Let's talk about coal. From the perspective of Mr. Shaman.
This is not the holy guide to hookah charcoal.
It may be that you do not agree with some things you will read in this guide.
I do not claim to be some sort of Hookah God, I'm just sharing my experience from my many years of experimenting.
The aim of this guide is primarily to help beginners, but also provide additional information to those wanting to explore other ways to smoke, and to seasoned smokers seeking solutions to problems they encounter during their sessions.
Finally, I want to comment that every smoker has their own way of doing things.
I invite you therefore not to follow each instruction that you will find in this guide, but to adapt it to your most comfortable way of consuming hookah products with your own hardware and tobacco.
Different Types of Hookah Charcoal
As the hookah industry developed, so did the various consumer preferences with charcoal.
Historically, self-lighting charcoal (quick-light) ruled supreme.
Nowadays, far more people prefer natural coal, which are of substantially better quality.
In this section, I will be listing the various types of charcoals and in what scenarios they will be useful.
1. Self-lighting Charcoal
Self-lighting charcoal, also known as instant-light or quick-light, was until recently considered the classic go-to charcoal for hookah excellence. There are several formats: round, cubic, and in several sizes. The best-known shape is the round charcoal, roughly 33mm diameter.
As an avid hookah connoisseur, I seriously do not recommend you to employ these types of coal because not only do they contain harmful chemical agents such as benzene, which produce a substantial amount of carbon monoxide during ignition, but they are also highly flammable. Lastly, these types of coals produce very low heat, lots of ash, and may affect the tobacco taste. Despite this, some smokers are fond of this coal for their speed of lighting, ease of preparation, and use.
If you are prone to use this charcoal, I recommend using them on a flat clay bowl, and a thick amount of aluminium foil. You can also use this coal as a heat-starter for your natural coals.
2. Natural Charcoal
Natural charcoal has experienced an enormous uptake in the recent years.
They are made from various wood or nutshell-based material, originally marketed as bamboo-based charcoal, and have recently been dominated by coconut-based charcoal.Natural charcoal come in various sizes and formats, adapted for various heat management devices (HMD), and produce various types of heat output.
Let’s explore the different formats in more detail:
Half-cubes coals, also known as "flats". Flats are basically half-cube charcoals. These are very handy, ignite fairly quickly, and may be even essential for smokers seeking a gentle heat output. The best-known brand in Europe are the Tom Cococha Blue. They come in a 25x25x15mm shape, and they are most suited for work on aluminium foil. These types of coal can also work with HMD’s such as the Kaloud Lotus, but will likely have most of their heat output absorbed by the device due to their relatively small size and heat surface cover.
These coals are uncommon in Europe, but are widely used in Russia and the Far East. Only a handful of brands produce this size, most notably CocoUrth and Shaman Coal. These coals are awesome when coupled to a Provost or smoked on aluminium fruit bowls, because they offer a gentle and even heat, that does not “attack” the tobacco.
25mm are the considered the conventional standard of charcoal. Indeed, this format offers more stable heat output, and do not aggressively affect the tobacco burn rate. They can be used with virtually with any heating systems, but are not necessarily the most optimal for your tobacco packing method. If you do not know what charcoal to choose or your local shop/website only has a small selection to choose from, 25mm charcoal are considered a safe choice.
While the difference between 25mm and 26mm may seem irrelevant, the heat emitted by 26mm is usually much higher, and at longer periods than their smaller brother. These coals are therefore recommended being used exclusively with HMD’s such as Badchas, Kaloud Lotus, Phoenix and others, as application on aluminium foil will result in quick burning of the molasses syrup, and harshen the tobacco taste. This coal format is probably the most common in Europe, and there are hundreds of different brands.
Triangular Charcoals, also known Kaloud Charcoals
Triangular charcoals were specifically designed to fit the Kaloud Lotus system. Ideally, exactly three pieces fit perfectly inside the Kaloud, and offer a very stable heat performance. This is only when they fit exactly into the system, which is rarely.
A fairly new charcoal popularized by Shaman Coal, the 28mm has become a stable in the Spanish and Australian Market, and most recently expanding into countries like Greece - due to the perfect size shaped coal that fit the provost or other HMD for longer sessions.
Other Charcoal Sizes
You will find that in various countries there are other formats which people prefer, and brands specifically produce different sizes to cater to the local taste. There are Half-moons from One Nation, full circle from Blackcocos, Hexagon-shaped (adored by South America) and the largest production coals, 31mm by Shaman Coal.
These are the main types of natural charcoal sizes.
Above all, I recommend you to find your most comfortable size for your experience.