Putting together your first hookah setup
Looking back 15 years ago, the hookah market was much simpler. There were only a handful of prominent brands making hookahs, bowls, hoses and tobacco options. Coconut coals weren’t even around yet. For those getting their start with hookah back then, it was easy to navigate which products to buy for your first setup. Today, there are not only many more brands creating hookah products, but also many more style options and other considerations. The market has truly evolved and has given the hookah consumer an abundance of choice. That’s all great, but as a beginner in hookah how do you decide where to start?
You’ve probably been to a hookah lounge a few times or smoked at a friend’s house, and now you’re interested enough to want your own hookah pipe. It sounds nice to enjoy a casual evening smoke at home after a long day’s work. Getting advice from your friends and people at the local hookah lounge is always a good place to start. But opinions often differ and that can make your journey more confusing. We’re here to give you some clear, useful advice gathered by our own Fumari team members. With decades of hookah experience behind us, we have a few good pointers to offer that will help make your first hookah setup something you’ll be proud to smoke.
The Overall Mission: Get started with a basic, reliable hookah setup. That includes the hookah itself, a box of hookah coals, 100 grams of tobacco and an electric coal burner, all for about $150 or less.
RECOMMENDATION #1: THE HOOKAH
Purchase a small- to medium-sized hookah (a stem, complete with tray and glass base) for $60 or less.
We want to keep it practical and start with something basic, but also select products that have value and are not cheaply made. There are beautiful hookahs for $200 or more. And if you become a regular smoker at home, we recommend investing that kind of money on a stunning, advanced-performance hookah. But until you prove that hookah loyalty to yourself, there are many hookahs that smoke perfectly well and look great for a fraction of the price.
Go for a small- to medium-sized hookah which ranges from around 14 inches to 26 inches tall. You may want to avoid hookahs that are smaller than 14 inches especially if the base does not hold much water. The more water the base holds, the more you’ll benefit from better filtration and cooling of smoke.
Hookahs larger than 26 inches are great, but they typically cost more money. But don't sweat it, the performance today from smaller hookahs is just as good as the bigger ones.
Khalil Mamoon and Mya Hookahs are two great hookah brands that have a lot to offer in the price range and sizes we recommend. At this point, don’t worry if the stem screws into the base or it if drops into the base using a grommet (grommets are rubber rings used to secure parts of a hookah together and make them air-tight). Have fun and grab a hookah that suits your style.
Tip: It’s common for businesses selling hookahs to include free tongs for handling your charcoal with a hookah purchase.
RECOMMENDATION #2: THE HOSE
Purchase or upgrade your hookah hose to a washable, silicone hose for around $25 or less.
There are three major types of hookah hoses.
Traditional: First is the traditional hose. These hoses have been around for decades and were the only option found in most hookah markets until recently. The key characteristic of a traditional hose is the use of a metal mesh inside the hose’s tubing to help it hold shape. This mesh is then covered in various fabrics from cloth to leather. For many people (notice I didn’t say all people) there are two issues with traditional hoses. One is restricted airflow. The inside diameter of these hoses is usually a little tight requiring that you pull harder with your lungs when taking a hit. The other issue is they are not washable. Once water gets inside the hose, the mesh will eventually rust and begin to break apart which in turn creates debris when inhaling from the hose. If that happens, it’s time to buy a new one.
Disposable: The second type is the plastic disposable hose. These hoses are made of light plastic material and are intended to be used once by a customer in a hookah lounge and then thrown away. They are usually not durable enough for repeated use as the plastic cracks and air escapes. We prefer using something that’s better quality than a disposable hose if it’s going to be a part of your regular setup.
Washable Silicone: The 3rd type of hose, and the one we most strongly recommend, is the washable silicone hose. Choose a silicone hose made from medical-grade material as it provides better performance and longevity. These better-quality silicone hoses are typically put together with anodized aluminum hose handles and base connectors. This matters when you wash your hose. A quick rinse of water inside the hose will clean out any residual flavor from your last hookah session. Medical-grade silicone and anodized aluminum are resistant to particles, so they do not hold flavor when rinsed.
RECOMMENDATION #3: THE BOWL
Purchase or upgrade to a good phunnel-style clay bowl that holds from 20 – 30 grams of tobacco for $25 or less.
There are many types of bowls to choose from starting with traditional Egyptian clay bowls to stoneware to glass bowls. There’s nothing wrong with an Egyptian clay bowl (that you can pick up for under $5), but as a beginner, it’s a little easier to pack a phunnel bowl and get a nicer smoke session from it. The bowl, and how you pack the tobacco, is an important variable in getting a successful smoke session. Personally, I don’t like to skimp on the bowl and feel it’s well worth a few extra dollars to get something that performs better. You can get a great phunnel bowl for under $25. The two most popular brands of phunnel bowls are Alpaca and Hookah John. They use quality clay from the USA, which performs better than competing porcelain bowls commonly made in China.
RECOMMENDATION #4: THE COAL
Use coconut coals whenever possible. A half kilo of coals cost under $8 and will supply you for at least 12 smoke sessions.
Most serious smokers and premium hookah lounges today use coconut coals. They take longer to light, roughly 10 minutes, but they last much longer than other coal options and have a cleaner taste. Easy Light and Quick Light coals have a place in the market for those who require coals to be lit quickly (perhaps you’re running home to make a hookah during your work break) or those who are outdoors and don’t have a proper heat source for starting up coconut coals. It’s extremely simple to ignite Easy or Quick Lights with any lighter and they are fully lit in just a few minutes but you need an electric burner or grill fire to start a coconut coal.
You don’t have to worry at first if your coconut coals are a flat- or cube-style and if they are 22mm cubes or 25mm cubes. They all work and will get your bowl smoking for a long time. With more experience in heat management, you’ll learn which coconut coal style and size best suits your heat preferences.
RECOMMENDATION #5: LIGHTING COALS
Pick up an electric burner (1100w is preferred) to light your coals for under $20.
A common misstep by new hookah smokers is not fully lighting their coals before adding them to the bowl. When coals are not fully lit two things happen. First – it will give the tobacco a bad taste. The second thing is the coal will not be hot enough to get your tobacco smoking well. To light your coals quickly and thoroughly, you’ll need the right heat source. Using a gas burner from your stovetop doesn’t do the trick very well when it comes to coconut coals. It takes a long time to light them and the coals don't heat up evenly. The best solution is an electric single coil hookah burner. We recommend something with 1100w of power so that it has a fast preheating and coal lighting time.
RECOMMENDATION #6: HEAT MANAGEMENT
Start off with using foil to limit your initial investment in hookah. Cost $0 to $5.
Heat Management Systems, such as a Kaloud Lotus or Provost, are great and we absolutely love to smoke with them. They are easy to use (no wrapping foil and punching holes) and make managing your charcoal throughout your session simpler. The only drawback is they are a little pricey, costing $30 or more. There’s nothing bad about using foil on top of your bowl. We know many serious hookah smokers who prefer foil or even use foil in addition to a Heat Management Device. So besides learning how to make a good tobacco pack in your bowl, you can also learn and enjoy the ritual of foil covering your bowl. A proper foil cover is shown in the image above. The foil is tight like a drum head over the tobacco and there are a good number of small holes poked for allowing airflow.
You can use foil you have at home in the kitchen or purchase specialty hookah foil. The benefit to hookah foil is they are precut in sheets made to fit your bowl. Some come pre-poked with holes already punched out for airflow. For poking holes, the process is easier when using a hookah foil poker versus toothpick which is a common alternative. But be careful in what you choose. If the holes you punch are too big, ash from coals can get in the tobacco and change the taste. If the holes are too small, you may affect your session with restricted airflow.
RECOMMENDATION #7: THE TOBACCO
Start with a premium blonde leaf (light) tobacco. Prices vary by state by state, but estimate $15 or less.
There are two major types of hookah tobacco: blonde leaf and dark leaf. Blonde is the more common type of hookah tobacco. It is lighter in nicotine and easier to inhale. Dark leaf is enjoyed more by hookah aficionados who have smoked for quite some time and have developed a taste and tolerance for a more robust tobacco experience. Definitely get started with a blonde leaf tobacco as it’s easier to inhale, less buzzy, and perfect for sharing with the company you have. How do you know if it’s blonde leaf? Basically, if the packaging doesn’t say “dark leaf,” then it’s ablonde leaf. Now take it one step further and premium grade blonde leaf tobacco. It's more expensive, but premium tobacco will taste brighter, handle heat better, and the flavor will last in your bowl longer.
Each brand of tobacco has slight differences in how their tobacco is packed in a bowl. Some, like Fumari, require a fluff pack (just sprinkle the tobacco in the bowl and even it out) and others may smoke better when they are pressed into the bowl (also known as a dense pack). Check blogs or forums for tips on how your brand of choice is best packed.
Now that you have your set up, use these videos below to learn the basics on how to pack your bowl and troubleshoot your hookah like a pro.
How To Pack Fumari Hookah Tobacco: https://www.fumari.com/blog/pack-fumari-hookah-tobacco-official-video/
How To Troubleshoot Your Hookah: https://www.fumari.com/blog/troubleshoot-hookah/