When the hookah craze hit the United States, the cultural icon of the Middle East fell prey to the assembly line mentality. It didn't take long for the hookah to be added to the list of counterfeit products being mass produced in China for export to the American market. Because neither the owners of manufacturing plants or assembly line workers in China have a cultural stake or identity associated with the product, the hookah that they produce involve no artistry. The glass bases are molded and then spray painted; the glass itself is not colored. Any designs on the glass are likewise spray painted on by machines. Machine made plastic hoses with plastic or simulated wood ends have no decorative elements on them. Machines mold shafts made from tin, aluminum, or a combination of those metals with stainless steel; sometimes, machines spray paint them in a color to match the glass. Porcelain, a material for which the Chinese are famous, has replaced the traditional clay bowl made from the rich clay of the banks of the Nile River. Cold, computerized Chinese machines have replaced the intimate touch of the Egyptian craftsmen whose work is a source of pride.
Because Egyptian hookah set the industry standard, it has become common for sellers to falsely label their Chinese look-alikes as 'authentic Egyptian' pipes. Many shoppers have been taken in by a misleading description coupled with a low price and think that they are buying a genuine Egyptian hookah when, in reality, they get an imposter. Don't be duped! Look for the identifying characteristics listed below to determine if the hookah you are considering buying is the real deal.
Characteristics of an Authentic Egyptian Hookah
Authentic Egyptian hookah are still handmade using centuries old traditional methods. Crafted by the hands of people who have a cultural stake and identity in their product, every aspect of the authentic Egyptian hookah involves artistry and craftsmanship.The base of an authentic Egyptian hookah is hand blown colored glass that comes in a variety of shapes and colors with hand painted designs. The most telling aspect of an authentic Egyptian base is its characteristic bands of genuine 18K gold or platinum paint.
Egyptian hoses are handcrafted using traditional methods and materials; they vary in style, color, and decorative elements. Shafts are hand formed stainless steel, brass, or chrome plated brass in various heights, number of hose holders, designs, and decorative elements. Egyptian shafts are never made of aluminum or spray painted in a color to match the glass base! An authentic Egyptian hookah is always sold with the same number of hoses that the shaft will hold. If you're buying a 2-hose hookah, you get 2 hoses! Anyone who sells uthentic Egyptian hookah will have replacement parts available. Glass bases break and hoses should be replaced every few months for the sake of hygiene, so it is important to have access to individual parts for your hookah.
Characteristics of the Chinese Imposter Hookah
The Chinese imposter hookah are mass produced in factories by machines and people who have no cultural connection to the product. The hookah all look the same, just as one would expect from anything made on an assembly line. Chinese bases are made of molded glass or acrylic that is spray painted with material that washes off with normal cleaning. Designs, if any, are identical with no variation in pattern or style because machines are preset to make them look a certain way. Chinese hoses are made of plastic with plastic or simulated wood ends with no decorative elements.
Sometimes the hoses are called 'pleather,' a marketing trick to make plastic sound better. Hoses are marketed as 'washable.' No hookah hose is truly washable because inside each one is a wire coil around which the hose fabric is rapped. Running water through the hose only speeds up the deterioration process of that wire coil! There is no such thing as a washable hookah hose!
Shafts produced in China are machine made of tin, aluminum, or a combination of those metals blended with stainless steel or chrome. They are often spray painted to match the color of the glass. A hookah with a shaft that matches the color of the glass is not Egyptian! The shafts of Chinese hookah are made of inferior metals that do not stand up to normal wear and tear. Egyptian hookah, on the other hand, are made of strong and durable metals that can withstand time and usage.
Because sellers typically do not have replacement parts or accessories, they sell the Chinese hookah straight from the box. This means that multiple hose hookah are often sold with only one hose. If you're buying a 2-hose hookah, chances are that you will get only 1 hose!To make them more appealing to the American consumer, Chinese manufactured hookah are often sold with a hard shell carrying case. What a great way to hide an inferior product!With the recent recall of various products manufactured in China, buyers need to be especially wary of hookah made in and imported from China because they are painted!
To truly appreciate the cultural significance of the hookah and get the most of out of the hookah experience, you must have the real thing! While the price of some of the Chinese imports may look attractive, please keep in mind that this is definitely a case of getting what you pay for. A product that cannot stand up to the usage for which it was made is no longer a bargain when it has to be replaced over and over again. Buy an authentic Egyptian hookah and support the artisans and craftsmen who, in a world dominated by machine made goods, continue to make hookah the way they and their families have for centuries.The author's family has been handcrafting hookah in Egypt for four generations. They are the largest importer of authentic Egyptian hookah to the North American continent.