Traditional vs. Modern – Your guide to finding the best hookah
Hello again, and welcome back to the Masonshishaware Hookah Blog! Today’s guide is all about bridging the gap between the old and new world when it comes to hookahs and determining what classifies each as their own. Throughout this guide I will be going into detail regarding pros, cons, and classifications of either set of pipes and how they ultimately relate to you, the end consumer. Spoiler alert, there isn’t going to be a full-fledged winner between the two, but at the end of this blog you will undoubtedly come out more educated on each category and be that much closer to finding the end all pipe for you before the holiday season comes to a close.
It only makes sense to start at the beginning, much like with any story. With Hookah, the story begins with Traditional pipes.
From as far back as the Ottoman Empire and even beyond, hookahs of the traditional sense have taken many forms but always remained true to a few key aspects that make the hookah, well, a hookah. These key fundamentals consist of a central shaft from which the smoke travels from the bowl, a receptacle where water cools the smoke, and a port in which you draw from. It’s important to remember these three basics as they are responsible for what we see today. As hookah began to evolve, more intricate designs and materials began to be used along with additions of components such as the purge port, which ultimately opened the next generation of modernization that would unfold. Even when beginning to classify a traditional hookah as such, traditional hookahs we see today are merely modernizations of what once was.
Much like the classification suggests these pipes are created with long passed down traditions of metal working and in most cases are still made completely by hand from start to finish. This tedious process is far from a labor of love, but a way of life for those who smoke hookah in the Middle East and surrounding areas.
For this blog I want to cover the three main types of traditional hookahs and define them, as to the naked eye they may appear similar though differ greatly when it comes down to their inner workings. These are Egyptian, Syrian, and Turkish Hookahs.
The most popular and readily available traditional hookah is without a doubt the Egyptian. In most cases these are the pipes that start you off on the journey of honing your hookah skillsets and show you true quality along with craftsmanship. Known for their open draw and flashy aesthetics, Egyptian Hookahs bring the old world straight to your session. Commonly they feature either cast or worked brass that is welded and, in some cases, cast around the central shaft which is usually comprised of stainless steel. Depending on the brand copper will be used as the central shaft or possibly a full stainless construction as a cheaper substitution to the effort and price associated with a brass construction. What defines an Egyptian hookah is typically the closed chamber, open draw, purge port, and style of engravings. Brands like Khalil Maamoon, Shika, and Farida are all easily identifiable due to these classifications and style in which they engrave the brass or stainless steel.
Apart from these fundamentals, an Egyptian Hookah is the quintessential starting point in which draw is measured. Due to the popularity of these pipes, modern companies have often emulated and gone above and beyond to ensure their products have met or surpassed this benchmark of draw. When a new pipe is brought to market the question of “How does it compare to a KM’s draw?” is usually one of the first things to be brought up. It’s in this statement that one can really begin to understand just how important an Egyptian pipe really is to the industry even a century later.
Moving onward, the seldomly seen Syrian Hookah holds a very special place on this guide. These hookahs are often the pinnacle of collections worldwide. Namely Al Nawras, Al Fakher, and to a lesser extent Nour. These near mythical pipes are easily the most sought-after pieces of old-world hookah culture, but why?
To put it simply, it’s all in the rarity and more importantly; draw. It’s no secret as to what has been unfolding in Syria for decades and apart from the war-torn society, these hookahs are but another casualty of the culture that has been lost. This alone has drove the asking price for used models to reach upwards of $400 dollars, however when you pair that with what they are most known for, it’s a price many are willing to pay for. The market is so vast for these that other companies have even tried to replicate them to no avail.
In terms of construction Syrian pipes range from nickel, copper, and brass construction with some models being full stainless. The handmade engravings are usually easily identifiable as they serve as yet another benchmark in which traditional hookahs are judged. Much like an Egyptian hookah they feature a closed chamber, purge port, and finally a restricted draw. Now it’s important to note that while the draw may be defined as restricted it is more along the lines of being open compared to others that will be on this guide. This is where the praise comes from. The draw can’t be described in words as these pipes smoke like a dream, however will take some getting used to if you are coming from a more modern pipe. In short, this is why they are so highly regarded in enthusiast circles. If you come across a chance to smoke out of one or are faced with opportunity to own a true Syrian pipe, don’t look back.
The last entry on this guide for traditional hookahs brings us to Turkish. While these pipes may not have the collector’s niche like Syrian nor the popularity worldwide of Egyptian, they need not be forgotten.
Turkish hookahs have somewhat of a more die-hard fanbase and rightfully so. These pipes are not very easy to procure here in the States and those who have tried them may not gravitate back due to the reasons that make them unique in the first place. However, seeing them in person is certainly a welcome sight to behold as they feature some of the most intricate and well-done engravings across several brands.
The construction of a Turkish hookah is relatively barebones. They almost always feature full copper stems decorated with brass along with a closed chamber. What sets them apart from the other traditional pipes is the restricted draw, lack of purge port, and a female style bowl port (though some brands will have the more standard male style port). These key differences make them easily identifiable but if you were blindfolded the draw alone would be the tell- tale sign of what type of hookah you were smoking. To say the draw is tight is a bit of an understatement. Compared to an Egyptian pipe it will be a night and day difference, but many fans of these pipes will attest to the flavor being far more potent with a setup like this though generally in my experience a well packed and managed bowl will yield the same results on a more open traditional pipe. That aside, smoking out a Turkish hookah is an experience and I will add that I still go back to mine once every few weeks.
Now that I’ve brought you up to speed on what these pipes are, let me dive into the positives.
Price. With full packages that include everything you need to get started its easy to wholeheartedly suggest having one in your collection. Most sets will range from $65-$200 and will surely give you your money back when talking about product lifespan. For example, my most used pipe (Khalil Maamoon Kamanja) is six years old with no signs of stopping anytime soon.
Design. Traditional pipes are barebones in the sense that there are very few moving parts that can get lost or deteriorate. They all have a simple construction that is built to last which is why you will see them at nearly every hookah lounge across the world. They work, and well at that.
Craftsmanship. When dealing with these pipes, you know you will always have a hookah that is unique as variance of engravings is commonplace. What you will see on my Kamanja or Ceramica may not echo yours, and that’s how it should be. Your pipe will have character and knowing that it was handcrafted is not just another selling point, but a fact.
As much as I would love to say there are none, there should be things to take note of with these products.
Consistency. Since these pipes are fashioned by hand, they tend to come with blemishes from the process and have even been known to have welds break rendering the pipe useless until being reconstructed. Again, since they are handmade 100% consistency is just purely not possible. With every pipe you do take a gamble at owning something reliable or owning a project you’ll have keep at as long as you have it. Full disclosure I ended up completely getting rid of one of my pipes due to this, and it’s not far off to say that could happen to you.
Nonexistent customer service. With these brands being so far away from the States and representatives being few and far between, making a claim regarding a pipe is not something that can be easily done. Most companies ship them off by the ton and have zero interaction with the end consumer. You may get lucky and have the vendor replace the pipe or you may be stuck with it eternally. This isn’t the case with all brands however, so it may reward you to do some research and find a brand with solid customer interaction/warranties.
Lack of originality. To say there isn’t much originality with traditional is a bit of an understatement. Typically, they all play off each other. One strikes gold with a new design then boom, every brand has it. Now, not all these pipes will look the same but due to the simple construction and methods of creation, it’s something that is virtually inescapable. Researching the models across several brands will yield the best results in finding something you will need to add to your hookah collection. Just don’t become discouraged as not all traditional pipes are even remotely created equal.
Some brands to look in to are Khalil Maamoon, Shika, Farida, Nawras/Nour/Al Fakher (as they come about), Elmas, and El Nefes.
Now that you understand what a Traditional pipe consists of, I can dive into what makes a modern pipe as such. Typically, all the pipes that fall into the modern category follow suit with their handmade brethren in the sense that most feature a closed chamber, hose port, purge, and standard male style bowl port. However, the variance and design that goes into each of these basics are what set them apart along with the materials used in the construction. For this guide I want to highlight all glass hookahs, Brazilian hookahs, American hookahs, Russian hookahs, and finally German hookahs along with their own set of pros and cons.
These pipes were all the rage 6-8 years ago, though still have a small customer base who appreciate them. A plethora of different brands seemingly sprouted up overnight to cash in on the craze, and few are still produced today as the market for them has diminished greatly since their debut.
With glass hookahs much of the traditional aspect we see in other modern hookahs are thrown out the window. There are a few key models such as the tanks but for the most part it’s free range when it comes to aesthetics and overall design. Much like Egyptian hookahs, when a design caught fire with consumers many jumped at making their “own,” which is the first con when discussing them.
In terms of their construction glass thickness varies from brand to brand along with draw either being extremely open or falling flat due to design elements. Few seem to have mastered both but that’s not to say glass hookahs can’t be a great addition to have around your hookah battle station. Aesthetics are the main target with brands as that hits home with their demographic more so than other types of hookahs. Being able to see your draw from start to finish is what initially drew in the crowd, but many have continued on, adding in the concept of flavor being more pure and untainted by any metals. Typically, a glass hookah will have a completely open chamber, prefect glass on glass seals, built in diffuser, glass tipped hose, and come stocked with a glass phunnel bowl or vortex/phunnel style hybrid.
In terms of pros and cons, there seem to be more wrong than right across the spectrum of brands. Many of these brands are made in China and simply don’t have the glass thickness necessary to accompany the cleaning process and nature of what hookah is; a social culture. This, along with a hindering or open draw makes them more of a gimmick than anything. Versatility is also a key factor as many can not be used with your favorite bowl or hose. However, these cons aside, the aesthetics are second to none and flavor output is certainly a positive when discussing them. While they fall flat in overall performance, smoking from a glass hookah is nearly undisputable when it comes down to smoothness. Finding the right one that hits all the markings that more traditional as well as modern pipes have isn’t impossible so research will do you well. Personally speaking I’ve found Dschinni and Zahrah to be the best of the best.
As our journey around the various hookah marketplaces continues, Brazil is our next stop. Brazilian hookahs are a bit different than other subcultures in the sense that mini models reign supreme in terms of popularity. This ushered in the use of modular properties giving the culture options to run either full size or smaller setups which continues to be a design element throughout the rest of the world since its debut.
Brazilian hookahs for the most part follow in the footsteps of traditional pipes having closed chambers, a purge port, and standard male bowl port, but something that has defined the type is the design of a recessed hose port that is directly in the heart itself. Another common element in construction is the use of wide gauge stems and downstems that seek to give you the most open draw possible without sacrificing design elements of performance unlike glass hookahs. Nearly all of these pipes are machined meaning they will be perfectly sealed and have no variance from generation to generation, of course omitting any design changes along the way.
As far as pros and cons go, there are little that can be seen as a con. The wide gauge stems give you an amazing draw from session start to session end, the machined aspect gives you peace of mind that you will always have a tight seal and consistent product, and finally the option of running your hookah as full size or mini is that much more of a selling point. The few cons I can personally conjure up are that of the threads which make up these hookahs eventually deteriorating, and customer service claims worldwide may be a pain to deal with. Those aside, owning a Brazilian hookah is often like owning a pair or three of some seriously well designed and constructed hookahs. Brands like Hookahking, Kalle, Sultan, Amazon, and Marajah are just a few I would recommend looking in to.
Up until recently the American market was stagnant when it came to hookah production. We were simply importers and the few hookahs that were designed in America certainly weren’t made in America and of those few, none met the qualifications of being considered “good” hookahs by the community’s definitions. That was until Starbuzz debuted their Made in The USA line of hookahs.
These hookahs opened the door for brands to follow and gave us something we hadn’t seen before on our market; quality. Machined and made with high quality materials such as stainless and aluminum, Starbuzz gave us what we all hoped for in our domestic market. These pipes had all the markings of a traditional hookah: closed chamber, hose port, standard bowl port, and functioning purge but sought to fix the consistency issue found in the traditional brands. Flash forward to a few years later and Prometheus along with B2 Hookahs revolutionized what we thought possible and quickly became worldwide sensations.
In a way, American Hookahs take their influence for all the greatest hits from other culture’s products. With the previously mentioned B2 and Prometheus, machining and minimalistic designs seek to give the end user the best product possible. Out of these three brands material choice coincides with each other but draw ultimately makes them unique. Starbuzz boasts a moderate draw akin to KM and other Egyptian made hookahs. With B2, Brazilian influence comes into play with the wide-open draw and modular capabilities however the added removeable diffuser comes as a nice touch and with Prometheus the more restricted draw (in the original models) almost pays homage to Syrian pipes. As the generations of Prometheus evolved, a more open draw and modular capability was implemented to give more options to the consumer along with a dedicated mini and medium sized model.
Apart from these three brands you also have Alchemist who threw their hat in the ring with the Initiate hookah which follows in the footsteps of the new generations of Prometheus hookahs both being modular and coming with a tighter draw. Regal is also an American brand who revolutionized the worldwide market with use of wood décor, an open draw, and machined parts. Since their inception wood adorned stems have become all the rage, often emulating the brand to a point of being direct copies to ride the cotails of their originality.
Regarding pros and cons, most on this guide have sought to remedy any cons that would have come up through the R&D before product launch. Quality construction and material choice both eliminate the worry of rust and deterioration, customer service regarding claims have viable resources one can access, and the product lifespan is impeccable. However, all these pros can be a double-edged sword in the sense that volume of production may leave customers in limbo awaiting outreach and inconsistent cleaning along with care can leave the pipe in shambles just like with any pipe in this guide. These concerns should be dismissed if you take care of your products in general, and I would recommend all these brands as welcome additions to your household.
The latest craze of worldwide popularity comes from none other than Mother Russia. These pipes have all the bells and whistles and seek to be a step above the rest in terms of functionality, quality, and overall eccentrics.
When looking at the market, high quality production seems to be a benchmark as subpar materials and design don’t last long in the public eye. The use of machines ensures consistent inner-workings but unlike other markets, added flare such as diamonds, gold, and even magnets play a huge part in showing their uniqueness. Most brands follow the guidelines of traditional hookahs with closed chambers, recessed hose ports, and standard bowl ports, but follow their own path when it comes to the purge. “Invisible” style purges are considered a norm with other brands even going as far as adding an additional purge on the base of the hookah.
Even with such varying degrees of construction, the designs themselves are very streamline and sleek. Brands like Mattpear, DSH, some Hoob models, Union, and Craft all boast a more classic approach, focusing on the function rather than being extraordinarily different like others tend to. This community of manufacturers has a bit of something for everyone and price points will certainly reflect that, I will say that I have yet to see a bad hookah come out of Russia, just none that fit a more frugal type of smoker’s budget like myself which leads to the pros and cons.
Starting off with the pros, these pipes are consistent in every manner of the word and all aspects of construction are fantastic. You always have a great draw and smooth session as most come with a diffuser as a bonus, but, the price point and lack of representation outside or Russia are qualms that need to be brought up. These alongside the seemingly constant oversaturation of the market may have you feeling buyer’s remorse as something new comes along on much higher basis than other markets out there. If you can get past these, any Russian hookah will show you firsthand that they are doing things right.
The last stop on this journey brings us to Germany, where steel runs in the bloodline of hookah culture. Known for their simplistic curves and almost blocky appearance, German Hookahs are always easily identifiable.
These pipes are constructed of varying degrees of stainless steel and opt out of the traditional grommet to vase connection for a threaded connection meaning a perfect seal. They follow with other hookahs by definition of a standard bowl port but differ immensely when it comes to the basics. Some will feature a closed chamber while others have an open chamber meaning the ports are exposed. The hose port can follow with a traditional protruding nature, recessed style, or have a connection based on the use of a silicone hose that acts as its own grommet. As far as draw is concerned this will depend on the brand but most seem to at least fall in line with an Egyptian style pipe where others go for a more open bore.
Much like the traditional hookah culture plagiarism runs rampant, with many of these pipes directly copying each other or even having a sub-brand that uses slightly lesser quality materials with virtually the same models. This poses the first and most major con with the entire marketplace; lack of originality. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t some key players in the industry that strive to do things on their own terms. Brands like Aeon and Piranha each boast a unique style that give the consumers a breath of fresh air.
Amongst the steel, there has recently been an influx of traditional love centered around Al Jamal and MiG Tradi models. These are fashioned together with brass and seek to be outliers amongst their brethren. Both models pay homage to the old world while still bringing the German charm that they’re known for. It’s a welcome sight in my book and hope to see some other forms of new and old-world fusions coming from the country.
Touching upon some pros, the lack of base grommet and high-quality construction are some of the best things about German hookahs. This coupled with the distinct aesthetic all come together and make for an outstanding modern hookah culture and product. Nevertheless, the lack of originality and practically nonexistent importation worldwide, do raise some valid concerns when it comes to cost. Doing research as to what exactly you’re buying will be the payoff since lower grade metals in copies can possibly hurt you and your wallet both. The brands I would suggest looking into are Al Jamal, MiG, Aeon, Piranha, and to a lesser extent the higher end models of Kaya, Dschinni, and Nargilem.
In summary, no matter what type of hookah strikes your fancy there are some amazing models out there that will offer everything you need in a concise package. Choosing the best hookah for you comes to doing research, and lots of it which is why we here at Masonshishaware wanted to break these types down for you in a way that has never been done before. We hope this could provide some insight into the greater hookah market that you may not have known existed or invoked some nostalgic memories of some of your first pipes or firsthand experiences trying out a few of these brands.
Lastly, thank you for stopping by the blog! Drop your favorite hookah and hookah type down below and we’ll see you right back here for the next one!