Hookah Evolution Series

HOOKAH EVOLUTION SERIES: THE FLAVORS

Flavors, blends, spicy, sweet, sour, strong and light.  When it comes to the different flavors of Hookah tobacco; there are literally thousands of different flavors, types of tobacco, molasses and honey used to make a hookah tobacco blend.  If you really think about all that’s out there, it’s pretty amazing that people are able to make a choice and even stick to one or two favorites.

But that wasn’t always the case when it came to Hookah flavors.  When the hookah/shisha/waterpipe was first invented; it was done so to pass the time in a pleasurable manner.  In the beginning, people enjoyed the hookah by filling the bowl with wet tobacco.  The flavor was strong and harsh; but it was still considered a very pleasurable way to relax and have a smoke.

As time passed, the hookah blends evolved and people started experimenting with ingredients to sweeten the taste of the tobacco and cut down on its harshness.  The very first hookah mixture was tobacco leaves mixed in honey.  A combination that is still the foundation of almost every hookah tobacco flavor out on the market.  Later, as more and more people enjoyed the sweetness of the tobacco and honey mix, dried fruit was added to give the tobacco a more complex taste.

It’s that blend of honey, tobacco and dried fruit that birthed the famous ‘‘classic’ hookah tobacco flavors like Double AppleGrapeLemon, and Mint.   At the time, these ‘new’ hookah flavors were considered revolutionary. They were tasty, relaxing and the ultimate in the hookah smoking experience.  And for many years, the ‘classics’ maintained their popularity as the all time, absolute best blends in the hookah market.  And they are still strong contenders today as the best hookah flavors with the more experienced hookah smokers.  Hookah lovers who have consistently smoked hookah for more than 10 years and more traditional smokers from the Middle East, are still more likely to consider the classics as the ultimate hookah tobacco flavors.

With the evolution of the hookah over time and continents, more sophisticated techniques were developed to produce radical and unique flavor profiles.  Hookah culture grew to become a worldwide phenomenon and with it, the need for bold and daring blends became the new norm. The need for change galvanized the hookah tobacco industry to produce flavors that fit ‘new’ hookah smokers palette for anything and everything different.  And that’s when brands like Social Smoke, started to become series competitors in an industry that, in the past, had been dominated by the oldest and most well known hookah tobacco companies with a reputation built on providing the best ‘classic’ flavors.

Almost every Hookah Tobacco company has a stock of ‘classic’ flavors in their line; but today, the thousands upon thousands of different and more complex flavor blends like Social Smoke’s White Gummy BearAbsolute Zero, and Cinnamon Roll,  have definitely changed the hookah industry for the better.  Of course the ‘classics’ will always hold their role as the oldest and most dependable (for some) hookah flavors on the market.  But variety has brought new life to the hookah.

Choosing, trying and reviewing new flavors, blends, and mixes has become the most exciting component of smoking hookah.  The availability of the these new more complex flavor profiles, and the different companies marketing them, has definitely put the power of choice in the consumers hands; and changed the hookah industry forever.

So what’s you favorite flavor or blend?  Do you think the variety has made the hookah better? Or do you still prefer the classics?  Let us know in the comments below.  And check out next weeks post, the last of the Hookah Evolution Series: the Hookah.

HOOKAH EVOLUTION SERIES: CHARCOAL

Have you ever stopped to think about where the hookah or shisha comes from?  How old is it?  What was the reason behind its inception?  It’s a pretty amazing concept when you really ponder it.  Today as we smoke and enjoy the hookah, we are all taking part in a time honored act spanning thousands of years.  Taking part of something that hasn’t really changed since it was first invented. Or has it?

In this three part series, Social Smoke is going to explore the origins of the hookah, and how it’s changed through three very important components: the charcoal used to light the tobaccothe blends, and finally the design of the hookah itself. Through these three components we hope to discover what time has enhanced or bettered about the hookah, and what is essentially the same.

What is conceptually the same since it was first invented is the reason WHY the hookah exists.  It was created as a relaxing and pleasurable tool to pass time in a socially engaging way.  Some believe that the hookah was first invented in India around the 16th century by an Iranian physician, while others hold that the hookah first originated in Persia and was then passed down to India and other countries through travelers. In either version, we definitely owe a debt of gratitude to those first forefathers.

When the hookah was first invented, the charcoal used to light the tobacco was what was then called ‘natural’ coal. These charcoals were traditionally made out of wood. Plain wood that was lit and placed on top of the bowl to heat the tobacco. And for many years thereafter, using wood as a way to light the hookah, was the way to go.  As time passed people got inventive with the type of wood used, like lemon wood or bamboo, but it was still wood.  Eventually in the 19th century wood was changed to charcoal, and in 1950’s quick light charcoal was invented.

In the early 2000’s proponents of ‘natural’ charcoal pushed for a better alternative to using wood and quick lights, and ‘naturals’ from coconut shell were invented.  Naturals are lit using a single coil electric heater, or a fire or fireplace.  You place the coals on a stove that has been turned up to high and leave them there until there is a thin layer of ash on all sides, anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes.  Because these charcoals burn at a higher degree of heat, proponents of natural hookah charcoals believe that they bring out the best flavor of the tobacco blends, produce bigger clouds, and eliminate the artificial aftertaste. They also last a really long time. About an hour and half a session.  Almost double the amount of time as their counterparts, quick light charcoal.

The biggest downside to ‘naturals’ is that they do take a long time to light, and require a high amount of heat.  Which means that, unless you carry around a coal burner in your trunk, these charcoals are only feasible when you are around a stove. The high heat is also difficult to manage.  If you are not careful, it’s really easy to burn your tobacco using ‘natural’ charcoal.  Nevertheless naturals are still the most popular form of charcoal used today, especially by more experienced hookah smokers.  Just run a search for ‘natural hookah charcoal’ in any search engine and you will get hundreds of results and companies that sell them.

Quick Lights, invented in the 1950’s, are meant to enhance the hookah experience by cutting down on preparation time, are really popular in hookah lounges and as a convenient alternative charcoal. They were first created to light incense and aroma products, and then adopted by the hookah community.   Quick Lights are essentially chemically engineered coal.  They can be lit with a lighter in 20 to 45 seconds.  Which makes them easily portable, and useful when you are traveling with your hookah. Quick Lights are known to last anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes.  And when the coal goes out, most of the time, the flavor is still good, so you just plop a few more on top of the bowl.  Quick Lights most remarkable feature is in their name.  They are quick to light and therefore way more convenient in an outdoor situation or anywhere where a stove isn’t available.

Some drawbacks would be that they are dirtier than naturals.  The chemicals used to produce them create a thicker ashy substance that can easily get everywhere.  And they do carry a distinct flavor that is usually immediately upon starting to smoke.  Because they burn out quicker then natural’s, you do end up using more depending on how long you smoke.

Today, quick lights are mostly favored in hookah lounges and by some hookah smokers.  But there are many in the hookah community who believe that ‘naturals’ are far better, and create an exceptional hookah smoking experience, with no chemical drawbacks. In the end, it all comes down to a question of time and convenience. Whichever charcoal you choose to go with, the end result is still pretty spectacular.  And its quite clear that when it comes to the forms of charcoal used, the hookah has most certainly evolved.

Social Smoke Tobacco is smoked at it’s best when using natural coals. Smoking a bowl is about enjoying the longevity of our flavors without the concern of having to re-pack within two hours. Although everyone has their own preference, we recommend a good quality natural charcoal since it brings out the best taste in our tobacco. Natural charcoal permits for the original taste to stay as is during the entire session which is our ultimate goal. Sure they take longer to light, but it’s well worth the wait.

Want to know more about the evolution of the hookah?  Check out next week’s post about how hookah blends have changed through the years.  And as always, feel free to post any questions in the comments below.