Part one of this article discussed the basics of what hookah is. Now lets get into the nitty-gritty of the equipment and other material you’ll need, preparation, and technique.
Hookah Equipment (and associated costs)
Now you’ve probably been wondering, where can I buy this hookah stuff? Well I get mine stuff at a local smoke shop as I mentioned on my old college campus. A lot of people don’t have this luxury, so you can go with an online vendor. I am no product expert, there are several forums you can visit and ask experts’ advice on all the different brands and what’s popular. I generally am I bias toward Reddit, so the subreddit /r/hookah has a decent sized community of over 10K. Here’s posts about online vendor discount codes and suggested vendor list that might be helpful. I wanted this to be an overview so more specifics you can do your own research online or just go to a hookah longue/bar and ask. So hopefully those links will be a good starting point, but let’s move on to the actual parts and equipment you’ll be buying and what to expect.
First off you generally need the hookah itself, shisha (flavored tobacco), charcoal, a lighter, some foil, a small needle (or other pointed object) and water. Basically that’s it. You notice most of these things are household items such as the lighter, foil, needle and water
Hookah – The water pipe. You’re biggest cost is obviously going to be the hookah itself, these comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and styles.
You can literally have any hookah you imagine, so this in and of itself is vastly similar to the variety of traditional shaving products has to offer such as DE razors and straight razors and even shave brushes. Hookahs have many different price ranges starting from about $30 for a small personal/travel size (about 6 inches to a foot or more tall) with one hose, to a very complex multi-hosed unit over 50 inches tall that can go $300-400 and up. But generally you’ll see them anywhere from 18 inches – 40 inches in height that will run you about on average about $50-200 depending on multiple factors like size, type of glass, quality and etc. So the upfront cost, (unless you break any of the glass parts and have to replace or customize) theoretically should be a one-time cost as you take good care of your equipment. I bought both of mine for under a $100 and they work just fine, it’s really up to you how much you’re willing to spend. A lot of it is personal taste over function, so hookahs under $100 will work fine.
Shisha – Flavored tobacco that is generally soaked in a combination of flavored molasses, honey and vegetable glycerol and other natural ingredients. This “wet sticky tobacco” makes it burn slower and provides really rich lush flavors of smoke. It’s basically all natural compared to the gunk they put in cigarettes (you can relate this to shave cream and soaps that use more natural ingredients vs. the modern goo in a can they call shaving cream). The whole point to smoking hookah is to enjoy the taste of the variety of great flavored tobaccos. You can smoke one flavor to keep it simple, but most like myself like to mix it up and experiment with many different combinations (Just like using a shave soap in combination with a cream). A lot of manufactures, shops and lounges will make their own special blend using a combination and give it fun names (e.g., Sex on the Beach, Blue Mist and my personal favorite name – Sex Panther). There’s essentially something for everybody with fruity flavors like; berries, watermelon, orange, mango and others; like mint, vanilla, rose and strange ones like cola, peanut butter, pie, and coffee. The sky is the limit.
This is very similar to shave creams and soaps, where you have essentially also an endless variety of scents and ingredients you can use and combine to customize your shaving experience to your liking. The costs structure is very similar too, you typically replace these out. Shisha is such a small expense going from a couple dollars for “shot cups” that are equivalent to about 50 grams, to $20+ for 250 gram tubs and even bricks that are over 1 kilo that are over $50! I recommend as a starter to grab a bunch of those shot cups of different flavors you want to try out and mix em up just like a sample pack of shaving creams! One 50 gram of hookah should last one person at least an hour or longer btw, so just like traditional shave creams/soaps – a little can go a long way!
Coals and other miscellaneous items – Basically all you need now it coals which are the most similar to let’s say DE razor blades. They might seem pretty straight forward but as we wet shavers know, small tweaks can make a huge difference. There are regular puck coals, flavored ones, different shapes and sizes. The most common are just basic quick ignite puck coals, and I myself prefer the natural coals. These are throwaway cost, a couple bucks (about $10 or less) you can get a pack of regular quick start coals for 50-200. For about the same price you can get flavored coals but usually you’ll get less quantity. So again you can customize your experience.
All the other items like needle you’ll need to are miscellaneous stuff you should have lying around your home such as needle/thumb-tack, water, tin/aluminum foil – just like the water, shave bowl, towels and things you already have to start shaving. Generally no cost here because again, you should already have most of these.
Other things are customizable options and tweaks; different types of bowls, multi-bowls, individual pieces like the rubber stoppers, and hoses (Side rant: My PERSONAL FAVORITE are ice tip hoses – basically an ice pack that is enclosed in a plastic capsule that covers the hose tip so the smoke is EXTRA cool. It’s amazing! Ask for it at a hookah bar or buy one!) So this hobby can be as deep, crazy and as expensive as you want it.
So as you see you do make a pretty big investment for the hookah itself, and the shisha and coals is all you really need to replace. So compared to spending $5-10+ on a pack of cigarettes a week, you do spend a lot of start-up costs but generally the tobacco lasts a lot longer, satisfies your fix and is cheaper than cigarettes. This is just like the essentials to a wet traditional DE or straight razor shave kit. You got the bigger upfront cost for the DE razor or straight razor and shave brushes ranging in sizes, shapes and prices. The reoccurring smaller cost of the shisha and coals are like the shave cream/soap (strops, pre-shave oils/aftershaves) and blades respectively. So you eventually break-even and end up saving money in the long run (unless you develop R.A.D., the money-saving benefit becomes invalid).
Just like with wet shaving you need to prep correctly to get optimum results, the more time you spend prepping…the better and easier the rest becomes. So this is assuming you went out and bought a hookah or have one instead of going to hookah bar – if not you can skip to the next part.
Basically to prep I’ll give a general overview, there are plenty of YouTube tutorial videos and step-by-step guides you can search. Here’s an excellent short set up video:
Everyone has their own method and there’s tons of variance you can do to customize it but I’ll give you a common method. You’ll even see people get creative and use the tops or bottoms of pineapples or other fruit to replace parts of the hookah to get an extra fruity experience.
First off make sure all your stuff is clean, don’t want to smoking out of a dirty nasty pipe or bowl with left over burned tobacco (you wouldn’t use an old dirty brush or rusty blade right?). So clean out with water and maybe a gentle soap if your pipe hasn’t been cleaned in a while, then dry it out.
Assemble the hookah – it’s pretty straight forward – think body, neck, head. Make sure all the holes are covered and nice and air tight. You don’t want any smoke to leak out. Fill your base with water about half way until the bottom pipe is just submerged. Try ice cold water with a few ice cubes, it will provide a nice cool smoke. Next take a bit of shisha/flavored tobacco and sprinkle it in the bowl (and again just like shaving cream, a little can go a LONG way folks! So keep that in mind since unlike a cigarette you can have 3-5 people go on a single load of shisha for a couple hours before it’s burned up.) Fill it to around the top of the bowl, avoid stems and don’t overload it. It should last about an hour or more either way. So take your time and set aside time to do this. This isn’t a short sprint, but more of leisurely walk.
Next take the foil and place as taught and tightly as possible covering the bowl. Take your needle or any object really and poke small holes, here’s where you can customize a bit more. Generally speaking a lot of tiny holes make it more even and less harsh smoke and flavor and larger holes allow more smoke and burn faster/hotter. So there’s a balance really (just like amount of water you want to apply to soap/cream when creating a lather). Start with a few small holes 3-5 and maybe a couple larger holes all evenly spaced out in a circular pattern and just experiment. It’s all personal preference. I personally love a nice harsh burn, so I do a lot of big holes.
Then light about 1-2 coals (some people will do 3 or more) and place them carefully with tongs on top. Spread them evenly if you want a harsher burn or on top of each other to sustain a nice even burn. Please let the coals get red hot first before you start inhaling, especially for those easy light coals that spark up. That can cause a very harsh smoke in your lungs and possibly be dangerous.
That’s about it. If you’re going to share with friends and scared of cooties or are a germaphobe – most hookah bars will give you what I like to call “mouth condoms.” It’s typically called a hose tip, a little personal plastic mouth guard you put in the hose so you don’t have to put your mouth on the same hose that everyone has.
So these are all similar on the time it takes for you properly execute a shave, face prep, lather building and etc. It takes longer to prep and execute but the results and way more pleasurable.
Now again I’m NO expert, I can’t even do smoke rings like my friends. So this is where time, patience and experience come into play. Just like with shaving, time will be your friend. So this is something I say if you know how to smoke a cigarette, you can pick up easily but you’ll have to tweak your method otherwise you’ll cough real badly (just like cutting yourself when you start traditional shaving).
My general advice here, take it slow, and inhale the smoke through the hose like your drinking from a straw. Nice and slow, don’t take too deep if you’re starting. Hold it in for a couple seconds and slowly exhale. Pretty simple really.
Also make sure to replace the coals every once in a while, usually every 30-45 minutes depending on how much and how many people are smoking and how many and how big “hits” they are taking. So just take your tongs replace the coals or clean/shake off the ash off the old ones until they are no more.
Simple stuff here, make sure you properly dispose of your coals (just like DE blades). Rinse them off and dispose of them properly. Dissemble everything and clean thoroughly all glass parts or anything that got dirty with water and again a gentle dish soap is fine. Also dry when done, you don’t want any bacteria or residue to build up overtime.
Store somewhere nice cool and dry. Most hookahs will come with a case or you can buy one separately for storage and transport.
Final thoughts and health risks
So that’s it, I know I got really deep and lengthy on something so trivial. But I am very passionate about these two hobbies. If you notice and look back, most of the time is spent prepping just like with shaving. So again these two worlds are very much alike and share the same benefits.
As ak_doug mentioned on Reddit, these are often seen as “Old traditional activities” that do seem “very old-fashioned and weird.” But they attract a large following of people of different age, background and gender. These hobbies have communities that are truly for everyone and welcome people with open arms and embrace. We shavers love sharing our thoughts and ideas. It’s a fun past time that breeds friendship and commodore. Builds a bond between us and we can pass down to future generations.
Finally a caution, we all know smoking leads to diseases and cancer such as heart, throat, lung, blood pressure and etc. Since a hookah allows more smoke and carbon dioxide to come through, it has equal risk involved – even though the amount of harsh chemicals in shisha tobacco is significantly less than cigarettes. So if you have health issues or a smoking problem as is, please reconsider a healthier alternative. You’ve probably seen the newer electronic vapor cigarettes that have been immensely popular and save money as well. If you haven’t seen or heard of them, they’re basically a tiny emulation of a hookah. Comes in different flavors and styles, they’re becoming extremely popular in the States and probably the best route to go besides quitting.
Well that about wraps it up. Good luck, happy shaving, happy smoking. Look good and feel good.