How to Smoke Hookah Like a Pro: Tips for Hookah Beginners

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How to Smoke Hookah Like a Pro: Tips for Hookah Beginners


Written By Joshua Bainbridge - Content Executive at JM Wholesale 

So You've seen people casually puffing away at those often ornate water pipes and wondered what the hype behind hookahs is all about? Well, time to turn that curiosity into first-hand experience. Hookah smoking isn't nearly as complicated as it looks. With the right gear, quality shisha tobacco, and a few basic tips, you'll be blowing smoke rings like a pro in no time. Ready to take the plunge into the world of hookah? Just grab your tools and follow this beginner's guide to discover the ins and outs of setting up and enjoying a proper hookah session.

What Is Hookah (Shisha)? A Complete Beginner's Guide

The Anatomy of a Hookah

A hookah consists of several parts that work together to produce smoke. The main components are:

Hookah base: Holds water that cools and filters the smoke.

Hookah stem: Connects the base to the bowl.

Hookah bowl: Contains the tobacco that is heated to produce smoke.

Hoses & Mouth pieces: Allow you to draw smoke from the hookah.

Charcoal & heavy duty aluminium foil: Provide indirect heat to the tobacco.

Now you can either purchase these parts individually, having to do your own due diligence and research if these parts are compatible, or simply purchase a pre-built kit to avoid the hassle!

How a Hookah Works

Whenever somebody smokes a hookah, the tobacco (usually flavoured) gets heated using charcoal that is tempered by the aluminium foil or heat management device. The charcoal burns the tobacco, and the resulting smoke is drawn into the water bowl. A person then breathes in through a mouthpiece. The smoke flows through water and a rubber hosing before reaching the mouthpiece where it the is inhaled by the user.

How to Set Up and Smoke Hookah Step-by-Step

Gather the Hookah Parts

You’ll need a hookah base, stem, bowl, tray, hose, lighter or charcoal burner (Less than 1000w), hookah coals and tongs. Pack the bowl with your choice of shisha tobacco. Also ensure your parts are freshly cleaned before each session and make sure to check on the product page to see if parts like the hose are washable, as hose come in two forms, washable and non-washable. 

Add Water & Start building!

Add water to the hookah base until it’s about 1 to 1.5 inches from the hole (down stem). Too little water will give a light and airy pull where as too much will cause a tight drag and make it difficult to smoke. Once the base is filled attach the grommet to the stem and ensure the connection is tight before inserting the hookah shaft with the grommet between them. With a little pressure it should fit in and ensure the shaft, grommet and base are level, the give a light test pull.

Next insert your hose grommet into the hose port to ensure there are not air leaks, then insert those into the sealed hose port.

After that add the freshly cleaned coal tray, to the top before adding the bowl, then finally add the bowl grommet to the top or insert it into the bowl before placing the bowl on the top. Then the coals above, to ensure there are no mistakes with packing and heating your shisha let's go through this more in-depth!

Now while there are countless styles of hookah bowls, such as Turkish or Egyptian style bowls, experimentation and research is how you'll find the perfect bowl for you. 

Now with your opened shisha either with a fork or your fingers, depending on if you like to down and dirty, break down the tightly packed shisha, then begin adding it to your bowl!

Now while there are countless ways to pack your shisha for beginners, what's known as a 'fluff pack' is always recommended! Which is lightly packing your bowl and ensuring it's not over filled then using either your fork, fingers or even a tooth pick to make sure it's level and just below the rim of your bowl. Then finally apply your heavy-duty foil which can either come pre-cut or you cut it into squares! Wrap your aluminium-foil around the top of the bowl and ensure it is not sagging at all and that the foil is straight along the top of your bowl! Then carefully wrap and shape the foil around the bowl. Then take a pin, tooth pick or thicker sewing needle and apply a circular pattern of holes around the tin foil, it's recommended to use 2-3 layers of circles for beginners as a base line, then adjust from there! Not enough holes and it will trap the heat within the bowl and tighten the airflow and too many and it lets the heat escape with a more increased airflow.

Light the Charcoals

Now there are two main styles of charcoal used for Hookah, the quick light variant can be lit with a lighter and heads up very quickly often used for those seeking a quick session or in hookah lounges. Using a lighter and tongs, hold the coal between the tongs and use the lighter, ideally a safety lighter to avoid harm, though some experience users will use a regular flint lighter. Once you see the sparks coming from the coal, hold for about 20 seconds until the sparks travel across the coal and remove the lighter. Once the coal is turning white gently fan the goal to ensure you're getting airflow and helping the combustion process.

The other style is all natural coal, this WILL require a coal heating plate with the limit on power being 1000 watts. These take longer to evenly light and produce more smoke, so ensure the room is well ventilated and light away from where you will be smoking. The can take between 10-20 minutes but rewards you with a nice even burn and doesn't impact the flavour of the shisha when compared to quick lights. When the underside of the natural charcoal is cooked, simply flip it to now cook the top to fully cook it through.

Carefully place the lit coals on top of the foil sheet covering the bowl. Make sure the coals are evenly spaced so they heat the shisha tobacco evenly.

Safety Notes When Handling Charcoal!

Never handle LIT or HEATING coals without the tongs!

To ash your coals hold them a few inches above the tray then lightly drop them to ash them. To remove them from the bowl then place them in the coal tray.

Never place the coals on the bowl then attach your bowl to the hookah, always preplace your bowl first. then add the coals on top.

As the coals burn down, you’ll need to add a fresh set to keep the hookah producing smoke. Gently blow on the existing coals to liven them up, then place the new coals alongside them. Remove the old coals once the new set is glowing red. Sit back, relax and enjoy your hookah experience! The key is to go slowly, adjust the heat as needed and savour the tasty flavours of the shisha.

If you notice the smoke in your shisha is stale, then simply use the purge function by blowing down the pipe to purge the system and add cool air into the system. 

Start Smoking!

Once the coals have been on the bowl for a few minutes and when it starts producing thick white smoke, you’re ready to smoke the hookah. Put the hose mouthpiece in your mouth, inhale and enjoy the smooth, flavourful smoke. Purge the base from time to time by blowing into the hose to clear stale smoke. Make sure not to inhale too hard, like the foil and water, start small and build up as needed!

Hookah FAQs: Your Top Questions Answered on How to Smoke Shisha Like a Pro

How much water should I put in the base?

Fill the hookah base with about an inch or 1.5 inches of water. You want enough water to submerge the down stem but not so much that it's difficult to draw smoke through. As a beginner, start with less water and add more as needed. You can also add ice cubes to the water for an even cooler smoke.

How do I pack the bowl?

Use your fingers or a fork to gently drop shredded tobacco into the bowl until it's evenly full, not tightly packed. Leave some space at the top and cover the bowl with heavy-duty foil, securing it around the edge. Use the tongs to poke about 25-35 holes small holes in the foil. Start with fewer holes, as you can always make more!

How much charcoal should I use?

For a standard sized bowl, start with 2-3 coals. Place them evenly spaced on the foil and let them sit for a few minutes before drawing smoke. Start slowly, as it will take a few minutes for the coals to heat up. If the smoke seems weak, you can add another coal. But go slowly, as too much heat can burn the tobacco and produce harsh smoke.

How long will a bowl last?

A well-packed bowl with medium-cut tobacco will typically last 30-90 minutes, depending on factors like coal management, heat level, and how often you're drawing smoke. You'll know it's time for a new bowl when the smoke becomes thin and lacks flavour. Some signs a bowl is spent include blackened tobacco, an ashy or burnt smell, and coals that have become very small.

How do I clear stale smoke from the base?

Blow through the hose to push the smoke out of the purge valve on the hookah stem. Clearing the base of stale smoke will improve the taste and make each draw feel fresh.

With some practise, these FAQs will become second nature and you'll be smoking shisha like a pro in no time! 


So there you have it - everything you need to know to smoke hookah like a total pro. From selecting the right equipment to packing the bowl and lighting the coals, you've got this! Just take your time setting it up, relax with some friends, and enjoy those delicious fruity tobacco flavours. The key is patience - let the coals properly heat the tobacco before you start puffing away. With the right technique, you'll be blowing smoke rings and impressing everyone at the hookah bar in no time. Now grab your favourite flavour, spark those coals, and let the good times roll!

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