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by Wade Hill
February 12, 2017
In smoking hookah tobacco, it's inevitable and unavoidable that you'll encounter a wide array of different brands of flavors to choose from. Most people will start out with the traditional Al Fakher, some may end up finding Starbuzz or Fantasia right away. While most everyone will encounter different brands at different points, it's a rare occasion that most people will know the main differences in the brands. So, today I'm going to be bringing you a short summary of the majority of the brands that you'll find around. From Al Fakher to Tangiers, we'll be giving you an idea of what to expect from each brand, and what they're renowned for.
Al Fakher is the grandfather brand, as it's been around longer than most of us have been. It's something that almost everyone will try at some point, and it's what many people swear by. Al Fakher has a red dye that they use across most of their tobacco, aside from their golden line. It's very choppy, and rather inconsistent in cut. Al Fakher, commonly known as AF in the online communities, excels when it comes to single note flavors, such as Orange, Mint, Grapefruit, etc. "Double Apple" is easily their most popular, and it's arguably one of the most popular flavors across the globe. They were also the first to mix mint with literally everything, so you'll find many of their flavors to be "with mint". Al Fakher is a great brand to start smokers off, as it's relatively easy heat manage, and it's very affordable. It's a solid brand, however their flavors lack true depth, and many smokers find themselves moving away from the brand because of that.
Starbuzz reimagined hookah ten years ago, and introduced the western culture to something that they could find more enjoyable. Starbuzz is well known for having bright and poppy flavors. Starbuzz is likely the biggest hookah manufacturer in the Western hemisphere, as their flavors are easily available. They excel in making sweet and candy like flavors, and that's partially why they find success in beginner smokers. Starbuzz makes crowd pleasing flavors, but many smokers find themselves moving away from it as their palate matures, and they find themselves wanting more flavor than just "sweet". To cater to this, Starbuzz released their "Vintage" line, a dark leaf line of tobacco that's created to be more directed to a more advanced smoker. Regardless, "Blue Mist" is going to be one of the other most popular flavors on the market, as their market penetration is unprecedented, and Starbuzz has placed themselves anywhere that hookah is sold. I can guarantee that your local smoke shop carries it, and that likely won't change in the next few years.
Fantasia is just... bad. Fantasia has had a very similar success story as Starbuzz - creating bright and sweet flavors that cater to beginner smokers. However, while Starbuzz flavors can come across as almost natural on occasion, Fantasia flavors are very chemical in taste, and compensate with a ton of juice, a poor cut, and red dye. Fantasia is one of the few brands that I think everyone can, and should skip.
Social Smoke is a brand based out of Texas that focuses on a true "social smoking" experience. They have a wide variety of flavors to choose from, most of which are going to be general crowd pleasers. Social Smoke does an exemplary job of what a modern tobacco should look like - golden brown in color, plenty of juice (without being overkill), and a very consistent chop. Social Smoke is a great beginner brand, however many more advanced smokers find that it also suffers from the same longevity issues as Starbuzz. While this is most certainly true, that's not what the brand overall aims for. As a whole, they do a fantastic job of making a brand that's smooth to smoke, and everyone can enjoy their flavors.
Nakhla is another traditional brand, much like Al Fakher. It's generally dyed red in color, features a very inconsistent cut, and excels in single note flavors. Nakhla is a very heat resilient brand of tobacco, and it's very forgiving to those that are just learning how to manage their heat. Nakhla also finds "Double Apple" as their most popular flavor, and is probably tied with Al Fakher's variation for the most popular of all time. Being a traditional brand, Nakhla can generally be found wherever hookah is sold. Many experienced smokers find themselves constantly coming back to Nakhla, and it's a brand that provides consistent and great sessions time and time again.
Fumari is another brand that caters to beginner smokers, however they do a great job with it. They also create some rather bright and poppy flavors, and saturate their flavors with juice, but they do it well. Their flavors come across well, and they have some decent longevity to them. Fumari, in my mind, is a step above the traditional "holy trinity" of beginner flavors - Al Fakher, Fantastia, and Starbuzz.
Alchemist is newer brand, emerging in late 2014. They're a unique brand in that they actually steep their tobacco in bourbon barels for a time, before releasing them to the public. This creates an almost musky aftertaste to their flavors, adding another level of depth. They focus on unique flavor mixes, with things like "Peppermint Mocha" and "Polar Bear". However, their flavors lack in longevity. Alchemist is another brand that is great for a stepping stone between the "holy trinity", and more advanced brands. They have some solid flavors, and they're good for crowds, but more experienced smokers shy away from them due to their lack of longevity.
Haze is another brand based out of Texas, and another brand that does a great job with being an example of a modern tobacco. Haze creates a great intermediate level of smoking experience, as their tobacco requires a bit of an adjusted pack to how the majority of flavors will require (overpack). They have a wide variety of excellent flavors to choose from, and their flavors have decent longevity to them. Haze is a spectacular brand for those that are looking to get away from the traditional "beginner" brands, as listed above.
Pure is a modern tobacco, arguably the perfect version of one. While Social Smoke has an excellent cut, plenty of juice, and a beautiful leaf, Pure takes all of these qualities, and adds exceptional longevity to them as well. They focus on single note flavors for the most part, but they're probably known best for their "FML" flavor, the first super mint to hit the market. This flavor single-handedly created the great mint rush of the past few years, something that hasn't slowed down in the slightest. Aside from these, you'll generally find Pure primarily online, or in lounges. Their take on single note fruit flavors in unmatched, and they only continue to impress me as time goes on.
Ugly is another modern tobacco, with a buzzy kick to it. Ugly is a brand that prides itself on buzz, and provides flavors with higher nicotine. Because of this, it's definitely not something that I would ever recommend to newer smokers, as it'll simply lay them out. Ugly takes traditional flavors, and provides a modern twist to them. They do a great job with their single note flavors like "Orange Keef", or "Guava", and equally as well with their pre-mix flavors like "Mawardi" and "Maracoje". Due to it being such a newer brand, you can find it primarily online, or in prominent hookah shops.
Trifecta Tobacco is a brand that I hold near and dear to my heart, and I consider them one of the absolute best brands on the market. They're a brand that focuses on a "trifecta" of buzz, clouds, and flavor. While clouds are more based on pack method than anything, they definitely deliver in the buzz and flavor departments. Trifecta is a brand that wanted to create a buzz that everyone could feel, without being something that would be overkill. It's something they exceeded at, as it can still buzz (slightly) a heavy smoker like myself, without killing a less experienced smoker. They have a wide variety of complex and unique flavors, and they have yet to disappoint. Trifecta is a brand that delivers on everything a hookah tobacco should - excellent longevity, fantastic flavors, smooth to smoke, and a perfect level of buzz. It's a brand that I cannot recommend enough, and I highly encourage everyone to try it.
Tangiers is a special snowflake. It's not a brand that everyone will try, however it's something that everyone should try, if only once. Tangiers is a finely chopped dark leaf tobacco, with plenty of juice. It's packed extremely densely, and it has an unparalleled longevity of flavors. Tangiers excedes in making floral flavors, with their Kashmir line, as well as fruit and melon flavors. With "Cane Mint" being their flagship flavor, Tangiers has created a worldwide sensation, and it's a brand that's even had others try and copy it. Tangiers has an extremely strong buzz, and is arguably one of the strongest tobaccos on the market, if not the strongest. It's definitely a brand that you'll want to work your way towards, but it's an experience that can't quite be explained with words.
What are you getting next?Hopefully this list helps shed some clarity on your next hookah purchase, and provides a general guideline to to finding your next favorite brand. What do you think? Is there anything I missed? While I could cover every brand in existence, I tried to cover the most popular brands around, and the most discussed. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, let me know in the comments below! I would be more than happy to help to the best of my abilities! As always guys, thank you so much for reading, and happy smokes!
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