Dregs – The Story of Sheesha

What’s a page on Sheesha doing on Tulleeho ? read on..

Smoking is one of the oldest practices of mankind – in the form of cigars, hookah, sheesha, narghile, etc. Tobacco has been around for centuries but only the instrument used to smoke it differs from place to place.

The Story of Sheesha

A Jordanian riddle evokes the feminine sheesha figure: Who is this princess standing in her palace with her hand on her hip ? The pipe bowl is indeed similar to a crown; the baluster body, elegant and rounded, evokes the shape of a woman. As for the hose curve coiling up around the mast, it can easily be compared to the arm outline. Finally, the palace is a metaphor for the atmosphere in which a sheesha session ideally takes place: pillows, tapestries, vegetation, and so on.
Hookahs have been around for centuries. The Turkish called them ‘nargiles’ and the Egyptians ‘sheeshas’. The first hookahs were crafted in India from coconut shells after which they found their way to Iran and the Middle-East where the hookah architecture evolved over centuries. Ornate crystal and earthenware soon replaced the coconut shell. Later brass and steel were introduced and it wasn’t long before the hookahs became a form of artistic expression. And a form of social smoking. Puffing at the narghile, the hubbly-bubbly or whatever you want to call it is just like Parisians drinking coffee and smoking Gauloises or Americans drinking Starbucks and smoking a Camel. The distinction is the instrument.
The sheesha has been the standard of smoking for centuries in the middle east and originated in Turkey over 500 years ago.
Sheesha, another name for shisha, was developed hand in hand with the hookah. Sheesha and hookah are almost synonymous to each other, the basic science behind smoking them both is the same but the sheesha has found a subtle place in classy restaurants whereas a hookah is still treated as the ugly sibling.
The Tobacco

For the genuine sheesha buff, the initiation is through premium Egyptian tobaccos. In any casbah of West Asia, the sheesha man delivers a tray of tobacco capsules to the table that enables the guest to check out the aroma of each one until he settles for one. During the hookah delivery, the hookah man arrives at the table with a special hand potion. This could be a special Turkish potion or Egyptian, even some local stash. It is first gently poured into the palms to stimulate the senses. This apparently prepares the guest for the ultimate smoking experience. And then, the hookah pipes are brought to the guests for inhalation.

Tobacco mixed with fruit molasses and honey is used when smoking out of a Sheesha. Specifically, the tobacco is a ground up mixture of dried fruit pulp, flavored molasses, and fresh tobacco leaves. The Shisha tobacco comes in a variety of flavors (pop-up apple, apricot, strawberry, capuccino, mint, cherry, grape). The Nakhla brand is one of the most popular tobaccos that is used with the Hookah. It is made in Egypt from the finest of tobacco leaves and is dipped in molasses for a delicious taste.

Etiquette and Rituals

  • Never light a cigarette from the coals on the hookah.
  • Always rest the hookah on the ground. 
  • Never pass the hookah directly to another person, always first put it down and let the next person pick it up.
Rules were created even for lighting the pipe, and if a professional smoker saw anyone lighting it the incorrect way, the culprit would be told in no uncertain term ” Do yourself and the sacred nargile a favour and put out the coals by blowing into it.” (from Tierracliente, Nargile : A puff on history reprinted from the Turkish Daily News 3/3/97)
An interesting aspect of Sheesha culture is its egalitarianism. Its popularity has transcended class, sex and religion.


At the turn of the 20th Century, the Hookah pipe became very popular and fashionable for Turkish upper class women to be photographed with their pipes. And it had become a significant party status symbol.
Today, narghile smoking is flourishing in the Arabian-Islamic world as well as in Europe and America. Fashionable new coffee houses, or “neo-Orientalist cafés”, are growing in popularity as people discover the smooth, flavoursome taste of sheesha smoke. Hot clubs, restaurants and cafes are buying or renting the ornate waterpipes and selling flavoured tobacco mixtures – from apple and mint to jasmine and mango. Whether it is Shisha in Kolkata or Hypnos in Bangalore, Mocha in Mumbai or Shalom in Delhi, Zentra in Chicago or Zodiak Cafe in Las Mesa, the hoopla in lounges is all about Sheesha.


  1. Try putting ice in the glass base of your hookah and get the water ice cold before smoking. This makes for a smoother more enjoyable smoking experience.
  2. Try mixing lemon juice, orange juice, or some other flavor into the water in your glass base. It will enhance the taste of your hookah smoking experience.
  3. You can store your shisha tobacco at room temperature but it must remain in an air tight container (i.e. tupperware, jar, ziplock bag, etc.). This will keep your tobacco from drying up and losing its flavor.
  4. When you first start smoking your hookah, try placing the charcoal on the outside of the bowl and working it around the edges of the bowl. The center of the bowl should be the last place your charcoal is placed.
  5. Some people smoke the hookah like you would smoke a cigar while others inhale the smoke. Neither way is more correct than the other. It’s a preference thing.
  6. For a sweeter and perhaps more flavourful smoke, you can add some wine to the top two inches of the water in the base of your hookah. It’s a happier smoke, and you can really taste the wine.

[box type=”warning” align=”alignleft” ]A Word of Caution: Many people consider sheesha to be less harmful than smoking cigarettes. But according to a study conducted at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, sheesha can be even more harmful. Sheesha smokers absorb more carbon monoxide than do cigarette smokers, putting themselves at greater risk for coronary heart disease, arteriosclerosis and chronic respiratory disease. It can also retard fetal growth. Sheesha smokers using charcoal have higher levels of carbon monoxide in their blood than those using an electrical device. Carbon monoxide absorption is greatly increased when sheesha is smoked just prior to sleeping. Even minimal exposure to carbon monoxide is known to be harmful and people who smoke sheesha as little as once a day put themselves at risk. According to the study 15 minutes of smoking sheesha is equivalent to smoking one cigarette. The researchers defined a ‘smoker’ as anyone who smoked 15-30 grams of jurak each day.[/box]