One of the main reasons for the increasing popularity of hookah in the west over the years is the plethora of shisha tobacco flavors. There are literally hundreds of flavors to choose from, many of which are distinct from everything else available. Plus, you can mix two or more flavors.
While you must always choose the shisha flavors you think you will like, there is a bit more you must know about your favorite concoctions. That element is the tobacco used to make a shisha flavor. Broadly, there are two types of shisha tobacco: blonde and dark leaf.
Only a few types of tobacco plants are cultivated on a commercial scale among the 70 species or so we know of. There are other species, of course. The hookah or shisha industry uses only a couple of varieties, such as Virginia tobacco. But even if you consider a particular species, a tobacco plant may deliver blonde or dark leaves depending on how they are processed.
Blonde vs. Dark Leaf Tobacco
Blonde leaf tobacco is washed before drying and further processing. Dark leaf tobacco is not washed before air drying. The subsequent processing may vary among manufacturers, but this fundamental difference applies to every company offering blonde and dark leaf shisha tobacco.
Natural tobacco leaves have varying hues, subject to the species and when they are harvested. However, the colors are usually greenish and yellowish-green or some shades of these hues. A leaf may or may not have brown spots at the time of harvest.
These leaves are rich in nicotine. When they are washed in the case of blonde leaf tobacco, the leaves lose much of the nicotine content. The rinsing process also dilutes the pigments and thus the natural colors turn lighter. This process is followed up with drying, which leads to the blonde color. The color may vary from blonde or golden to orange and even pale yellow at times.
In contrast, dark leaf tobacco doesn’t involve washing the leaves. They are dried without rinsing, so the natural nicotine content is almost intact. Plus, the leaves attain a darker color than natural hues during drying. The pigmentation becomes more saturated as drying removes water.
Therefore, dark leaf tobacco looks brownish, darker, or black. The subsequent process may not be always identical to the manufacturing method of blonde leaf shisha tobacco. For starters, blonde leaf tobacco may be dried with air or smoke, among other combinations, in a way that keeps the leaves somewhat soft. Dark leaves are air dried, and they don’t retain much softness.
Differences in Shisha Flavor Profiles
There are two distinct differences in the shisha flavor profiles of blonde and dark leaf tobacco. A blonde leaf shisha tobacco flavor is likely to have little to no nicotine. Dark leaf shisha tobacco is likely to be rich in nicotine, albeit not as much as the natural content in the harvested leaves.
The presence of nicotine makes dark leaf shisha tobacco flavors bolder and stronger. You might get the kind of hit that is associated with cigarettes. In contrast, blonde leaf shisha tobacco does not have a kick per se. However, the feel or hit of flavors has nothing to do with nicotine.
Nicotine only determines boldness and the sense of high that you will feel due to the chemical. Flavors are more about what ingredients are used and whether they complement blonde or dark tobacco. Usually, blonde leaf tobacco works well with more ingredients than dark leaves.
The boldness or dominance of nicotine can essentially turn some flavorful ingredients ineffective in a recipe. Of course, there are quite a few flavors that work better with dark leaf tobacco. Most of the subtle flavors work better with blonde leaves, though.
Difference in Bowl Packing Methods
Blonde leaf tobacco can be packed fluffy and light. You can pack little or a sufficient amount as long as you don’t overfill or compress the tobacco. In contrast, dark leaf tobacco should have a relatively dense pack. The bowl should have the tobacco somewhat away from the heat source.
Dark leaf tobacco may also need a few holes when you press it down at the base of the bowl. But exercise caution not to compress the tobacco. Blonde leaf tobacco is easier to manage in comparison.
Difference in How You Manage Heat
Dark leaf tobacco can burn easily if the pack is too high in the bowl or you use one or two extra charcoal pieces. Blonde leaf tobacco is less likely to burn, but you can still scorch it accidentally. Dark leaf tobacco needs a more frequent movement of charcoal pieces so that the smoke does not get too strong, which may be an issue for beginners, albeit connoisseurs may do just fine.
Which Is Better for Shisha Flavors?
If you like bold flavors with nicotine, dark leaf tobacco is definitely worth a try. If you are new to hookahs and don’t have a history of smoking cigarettes, start with blonde leaf tobacco, try out a few shisha flavors, and then experiment with dark leaf variants containing nicotine if you want.