Hello all, and welcome back to the Masonshishaware blog! In today’s entry charcoal is the focus. With so many shapes, sizes, and temperature ranges to choose from, a bit of guidance is more than needed on the subject these days. So, before you make that next lounge case order, let this be your guide!
Lemonwood/Natural Wood Charcoal
While in this day and age these types of coals have taken a backseat, that doesn’t mean they are forgotten. In fact, there is still a large population that swears by them, but why?
To put it simply, its what’s available in the region and what the smoker was brought up on in most cases. Going back to the origins of hookah, these bad boys were considered the golden standard much like how coconut charcoal is seen nowadays. Aside from that they are the cheapest coals to make due to sourcing of raw material and what little work actually goes into producing them.
What makes Lemonwood, Cherrywood, and natural wood charcoal vastly different from what upcoming hookah cultures use today are a few key factors: Heat, Ash content, and Size.
First off, the heat is much more subdued on these coals compared to 90% of the coconut coals on the market. While most modern brands call for higher heat, it is where these coals are most popular that the tobacco calls for different heat treatment altogether. In these regions Tombak, Jurak, and Moassel are still smoked on a regular basis. These forms of tobacco generally are smoked without foil and coconut charcoal simply aren’t the traditional way, to say these regions are populated with creatures of habit is an understatement.
Secondly, the ash content is quite frankly insane on these. Now imagine your ash tray full of ash after a week of smoking. This is what you can expect after a session or two with Lemonwood charcoal. Most lounges and sessions in these regions are completely outdoors meaning things like ash content don’t matter at when compared to the western style of smoking usually taking place indoors.
Lastly, the size on these types of charcoal vary to a degree that even Coconara couldn’t hope to achieve. In the couple bags I’ve had I went scouring for a good few minutes to find a handful of pieces that would heat evenly across the bowl. This of course goes back to the type of session these cultures are used to where it is commonplace to add charcoal every 30 minutes or so.
All in all, having a bag of these on hand is like having the origins of hookah always at your disposal. Sure, they ash all over the place, have very low heat output, and are damn near impossible to find the same size twice, BUT its one of those things you must respect as someone actively invested in the community. I do believe these coals are something everyone should try once just so you know where we’ve came from.
It really is as simple as that. However, for those who may be reading this that have just started and are only introduced to such charcoal, please throw away that roll you have immediately. Don’t make me beg.
Now coming from a completely unbiased view, quick-lighting charcoal or self-ignition charcoal do have a place in the industry. There isn’t always an option to light coconut charcoal and these do fill that void perfectly. It is in this sole occurrence that I can begrudgingly recommend them.
Aside from that rather miniscule use, quick lights should never be used as a long-term way to smoke. This is due to their ignition powder. What coats these is essentially the same thing that coats matchsticks – phosphorus and sulfur. Despite the common misconception that all these chemicals burn away while igniting, I can assure you that you are still indeed inhaling trace amounts of both. Even if the quick lights are labeled coconut or all natural they will always have a form of ignition powder that is harmful to ingest (i.e. Inhale).
Health risks aside, quick lights do not provide much heat and managing both the ash content along with the cooking of your tobacco proves to be more trouble than their worth. These coals also taint your session with a chemical taste and headache inducing smoke from start to finish in the overwhelmingly high majority.
In preparation for this blog post I even went back to these coals and tried out the coconut composition so that I could undoubtedly say every form of quick light is all but useless. Much like the original wood composition coals, the coconut style did alter the taste and gave an uneasy feeling in both my head and stomach. In total they gave me a whopping 50 minutes of barely palatable smoking time narrowly clocking in higher than a Lemonwood coal would.
All in all, quick lights have their place in the hookah industry, but if you are in a situation that calls for their use you should ask yourself “is it really worth it?”
Japanese Style Coals/Silver Tabs
On to another obscure type of charcoal: Silver Tabs.
Back in the early days of hookah influx to western society, there were very few options. You either had Lemonwood coals, quick lights, in some rare cases natural coconut charcoal, finger style coals, and silver tabs to chose from. These coals gained notoriety due to the clean taste and ease of lighting. They’re not quite a quick light but at the same token not quite a full fledged natural coal either. What makes them unique are the properties of both. They are either lit on an electric coil stove or by use of a torch lighter and can be stacked on one another to light as they are needed.
Their composition is some sort of silver flint type substance (hence “silver tab”) that allows the coal to be lit in a quicker fashion than others on the guide and are either bamboo or natural wood. Much like their slang advocates, they are shaped into long but slim rectangle tabs that are scored three times so that you can break off smaller portions. The wood itself leaves very little to no taste during your session but if you are stacking them to light you may get a hint of ignition-y “goodness” on the tail end of your exhale. As their birthname suggests, silver tabs are primarily exported from Japan, but unlike the traditions of Lemonwood coals in the middle east, Japanese smokers have gravitated to quick lights or natural coals in modern hookah settings leaving their popularity dwindling to connoisseurs of dark style American tobacco brands here in the states; primarily Tangiers smokers who will go to their grave saying they are superior to all other forms of charcoal that can be used with said brand.
If you may be struggling with Tangiers, mainly in the heat department, these coals will be a godsend in perfecting both your pack and overall session quality but other than that use you have far better alternatives in the guide for all other matters of modern hookah smoking.
Flat Coconut Charcoal
The first type of coconut charcoal I want to highlight are flats. These are what usually comes second after quick lights during the western hookah smoker’s upbringing. These coals are marketed as 100% coconut and all natural meaning the binding agents, coconut shells, and fillers are organic. Most flats can be trusted to represent these qualities but, in some cases, there has been wood and other nonorganic binding agents found, poor quality control is usually the culprit behind these occurrences.
Much like the name suggests “flats” are simply that. They are short rectangles never exceeding 18mm in height and usually 22mm to 25mm in length. Density and width will vary between brands but for the most part one flat is generally the same size and weight as another, however this all comes down to the brands consistency.
What makes flats commonplace is their ease of heat management. There isn’t a lot of weight bearing down on your foil unlike others in the guide which means you will scorch your tobacco less often. However, flats have a heat spike early on and dwindle as your session comes to a close. It is a double-edged sword in that manner. While you may have less direct contact due to weight distribution ultimately the flat will burn hotter than others at the beginning, so you do need to start these off more on the edge. Heat of course will depend on the brand as well since not all flats are created equal.
Flats are generally the same price per kilo as other shapes but if you smoke for shorter durations, are just breaking into coconut charcoal, or use the original Kaloud Lotus I would highly recommend these.
Mini Cube Coconut Charcoal
The next shape is relatively new to the market, but in the little time they’ve been around quite a sizeable following has amassed. They are none other than mini cubes!
Not quite a flat but not quite a full-fledged cube, mini cubes have been a breath of fresh air to many. Typically, mini cubes are 22mm x 22mm x 22mm and are rather consistent throughout the few brands that produce them. Mini cubes are generally as hot as a flat but without the heat spike and drop that most flats have and since they are lighter than a cube you don’t run the risk of your foil sagging to the point of singeing the top layer of your tobacco prematurely. Being that these coals are natural in composition little to no taste comes forth as well.
Aside from the composition and appearance these little guys are great to have on hand when you want a slightly longer session than flats would give but don’t have time to light up and smoke cubes for their entire duration. I will add that typically you will need an extra coal than you would normally use to achieve that perfect harmony of smoothness vs. cloud production, but all in all mini cubes get the job done and well at that.
Cube Coconut Charcoal
Proceeding on to the star of the show, Cube shaped charcoal is easily the most popular on this guide bar none. Not every natural coal company will make a flat or mini cube, but nearly every company that produces a natural coal will have cubes available and often times it is their sole product. But why do companies and the customer base prefer cubes? One word, longevity.
Cube coals are the biggest we have seen thus far and it’s very likely that we will ever see. These coals clock in at 25mm x 25mm x 25mm and some brands even go further into 26mm. Due to this they last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour longer than others on this guide. Cubes are also special in the sense that they heat evenly during their entire duration making them an ideal candidate for both lounge and enthusiast use. Most tobaccos produced these days have a higher moisture content meaning a consistent heat is needed, with others on the guide you will need to add more charcoal at the most pinnacle time as to not shock the tobacco and burn what would have been a long-lasting session, with cubes the second-guessing on times is eliminated. When the first round of cubes isn’t putting out heat simply add another two, pile up the three or four remnants to make another half, and you have another hour free and clear if you manage them properly.
Aside from size and consistent heat, cube coals also come in a wide variety of heat output. Some brands crank out high temperatures and others stay low and slow, gradually ashing over making longer sessions ever more achievable. The same can be said for other natural coal shapes but due to the seemingly never-ending supply of new brands of cube coal there is a brand perfect for your preferences just waiting to be discovered.
In summary, cube coals are the top dogs of the industry and it appears to be staying that way for the foreseeable future. Due to the size, variety of brands, consistent heat, and even heat output you need to have a box or two on hand. As previously stated cube coals are heavier and proper foiling techniques are imperative to managing them properly, but in case you have ditched foil altogether or use hmds that coincide with foil use (see our blog post highlighting these hmd types) they are a must have but always keep in mind that cubes will last a considerable amount of time longer so plan your sessions accordingly.
Finger Style/Hexagon Charcoal
Moving on to the more exotic shapes, hexagon and finger style coals have recently been taking western hookah practices over by storm. Both shapes of charcoal are not exactly new, but some of the most popular brands in the U.S. have adopted the shapes and made them their own. Both shapes ditch the rectangular and square shape and opt for more coverage of the bowl while keeping the heat source from bearing down prematurely unlike others on the guide.
Touching upon finger style coals first, this shape of charcoal is exactly what the name suggests; finger shaped. They range in height depending on the brand, but the length is nearly identical throughout the box. As previously stated fingers are much longer than their other natural charcoal brethren, usually taking up the entire side of the bowl. However due to the way the heat disperses you will have consistent heat across the surface without any heat spikes making them ideal for newcomers to practice with. Fingers are a mix of different compositions but in most cases they are either wood or bamboo based and leave little to no taste during your session. It should be noted that they will ash a bit more than others on the guide and in some cases may roll around if the rumble on your pipe is rigorous. One way to counteract said rolling, is by use of a diffuser but even so this may not eliminate the problem fully.
Hexagon shaped charcoal are practically one in the same. These coals are finger shaped as well but are cut into their namesake to ultimately remedy the rolling issue fingers have. Hexagons are the perfect amount of heat to refine your foil session craft as they not only heat uniformly, but also focus on more indirect heat due to the sides not meeting the foil. The composition of hexagons will range depending on the brand of course but for the most part they are completely natural coconut. The one drawback I’ve found using a few different brands of this shape is that during the later part of your session the sides will disintegrate leaving you with a flat silver tab-esque coal but even so this won’t affect the heat much as they are practically spent at this timeframe.
While both shapes differ immensely from the rest of this guide, I can wholeheartedly say they excel with foil sessions. Keep in mind that if you use most forms of hmds, these will not be the best choice for your money and practices, you can get creative and still use them, but the last shape on this guide will be the godsend you’re looking for.
Quarter Circle Charcoal
The last shape of coal comes directly from the popularity of the Kaloud Lotus. Many, myself included, have been struggling for years to find the optimal shape and heat output of charcoal to best suit this device and others like it. In the last few years only a few brands both in western society and European hookah culture have sought to remedy this by introducing a specific shape of charcoal designed exclusively for hmd use. They are none other than quarter circles.
Like the name hints at, natural coconut composition quarter circles are semicircular meaning they fit perfectly along the sides of the lotus and other devices. They are cut into four nearly identical shapes and due to the triangular cut on the opposite side of the semi-circle fit like a puzzle piece together in total harmony. The heat has been moderate in the few brands producing this shape but will ultimately be left up to the users heat preference if all four will be added into the device. Aside from the quarter concept there is one brand that has gone with a three semi-circle pattern and Kaloud themselves have opted for a two-half-moon design much like a quick light cut in half – only natural and free of accelerants.
The one drawback I’ve found in the brands I’ve tried is that during the later part of the session when an ashing is called for, they hardly ever retain their once pristine shape. Usually they form into some trapezoid and triangular mess of molten fiery coconut. They still provide ample heat to keep the session going but it can be tiresome to deal with while you find the perfect spot to arrange them in.
Overall these coals do the job well and fix the problem with hmd usage and coal consumption/management but could be executed a bit better when it comes down to retaining their shape.
Not All Charcoal is Created Equal…
But, I hope this guide has given you some insight on shapes and applications of charcoal that may have eluded you thus far in your hookah endeavors. Every type of charcoal has its own ideal use but understanding each is key to saving money and finding your perfect charcoal shape vs. heat output. As you can tell by the guide, no one piece of charcoal is king over another, all charcoal is preference based at best, but it’s easy to all agree on quick lights being the black sheep of the hookah charcoal market.Thank you for stopping by the blog! Let us know what your favorite charcoal is and why down in a comment below!