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Shishapedia - Charcoal and heat Management

Updated on November 30, 2011

Shishapedia – Charcoal and heat management

Today smoking shisha is a very popular pastime. It is popular world round, and there are several different facets to a shisha session that help make a smoke delightful. The ability to be in total control of the heat and energy the charcoal generates atop the clay bowl is a vital aspect; and one that is often taken for granted and overlook far too often. I am going to explore how coal affects your shisha smoke in this article; and I believe that this is one area that every shisha smoker can benefit from. If you a beginner or a regular smoker, you will be used to the signs of bad charcoal management which include effects such as extremely harsh smoke or a head that burns out very quickly. Personally I believe this is one of the most important aspects as one mistake can totally ruin a smoke for anyone.

A working hookah balances a range of different elements, and the correct technique for lighting and maintaining a good level of heat through charcoal is something you really want to perfect very quickly. Some hookah charcoals are easier to light and arrange then others, but they all serve a single purpose; to heat a hookah bowl. Heat management and maintaining the heat transfer is a vital key ingredient when looking for a perfect shisha. A popular misconception is to do with how the molasses placed inside the head bowl and used. When you use a hookah pipe, you are not burning the tobacco like you do with cigarettes, but you are purely trying to vaporize the honeys and sugars the actual tobacco is blended in with. This is why you use charcoal, which is a controllable heat, instead of a naked flame which is not as controllable.

Nicotine is still transferred to the smoker though, because the glycerine acts as a transfer agent and pulls the nicotine out of the tobacco in the vaporization transfer. You are essentially only vaporizing the shisha tobacco and that is why it is a lot smoother then cigarettes or cigars. As you still extract the nicotine, you can still get that nicotine buzz you crave but please don’t assume shisha is risk free. It might be less harmful then cigarettes but the average usage time of a shisha in comparison with cigarettes pretty much evens the odds. Those of you who choose to continue to smoke shisha, please feel welcome amongst my articles and be prepared to learn the optimal way to serve a hookah and enjoy a hookah with Shishapedia!

In essence, how a hookah works is based on vaporization: not burning. The hookah is a total sealed unit, and the only way air can get in is from the top of the bowl (when you pull on the shisha pipe). When your coal is in a resting state, it is much cooler than when it is being blown upon, or when air is being sucked through the hookah pipe. Ideally you’d like the charcoal to rest at a cool temperature when not in use, and you want it to heat up to simmer the tobacco when one pulls air through the hose. If you leave the charcoal constantly sitting at a high temperature you are just vaporizing the tobacco and wasting it. If you are going to make a sandwich, or pop to the loo, make sure you take the coals of the head and leave them on the tray. That’s what the tray is there for!

The type of charcoal or heat source you use greatly impacts on how you are able to correctly manage your hookah and the heat it generates. Undeniably the best type of coal is the variety of natural wood charcoal which is a lot more porous then other coals. It does require a lot more effort to light, and it’s not something you can just start with the flick of a lighter, but it does make the shisha a lot easier to manage. A more porous coal like natural wood charcoal will sit at a low standing temperature, so when you are not smoking, the tobacco will barely burn. When you suck the pipe, very quickly and efficiently the coals will heat up and provide a lot of fresh smoke very quickly. You can compare how porous a piece of coal is by weight per mass. Two pieces of coal, the same size, the one which is more porous will weigh less.

Other types of coal; such as quick-light coals are very compact and extremely dense. Having a porous coal will allow the coal to sit at two different temperatures that are significantly different. When sitting unused it will have a low core temperature which will help the molasses burn at a much slower rate. When you pull through the hookah pipe, the pull of air will raise the temperature of the coal, and it will sit at a much higher temperature. The sugars in the shisha molasses combust at a lower temperature compared to tobacco. You only want to inhale the flavours from the sugars and molasses, hence the aim is to vaporise the molasses at a temperature before they burn through. If you have too much coal, often the molasses will burn so you want to smoke with a lower temperature of coal. If you burn the molasses the shisha will become very harsh, and the smoke in the chamber will become very dense. You will also see a small stream of smoke escaping from the top of the head. Too much coal or too frequent usage tends to cause this. If you are pulling at the pipe constantly, consider slowing down.

A good solution to this problem is to remove all coal from the head and first let the head cool down. When cool enough to touch lift the head off the grommet and shake it. You want to turn the head ninety degrees, so the foil is away from your body. Place your lips about two inches away from the opening at the bottom of the head (where it connects onto the shaft) and blow. If your tobacco is burning, smoke will escape from the holes in the foil as your blow. You should continue to blow until the smoke escaping has greatly reduced of stopped completely.

The sugars in the molasses boil at around 290 degrees Celsius on average. When your shisha is sitting idle the temperature of most coals will be at around 250 to 300 degrees. When you pull on the shisha the temperature will rise to between 320degrees and 350 degrees. These figures are affected by how much coal and the type of coal you place on the head. Typically a metal bowl will have a higher core temperature in comparison to clay bowls; but metal has the advantage of being stable and less breakable. Using foil also acts as a great barrier to reduce heat, and I recommend always doubling your foil. If you make lots of little holes in the foil instead of less larger holes the ventilation will be better in terms of keeping the molasses at a lower core temperature. Please ensure never to overfill your bowl, as anything that curves over the top will burn extremely quickly and will ruin the taste of your shisha.

Correctly maintaining the temperature of the coal will give you a much better smoking experience, and I recommend you all to play around to learn the effects of different types of coal and how they affect your smoking experience.


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