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Setting up your pipe and smoking shisha Coal: The first thing you want to do is light your charcoal so that it’s ready when you have the pipe set up. Each of the ingredients to smoking shisha is critically important and the coal is no exception. You’ll want a high quality natural coal with no chemical additives (quick-light coals will impact the taste of the smoke although those made specifically for shisha are very handy when traveling). The imported coal made for shisha smoking is the easiest to deal with, but if you smoke a lot and want to reduce the cost of coal I’ve found that the Lazari brand found often in grocery stores is the best substitute (I don’t own any of their stock). It’s important to get the coal glowing hot; this is best done outdoors but I’ll also give you some indoor alternatives. One of the easiest methods is to set up a hot plate outside and put the coals directly on the coils. While not as efficient, an electric barbeque starter will do the job as well. If you are starting coals outside and smoking inside you’ll want a coal carrier – I recommend purchasing one intended for the purpose if you will smoke long enough to use more than one serving of coal. Another method for starting coal is to have a wire basket (like for deep fat frying). You can put the coal inside the basket and place it on the fire of an outdoor barbeque, inside a fireplace in winter, or on a gas stove; you can put coals directly on the coils of an electric stove (you will get messy ashes on your stove if you use this method). If you are firing up the coal on your stove you’ll want the exhaust fan running; keep in mind that as the coal burns it puts out carbon monoxide. If you’re a beginner I recommend putting something over your flooring to catch any falling coals – many carpets have telltale marks of shisha smoking. Base/Water: Bases come in a variety of shapes. Most are made of glass (common colors are blue or green), but there are also stainless steel and brass bases. Glass bases are usually painted with a decorative design. Water in the base should be high enough to cover the bottom of the pipe stem and then some – about 1” above the bottom of the pipe on a standard size shisha. For a cool smoke you can add ice cubes to the water (use party trays with small cubes or the cylindrical shape intended for sports bottles – standard ice cubes may not fit through the opening on the base). You can also add flavoring to the water: a slice of lemon is the most common, other possibilities are mint leaves or a few drops of mint (or any other extract) flavoring, rose or orange water, fruit juice, liqueur or liquor, even milk – anything that will enhance the flavor of your tobacco. Pipe Stem: This is the main part of the hookah and it may be made of brass, stainless steel or tin. A poor connection from the pipe to other parts is probably the greatest source of frustration in setting up your own hookah. The stem connects to the base with the bottom immersed in water, on the side it connects to the hose and at the top it connects to the tobacco bowl. On the opposite side of the hose is a relief valve. This should have a ball bearing inside to make it a one-way valve. If the smoke gets too strong, you can gently blow into the hose and smoke will exit through the valve (don’t blow too hard!). If you lose the ball bearing you can place tape over the valve to prevent air from entering. Usually a hookah set will include a rubber collar to seal the connection from the pipe to the base. Sometimes they just don’t fit with the collar and other times you need to help it fit. Place the collar on the pipe and then try wetting it; if that isn’t enough, apply a small amount of dish detergent to the outside of the collar before putting it in the base. If you don’t have a collar, alternatives are to wrap the portion of the pipe that fits into the base with a wet cloth, wet paper towel or napkin, or with masking tape. What’s important is to get a tight seal. Hose: Hoses come in many colors, styles and materials. The connection from the hose may be built in or a separate piece. In some cases you can get a good seal to the pipe with just the wooden connector, other times you will need a vinyl or plastic collar or again you can use a wet cloth or towel or masking tape. The mouthpiece may be built into the hose or may be a separate piece as well. You usually will not have to add anything to get a good seal at the mouthpiece, however if you find a leak, the same materials will provide a seal. You can test the “draw” on the hose attached to the pipe while it’s in the water before adding the tobacco and coal. Blowing through the hose first will help clear out any dust or loose tobacco pieces. Coal Tray: The coal tray fits onto the top of the stem before putting the tobacco bowl on top. It is convenient for holding tongs and catches loose ash. You can put extra hot coals in the coal tray, however you will lose the shiny finish if you do this (or if you wash it in a dishwasher). Tobacco Bowl: The tobacco bowl is made of clay and it is not at all unusual for them to be chipped – they still function. There are some different shapes and sizes and in Egypt I am often served apple shisha in a fresh apple instead of a tobacco bowl. Shisha is made of tobacco, molasses and the flavored varieties have fruit extracts or flavoring. When you fill the tobacco bowl do not pack it – sprinkle it into the bowl, like sprinkling salt or sugar, until it is full. You can use a coal holder or place aluminum foil over the top of the bowl and punch holes in it with a toothpick. You will want to use a vinyl or plastic collar for the tobacco bowl to assure a tight fit (or one of the usual substitutes). Once you have everything assembled you place the coal on top of the foil or coal holder and begin to smoke. Placing two small pieces of coal on the sides works better than one large coal in the center. Gradually build the draw until there is a substantial amount of white smoke. Many people think they have to make a series of rapid puffs to get it going, but often it will end up too hot. It is easier to heat it up than to cool it down. If your tobacco starts smoking from the top it is burning too hot and you will quickly lose the flavor. Remove the coal, take the tobacco bowl off the pipe, and blow into the bottom of the bowl until it stops smoking; then replace the bowl and it should be good again. Enjoy!