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There is no definitive answer. Too many variables are at play in any hookah session. If one has to generalize, then a hookah session should last around forty minutes. Then again, the real world experience can be vastly different depending on the variable factors of consequence. Let us explore the key factors that determine how long a hookah session would and should last.
The Role of the Bowl
As a rule of thumb, your hookah session would last longer if you have a larger bowl. This obviously depends on the type and model of hookah you own. You can certainly buy a larger bowl that is compatible with your hookah, if you wish to extend the duration of a session. The size of the bowl affects how much shisha tobacco or hookah flavor you are able to pack. Hence, both the size of a bowl and the quantum of tobacco in it are crucial in influencing the duration of a session.
The Type of Bowl
The size of a bowl is not the only important factor. The type of bowl you have has a major role. There are three popular types of hookah bowls available today. The first is the classic Egyptian clay bowl. This has one or more holes at the bottom of the bowl. The second is a vortex bowl that has a raised center or spire at the base of the bowl. This contains the holes at the sides. The third type is a funnel or phunnel bowl. Such bowls have a raised center with the hole on the top of the spire, and not on the sides.
Egyptian clay bowl with holes at the bottom last the shortest among the three. This is primarily because the honey, glycerin, molasses and other liquid elements in a shisha flavor tend to get extracted due to the heat, and these may seep down into the holes. There is loss of fluid or moisture, and the tobacco burns out faster. There is also material loss in the quantity of tobacco as the liquids ooze out and drip through the holes.
Vortex bowls last longer. Funnel bowls last the longest. Vortex bowls retain the fluids and prevent dripping, but they still allow some moisture to seep through the holes on the sides. A funnel bowl has the hole atop the spire. The fluids in the tobacco, even if extracted due to the heat, tend to settle at the bottom of the bowl. The moisture of the fluids is retained. The fluids do not circulate inside the packed bowl to find their way to the hole atop the spire.
Charcoals and Heat Management
Using too many hookah charcoals would produce enormous heat. Excessive heat will burn tobacco faster than necessary. Too many charcoals for a given quantity of shisha flavor will lead to shorter sessions. Too few charcoals would lengthen the session, but have an adverse effect on the quality, density and volume of smoke. Heat management is a quintessential requirement, not only for the duration of a session but also the quality of smoke, and hence your experience.
Charcoals should be used optimally. Hookahs have trays for a reason. If the bowl is overheated or superhot, take a few charcoals off the foil and place them on the tray. Continue smoking and meanwhile get rid of the ash from the charcoals on the tray before putting them back atop the foil. If the bowl tends to get less hot, add more charcoals when necessary.
There are heat management devices available that can make this process much more convenient. Effective heat management in real time, wherein you are being proactive, can increase the duration of a session by as many as fifteen minutes, or more, depending on the amount of shisha tobacco you have packed, and how many are sharing the hookah.
Type of Tobacco
There are two types of shisha tobacco: blonde leaf and dark leaf. Blonde leaf is lighter and less sensitive to heat. Dark leaf has greater heat sensitivity, and hence works swiftly. Blonde leaf shisha tobacco comes in larger chunks and they can burn out quickly if poorly packed and subjected to excessive heat. On the other hand, dark leaf shisha tobacco needs efficient heat management, or it could burn out rather quickly. As a general rule, dark leaf tobacco lasts longer, but the type of flavor and moisture content are critical factors.
A shisha flavor that has more moisture will last longer. Drier flavors burn out quickly. Again, the quantity used, the type of packing, and heat management would play decisive roles in determining how long a hookah session would actually last.