No doubt many of you know something about the nargile, hookah, or shisha. Unfortunately, while the western world has embraced the eastern waterpipe, it sadly remains mostly in the realm of young people, and not fully appreciated by the fine tobacco crowd.
This came to my attention after a conversation with my tobacconist, who scoffed at the idea of smoking a hookah. This is largely because the American market is flooded with insipid wased, syrupy, candy flavored tobaccos that appeal to the younger crowd, but have no real place standing beside true tobacco lover's tobacco.
Nargile, hookah, and shisha are three words for the same type of pipe, varying by regional origin.
Most Americans refer to nargile tobacco with the word "Shisha", while this has pretty much become the standard term in the American lexicon, it is patently wrong. Shisha is Arabic for "Glass", and refers to the pipe itself. 99.9% of nargile tobacco available in the west is properly called "Moassel". Say no to pseudoisms, say yes to authentic nomenclature.
In today's world, there are three primary forms of tobacco used with the nargile, while there are some other, older forms, they are produced in tiny batches and near impossible to obtain outside of visiting the areas local to them.
Types of nargile tobacco:
Moassel is by far the most common, at least here in the west. Moassel is a preparation of tobacco blended with molasses and glycerin and baked at a low temperature. Moassels are often flavored either with dried fruit, spices, or extracts.
Moassel is wet, varying from slightly sticky to straight-out dripping. It is smoked in a clay or ceramic bowl under a foil or steel screen. Red hot coals are used to cook the tobacco slowly at around 300 degrees, which results in vaporization of the tobacco juices. The "smoke" from a moassel is actually mostly (70-90%) water vapor. Add in the water filtration, and you have an exceptionally cool and clean smoke.
Moassel can be broken down into three sub-categories.
Washed Moassel is probably what most of you have probably been exposed to. Usually made with a light, low-nicotine leaf like virginias. The tobacco is then washed (Actually boiled) to remove some or all of the nicotine and flavor. The flavor is then replaced with artifical flavors like grape, mint, or strawberry. It is popular in the west for it's strong flavor, which is nothing at all like tobacco. Usually a washed moassel with a flavor like pineapple will taste, more or less, like a pinapple (as opposed to say, a pinapple flavored cigar, which will retain a tobacco flavor.) Although widely available and extremely popular in the west, these tobaccos are pretty much the bottom of the barrel. This includes brands like starbuzz, Al Fakher, Fusion, and many, many others. While there may be some decent products in this range, they are far from a true tobacco lover's smoke.
Flavored Unwashed Moassel is a tobacco left unboiled, maintaining some or all of it's nicotine content and some muted tobacco flavor. Flavorings are still typically added, and usually overpower the mild flavor of the Virginia leaf. Usually you get a strong flavor, that is more natural and less candyish than the washed stuff, with a mild tobacco note in the background. This tobacco also tends to be drier, with a much lower glycerin content.The biggest brand in this category is the Egyptian Nakhla, which is the best selling moassel in the world, for now. I reccomend this brand for those who want a flavor while maintaining some of the integrity of the tobacco.
Traditional or "Black" moassel Is made of stronger, dark-cured leaf. Typically a blend of leaves is used, lending the tobacco a complex, often spicy palate. Traditional moassels can be flavored, but usually use natural flavoring agents (Such as spices, spice oils, and dried fruit) as opposed to artificial flavoring chemicals. Typically these blends contain little to no glycerin, and are somewhat "dry" as compared to the more popular stuff (Though still very moist compared to a standard pipe tobacco). This is a true tobacco lover's tobacco, and flavors come in a vast range by brand, such as salloum (Perique-like flavor), Nakhla Zaghloul (Like blend of black cavendish and Latakia), and Desi Murli(A spicy Indian blend, simply the finest moassel available in the US at any price).
Other types of nargile tobacco include Tombac and Jurak, which I'll touch on briefly here. Tombac is tricky to find, and Jurak is almost impossible to get in the west.
Tombac or Tombeik is a dry, flue-cured leaf, popular in Turkey and Iran. The leaves are shipped dry (I mean, crispy-dry) in a folded brick. The leaf is soaked in water until it becomes soft, squeezed out, then cut into a circle. The plug that is cut out is placed on a bowl, then holes punched through it. Hot coals are then placed directly on the tobacco. An alternative method is to soak the leaf then wrap it around the top of the pipe like a gigantic cigar. Once again, coals are placed on top.
Tombac available in the west is almost all a very light and mild Indian-grown Virgina leaf. Iranian tombac is a much richer, dark leaf, but due to tariffs and such is very difficult to obtain.
Jurak is very difficult to find in the west, but it bears description here. Hopefully, if demand for traditional tobaccos grows and becomes recognized in the United states, more of these products will be imported. Jurak is a dark-cured leaf that is ground into a powder and then mixed with an agglutinate, usually honey and molasses. This creates a gritty, paste like tobacco that is mixed with exotic spices and fruit to give a flavor complexity unheard of in the western world. Jurak is smoked like a moassel, with a screen separating the coal from the tobacco paste. Desi Murli is a traditional moassel that is very jurak-like in it's nature, but is technically still a moassel.