Shisha flavor in the hookah bowl

What is shisha? - The most comprehensive guide on hookah tobacco flavors. 

By Drew D - Jul 2, 2022, 12:18 PM EST

In this guide:

  • What is shisha?
  • What is shisha tobacco made up of?
  • Types of shisha tobacco leaves
  • Three ways of packing shisha into a hookah bowl
  • How to mix hookah shisha flavors
  • Major hookah flavor categories

What is shisha?

Shisha is a type of flavored tobacco (or hookah tobacco) with a syrupy consistency that is blended with vegetable glycerin, molasses, and a variety of flavorings and smoked through a hookah. In some countries like Germany when use the term "shisha", they are referring to the hookah pipe itself. 

What is shisha hookah tobacco made up of?

Primary ingredients

A tobacco leaf, molasses, vegetable glycerin, plus a number of flavorings make up shisha (also known as hookah tobacco or waterpipe tobacco).

How is shisha made?

Shisha tobacco is traditionally created by fermenting tobacco with glycerine, molasses, and a variety of flavorings. Tobacco for hookahs is now mass-produced, with automation used at almost every point of the manufacturing process. 

The tobacco is initially chilled for 24 hours to purge any bacteria or pathogens that could have contaminated the raw plant. It's then fed into a cutting machine that removes the stems and slices the product into smoother, smaller pieces. These are then cleaned and dried.

Following that, the tobacco leaf is sweetened and moistened. This is accomplished by combining it with molasses and vegetable glycerine, which improves tobacco's heat tolerance and increases cloud output. This sweetening process will take anywhere between two days to several months. During this time, the tobacco can ferment. Fermentation is a chemical reaction that is caused by changes in temperature, humidity, and pressure. This is often referred to as tobacco' aging', and helps it maintain a more consistent color as well as a distinct flavor that is exclusive to the fermentation process.

When the tobacco has reached the desired consistency, it is moved to a flavoring machine to begin the flavoring process. When this process completes, the tobacco is ready to be packaged, a fully automated process during which no human touch or intervention is present.

Types of shisha tobacco leaves

Blonde leaf (Virginia) tobacco

Virginia (blonde) tobacco is commonly used by shisha tobacco producers. It is cultivated in 75 countries around the world and accounts for about 40% of all tobacco consumed on the planet. It has a bright yellow hue at the beginning of the process (hence the 'blonde'). It is a form of tobacco most commonly enjoyed by those with a low tolerance for nicotine.

Virginia Tobacco Leaf

Before processing starts, the tobacco is washed or boiled in order to purge as much nicotine as possible from it. This reduces the nicotine buzz while allowing the taste to come through throughout the smoking process.

To make shisha, the tobacco leaves are dried using a method known as curing, and then molasses or honey, as well as flavoring oils and molasses, are added.

Dark leaf tobacco

Dark leaf tobacco is not washed, so it retains the great majority of its nicotine content after minimal processing, serving as the blonde tobacco's counterpart for experienced smokers who enjoy its earthy tones and flavor. Dark tobacco is also distinguished by its color (which ranges from bright to very dark brown). 

Dark Leaf Tobacco

Burley tobacco, the most common dark tobacco variant used in shisha manufacturing, is used by the majority of mainstream dark tobacco brands, including Tangiers, Azure Black Line, and Trifecta Dark. The finest quality burley tobacco leaves originate from Central America, the United States, Indonesia, and Uganda.

Since dark leaf tobacco is virtually unprocessed, it retains a much stronger flavor. Dark tobacco maintains a nicotine level of about 0.5 percent (roughly tenfold of washed tobacco) throughout its transformation into shisha, resulting in a stronger buzz for the smokers.

The burley is air-dried, which ensures that much of the sugar content has been removed, the color has changed, and the flavor and odor become similar to that of tobacco used in cigars.

3 ways of packing shisha into a hookah bowl

The fluff pack

A 'fluff pack' is achieved by picking up tobacco with your fingertips and separating the leaves with a rubbing motion, causing them to crumble into the bowl until it is filled.

Hookah Bowl With Shisha TObacco

Then, using either a poker, fork, or toothpick, the leaves are repositioned to remove any tobacco excess that might be overfilling the rim. Since we need to have pockets of air in the pack, the most important thing is distributing the shisha across the rim level rather than packing it down flat.

Starbuzz, Social Smoke, and Fumari are the ideal brands to use with a 'fluff pack.'

The normal pack

The 'normal pack' (dubbed as such due to its being the industry-standard packing method) is essentially the fluff pack, just a more dense version. As the tobacco is sprinkled in, it fills the bowl to the rim's edge. Then it is gently padded with a hole poker or a fork in order to generate air pockets.

Hookah Bowl With Hookah TObacco

The key crucial aspect of this packing method is understanding the pack's density levels. When sprinkling the tobacco, it's better to learn to think of the term 'normal' as 'slight' so that when patting the tobacco, the formed air pockets allow the tobacco to 'breathe'.

Ugly Hookah, Al Fakher, Adalya, Zomo Blonde, Trifecta Blonde Line, and Afzal are the best hookah tobacco brands to use for a 'normal pack.'

The dense pack

The last hookah bowl packing process is named the 'dense pack.' It has all of the same attributes of the fluff and normal pack but also includes spreading tobacco atop the patted contents in order to reduce the formed air pockets, increasing the pack's density. To check for density, using your utensil of choice, check for a spongy consistency to the pack to verify a sufficient level of density.

Hookah bowl filled with tobacco flavor

Of course, the higher density of the pack also promotes the highest nicotine content of the three-pack variations, with the Azure Black Line, Zomo Strong Line, Tangiers, and Nakhla brands being best suited for the task.

How to mix hookah shisha flavors

Choosing the hookah flavor combination

Before preparing a shisha flavor mixture, the primary blend, or the base, needs to be selected. The base will depend on the style of shisha blend you hope to achieve: savory, fruity, or some combination of both. As the base flavor will be predominant, it's best to make it one that you regularly enjoy. That way, even if the experimental mix is not optimal, you will taste the flavor you enjoy most predominantly. Try to steer away from selecting some complex base flavor, and stick to something simple and generally enjoyable, like watermelon. The base flavor should account for half of your total tobacco, while the secondary flavors should account for just 10% to 20% of your bowl.

Shisha mixing techniques

Blending

Blending hookah tobacco flavors is as simple as proportioning the shisha flavors, mixing them together, and adding them to the bowl.

Hookah tobacco flavor in the bowl

By comparison to other mixing methods, blending is the easiest way to produce a clear and distinctive taste. While smoking a mixture, the user does not taste any one particular taste, but rather a flavor mix. That means that the flavor will not change throughout the smoking session from one to another, but rather stay consistent throughout.

Furthermore, when the shisha is blended, the glycerin and molasses levels would be comparable, allowing for improved heat control and extending the longevity of smoking sessions.

Sectioning

For those who do want to experience distinct flavors that convert from one to another during the smoking session, the sectioning technique is the better option. Unlike the pure mix of flavors achieved through the blending approach, every flavor is present in a nuanced manner throughout the smoking session, complemented by the other included flavors.

Hookah flavor mixed

Rather than blending the shisha flavors together, sectioning entails placing them side by side. While the flavors ultimately still blend to a lesser degree, the key is to understand the strength of every component of the bowl before partitioning them inside. Throughout the smoking session, the flavor will gradually shift to carry a separate predominant taste, with a tinge of the other flavors included in the bowl.

Layering

The layering method is a hybrid between the blending and sectioning mixing approaches. A layered bowl can increase the enjoyment level of a smoking session by layering various flavors in such a way that their taste takes over the smoking session at particular times.

Hookah Tobacco layered

To layer a pack, it is important, to begin with, the flavor one wishes to be predominant. Understanding that heat can reduce the taste of certain flavors while bolstering others, you can better select the flavor you choose to lead the others. Experimentation with various flavors can educate the smoker about which flavors thrive with heat and which ones dull. This knowledge is key to recognizing the optimal way to proportion the bowl to achieve the most ideally balanced taste. By placing the base flavor in the bowl first, it sets the tone for the smoking session. After that, the additional flavors can be layered on top of one another until the bowl is filled.

Major hookah flavor categories

The majority of the hundreds of different hookah tobacco flavors fall into one of seven groups. It's a good bet that if a smoker likes one flavor in a particular group, they'll probably like the rest of the group's flavors as well.

Fruit flavors

Fruit-flavored variety is by far the most common form of shisha. These can range from the ordinary (such as apple-flavored) to the exotic (such as dragon fruit). Most shisha brands carry at least one fruity variant of their product, and most of the fruit categories can usually be broken down into subcategories.

Adalya Blue Melon 250g -
Adalya Blue Melon 250g -
Adalya Blue Melon 250g
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Al Fakher Grapefruit - 250g
Al Fakher Grapefruit - 50g
Al Fakher Grapefruit - 250g
Al Fakher Grapefruit - 50g
Al Fakher Grapefruit
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Mint flavors

Fruit-flavored variety is by far the most common form of shisha. These can range from the ordinary (such as apple-flavored) to the exotic (such as dragon fruit). Most shisha brands carry at least one fruity variant of their product, and most of the fruit categories can usually be broken down into subcategories.

Al Fakher Mint - 250g
Al Fakher Mint - 50g
Al Fakher Mint - 250g
Al Fakher Mint - 50g
Al Fakher Mint
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Fumari Mint Chocolate Chill - 100g
Fumari Mint Chocolate Chill - 1000g
Fumari Mint Chocolate Chill - 100g
Fumari Mint Chocolate Chill - 1000g
Fumari Mint Chocolate Chill
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Berry flavors

Blueberry, raspberry, and strawberry-flavored tobaccos are popular in the berry category of shisha. They carry a unique combination of sweet and tarty tastes, making them stand out from other fruit-based shisha flavors.

Eternal Smoke Ultimate Berry -
Eternal Smoke Ultimate Berry -
Eternal Smoke Ultimate Berry
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Social Smoke Wild Berry Chill 250g -
Social Smoke Wild Berry Chill 250g -
Social Smoke Wild Berry Chill 250g
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Floral flavors

Though the group is called 'floral', the flavors it includes exceed the floral limitations. These flavors are much more refined, so they are not suitable for every palette. Since they lack sweetness offered by other tobaccos, newer smokers tend to steer clear of these deeper, richness-deprived flavors.

Those interested in checking out this shisha category are advised to start with the "Rose" shisha, from the Al Fakher brand, while the brand regarded as producing top-of-the-line floral flavor is typically Tangiers, namely with their "Kashmir" tobacco.

Al Fakher Rose - 250g
Al Fakher Rose - 50g
Al Fakher Rose - 250g
Al Fakher Rose - 50g
Al Fakher Rose
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Starbuzz Exotic Rose -
Starbuzz Exotic Rose -
Starbuzz Exotic Rose
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Spice flavors

Eternal Smoke Masala Chai -
Eternal Smoke Masala Chai -
Eternal Smoke Masala Chai
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Afzal Pan Raas 50g -
Afzal Pan Raas 50g -
Afzal Pan Raas 50g
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These tobacco flavors are identified by their spice-centric attributes and include variants such as anise, cardamom, cinnamon, and even eucalyptus flavors.

Dessert flavors

The dessert flavor type of shisha could be the most attractive to anyone with a serious sweet tooth. Dessert delicacies such as ice cream, cookies, muffins, cheesecake, and other popular dessert flavors are among the choices available in this category. These have a buttery taste that will cater to anybody who loves a sweet compliment to their dinner.

Azure Gold Line Cherry Muffin 100g -
Azure Gold Line Cherry Muffin 100g -
Azure Gold Line Cherry Muffin 100g
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Eternal Smoke Pistachio Kiss -
Eternal Smoke Pistachio Kiss -
Eternal Smoke Pistachio Kiss
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Beverage flavors

In the beverage segment, flavored tobaccos can taste like everything from smoothies to coffee. Spiced tea and some traditional drinks like the Pina Colada and Mojito are examples of such beverage-flavored choices.

Eternal Smoke Dark Bean -
Eternal Smoke Dark Bean -
Eternal Smoke Dark Bean
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Social Smoke Mojito 250g -
Social Smoke Mojito 250g -
Social Smoke Mojito 250g
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