Monday, July 21, 2008
Starting about a thousand years ago, men and women in Northwestern India and bordering Pakistan started smoking hashish and opium out of what quickly became the hookah. These original hookahs were made of a coconut base with a tube and head on the top, usually hot rocks or wooden coals for heat, and a tube to get smoke out. They were often served and smoked in the chai tea tents common to the area - a prototype to the modern day coffee house. As the hookah spread west into the Persian Kingdom, Tombeik was first used. Tombeik is a dark, almost flavorless tobacco grown in what is now Iran. Water was used to condense the Tombeik smoke and make sure it didn't burn. Persian hookahs were generally carved from wood.
Around the early 1600s, the hookah took Turkey by storm, becoming very popular amongst all classes and integral to coffee shop culture. The design of modern hookahs is generally unchanged from the original, Turkish designs. They too, used Tombeik exclusively, and Oak based coals were considered superior. Pomegranate and other juices were used to flavor the water. Soon thereafter, flavoring the tobacco became popular. Most tobaccos used honey molasses and dried fruit to add flavor, and this practice is still widespread in parts of the world. In America we usually use tobacco flavored with a honey based molasses, glycerin, and fruit juices or small chunks of dried fruit.
In the early 1800s, cigarettes became popular and the hookah diminished in use. Some coffee shops stopped serving it and it became more of a pastime. However, many women kept them in the home to smoke on a daily basis and it is from this base of fans that hookah has survived. In the 1960s, as the danger of cigarettes came to light, the popularity of the hookah started growing again. Today, the hookah is most popular among college students in America. Most college towns have a few hookah lounges that double as hookah and "Shisha" dealers. Shisha doesn't technically mean the flavored tobacco we smoke today, but Americans have bastardized the term to mean that. Controversy surrounds the hookah with many claims as to how dangerous it is for the smoker. For more on that, check out an earlier post of mine located here.