A technical analysis on pack density

Hey, this is Moa Smokes and some of you may know me from my IG (@moasmokes) or YouTube Channel, while others may know me as part of the Leadership Team from Hookah Unlimited. I've been smoking shisha for about 18 years now and my goal is to pass on as much knowledge as possible, whether that be to fellow shisha/hookah enthusiasts or newcomers.

I know that when it comes to shisha, a lot of people are intimidated by all of the terms and phrases used in the community. I also know that, as a result of this pandemic, a lot of "lounge smokers" have turned into "at home smokers". While that's great news, there's a lot to learn when it comes to setting up your own sessions.

Once you've mastered the fundamentals, you'll quickly see how at-home sessions can be vastly superior to the sessions you've grown accustomed to while smoking at lounges. To help get you started (or to progress) on your journey, we're going to start with arguably the most important thing when it comes to your session... packing a bowl properly.

Note: I'm Egyptian, so I use "shisha" to describe both the pipe and the tobacco. I know that's confusing without the context, so I'll be using "shisha tobacco" in this blog.

They're not all the same?

It is an incredibly common misconception that all shisha tobacco can be packed the same way. Technically, everything can be packed the same way, but should they be? For example, I'm sure that all of your lounge sessions throughout your life haven't been identical; even if all you smoke is Al Fakher Mint everywhere you go. There's a reason for that.

If you take an Egyptian clay bowl and that aforementioned Al Fakher Mint and hand it to 3 different people and tell them to pack it, they're all going to pack it slightly differently. That means that if each of those bowls was set aside for you to smoke, you would have a different experience with each one. One might produce bigger clouds, one might have more flavor, one might last longer. It all depends on how close the person packing it got to the recommended packing density for that brand and type of tobacco.

Don't believe me? Try packing Fumari the same way you pack Tangiers. Or packing Trifecta Dark the same way you pack Trifecta Blonde even. Sure, you'll get decent flavor and decent smoke for an abbreviated amount of time, but the standard shouldn't be an abbreviated amount of time and the standard shouldn't be a "decent smoke". It's like those commercials, do you want the "okay" option or do you want the "best" option?

Packing a bowl shouldn't be a guessing game -- and luckily, it doesn't have to be.

The different pack densities

There are 5 main pack densities. They are: Fluff, Semi-Fluff, Normal, Semi-Dense, and Dense. Every shisha tobacco you've ever encountered in your life will be packed using one of those pack densities.

For the sake of argument, there is another method called the Cement pack, but I've never used it for anything besides figuring out the maximum capacity of a bowl (which is actually incredibly important as you'll read below). As a note, there are people that inadvertently use the Cement pack when packing Tangiers without realizing they're doing it, so I'll talk about that too.

Sarkis Gregorian figured out a way to utilize math in the definition of each pack method to develop a chart called the Hookah Unlimited Density Level Guide. Through this guide and numerous sessions with each brand, Sarkis was able to find the objective ideal density for each tobacco. These findings were not only confirmed by me, but also by multiple trusted individuals. The recommended method for each brand is just that -- a recommendation. Use the recommendations below as a starting point when you pack your bowls and then tweak as you see fit, as each individual will have different preferences. The main things you're looking for when you pack a certain brand of shisha tobacco are: session longevity, flavor preservation, flavor quality, and cloud output. We'll reference this guide as we're discussing the different density levels.

Let's look at the different types of densities and talk about what they are, how to execute them, what they look like, and what brands work best with those densities. Since people absorb information differently, I'm going to approach this guide from a technical standpoint so that people that don't have context or want exact information can access it. That being said, the information here is meant to guide you through your first few bowls in each of the pack methods. I obviously don't expect you to weigh your shisha tobacco every time you pack a bowl.

Note: Each of these packs has variations. They are Light, Heavy, and Plus. I won't get into the variations for each method now, but I might in a later blog post, so keep that in mind. Again, these are based off of the Hookah Unlimited Density Level Guide developed by Sarkis Gregorian. 

Establishing a point of reference

The Cement pack is not used for any shisha tobacco that is common today. When you pack as much tobacco into your bowl as possible and press down as hard as possible, you're packing your bowl at the Cement density. I'm sure you can guess that at such a dense pack, you're going to cut off all airflow in the bowl. Why even bring it up? The Cement pack is actually essential to understanding how to pack your bowl properly. It's also the reason that it's leading this explanation.

The best way to explain a complex subject is by using terms and things we all understand. We're going to use some basic objects and some basic math now.

  1. Grab a food scale, a calculator, a bowl and the tobacco you plan on using.
  2. Turn the food scale on, set it to grams, place the bowl on it and then 0 it out (so the scale reads 0 with the bowl on it)
  3. Grab the bowl and the tobacco and pack as much tobacco as possible into the bowl. Make sure you're pressing down to eliminate any air pockets.
  4. Set the bowl back on the scale and observe the weight.

That number is the maximum capacity of your bowl. That number is what all of the other densities will be based on, since the amount of tobacco that you use in each of the different densities is going to be a percentage of the maximum capacity of your bowl. In this case, a cement pack is 100% the capacity of your bowl. To calculate the number for each of the other pack methods, we first must figure out the dense pack. A dense pack is 90% of a cement pack. To figure this out, we multiply the cement pack by 0.9 (90%) to get the number for a dense pack. I'll explain this in detail for each pack method.

The Fluff Pack

The fluff pack is the lightest pack possible. It involves grabbing the shisha tobacco with your fingers and sprinkling it into the bowl little by little. The shisha tobacco should fall and lay exactly the way that you sprinkle it into the bowl without any manual intervention, be it with a toothpick, oyster fork, or foil poker. That means don't grab a handful and try to do it all at once.

Now it's time for some more math:

  • fluff pack is 50% of a dense pack.
  • dense pack is 90% of a cement pack.
  • Take the number you got for the cement pack (maximum capacity) and multiply by 0.9 (90%) to figure out the dense pack.
  • Take that number and multiply it by 0.5 (50%) to calculate your fluff pack.

For example, a cement pack for my Gravyl bowl is 22g. A dense pack is 90% of that, so we get ~20g when we multiply 22g by 0.9 (90%). We then multiply that number by 0.5 (50%) to figure out how many grams of shisha tobacco we need for a fluff pack. That means that for a fluff pack, my number would be 10g of shisha tobacco. Therefore, 10g of shisha tobacco is what I'd use for a fluff pack in my Gravyl.

Note: the reason I say "my Gravyl" is because the Gravyl is handmade, so capacities may differ slightly. That's why it's so important to know your specific bowl's capacity.

Brands that use a fluff pack: Social Smoke, Serbetli, Lavoo

The Semi-Fluff Pack

The semi-fluff pack uses slightly more shisha tobacco than a fluff pack. It involves grabbing the shisha tobacco with your fingers and sprinkling it into the bowl little by little the way you would in a fluff pack. The shisha tobacco should still fall and lay exactly the way that you sprinkle it into the bowl, but here, you want to sprinkle a little bit over the rim so you can (very) slightly pack the shisha tobacco down, be it with your fingers, a toothpick or a foil poker.

Now it's time for some more math:

  • A semi-fluff pack is 62.5% of a dense pack.
  • dense pack is 90% of a cement pack.
  • Take the number you got for the cement pack (maximum capacity) and multiply by 0.9 (90%) to figure out the dense pack.
  • Take that number and multiply it by 0.625 (62.5%) to calculate your semi-fluff pack.

For example, a cement pack for my Gravyl bowl is 22g. A dense pack is 90% of that, so we get ~20g when we multiply 22g by 0.9 (90%). We then multiply that number by 0.625 (62.5%) to figure out how many grams of shisha tobacco we need for a semi-fluff pack. That means that for a semi-fluff pack, my number would be 12.5g of shisha tobacco. Therefore, 12.5g of shisha tobacco is what I'd use for a semi-fluff pack in my Gravyl.

Brands that use a semi-fluff pack: Starbuzz, Fumari, Dschinni, Savacco, Flow, Mazaya, Alchemist, Trifecta Blonde, Ugly, Afzal

The Normal Pack

The normal pack was developed because of Al Fakher. So many people didn't know how to pack Al Fakher properly, that the phrase "normal pack" was coined to describe it. This packing method, like all others, starts with grabbing the shisha tobacco with your fingers and sprinkling it into the bowl little by little the way you would in a fluff pack. The shisha tobacco should still fall and lay exactly the way that you sprinkle it into the bowl, but here, you want to sprinkle a little bit more than a semi-fluff pack over the rim so you can pack the shisha tobacco down, be it with your fingers, a toothpick or a foil poker.

Now it's time for some more math:

  • A normal pack is 75% of a dense pack.
  • dense pack is 90% of a cement pack.
  • Take the number you got for the cement pack (maximum capacity) and multiply by 0.9 (90%) to figure out the dense pack.
  • Take that number and multiply it by 0.75 (75%) to calculate your normal pack.

For example, a cement pack for my Gravyl bowl is 22g. A dense pack is 90% of that, so we get ~20g when we multiply 22g by 0.9 (90%). We then multiply that number by 0.75 (75%) to figure out how many grams of shisha tobacco we need for a normal pack. That means that for a normal pack, my number would be 15g of shisha tobacco. Therefore, 15g of shisha tobacco is what I'd use for a normal pack in my Gravyl.

Brands that use a normal pack: Al Fakher, Azure Blonde, Othmani, Adalya, Al Waha, Element, Overdozz, Azure Dark, Haze

 

The Semi-Dense Pack

The semi-dense pack is a style that's reserved mostly for dark leaf tobacco. It's a method that was developed as a way to bridge the gap between a normal pack and a dense pack. This packing method, like all others, starts with grabbing the shisha tobacco with your fingers and sprinkling it into the bowl little by little the way you would in a fluff pack. The shisha tobacco should still fall and lay exactly the way that you sprinkle it into the bowl, but here, you want to sprinkle a little bit more than a normal pack over the rim so you can pack the shisha tobacco down, be it with your fingers, a toothpick or a foil poker.

Now it's time for some more math:

  • A semi-dense pack is 87.5% of a dense pack.
  • dense pack is 90% of a cement pack.
  • Take the number you got for the cement pack (maximum capacity) and multiply by 0.9 (90%) to figure out the dense pack.
  • Take that number and multiply it by 0.875 (87.5%) to calculate your semi-dense pack.

For example, a cement pack for my Gravyl bowl is 22g. A dense pack is 90% of that, so we get ~20g when we multiply 22g by 0.9 (90%). We then multiply that number by 0.875 (87.5%) to figure out how many grams of shisha tobacco we need for a semi-dense pack. That means that for a semi-dense pack, my number would be 17.5g of shisha tobacco. Therefore, 17.5g of shisha tobacco is what I'd use for a semi-dense pack in my Gravyl.

Brands that use a semi-dense pack: Trifecta Dark, Starbuzz Vintage, Nirvana, Odinson, Nakhla, Eclipse, Zomo Blonde, Kismet

 

The Dense Pack

The dense pack is the pack that we've based a lot of these calculations on, so you already know what's coming with this one. The dense pack is used primarily for dark leaf tobacco. This packing method, like all others, starts with grabbing the shisha tobacco with your fingers and sprinkling it into the bowl little by little the way you would in a fluff pack. The shisha tobacco should still fall and lay exactly the way that you sprinkle it into the bowl, but here, you want to sprinkle a little bit more than a semi-dense pack over the rim so you can pack the shisha tobacco down, be it with your fingers, a toothpick or a foil poker. Pro tip: after you achieve your dense pack, you should be able to push down on the tobacco and it should have some give. If it doesn't have any give and just stays where it is, then you've packed it too dense and eliminated vital air pockets needed for air to circulate through your bowl.

Now it's time for some more math:

  • dense pack is 90% of a cement pack.
  • Take the number you got for the cement pack (maximum capacity) and multiply by 0.9 (90%) to figure out the dense pack.

For example, a cement pack for my Gravyl bowl is 22g. A dense pack is 90% of that, so we get ~20g when we multiply 22g by 0.9 (90%). That means that for a dense pack, my number would be 20g of shisha tobacco. Therefore, 20g of shisha tobacco is what I'd use for a dense pack in my Gravyl.

Brands that use a dense pack: Tangiers, Starbuzz Serpent, Zomo Strong, KFC, Lavoo Heritage

My Gravyl

I referenced my own Gravyl a lot throughout this post. Let's look at how each pack method looks in my Gravyl:

  • Fluff Pack: 10g
  • Semi-Fluff Pack: 12.5g
  • Normal Pack: 15g
  • Semi-Dense Pack: 17.5g
  • Dense Pack: 20g
  • Cement Pack: 22g

Notice that the difference from one method to the next one is 2-3g. Now let's say you have a bowl that is double the size. A cement pack is 44g, but don't assume that 42g is a dense pack. A dense pack (90%) of a 44g bowl is actually closer to 40g. A fluff pack would be 20g in that case. Always use the math to figure out how much tobacco you should be using.

I hope this blog was helpful. I know it's a long read, but the idea is you can reference the pack method that pertains to the tobacco you're using in the moment.

 

Also see our article by Rob Pecoraro on the Ultimate Tobacco Packing Guide 

https://www.masonshishaware.com/blogs/hookah-blog/the-ultimate-tobacco-packing-guide

 


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3 comentarios

  • So good. Great in depth description and informative guide. My favorite part was the math breakdown. I do pretty much the same thing for my bowls and it’s definitely an accurate way for those who want to get the best bang for their buck. Keep up the good work!

    • Brandon (Mythic_Cloudz)
  • That article was so informative and so easy to follow.

    Thank you

    • Travelling_foodie
  • Hi, just wanted to say that was a very good read and very informative. Very helpful. Will be applying it to my packs.

    • Idris Makda