How to Smoke a Hookah in Ten Steps
At lounges all over the world, people while away long hours around the hookah, just hanging out. Kids might even stop by—not to smoke, but to grab a snack. Like American coffee shops or Irish pubs, hookah lounges are woven into the fabric of everyday life, and knowing how to smoke hookah is a given.
Ryan Khalil, owner of House of Hookah in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood, says, "Hookah gives people a cool way to hang out with their friends and chill, without the whole rah-rah-rah of the club environment." But if you're not familiar with the process, it's hard to be chilled-out on your first session.
Ryan gave us ten steps on how to smoke hookah properly if you've never tried it before.
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1. Always eat before smoking hookah.
Ryan says the smoke shouldn't affect your taste buds, but it can squash your appetite. Grab a bite before your smoking session.
2. Choose your shisha.
Above: varieties of shisha.
What is shisha? Simply, it's the stuff that you smoke. Traditionally, it's made from tobacco, but it can also consist of herbs or chopped-up fruit. If you're a purist, choose the tobacco. If you want to ease into it, you might try a fruity tobacco-free variety. At some lounges, including House of Hookah, tobacco is infused with all-natural food-grade fruit flavoring.
3. Let the pros handle the equipment.
Especially if it's your first time! Packing and lighting the bowl is the purview of the lounge staff, so let them take charge. If you think the coals need to be moved around or a fresh bowl of shisha packed, notify the staff.
4. Ask for your own mouthpiece.
In the US, hookah lounges are required to provide a disposable mouthpiece to each customer. Ryan said to slip on your mouthpiece when it's your turn, then slip it off before you pass the hose to the next person in your circle.
5. Inhale lightly.
Smoking a hookah should feel like natural inhalation. Draw in the smoke slowly and lightly, taking breaks in between puffs. You might see the hookah bubbling water as you inhale—here's what's happening as you breathe in:
6. Don't smoke at the same time as someone else.
If the hookah has more than one hose, never pull from it at the same time as someone else. This will make the coals burn too hot, and neither person will get a satisfying pull.
7. Don't bogart the hose.
It's OK to take a few pulls when it's your turn, perhaps two or three. But "take too many consecutive pulls, and you risk burning the tobacco a lot faster," Ryan said. Even here in the US, "you're meant to enjoy hookah pretty slowly and casually, not really rushing it at all."
8. Try different flavors—and different bowls.
As you learn how to smoke hookah, you'll want to try from a wealth of flavors. Ryan finds that double apple is by far the most popular, though any lounge will have several to choose from. Choose one that you enjoy the smell of, because the smoke will linger in your clothes.
House of Hookah also encourages customers to try another popular variation: smoking from a bowl made of hollowed-out fruit, such as a pineapple, pomegranate, or orange. "It makes the hookah last longer and gives it more smoke and flavor."
9. Smoke for about an hour.
While a bowl of shisha could burn for up to three hours, Ryan recommends refreshing it every 60–90 minutes. "It'll start tasting like burnt tobacco ... just not quite as fresh."
10. Just chill out.
Frequent hookah smokers might not experience this, but newbies should be prepared to catch what Ryan calls a "relax-y" buzz. "Nothing intoxicating," he said, "but you might feel a little mellowed out."
Photos by Andrew Nawrocki, Groupon
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