How To Choose The Right Bowl

Choosing the right bowl for your hookah is a critical decision that can significantly affect your smoking experience. Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you select the best bowl for your needs.

1. Materials Matter

Bowls come in various materials, each offering different heat management properties and longevity:

Ceramic: A common choice that's affordable and available in many colors. However, they can heat unevenly. They are usually made of cheap ceramic, and made in China. Most hookahs that come with a bowl “prepacked” will have one of these, and you will want to upgrade your bowl. It’s best to keep this bowl aside, and used in an emergency, like if you broke your better bowl.

American Clay: This is what a knowledgeable hookah smoker will choose for their collection. Excellent heat retention and distribution, providing a consistent smoking experience.There are very few brands at this standard, and the only material used in HookahJohn bowls. Avid hookah smokers will have at least one of the many HookahJohn bowls in their collection.

Silicone: Durable and easy to clean, but doesn't retain heat as well as clay or ceramic. Many of these are just mass produced in China using cheap materials. I would steer clear of these.

Glass: Offers pure taste but fragile and requires careful heat management. Again, I would pass on these.

2. Size and Shape

The size and shape of the bowl will determine how much shisha you can use and how the heat is distributed:

Large vs Small vs. everything in between?

Obviously the larger the bowl, the more tobacco you can fit in. But how much tobacco do you want? How long do you want your session to go? How long will a small amount of your tobacco last in a small bowl? There are so many factors when choosing size. It can be your preference. Do what suits you.Or, build a collection of several bowls that you will use depending on your hookah circumstances of that session.

Traditional Egyptian Bowls: Usually made of cheap clay, these have 5 holes in the bottom and typically offer a classic smoking experience.They are hand made, and vary in shape and size, and are very inconsistent. Not a good choice at all. They usually come standard with most Egyptian hookahs.

Phunnel Bowls: Characterized by a single large hole at the top rather than multiple small holes at the bottom. This design keeps the shisha juices from running down into the stem, enhancing flavor. This is the HookahJohn choice. But keep in mind, material counts as you’ve already read above.

3. Heat Management

Consider how the bowl works with heat management tools:

Foil: If you’re using foil, almost any bowl will do, but ensure it has a flat rim for a tight seal. Foiling is the traditional standard way of managing heat. You must apply your foil drum tight and not let any air escape when packing. Poking holes is a preference and it takes some skill to choose which size holes and how far apart. Foiling is not necessarily a bad thing, but read on, you may want something easier.

Heat Management Devices (HMDs): Kaloud is one of the top innovators in the Hookah Industry. Some bowls are designed to work specifically with HMDs. If you prefer an HMD, look for a bowl that accommodates one snugly. All HookahJohn bowls will work great with the Kaloud Lotus, with the exception of the 80Feet Espana which was made for foil. Oh, you can use the AOT Provost for the 80feet, and it works wonders!

4. Tobacco Type

Hookah tobacco typically comes in 2 forms, blonde leaf and dark leaf. 

Dark Leaf Tobacco: usually implies that the tobacco will be stronger and more robust. Some examples of dark leaf tobacco would be Tangiers, DarkSide, MustHave and BlackBurn.

Blonde leaf tobacco: is more common, and will have a light brown or honey color, and some is even dyed red. You will see this in Al Fakher, Mazaya, Eternal Smoke, and many more. Most blonde leaf tobacco isn’t advertised as such, so if it’s not specified then most likely  it will be blonde leaf.

Some brands actually offer both options, dark and blonde leaf tobacco, like Trifecta and Element

Dark Leaf typically lasts longer, so you can get away with using less grams, meaning use a smaller bowl.

Try both and see what you prefer. For myself, HookahJohn, I prefer dark leaf, but have nothing against blonde leaf.

5. Session Length

If you prefer longer sessions, a larger bowl that can hold more shisha is ideal. For shorter sessions, a smaller bowl will suffice. That’s what you would think, right? Heat management plays a huge role. For example, using too much coal will burn your tobacco quicker. Also a Kaloud Lotus will evenly manage your heat and maximize your session. Think about getting a heat management device. The more quickly you puff will also reduce the longevity of your bowl session, however, how important is saving shisha vs. enjoying your smoke?

6. Airflow

Airflow is crucial for a good hookah session:

Wide Airflow: Offers an easy draw and cooler smoke. Phunnel bowls often provide this.

Restricted Airflow: Can intensify the flavor and heat, common in smaller or traditional bowls.

7. Compatibility with Your Hookah

Ensure the bowl fits your hookah's stem. Adapters are available, but a direct fit is always preferable for stability and airflow.

8. Personal Preference

Ultimately, your preference plays a significant role. Some smokers prefer the traditional approach of a clay bowl, while others might prioritize ease of use and opt for a silicone bowl.

The HookahJohn opinion? Always use a US handmade American Clay bowl.


Selecting the right hookah bowl is about balancing material, size, heat management, tobacco type, session length, and personal preference. Take the time to experiment with different bowls to find what suits you best. Remember, the bowl is not just a vessel for the shisha; it's a crucial component that shapes your entire smoking experience.