Let's put this debate to rest once and for all.
Time after time, my beautiful feed is graced with the presence of the never-ending debate in shisha history.
“What does the ash colour say about YOUR coal”…
“5 ways to distinguish poor and good quality shisha charcoal”
“ASH Colour & Coal Performance”
And other bullshit.
So, here at Shaman Coal, we have over the years developed quite a bit of expertise in the area. And we believe it is time to lay this ridiculous discussion to rest…Agree?
Before we dive into the weird and wonderful science of coconut ash, let’s clear the air by dismissing all laughable fluff that you may have heard before.
Ash colour has no effect on the performance. Repeat this mantra 10 times before you go to sleep.
Brown = does not equal bad. White = does not equal good.
Ash colour does not affect taste. Oh yes, believe me people have argued that brown ash improves the classical Arabic aromas.
Ok let’s begin.
Most of the world’s coconut supply is sourced from South East Asia. Malaysia, India, Philippines, Thailand, but most notably, Indonesia. There are different types of coconut’s, but they all grow from the same palm tree species - Cocos Nucifera. In fertile palm tree plantations, the coco palm can produce about 70-100 coconuts a year.
Where the tree is planted has a lot to do with the colour of the shell’s ash, and that’s because the tree absorbs the soil’s natural minerals into the fruit.For example, soil that is rich in calcium produces whiter ash. Soil that has potassium produces browner shades. Soil that is rich in Iron can produce almost red ash.
Coal Colours from the Shaman Laboratory, 2019.
Now this is where things become interesting:
In most western cultures, white colour has been historically associated with pureness and cleanliness.
A colour of perfection per se. White ash is more desired in US, EU, and Russian markets. To cater to this, some producers feel the need to mix sawdust or wood to increase the “whitness” of the ash (if they cant get it initially from their own coconuts). This is because wood almost exclusively produces white or grey ash residue.
The problem is, good quality wood is quite pricey, so some producers resort to chemical agents to purify the colour.
This is a big no-no, because bleach agents like chlorine, bromine or peroxide have serious carcinogen implications, and are quite explosive. These toxins are banned in the EU, but unfortunately are less regulated in developing nations. If you ever smoked white charcoal that produced nasty fumes and caused dizziness, it's likely these had bleach agents in them.
That’s the part of raw material. Let’s move on to the bonding agents.
Most coconut charcoal is mixed with a bonding agent to keep the coals from splitting and improving their overall density and sturdiness. Starches like tapioca is most commonly used in Indonesia due to the relatively cheap availability of the cassava, a root used almost for all sweet delights in the region. You may have heard that because tapioca starch is white, better quality tapioca produces whiter ash.
Starch does not affect colour. It plays its own crucial role, but that’s for another discussion.
To finish up, I want to leave you with this small piece of knowledge:
Demand for coconut shell charcoal has exploded with the development of the shisha industry. It is cheap, produces higher heat and does not affect the taste of the tobacco.
All coconut charcoal producers try to stick to one type of carbonized coconut shell supplier, as this is more stable in terms of their own quality & performance.
However, as competition increases, 100% stable quality is nearly impossible to maintain, so producers buy stock from all areas in order to satisfy demand. This does not mean that the quality is bad, just that it is possible that in one container, you may see different types of ash shades.
How the producers mixes the raw material, the technological process and drying process is the ultimate performance indicator for the coal.