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A brief history of blood, sweat, and clay

Hello all, and welcome to the freshly minted Masonshishaware blog! My name is Rob and some of you may know me as DudeWhere’sMyHookah on various social media. I’m thrilled to be bringing you the first entry in a long line of blog posts and where better to start than on arguably the most important part of a hookah; the bowl.

A brief history of blood, sweat, and clay.

It should be no shocker here that primarily bowls, or heads of the hookah, have gone through various changes since their inception. Many of the first bowls were roughly constructed of either brass or a lesser quality metal during the earliest time periods of hookah enjoyment. Most of these bowls saw the likes of tombac and other pure tobacco sessions that are very different from the modern tobaccos we love today. These tobaccos were combusted rather than baked and called for unique designs not too far off the basic Egyptian clay bowls we know and love. They featured a central shaft that mimic our modern phunnel style bowls but in more of a reverse fashion, where one large hole takes up a good half portion of the entire bowl itself. These were ideal for the treatment of tombac and are still used to this day in the middle east amongst the more traditional folk.

antique hookah


I can’t quite say nor speculate on when exactly the Egyptian style bowl was fashioned or under what circumstances, but that is our next stop on this journey. Hate it or love it the Egyptian style bowl has resiliently stood the test of time. Chances are you learned the concept of heat management on this very bowl. It’s one of the most iconic images in all of hookah and for good reason, it works. In its most basic form the Egyptian bowl is a circular bowl with slightly angled walls and a flat bottom that has five holes from which air is drawn from. This provides ample air flow, letting the shisha breathe and bake happily. The clay used was a vast improvement from its metal predecessors. Whereas metal bowls can scorch the tobacco rather quickly, an Egyptian style bowl counteracts that by allowing heat to permeate through the tobacco while heating the bowl entirely on a much smaller scale. Many still swear by using this bowl for molasses based tobacco brands and I’m certainly not too far apart from that notion.


egyptian bowl


Get with the times man!

Right, now that the traditional bases are covered let’s talk about the American bowl market. It wasn’t until the mid to late 2000’s that traditional bowls felt for lack of a better word, outdated. Tobacco was becoming more and more wet and in a typical western fashion we sought to mess with an already working formula. This brings us to the Vortex bowl! The vortex was the brainchild of Sahara Smoke and became a worldwide phenomenon almost instantly. At the time, practically any hookah that wasn’t shipped to the U.S. from the middle east came with a thin ceramic bowl that were modern imitations of Egyptian style bowls. These bowls are terrible, there is no way to sugarcoat it. Although Sahara kept the thin ceramic used in the “mod bowls” they did strike gold with the spire. Their design sought to catch the runoff that would typically drain through previous bowls and harness it to its full potential thus prolonging the session. The spire on the vortex is practically an Egyptian bowl’s hole pattern but pulled up into a central shaft. There are 4 holes that promote air flow yet are high enough up that most of the binder and heat resiliency agent do not escape. Innovation, thy name is Sahara.

vortex bowl

However, a new challenger approached from the west coast, Tangiers. This tobacco company hit the market sprinting and gained traction amongst the growing American hookah user population. This tobacco had to be treated lightly and that meant it was time for more innovation to take place. The creator opted to skip the thin ceramic and go straight for a solid chunk of clay, ditching the 4 holed spires in the process. This gave birth to the modern phunnel bowl. Much like the vortex before it, its shaft kept nearly all the binders of the tobacco in place until the time was optimal for them to be baked away. Little did we know this was just the base of modern hookah head evolution.


tangiers phunnel bowl

Papa was a rolling stone…ware

Creeping into the 2010’s, many new products pushed to compete with the Tangiers phunnel and Sahara Vortex. Companies arose left and right, each claiming new territory whether it was adding lips to accompany heat management devices or using seldom seen materials. It was our job as consumers to determine what worked and what didn’t, give yourselves a round of applause for that one. Many a paycheck was dwindled down biweekly to grab the latest and greatest that, more often than not, didn’t turn out so great. I’m looking at you dragon flip, silicone bowl, and minzari crown. One material that did work out for better, is stoneware. Stoneware showed outstanding capabilities in heat retention and overall performance, and it looks downright beautiful. The team here at Masonshishware, harnessed this material and made it that much better with the Onyx bowl. The term to remember here is Shishaware, which is a mixture of thermal shock resistant stoneware that is conducive to prolonged flavor due to its heating characteristics. It’s what I call the apex of hookah bowl evolution for good reasons.


Mason Onyx Shishaware Bowl


In every aspect of the Onyx bowl you look at you will see the evolution that has taken place from the bowls used hundreds of years ago. Look at the port and you’ll see a “mol catcher” which acts to prevent drainage into your base water. Pan up and you’ll see a remarkable glaze that can rival the very artists that defined the profession. Peer inside the basin and you’ll see fins designed to trap and bake your tobacco further than any before it. Touch the clay and you’ll feel the very heart and soul that goes into each one. In many ways, the Onyx bowl tips its hat to previous products yet with its modern masonry it finds its place proudly amongst the others.

But where do we go from here…

Simply put, that is up to you, the consumer. We are an ever-changing group that always wants more, which is a great thing. That pushes manufacturers to be better and reevaluate just what is possible. The evidence of this is so blatant in hookah history, especially in modern hookah bowl evolution that you need not look far for a prime example. I for one can’t personally imagine just where the next stepping stone will be for the hookah bowl industry, but I will say it is most certainly out there.   

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