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Nargile 101

This is a discussion on Nargile 101 within the General Pipe Forum forums, part of the Pipe Smokers Forums category; No doubt many of you know something about the nargile, hookah, or shisha. Unfortunately, while the western world has embraced ...

  
  1. #1

    Young Puffer Fish Coyotero's Avatar


     

    Nargile 101

    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.

  2. #2

    Up-n-coming tobacco dork dmkerr's Avatar


     

    Re: Nargile 101

    This is interesting stuff. RG bump for you!
    My pipe doesn't stink - YOU stink!

  3. #3

    Young Puffer Fish Jimmyc's Avatar


     

    Re: Nargile 101

    Coyotero vary interesting. I have a stupid question but I have to ask, When you smoke the pipe do you use a lighter? I've read where you said you use hot coals to burn the tobacco. If this is the case how do you do that? Thanks

  4. #4

    Young Puffer Fish Brownbeer's Avatar


     

    Re: Nargile 101

    Could I take some of my nasal snuff, mix it with molasses and honey to make a
    Jurak?

  5. #5

    Young Puffer Fish Coyotero's Avatar


     

    Re: Nargile 101

    Quote Originally Posted by Jimmyc View Post
    Coyotero vary interesting. I have a stupid question but I have to ask, When you smoke the pipe do you use a lighter? I've read where you said you use hot coals to burn the tobacco. If this is the case how do you do that? Thanks
    The charcoal I use is made from coconut shells, and it's widely regarded as the best for nargile use. Typically I light them on my stove or on a hotplate if I'm outside. They last about 45 minutes.

    The idea is that you don't burn the tobacco. If you burn it, it gets very harsh and unplesant. Instead the idea is to slow-cook the tobacco at a very low temperature under the coals.

    Quote Originally Posted by Brownbeer View Post
    Could I take some of my nasal snuff, mix it with molasses and honey to make a
    Jurak?
    Not really. You might have something similar in texture and burn characteristics, but Jurak is a tricky thing to make. It requires careful and attentive baking and addition of special oils and herbal extracts. A good friend of mine who instructed me on how to make moassel advised against it for this reason. His advice: Make more moassel first.

    I'm hoping we'll be able to see Jurak in the United States soon. With the growing interest in traditional nargile tobaccos it may be possible.

  6. #6

    Young Puffer Fish Jimmyc's Avatar


     

    Re: Nargile 101

    This sounds pretty interesting, I just may have to give it a try sometime.

  7. #7

    Young Puffer Fish Coyotero's Avatar


     

    Re: Nargile 101

    I thought I'd share this engaging story written by my friend Bassem at medwakh.com

    How Hookahs, Medwakhs, and Tobacco forever changed the Middle East

    To start, no examination of Middle Eastern history would be complete without taking into account the inestimable affect tobacco has played on Middle Eastern society. More than any other commodity, tobacco alone was responsible for a dramatic change in public behavior, and perhaps even greater religious tolerance. To understand completely the changes that tobacco, water pipes, and smoking pipes engendered, one must start with a little tobacco history, and a little Middle Eastern history.



    Tobacco was discovered initially by the Spanish and others in their explorations and conquests of the Americas and the Caribbean Basin. The sailors that manned these ships brought the habit of tobacco consumption back with them to Europe, and by the mid-1500’s tobacco was being freely traded by westerners with the Ottoman Empire, and thus was introduced initially into Turkey, Iran, and northern Syria as a most valuable commodity. Interestingly enough, tobaccos initial primary use was not recreational, but pharmacological. Ottoman physicians, having taken their cue from their non-Muslim European counterparts, were touting tobacco as a most versatile medical treatment. By the end of the sixteenth century tobacco was appearing in the Ottomans medical manuals as a treatment for bites and burns, as an antidote for poison, even as an abortifacient.


    It didn’t take long, however, before tobacco usage transformed into recreational usage. A Palestinian scholar noted in the early 1600’s that tobacco was regularly smoked openly in “gathering places of the people, like markets and streets.” Of course, as tobacco was an expensive import at this time, only the more wealthy townspeople could afford this new past time. Much like coffee, which was becoming popular in the Middle East at about the same as tobacco, it was initially the affluent, privileged, and educated from which the number of smokers rapidly multiplied. Of course, the advantage that tobacco provided over coffee was its ease of local cultivation. As soon as the early 1700’s, the regional merchants were growing their own tobacco in Macedonia, Anatolia, and northern Syria. These crops were supplemented by the highly esteemed imports from Iran, where the tobacco industry had taken root, so to speak, in a spectacular fashion almost from the first year it was introduced. Because of this early self sufficiency with tobacco, the price continued to fall, and tobacco saw a pronounced expansion as a consumable good and as a trade good throughout the entire eastern Mediterranean.




    This commercial success meant that tobacco was now much more accessible to the average Ottoman consumer than coffee. Toward the end of the 17th century tobacco was already cheaper by weight then coffee, and by 1800 the difference was better than threefold. Smoking, not drinking coffee, would quickly become the most affordable diversion of the Ottoman population. Inevitably, hookahhouses were established alongside and sometimes in conjunction with the coffehouses of the day. The hookahhouse became a cultural harbor of sorts, where people could enjoy music, literary recitals, and play games such as chess and backgammon. (Sound familiar?) However, this social freedom was a new phenomenon to the Middle East. Not surprisingly, Muslim moralists looked on with horror, and the ‘first anti-smoking’ campaigns began. And they were brutal.




    These moralists had looked the other way when coffee and coffee houses started gaining popularity, because coffee had at least originated within the Muslim world, and was so expensive that only the elite could partake. Tobacco, however, was introduced from the outside, and this fed a paranoia that these early suppliers were contributing to the “Christian contamination” of the lands of Islam. In 1631 the Egyptian scholar Ibrahim al-Laqani published a dire warning for Muslims who used tobacco. He stated, incorrectly, that bales of tobacco were soaked in wine and/or pig lard, and that any Muslim who used tobacco was essentially committing apostasy. This warning was taken most seriously by the sultan himself, Murad IV, who immediately shut down all the hookah/coffeehouses in Istanbul, and in 1633 smoking became a capital offense. The sultan himself became personally involved, and in secret tours of the city he oversaw the strictest application of his new law. Smokers unfortunate enough to be caught red-handed were executed on the spot. Tobacco supplies and the places that stored them throughout the empire were burned when found, quite often with the owner inside them. This and other persecutions continued until the early 1680’s, when one of the most accomplished religious scholars and Sufi adepts of the time, ‘Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi, wrote a treatise in 1682 in defense of the use of tobacco, even though he himself thought that such use showed "moral flaws". This treatise basically stated that the sultanic tobacco laws were in direct conflict with religious law, and that no political authority could solely decide the legality of the matter, or take precedence over religious law. This treatise was quickly and widely accepted, and would stand as a landmark in Islamic law and its view of tobacco for centuries. It was no longer against the law to use tobacco in the Ottoman empire!

    Again, up sprang the hookahhouses! They soon became the main bastion of a fun activity that had simply not previously existed. For the last fifty years, people for their own safety had been forced to express their conviviality in private, or in orchards, gardens, and graveyards at the outskirts of town that discreetly offered their open spaces for picnics and other social gatherings. No more! The creation of the hookahhouses, these openly social places, was the first step in the emergence of a very different Islamic society, and stands out as a major cultural achievement. The role of tobacco in all this social evolution cannot be understated. In its accessibility and convenience, it was perfectly suited to the task. Coffee was more expensive, and required elaborate equipment and a larger block of time. Tobacco only needed to be stuffed into a bowl and lit, and could be enjoyed at once. Most important to this success was the pipe, or medwakh. Highly transportable, affordable, easy to operate, and quick to use, the pipe would not be surpassed until the invention of the cigarette, another western commodity. One could smoke a medwakh anywhere, at home, on the move, in the market or streets. The hookah offered all the casual leisure of the coffee culture, which was much more sedentary and luxurious. Gradually the hookah became the preferred smoking apparatus as Middle Eastern society continued to relax and allow itself to enjoy such leisure's. Medwakhs, as always, remained popular with sailors as a hookah was not a viable option on shipboard. This is why the medwakh is still so popular and still etched so firmly today in the culture of certain parts of the Middle East, such as the U.A.E., which were traditionally reliant on sea trade.

  8. #8

    Puffer Fish with some spikes Pipe Organist's Avatar


     

    Re: Nargile 101

    I own an American-made shisha from "Hookah Brothers", and enjoy smoking the sometimes-called "French fruit tobacco" or molasses tobacco in it, as that's what's most commonly available.

    My favorite is the type flavored with jasmine, which can be hard to come by.

    I prefer these "washed moassel" tobaccos exactly because they are low in tar and nicotine, as I'm very sensitive to nicotine (sometimes getting dizzy and sick to my stomach if I smoke a rich pipe tobacco). I do get a mild "buzz" from them, and enjoy the flavor. I typically only smoke my shisha in the summer.

    From what I've read, one does not drink alcoholic beverages when smoking a shisha, but rather enjoys it with a demitasse of Turkish coffee (my favorite being the type that is flavored with cardomom, decaf) and perhaps a selection of sweets, such as "Turkish delight", a stiff paste-like concoction often flavored with rose water, cut into square pieces and dredged in powdered sugar.

    I have a picture of the famous composer and pianist Leopold Godowsky, seated on a low couch or divan, wearing robes and a turban, smoking a hookah and quaffing Turkish coffee. (I've set it as my profile pic).
    "A pipe gives the wise man time to think, the fool something to stick in his mouth."

  9. #9

    Young Puffer Fish Coyotero's Avatar


     

    Re: Nargile 101

    Quote Originally Posted by Pipe Organist View Post
    I own an American-made shisha from "Hookah Brothers", and enjoy smoking the sometimes-called "French fruit tobacco" or molasses tobacco in it, as that's what's most commonly available.
    Hookah brothers pipes are mostly Egyptian made. Although some of their pipes are rebranded Mya's. As far as I know there is no American made nargile on the market.


    Quote Originally Posted by Pipe Organist View Post
    I prefer these "washed moassel" tobaccos exactly because they are low in tar and nicotine, as I'm very sensitive to nicotine (sometimes getting dizzy and sick to my stomach if I smoke a rich pipe tobaccos). I do get a mild "buzz" from them, and enjoy the flavor. I typically only smoke my shisha in the summer.
    Actually, even the traditional tobaccos don't burn hot enough to produce tar... Tar production begins at around 800 degrees, which is hotter than moassel should get.

    If you're getting a buzz from washed moassel, I may well be the type of coal you are using rather than the nicotine itself... Depends on how washed the tobacco is. What kind of coals are you using? Switching to naturals will provide a better experience for you (More flavor and less headaches, buzz, etc.) that is, if you're using the quick-light variety of charcoal.

    Nothing really wrong with washed moassel if that's your thing. They just don't hold much appeal if you want a true tobacco flavor when you smoke. There is a brand called Havana that makes a washed blend called "pipe" that actually captures the tobacco flavor amazingly well for a washed product.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pipe Organist View Post
    From what I've read, one does not drink alcoholic beverages when smoking a shisha, but rather enjoys it with a demitasse of Turkish coffee (my favorite being the type that is flavored with cardomom, decaf) and perhaps a selection of sweets, such as "Turkish delight", a stiff paste-like concoction often flavored with rose water, cut into square pieces and dredged in powdered sugar.
    I imagine that the tradition of not using alcohol would stem from the traditional Muslim prohibition on it. I enjoy having a dark beer when I smoke, however.

    It definitely pairs well with coffee or tea. Sweets as well. I usually like to have some fresh fruit or cheese at arm's reach when I smoke.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pipe Organist View Post
    I have a picture of the famous composer and pianist Leopold Godowsky, seated on a low couch or divan, wearing robes and a turban, smoking a hookah and quaffing Turkish coffee. (I've set it as my profile pic).
    That's a bitchin' sweet photo. I love seeing old-school nargiles in action.

  10. #10

    Puffer Fish with some spikes Pipe Organist's Avatar


     

    Re: Nargile 101

    Coyotero:

    Thanks for the correction. For some reason I was under the impression that HB was an American company.

    I am using the self-lighting type of charcoal, as it's what is marketed by most of the shops that sell hookahs and supplies (run by Mediterranean and Middle Eastern folk, no less!) If there's a brand of natural charcoal you can recommend, I'd like to try it, because as you say there's a foul taste you get from the self-lighting stuff at times.

    Since I'm now living in the metro Detroit area (and not too far from Dearborn) I may be able to find the more traditional baccy's and natural charcoals if I know better what I'm looking for.

    And one of these days, I'm going to get rid of my couch, replace it with a Middle Eastern-style divan and find myself some decent robes and a turban and recreate that photo!
    "A pipe gives the wise man time to think, the fool something to stick in his mouth."

  11. #11

    Young Puffer Fish Coyotero's Avatar


     

    Re: Nargile 101

    Quote Originally Posted by Pipe Organist View Post
    Coyotero:

    Thanks for the correction. For some reason I was under the impression that HB was an American company.
    American company yes, but they don't make anything, they're an importer.


    Quote Originally Posted by Pipe Organist View Post
    I am using the self-lighting type of charcoal, as it's what is marketed by most of the shops that sell hookahs and supplies (run by Mediterranean and Middle Eastern folk, no less!) If there's a brand of natural charcoal you can recommend, I'd like to try it, because as you say there's a foul taste you get from the self-lighting stuff at times.

    Since I'm now living in the metro Detroit area (and not too far from Dearborn) I may be able to find the more traditional baccy's and natural charcoals if I know better what I'm looking for.

    And one of these days, I'm going to get rid of my couch, replace it with a Middle Eastern-style divan and find myself some decent robes and a turban and recreate that photo!
    There are several brands of natural charcoal that come highly recommended. Exotica, Coconara, Shishaco, and several others. Personally, nothing outdoes the coconaras for me. They light quick (For naturals, still about 5 minutes.) Burn at a good stable temperature, have no odor or taste, low CO outout, long lasting, very low ash. You'd be amazed how much your sessions will improve after switching to naturals.


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