?"
What's the point? When asked this question it is strongly advised that you refrain from your initial instinct of using your lighter or hookah hose aggressively and instead, reason with the uneducated creature.
Hookah smokers are a different smoking bread than what is commonly expected. The average hookah smoker generally prefers intellectual conversations and mild social scenes rather than the ever noise producing clubs. But don't think you are smoking among angels. Hookahs are also great additions to the night life. The allure of the hookah is its smooth smoke producing and social benefit. Aside from a stray ignoramus, most people that walk up to you while hookah smoking in public areas are generally compatible to your personality which is great for meeting new people.
Hookahs offer a small unseen private club much like that which is experienced by avid cigar smokers. As you show off your apparatuses in public, you will slowly attract a network of hookah smokers that can enhance your overall experience in owning a hookah. And that is the allure of hookah smoking.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Hookah Its All In The Heat

Hookah smokers will often sit around and talk about the greatest shisha (hookah tobacco) flavors and brands that exist. Then, they will move onto hookah sizes and styles from large to small, cheap to unaffordable, colors, hoses, and more. Yet, the most frequently overlooked piece of the hookah smoking experience is in fact what makes the whole thing work. The coal.
Once you sprinkle your shisha/hookah tobacco into your bowl and wrap a nice layer of aluminum foil around it, you will then place this important item on top. This item known as "the coal" will transfer its heat down through the tobacco which will ultimately fill the base with smoke and end up (momentarily) in your lungs. However, its not that simple.
Several types of coal exist in the growing hookah market and a beginner may find it difficult to select the best flame. The most common is the self lighting coals made by Three Kings. They are convenient since you can light one up with a Zippo, in the wind, possibly while its raining. However, the same chemicals that make it a quick lighting coal also add (often unwanted) flavors to your hookah smoking experience. Thus you exchange taste for convenience.
The next option is the lemon wood or olive wood based "logs" of coal. Often times referred to as "natural" coal, these tend to burn cleaner thus eliminating excessive coal flavors. They will not light with a portable flame unless you happen to keep a porto-torch in your glove compartment. Generally, you will require a stove top and a short waiting period. The end result could be well worth it since you won't be tasting the chemicals of the self lighting coals.
Finally, there is the "charcoal bricks" which are often referred to as "Egyptian coal". These charcoal bricks are also lemon wood and they resemble random shapes that appear as though you could barbeque with them. They have a long heating period on an average electric stove so you might want to get out that propane camp stove to fire up these coals. The smell of the coals cooking can overwhelm the pleasant smells of your house, so you might want to think twice before cooking coals in your kitchen. Despite their dominant heating odors, these coals provide the most flavorless heat source available in the hookah coal market. The charcoal bricks are often large and also burn quickly so don't clutter your bowl.
Whichever hookah coals you smoke should ultimately depend on your preference and situation. If you are a natural coal smoker at home, it never hurts to keep a box of quick lighting coals around for those last minute trips to the beach.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Hookah Authentic Egyptian or Chinese Impostor?

Egypt has long been known in the Middle East as the best place to get a hookah and hookah accessories. The land of the pharaohs, pyramids, and sphinx is also the Motherland of the shisha (the Egyptian word for hookah). Egyptian artisans still make hookahs the old-fashioned way -- by hand and with a great deal of pride in craftsmanship. Making hookahs is still a family tradition, and the best hookah makers in Egypt have earned their spots through the continuity of traditional techniques. Glass bases are still made from hand blown colored glass, and artists still decorate them by hand using paint, glitter, decals, or etching. Hoses are made entirely by hand, from the cutting of the fabric to the turning of the wood that will become the handles to the addition of decorative elements such as braid, fringe, or fur. Shafts may be made of metals like stainless steel, brass, or chrome plated brass, but those metals are formed by the hands of master craftsmen, put together by skilled welders, and sometimes etched or decorated by artisans. Potters still use a potting wheel to make the clay bowls that we call the "head." In short, every part of a genuine Egyptian hookah is crafted by hand using traditional techniques which results in a one-of-a-kind product every time. Egyptian hookahs are so admired and respected throughout the Middle East that you'd be hard pressed to find a pipe in another Middle Eastern country that does not have some part that was made in Egypt!
When the hookah craze hit the United States, the cultural icon of the Middle East fell prey to the assembly line mentality. It didn't take long for the hookah to be added to the list of counterfeit products being mass produced in China for export to the American market. Because neither the owners of manufacturing plants or assembly line workers in China have a cultural stake or identity associated with the product, the hookahs that they produce involve no artistry. The glass bases are molded and then spray painted; the glass itself is not colored. Any designs on the glass are likewise spray painted on by machines. Machine made plastic hoses with plastic or simulated wood ends have no decorative elements on them. Machines mold shafts made from tin, aluminum, or a combination of those metals with stainless steel; sometimes, machines spray paint them in a color to match the glass. Porcelain, a material for which the Chinese are famous, has replaced the traditional clay bowl made from the rich clay of the banks of the Nile River. Cold, computerized Chinese machines have replaced the intimate touch of the Egyptian craftsmen whose work is a source of pride.
Because Egyptian hookahs set the industry standard, it has become common for sellers to falsely label their Chinese look-alikes as "authentic Egyptian" pipes. Many shoppers have been taken in by a misleading description coupled with a low price and think that they are buying a genuine Egyptian hookah when, in reality, they get an imposter. Don't be duped! Look for the identifying characteristics listed below to determine if the hookah you are considering buying is the real deal.
Characteristics of an Authentic Egyptian Hookah
  • Authentic Egyptian hookahs are still handmade using centuries old traditional methods. Crafted by the hands of people who have a cultural stake and identity in their product, every aspect of the authentic Egyptian hookah involves artistry and craftsmanship.
  • The base of an authentic Egyptian hookah is hand blown colored glass that comes in a variety of shapes and colors with hand painted designs. The most telling aspect of an authentic Egyptian base is its characteristic bands of genuine 18K gold or platinum paint.
  • Egyptian hoses are handcrafted using traditional methods and materials; they vary in style, color, and decorative elements.
  • Shafts are hand formed stainless steel, brass, or chrome plated brass in various heights, number of hose holders, designs, and decorative elements. Egyptian shafts are never made of aluminum or spray painted in a color to match the glass base!
  • An authentic Egyptian hookah is always sold with the same number of hoses that the shaft will hold. If you're buying a 2-hose hookah, you get 2 hoses!
  • Anyone who sells authentic Egyptian hookahs will have replacement parts available. Glass bases break and hoses should be replaced every few months for the sake of hygiene, so it is important to have access to individual parts for your hookah.

Characteristics of the Chinese Imposter Hookah
  • The Chinese imposter hookahs are mass produced in factories by machines and people who have no cultural connection to the product. The hookahs all look the same, just as one would expect from anything made on an assembly line.
  • Chinese bases are made of molded glass or acrylic that is spray painted with material that washes off with normal cleaning. Designs, if any, are identical with no variation in pattern or style because machines are preset to make them look a certain way.
  • Chinese hoses are made of plastic with plastic or simulated wood ends with no decorative elements. Sometimes the hoses are called "pleather," a marketing trick to make plastic sound better. Hoses are marketed as "washable." No hookah hose is truly washable because inside each one is a wire coil around which the hose fabric is wrapped. Running water through the hose only speeds up the deterioration process of that wire coil! There is no such thing as a washable hookah hose!
  • Shafts produced in China are machine made of tin, aluminum, or a combination of those metals blended with stainless steel or chrome. They are often spray painted to match the color of the glass. A hookah with a shaft that matches the color of the glass is not Egyptian! The shafts of Chinese hookahs are made of inferior metals that do not stand up to normal wear and tear. Egyptian hookahs, on the other hand, are made of strong and durable metals that can withstand time and usage.
  • Because sellers typically do not have replacement parts or accessories, they sell the Chinese hookahs straight from the box. This means that multiple hose hookahs are often sold with only one hose. If you're buying a 2-hose hookah, chances are that you will get only 1 hose!
  • To make them more appealing to the American consumer, Chinese manufactured hookahs are often sold with a hard shell carrying case. What a great way to hide an inferior product!
  • With the recent recall of various products manufactured in China, buyers need to be especially wary of hookahs made in and imported from China because they are painted!
To truly appreciate the cultural significance of the hookah and get the most of out of the hookah experience, you must have the real thing! While the price of some of the Chinese imports may look attractive, please keep in mind that this is definitely a case of getting what you pay for. A product that cannot stand up to the usage for which it was made is no longer a bargain when it has to be replaced over and over again. Buy an authentic Egyptian hookah and support the artisans and craftsmen who, in a world dominated by machine made goods, continue to make hookahs the way they and their families have for centuries.