A hookah consists of a number of components, four of which are essential for its operation.
Also known as the head of the hookah, the bowl is a container, usually made out of clay or marble, that holds the coal and tobacco during the smoking session. The bowl is loaded with tobacco then covered in a small piece of perforated aluminum foil or screen typically glass or metal. Lit coals are then placed on top, which allows the tobacco to heat to the proper temperature.
There is also a variation of the head which employs a fruit rather than the traditional clay bowl. The fruit is hollowed out and perforated in order to achieve the same shape and system a clay bowl has, then it is loaded and used in the same manner.
Bowls have evolved in recent years to incorporate new designs that keep juices in the tobacco from running down the stem. The Tangiers Phunnel Bowl and Sahara Smoke Vortex Bowl are two examples of such bowls.
A Hookah Cover windscreen is a cover which sits over the bowl area, with some form of air holes. This prevents wind from increasing the burn rate and temperature of the coal, and prevents ash and burning embers from being blown onto the surrounding environment. This may also offer some limited protection from fire as it may prevent the coal from being ejected if the hookah is bumped.
Technically if the pipe has a hose it is not “hookah”—the term historically referred to a straight-neck tube . Today the hose (one or more) is a slender flexible tube that allows the smoke to be drawn for a distance, cooling down before inhalation. The end is typically fitted with a metal, wooden, or plastic mouthpiece of different shapes, size, color or material type. According to J.S. Gamble in A Manual of Indian Timbers in 1902 (Page 668), the bark of the white Himalayan birch Betula utilis ssp. jacquemontii was used to make early hookah tubes.
Many hookah are equipped with a purge valve connected to the airspace in the water jar to purge stale smoke which has been sitting unused in the jar for too long. This one-way valve is typically a simple ball bearing sitting over a port which seals the port by gravity alone and will open if positive pressure is created by blowing into the hose. The bearing will be held captive with a screw-on cover. The cover should be opened and the bearing and seat cleaned of residue and corrosion regularly to ensure proper sealing.
The body of the hookah sits on top of the water jar, or sometimes referred to as vase, or base. The downstem hangs down below the level of the water in the jar. Smoke passes through the body and out the downstem where it bubbles through the water. This cools and humidifies the smoke. Liquids such as fruit juice may be added to the water or used in substitution. Pieces of fruit, mint leaves, and crushed ice may be added.
A plate or ashtray sits just below the bowl to catch ashes falling off the coals.
Grommets in a hookah are usually placed between the bowl and the body, the body’s gasket and the water jar and between the body and the hose. The grommets, although not essential (the use of paper or tape has become common), will help to seal the joints between the parts, therefore decreasing the amount of air coming in and maximizing the smoke breathed in.
A piece attached to the bottom of the stem, usually made of plastic and in a grid pattern, to make a smoother smoke and a subdued noise. By breaking the naturally larger bubbles coming up the water from the pipe into smaller ones, it lowers the amount of suction or “pull” needed to continue bringing smoke to the chamber. This also cools the smoke down more efficiently. It is used as a luxury item for a premium smoking experience and is not a required component.