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How Japanese Coal Is Made & Why You Should Use It

If you have been a frequent reader of our blogs at MOB Hookah (and all of you should be, we’ve got some great content here!), then you know that we have a lot of care and respect for our hookah charcoal.

Many smokers underestimate the importance of their charcoals in producing a high-quality, smooth, and enjoyable smoke session. The truth of the matter is there are few variables that have as large of an impact on your sessions as your charcoals.

And while the conventional wisdom that we have continued to share on hookah coals — i.e. using natural hookah charcoals is still sound advice — there is a new kind of charcoal that we are offering that might just revolutionize how you enjoy hookah. 

We are talking about a Japanese style of charcoal that has been produced for hundreds of years, and is the Rolls Royce of charcoal.

Here is everything you need to know about Japanese charcoals and why they are the new top-notch coals for your hookah needs. 

What Are Japanese Coals?

Let’s just dive right in — what are “Japanese coals” anyway?

Well, the simplest way to put it is that they are charcoal that is made in Japan, but there is a lot more to it than that. When we talk about Japanese charcoal, what we are really talking about is a specific type of coal, Binchotan coals, which are made in Japan.

Binchotan coals have been made in Tanabe, Wakayama prefecture since the 17th century. They got their name from one particular coal maker who started this type of charcoal, Bicchuya Chozaemon. 

There are a few things that make these particular coals so special, starting with the type of wood they are made of.

Binchotan is only made using a special type of Japanese wood, called Ubame Kashi, or Ubame oak. Ubame Kashi is only grown in particularly hilly regions of Japan, making it incredibly difficult to harvest. 

Ubame Kashi is essential for the high-quality binchotan charcoal, as Ubame Kashi has a tighter grain and is much harder than other varieties of oak trees, which gives binchotan its particularly unique properties. 

How Are Regular Coals Made?

All coals are made in a similar basic method, which starts with burning the wood. Although, if you have ever burned your own firewood before, then you know that it’s not enough to just burn the wood, otherwise you will end up with a pile of ash.

The reason this happens is due mostly to exposure to oxygen. When the wood that is burnt is exposed to oxygen, the carbon in the wood bonds with the oxygen, producing CO2 and allowing it to burn down to ash.

When you make coals, however, you try to expose the wood to as little oxygen as possible, which helps to release the water in the wood via the release of the steam, which eventually leaves you with charcoal.

The first step to making charcoal is assembling the wood you are going to turn into charcoal in a kiln, a massive oven that is designed specifically for making charcoal. You then light a less dense wood fuel that will burn faster than the other wood, and then slowly seal off the kiln until you are left with just four small openings.

Then, you leave the coals to release their steam, which can take six or seven days to complete. Once they are ready, you close off the holes to eliminate the oxygen flow and snuff out the fire. Once the fire is out, the kiln is left to cool, and the coals are removed.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is how they make charcoal. 

How Are Binchotan Coals Made?

Binchotan coals are not made the exact same way as other types of coals. They follow a much more specialized and challenging production process that helps to yield a more unique product.

Everything about the beginning of the process stays the same — they gather the wood, Ubame Kashi, and bundle it in a kiln with a fuel source, and then let it cook out the H2O in the wood, with limited oxygen supply and only four openings. 

From there, the process gets a little more complicated. Rather than snuffing out the flame, binchotan coal producers take an extra step: a refining process. They take an opposite approach, where instead of closing off the oxygen flow, they slowly increase it by adding more openings into the kiln.

This process has to be done very slowly; it can take up to two days, during which time the kiln temperature will rise as high as 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. This step burns off any residual bark and makes the coals denser, tighter, and almost exclusively carbon. Traditional coals are around 75% carbon, whereas binchotan coals are up to 95% carbon.

From there, they cannot let the coals cool in the kiln (they will burn up if left there), so they have to be removed while still hot. They are then covered in sand and ash, which prevents them from burning up and gives them a white coating. 

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how they make binchotan charcoal. A lot more steps, but worth it to yield a much better product.

Why Use Binchotan Charcoal?

So, binchotan charcoal is made from special wood, and goes through a special process to prepare them, but what about all of that makes them any better than any other type of coal? After all, the process takes as much as ten days to produce, uses a lot of fuel, and produces a relatively small yield of coal compared to other methods with the same volume of material. 

Well, binchotan charcoal burns longer, cleaner, and at a more consistent temperature than other coals.

But what are the benefits of a longer, cleaner burn, and more consistent temperature for hookah smokers?

First, let’s address length. There is nothing worse than a smoke session cut short by your coals. Quick light coals can burn out in as little as 45 minutes or an hour, much shorter than the four to six hours that you can expect from binchotan coals. 

Next, a cleaner burn. One of the largest complaints is cited against quick light coals for hookah smokers is the flavor of the chemical coating that can be tasted in the smoke. Using regular coals helps to decrease the unsavory flavors of the coals.

But with binchotan coals, you get no perceptible flavor impartation from the coals. This allows the flavor of your shisha to really sing out without any interference.

And finally, there is the consistency of the burn. The biggest factor that can impact your smoking session in relation to your coals is heat management.

You need to continually flip and rotate your coals to ensure that every part of your shisha is getting equal heat for equal amounts of time to vaporize all of the shisha without burning any portion of that shisha. 

With the consistent burn of the binchotan coals, you have a much better head start to heat management. With keeping the burn consistent, you know that each of your coals is giving off a consistent heat throughout your entire smoke session, letting you vaporize every last bit of shisha without burn.

Binchotan is the best of the best for hookah charcoal.

Japanese Charcoal: The Takeaways

If you have never heard of Japanese charcoal, aka binchotan charcoal, then you are in for the best upgrade that you can get for your hookah coals. 

Binchotan charcoal is made in Japan using a special type of oak called Ubame Kashi, which is harder and denser than other types of wood.

It then is cooked in a kiln to release the water in the wood over the course of a week, and then they blast the heat and increase the oxygen flow to burn off the bark and other organic material, leaving as much carbon as possible.

The coals are then removed hot from the kiln and flash-cooled with sand and ash.

Binchotan coals burn slower, cleaner, and at a more consistent temperature than other types of charcoal, making binchotan the perfect coal for your hookah session. 

Want more articles and content to make you a hookah expert? Be sure to keep checking back here at our blog for more!


Sources

Get to know your Fire Starter: Bincho Basics | Knifewear 

The Ultimate Guide to Japanese Binchotan | NomList

A Kiln, a Branch and the Sea: The Making of Binchotan Charcoal | Rikumo Journal

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