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The Hajo Files

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  #26  
Old November 12th, 2010, 03:43 PM
Hajo Flettner
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Default The Hajo Files

I have some good news in that my surgeon and my employer's medical bureaucracy have lifted all of my travel restrictions! Unfortunately I have to travel with my nurse which is a bit depressing since it makes me seem like a school boy. She is very excited about traveling which strikes me as weird since she is firmly rooted the local peasant culture (a good thing thing indeed) and hates traveling to the local big cities of Vilnius and Kaunas.

One place I need to head to is the picturesque metropolis of Medenine to go make the final push to get a couple of new beverage plants and water treatment center projects underway. Apart from being a charming place to visit filled will wonderful architecture and mundane tourist crap Medenine shares in common with Marrakech an auction that I am sure will interest many HPers. Medenine is host to an annual auction of small, high quality black moassels. While i've known about the auction for a long time iv'e never gotten an invite until now. I'll be staying for spell a the, some what, near by port of Houmt Souk on the idyllic isle of Jarbah for reasons never told to me by my employer's travel bureaucracy.

As I understand it, roughly 200 craft made moassels and tobamels will be present and all of them will come in old fashioned packing. I also have been told that sampling the offerings and trading supplies used in the production of moassels and tobamels is a big part of it as is a contest which takes place over several days. Needless to say, if I can score something particularly good at a reasonable price i'll share it with my fellow HPers at cost.

I'll post some updates here when they happen.
  #27  
Old November 14th, 2010, 03:33 PM
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Default Re: Big Black Moassel Auction in Medenine

Well the trip out had a few hiccups! The Airbus I was on had all sorts of problems with vibrations that felt like it would shake the plane apart. What was worse was some idiot sitting next to me talking about how unsafe Airbus products are and how no one will find our remains. After an absurdly long wait I depart on a different plane which seemed to be filled almost exclusively with insurance salesmen and the wacked out followers of some Hari Crishna like cult that was chanting about "how full nothingness is". Worst of all was some freak sitting besides me dressed like Brain Setzer circa '81 that was singing tunes from Grease and various Elvis flicks for 3 hours straight. The real question is what the hell all these people were going to be doing in Tunisia?

When I got to Tunis I found out that the plane that was supposed to take me to Houmt Souk got canceled so I had to ride in a estate wagon. The estate wagon apparently got in an accident which meant that my nurse and I ended up in the back of delivery van which was fairly horrid since we ended up sharing the space with four goats and an infant bear. The presence of the goats is a story in and of itself which I lack the time to convey. Still, things can always get worse and they did when the van broke down somewhere about an hour north of Mahdia. Still, being stranded in Mahdia wasn't a bother since my translator has family there so we got to have a nice meal and see a bit of the very scenic port and get a sense of the maritime life and the ebbs and flows of the city. After a couple of hours we hopped on a very old Renault bus which was crowed to the point disbelief and driven by fellow that had it crawling as if he was traversing a mine field. After what seemed like an eternity we pulled into Bir Ali Ben Khlifa and sat about drinking coffee with a bunch of 20 something Arabs that were all very Westernized and curious about my nurse and I and wanted to talk about crappy techno music.

After hanging about for a bit I got lucky when an old business acquaintance of mine arranged to have a very comfortable sedan pick us up and convey us to my hotel in Houmt Souk. Unfortunately the hotel was bedeviled by massive plumbing problems which was surprising since it appeared rather highbrow. As a result, I got shifted to what is best described as a Arab version bed and breakfast which actually suits me better. It's a nice little group of worn but clean cottages close to the beach with decorations that remind me of American motels of the '50s.

While I appreciate retro styling my nurse does not and has taken a dim view of my employer. She also seems to be annoyed by the sexual segregation common in this part of the world which surprises me since she has a very conservative disposition and is wholly unsympathetic with feminism.

Some business type stuff will occupied today and that will be the case tomorrow as well but I may have time to pop in on the opening of the auction on Tuesday and if that is the case i'll be sure to bring you all up to date on what's happening.
  #28  
Old November 17th, 2010, 06:08 PM
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Default Re: Big Black Moassel Auction in Medenine

After a rather lack luster Monday of power point blather and high pressure sales crap I finally got to head out to the big auction.

The first thing that struck me was the amazingly rich and strong aroma that hit as I neared the various old fashioned earthen buildings that house this amazing event! It was a if everything nice on the planet with a scent was concentrated in one place. I can't find a way to describe how heavenly it was.

I also love the fact that live, traditional Arabic instrumental music is playing in all parts of the complex although my ignorance of North African Arabic music means that I am getting nothing out of the sounds but simple pleasure.

I bought a very pricey ticket which allowed my nurse, translator and myself to enter after I turned in my invitation. At first the guy at the door didn't want to admit my nurse since the management won't allow women unless they are accompanied by their husband, father or adult brother in but a bit of explaining by my translator settled the issue favourably although my nurse was a bit annoyed by the local customs. The first stop was to a series of tables selling hoses where I purchased a lovely camel skin hose with a nice cedar mouth piece and about 20 AF style throw aways for both my translator and myself.

Next stop was the bowl vendors where it seems that local custom dictates that I provide the bowl I smoke from rather then the the chap whose moassel I taste. It seems that bowls here come in two types: wood and unglazed clay. It also appears that a great deal of passions are aroused regarding which sort of bowl is better and what should be smoked with what. I bought a few of each and if I can figure out how to work my translator's cell phone i'll get pictures of them posted. Clearly the folks in attendance are not the laid back, smokers one sees in the cafe at the end of a hard day's work in the city. Rather, the auction is by and for aficionados that take all things tobacco related with great seriousness and formality.

Anyways, the wood bowls are made of either cedar or olive and are unvarnished and generally are shaped like a vortex. where they differ from a vortex is that they consist of two pieces with the first consisting of the outer wall and and stem and the second part consisting of the central pillar and the inner wall which has two rows of 8-12 holes placed at about a a third and two thirds of way up the surface. The clay bowls are formed the same way although the outer surface is glazed while the inner surface is untreated.

I also picked up a little device that looks like asparagus tongs which are used to pick up the moassel/tobamel and place it in the bowl. For some reason, it's considered bad manners to pack the bowl with your fingers which is something i've not encountered before. I also got a small, thin curved blade which is designed to scrap out spent moassel which I think looks like a grapefruit knife. Lastly I picked up a few brass screens because here no one uses foil.

An interesting aspect of the complex is that lovely hand made rugs are everywhere, covering the walls and floors which makes for a real treat if you love textile arts. Personally I prefer the rugs of the Caucus region to the local styles but what I've seen is lovely nonetheless. The vendors themselves hove just simple folding card tables which display whatever they are selling. The crowds are heavy and everyplace I look I see nothing but people truly dedicated to and knowledgeable about all things narghile related which is something very special indeed.

I'll write about my initial take on the moassels here when I get a bit of time and I can get a decent internet connection.
  #29  
Old November 18th, 2010, 04:53 PM
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Default Re: Big Black Moassel Auction in Medenine

I got to spend a bit of time at the auction today in between some meetings about electrical requirements for a project i'm working on and it was a blast.

I also discovered that a longtime local business/governmental acquaintance of mine named Mr. Chelbi is also a dedicated narghile fan and we had a great breakfast that cooked for him and some of his associates made up of a dill black rye bread and braised fish recipe of my own creation and pinon coffee which a prepared at his hotel.

At the auction my translator (Hazem Teidis) introduced my compatriots and I to a local tobamel (that's a narghile tobacco blend made with honey rather then molasses) called "Blue Time" which refers that part of the evening when the sun has set but night hasn't really arrived. What's interesting is that in this part of the country tobamels are sometimes aged in small wooden boxes in a method called "pressing".

The method, as I understand it, is as follows: the tobacco is flute cured for a very brief time before being taken down, de-stemmed, cut and packed very tightly into small boxes with the inner surfaces charred. The boxes are then placed in an earthen oven and heated to a very low temperature and left for a full day before being taken out. Next, the tobacco is mixed with a creamed honey and packed back into the small, charred boxes very tightly and the heating process repeated. Finally the box has string tied onto it, is dipped into wax and sold.

When you get ready to smoke it you shave off the wax from the box, pull out the small nails that hold on the top and bit of the tobamel off with a knife. The texture is basically like very fresh Salloum plain.

I got to smoke four different blends of "pressed tobamels" and I can say they all look like Western Naval flake tobacco shaped in a manner closest to plug chewing tobacco but much bigger since each block is about a kilo. The smells are a combination of creamed honey, wood, earth and something not unlike Burly tobacco. Flavour wise the tastes range from earthy and sweet with a definite smokey element in the background to a strong flavour that reminds me of Perique tobacco with the earthy and sweet elements being less pronounced. Needless to say, it's a unique blend that is relaxing and flavourful yet less bold then then most North African moassels.
  #30  
Old November 19th, 2010, 03:16 PM
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Default Re: Big Black Moassel Auction in Medenine

Quote:
Originally Posted by DoktorD1313 View Post
What an interesting process! It's amazing how unique and innovative the methods are for making various narghile tobaccos, whether they are tobamels, juraks, or any other type. I must say that the packing method (with the wooden box and wax) is also very exotic in and of itself. The flavors you've described sound like they would make for a delicious smoking session. I for one am quite fond of wooden flavors in tobacco.

When you mentioned that they mixed in "creamed" honey, how exactly does that differ from regular honey? I can't imagine that cream was added to it.. Or is it?
One thing i've learned is that what goes into producing a decent tobacco product is every bit as elaborate as what goes into making a fine distilled or brewed beverage. It really is a mix of art and science that one doesn't see much of in the world today.

I too am a big fan of of wooden flavours in tobacco.

Creamed honey is process of heating & mixing honey to control the crystallization process and change the texture to something far more like dairy butter then honey. Apparently, a lot of people believe that creamed honey is easier to work when combined with tobacco and that the flavour and texture it lends is ideal. Others seem to think that raw honey (rather then the processed stuff we can easily buy) is the correct way to go.
  #31  
Old November 19th, 2010, 03:23 PM
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Default Re: Big Black Moassel Auction in Medenine

Quote:
Originally Posted by kalutika View Post
It's really great to hear about more traditional tobamels. I have always been a fan of tobamel and when I blend my own hookah tobacco it's most often a tobamel. Sadly there are more than a handful of tobamel products on the North American market but they are all the most modern of tobaccos and lack any real traditional character.
From what I can tell, the mass produced hookah tobacco products all use either honey or some cheap inverted sugar. In the case of the former, the intention is to add a simple sweetener that lacks the more assertive and complicated taste found in molasses. By contrast the use of the later is to drive down costs. In both cases the idea is to create a simple, sweet product with no tobacco like characteristics with all the flavour elements contributed by the sweeteners (honey and glycerin) and the artificial compound meant to make the mixture taste like rum, fruit, chocolate or what have you.

As far as I know, there are no traditional tobamels imported to the West which is strange since some rather decent sized firms in the Middle East and India mass produce fairly traditional tobamels. If I can find a really great traditional tobamel at a reasonable price and I can talk some one in to helping me with shipping and customs i'll see about having distributed to my fellow HPers.
  #32  
Old November 22nd, 2010, 05:47 PM
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Default Re: Big Black Moassel Auction in Medenine

Unfortunately I've been preoccupied with boring work related stuff and spending way to much time talking to Attila The Stockbroker types in conferences that have as an upside a never ending supply of amazingly good coffee and fresh fruits.

I did get to spend some time at the auction and I loved walking around the vendors peddling stuff to make moassel at home. I saw something like 80 types of molasses and I got to try a bunch. The most interesting one is one called sunlight which as the name implies is very light to the point of of being only slightly lighter then orange blossom honey. It's taste is moderately sweet with a definite clove and earthy taste. Also got to see stone paddles for mixing the moassel and an oil that will supposedly keep the moassel from sticking to your hands while imparting no taste to the moassel.

I also got try a moassel made from some super strong leaf from Cyprus and wow, the nicotine content was about the same as hot dokha blend. The leaf looks like a classic navy cut pipe tobacco although it's pressed in cubes made out of wood flake and clay and baked at a low temperature for something like 3 days. I suppose i'd say it tastes like mix of Balkan pipe pipe tobacco, a creamy sweetness and something peppery in the background. I find it amazing that such complicated flavours can be created with out any additives at all.

I also want to say that Western shisha cafes need to learn how to make customers happy. Here, I can sit on a lovely bunch of cushions, drinking the best coffee on the planet and snaking on fruits and pastries with folk music playing while smoking the tobacco equivalent of the Mona Lisa. No drunk frat dudes, techno/rap/ electronica blasting and no silly drunken skanks anywhere. Even my nurse is coming to like moassel culture and getting that it's not about nicotine cravings or anything banal like that.

I've got a couple of leads on getting some killer moassel for my fellow HPers and i'll write about that when I get some more time.
  #33  
Old November 26th, 2010, 04:24 PM
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Default Re: Big Black Moassel Auction in Medenine

I got see blending masters at work at the auction yesterday and I was amazed. Basically what they do is strip out main stem from the leaf and it either with a pair of heavy knives or a rolling blade similar to those used to cut pizzas. Next the leaf is placed in a wooden bowl upon which goes a lid which has a hole about 70mm in diameter with a tube about 170mm placed over the hole. Basically how they test the leaf is mound the cut tobacco leaf until the bowl is half full and they touch hot coals to the leaf and slap on the lid/tube combo once the smoldering leaf gets to producing a decent amount of smoke. The blender then draws the smoke into his mouth, describes the taste for the crowd and makes recommendations about how the blend should be changed to meet some flavour profile previously discussed.

The same basic testing method is used to commit taste tests in which the sampler is ask to say what sort of leaf is being burned, the type of curing method used and the age of the leaf. What is astounding is that so many of these people are right so often and in such detail. Clearly I feel like a total neophyte when I see just how knowledgeable some people are.
  #34  
Old November 26th, 2010, 05:44 PM
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Default Re: Big Black Moassel Auction in Medenine

I forgot to mention that I got to try a moassel made in the Tataouine Governorate called the "The Harmony/Peace of Bir Lahmar" which I suppose is named for the town of which I know nothing about. Still, if the moassel is any reflection on the place I suppose I should go there. Visually it's a strange looking moassel indeed made with a very finely powdered leaf that reminds me of Desi Merli except that it's a mix of a dull green and bright yellow leaf that simply doesn't resemble anything i've heaver seen before. It also has smell that i'd say resembles a mix of fresh potting soil and Vienna roast coffee. Taste wise it strikes me as similar to candela wrappers used on various obscure cigars, bright cavendish tobacco, something very earth like while being sweeter then most black moassels. I've not had anything like this before and I think it's extraordinarily mild and sweet without out losing the full bodied character that makes for a really good smoke.

The other amazing find is from the charming city of Tataouine and it's called El Zaribah. Apparently the family that makes it actually resides in Ghorfas homes which is a truly unique form of local architecture i've seen but never been in or know much about.

After trying El Zaribah I can say that it's an extremely complicated moassel which has a distinct orange like flavour that reminds me of Bergamot orange although the more prominent flavours are what i've come to associate with Perique tobacco, a rich smoked wood flavour and a definite yet well balanced sweetness. The thing more I can say is that it's exquisite and as good as a lot of stuff that Shooting Star makes although in a different way.

The big tasting competition is well underway and should be over on Monday and it seems that both El Zaribah and "The Harmony/Peace of Bir Lahmar" are in the top ten front runners for "modern style black moassels". It would seem that the attendees at the convention prefer these brands to over a hundred other similar products for sale here.

The good news is that i'll be trying to snag a decent sized order of one or both of these products to distribute to HPers at cost. naturally my ability to do so will depend upon having some folks help arrange the purchase, shipping, dealing with customs and getting it done for a sensible price. I'll give updates if and when they happen in a separate thread.
  #35  
Old November 28th, 2010, 06:29 PM
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Default Re: Big Black Moassel Auction in Medenine

A cool thing that happened today is that I was smoking for the first time something called "mixed black moassels" which is defined by having a single type of leaf that has been cured in a verity of ways. They also have something called "heavy black moassels" which is a mix of leaf that has been cooked in moalasses blended with less processed leaf and aged for a long time before use.

While trying out these new (to me) exotics I got to meet couple of Italian buyers that introduced me to a truly ancient and expert blender/taster. This fellow can remember the days when Italy and the Ottomans feuded over suzerainty of vast tracks of North Africa. He recalls the German/Ottoman campaign to support the Sanusi against the Italian/British forces when he was child during the First World War. His father apparently had met Ahmad al-Sharif and he himself had spoken with Crown Prince Osman Fuad Efendi several times which makes me feel like i've not done nearly enough in life as should have.

The old gent's taste buds seem to be amazingly refined as he sampled ten different blends and was unfailingly accurate in detailing what sort of leaf went into the blend, how each leaf type was cured and the relative proportions of each. Somehow I'd guess that should I live another 40 years and triple my tobacco consumption I couldn't match such talent.

Oh, a funny thing happened in that some anti-tobacco religious type hanging around the entrance to the auction wanted to confront the old gent and lambaste him for his sinful ways asking him how he could smoke and be a man of faith. His reply was that Ahmad al-Sharif and his followers were the most devoted and pius of men and yet nearly all of them smoked daily. He went on to point out that until accuser suffers the depredations they did he has no place to criticize someone simply because they smoke from a purely religious standpoint.

Needless to say my lack of knowledge of such matter led me to hold my tongue as did a general sense of decorum. Still, I think the old gent was right.
  #36  
Old November 30th, 2010, 02:58 PM
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Default Re: Big Black Moassel Auction in Medenine

I can't really give an opinion on the mixed or heavy moassels since i've had very limited experiences with both so I don't know know if what I've had is representative or not.

The mixed moassel I tried was rather interesting in that I could definately pick out Cyprian leaf of varying levels of sweetness with a slight smokey flavour in the background. It's the sort of thing that you need to pay close attention to when smoking. I suppose one could compare it tasting 4 different types of potatoes all cooked the same way or 4 perhaps different identical sausages all braised in bier according to different methods.

The old gent was really an amazing fellow. It's hard to imagine some living long enough to see as much history as he has. It's a real pity I had such a hard time speaking to him since he didn't know English and his Arabic is a weird dialect according to my translator. It seems that he belongs to a Hamitic ethnicity called the Beja which i've heard of always thought of of has being more Negroid in appearance then the gent I talked to who was most definitely more Occidental in appearance which one sees occasionally in Berbers and Arabs. It seems that he has been a professional tobacco blender and grader for something like 70 years which is simply amazing to me.
  #37  
Old November 30th, 2010, 03:54 PM
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Default Re: Big Black Moassel Auction in Medenine

The big news is that the competition I mentioned before has come to an end top five winners are as follows:

1) Four Poets. This is a product I never heard of before which is made by two families from the Saudi towns of Sakakah and a village near Unaizah which I never heard of. This black moassel smells like dates, molasses and something else I can't place. Taste wise I'd say it's like Balkan Sobranie tobacco with a sweet under tone and and an aftertaste of something that reminds me of leeks. This stuff is mind blowingly good.

2) Shooting Star's Gondos and Simon Blend. I've written about this here:
http://www.hookahpro.com/forum/showt...=shooting+star

3) El Zaribah. I talked a bit about this brand earlier in the thread.

4) Ar Rass. Another product i've heard of before. I assumed that given the name it was from the KSA but it's actually from town in Tunisia that I never heard of from the Southern half of the Kebili governate. Apparently the leaf it uses comes from Kameroon, Malawi, Cyprus and Turkey. This is a very smokey flavoured moassel with the tastes of figs, tea with a somewhat floral after taste and a lot of nicotine. While I found this very impressive it's not the sort of thing I'd want to smoke on a regular basis as the falvours are all bold and I prefer to have some subtle under currents in the flavour profile of what I smoke and a more complicated sort of experience. The texture was amazingly heavy, like crushed velvet, and quite amazing however.

5) The Harmony/Peace of Bir Lahmar. I've talked about this one earlier in the thread.

I should mention that given the fact that a couple of hundred black moassels are present here getting a voted into the top five by the attendees is extremely impressive. It should also be pointed out that the voting was rather close and nothing in the top 5 was separated by more then roughly 10% and often less then 5%.

I didn't get the chance to take part in the tobamel voting or find out what won.

I can't help but to emphasize that people here are passionate about tobacco and that endless arguments/debates about leaf types, curing methods and every possible facet of production gets endless attention.

Another thing I noticed is that the long held stereotype of Arabs haggling over prices and negotiating everything when buying/selling. Doesn't seem to hold true here. Instead, people seem to talk a lot about the defining aspect of a product and simply accept the price if they like it enough. I only wish my negotiations in my professional capacity could be so easy.
  #38  
Old December 27th, 2010, 09:25 PM
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Default The Hajo Files

Shortly before the holiday season hit and I got stuck with my police training gig and abusing my body running around in horrid weather I got to spend a bit of time investigating the possibility of getting a really great moassel for my fellow HPers called Ar Rass which I talked about briefly in the auction thread I had up a couple of weeks back.

With a bit of creative schedule planning I arranged to go to the fairly famous merchant town of Douz in the Kebili governate of Tunisia and while I struck out in terms of finding someone that knew anything about locally made moassel the first couple of tries I did luck out on the third try when I met a chap that runs a little caf that is surprisingly in that its partly owned by an Armenian from Iran that served all of classic Iranian drinks/milk shakes like havij bastani, Sheer Moz, Hendevaneh and ice creams like Gol-o Bolbol and some sort of pastries. How and why he ended up in Douz is a mystery Id love to have explained to me. The caf was divided into a kitchen area, a room with perhaps eight tables and seats and a second room of about the same size for moassel smokers. Naturally I took my delectable goodies into the smoking room and chatted with my translator Hazem Teidis and noted the heavy, smokey/wood like aroma of Ar Rass moassel. I excitedly pestered Hazem to go get the smoker to tell me where he got it and found out that smoker ( his name is Abderraouf M'Dhaffar) is a wood worker for the Romdhani family which is part owner of the enterprise.

Hazem and I drove behind Abderraouf for about 30 minutes before we came to a little cluster of earthen buildings and a large, very weathered Quonset hut type building which I presume was built during the Second World War together comprise the Ar Rass workshops. Basically the buildings were simple earthen, barely subterranean structures and a few simple squat earthen buildings with a few large plastic/fibre glass water tanks scattered about. The Quonset hut is used to store leaf, molasses and finished moassel before its sent out to homes near Douz wheres it either wrapped in wax paper and string or simple plastic buckets with the weight written on the outside with a marker.

Apparently the leaf is imported from Kameroon, Malawi, Cyprus and Turkey in small batches to
the town of Souk Lahad (Ive never been there but its also in the Kebili governate) where it seems the molasses is made, the main stems stripped out of the leaf and about half of the leaf cured in a slotted barn as is the American practice.

The facility I saw was use primarily for mixing the leaf (both cured according to American practice and seemly fire cured as well) with molasses into a very thick, dough like consistency in one of the small above ground buildings I mentioned earlier. The wood worker, Abderraouf, that I mentioned earlier builds crates with charred inner surfaces in another such building. The crates are about one meter long by three quarters of a meter squared with a hole about 12cm running through the center of the crate which has a series of slots placed around it forming a tube with a few open spaces. Open spaces run between the slats which make up the sides and top of the crate while the bottom is solid. All told Id guess that half the surface of the crate is open. Covering the central tube and the spaces between the slats is lattice of thin wooden rods affixed to both the inside and outer surfaces of the crate. The open spaces allow the entrance of air as the moassel is baked in the next step.

After the crate is built its stuffed with the mixed leaf and molasses and it placed in clay oven subterranean buildings I mentioned earlier which are basically like the famous Matmata buildings of Star Wars fame but simpler. Wood soaked in water overnight is used to fire the ovens and bellows used to fill the chamber with smoke and slowly bake the moassel at temperatures Id guess are around 80-90C for nearly a full day. After baking the crates are removed with long hooks and left to cool before the moassel is placed into a barrel and a bit more molasses is mixed in.

It seems that the locals around Douz belong to an ethnicity called the Mrazig which I dont know anything at all about and they seem to make up most of the folks that actually produce Ar Rass moassel and apparently one of the families that owns the marque is of Mrazig descent. My translator Hazem seemed to have a tough time speaking to them so I presume they speak a rather obscure dialect of Arabic but again I am ignorant on the subject.

I did get to met a fellow named Rafiq Malouche and after a bit of the usual comments about how he had no product to sell I convinced him that I was serious and wanted to buy a bit to distribute in the states to narghile fans at my cost. It surprised him that Americans smoked anything but cigarettes and felt it was very curious that anyone not from the Middle East would be interested in traditional moassel. After drinking a huge quantity of tea and eating a lot of high quality fruit and dates it seems that Mr. Malouche will look into pricing and quantities available which is very encouraging.

When more info comes up Ill let you know. With a bit of luck i'll have some for a few HPers.
  #39  
Old December 30th, 2010, 12:48 AM
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Default Re: Checking Out How Ar Rass Is Made,

Desi Merli is great stuff. The best you buy in the West in my opinion. However, traditional Indian moassel is a bit different then Arab/Persian/Turkish/Turkman varieties. I think that those that have tasted the various samples I posted in the past will agree that the sort of thing I am talking about is a lot more complex, heavier body and totally unlike what you can get in the West (or the Middle East without a lot of hassle for that matter).

I may be able to come up with a plausible reason to be in the Kebili governate in the very near term and if so i'll do my best to stop by Souk Lahad and see what is the status of my little quest to hook up my fellow HPers.
  #40  
Old December 30th, 2010, 12:55 AM
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Default Re: Checking Out How Ar Rass Is Made,

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mackmaven View Post
I often feel like following your tobacco escapades reads like some kind of cross between a NatGeo expedition series and a cloak-and-dagger Indiana Jones adventure... "We were hot on the trail of some elusive moassel traders, but the only way in with them was through a man they called "The Carpenter", who was to be found in the back room of a smokey, dimly lit cafe in Douz..."

My knowledge of shipping through customs is limited to "I hope they don't stop this." but I would happily help with any state-side distribution or what not.
That made me chuckle! Chasing this sort of thing down is a real adventure (well, compared to my normal life anyways) and it does seem to involve all sorts of "fringe" type people. Going into local shops and asking about this sort of thing gets a blank stare since it seems the locals almost never know about all the stuff I want. I'd guess my experience is off putting to everyone but having a translator seems to help a lot. I wish I could just pop into a shop in the capital and buy what I want but it never seems to work that way.

I'm busy pestering my local and stateside chums so hopefully that side of things will be taken care of.

More news as it comes.
  #41  
Old December 30th, 2010, 02:39 PM
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Default Re: Checking Out How Ar Rass Is Made,

These little family owned brands tend to be rather obscure and are made in batches that represent a tiny portion of the output of a company like Fumari.
Although most produce far more then truly super high end brands like Shooting Star.

Some are like Dariush and are sold at a single or perhaps a few cafes and have a local following. Sometimes such marques disappear for a few months or even a year or so when they can't the sort of leaf needed at prices they can afford which tends to hurt brand recognition.

Other brands are made exclusively for export to a few high end but small vendors as is the case with brands like Contentment and Bachi-Bagli Halva. Others are vary old brands that pre-date Nakhla but are vary small and sell only to long established clients in the Middle East like al-Mutawakkil and are mostly export based.

What they all have in common is the old fashioned wax paper and string packaging and a very labour and time intensive method of production that demands high quality leaf.
  #42  
Old January 4th, 2011, 07:26 PM
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Default Re: Checking Out How Ar Rass Is Made,

I got spend some time with one of the owners of Ar Rass named Azziz Romdhani whom I spent an afternoon with about half an hour outside of the quaint town of Souk Lahad. I did not get to see the portion of the production operations that are housed in the area but enjoying Mr. Romdhani's company was delightful in and of itself. His home is rather large Quonset hut which has been covered with clay bricks on the outside and straw/clay bricks on the inside resulting in a fairly unique looking structure. I gave him some saffron tea which is something he hadn't tried before and it was a big hit and went quite well with the fresh bread we had to accompany it. After a bit of discussion about black moassels in general (Mr. Romdhani's English is excellent) and the curious fact that some Westerns understand that moassel shouldn't be red, green pink or smell/taste like fruit we came to an understanding that he will supply me with generous ration of of a moassel that didn't make it to the auction in Medenine that I wrote about already due it having only two rather then the customary four years of aging. It differs from the blend I had at the auction in three ways. The first of which is that about 30% of the leaf is baked under pressure at very low temperatures prior to the molasses being added. Secondly, the smoke curing portion fo the production is done "cold" meaning that the source of the fire is father from the clay curing chamber with lower heat from the smoldering wet wood for a full three days. Finally, the blend differs in that a significant (apparently about 20%) of the tobacco used comes from a Louisiana tobacco seed based leaf that is is grown in Macedonia and pressure cured with small amounts of carob molasses. While a price hasn't been settled on I think I should be able to provide this rather exotic treat for about the same price as i've had other samples sent out in the past and hopefully this time i'll be able to keep my losses to 400. Naturally i'll be giving the details as soon as I have them in the up coming days. As to what it tastes like, well I have to write about that latter since I am out of time.
  #43  
Old January 5th, 2011, 03:43 PM
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Default Re: Checking Out How Ar Rass Is Made,

I've got some good news about the Ar Rass! After making a nice lunch of pasole (with goat rather then pork) and giving away some pinon coffee I managed to convince Mr. Romdhani to supply me with moassel aged for a full three years!

I got to smoke a bit of the blend out of a typical old style super heavy, simple brass narghile with a cedar vortex like bowl and an old fashioned hose made of camel leather.

I have to say I am intrigued and this blend is definitely better then excellent blend I had at the auction which is really saying something!

The same incredibly heavy, rich texture is still the same as is the spicy and earth like undertones and the heavy, rich smokey and very bold flavour i've come to love. What is different is that the new blend has a distinctly orange and tea like flavour that strikes as Persian and Arab like at the same time. It really is quite amazing and unlike anything i've had before.

I've also managed to browbeat a chum of mine in the states and another here into handling the customs and shipping side of things so I think this should work.
  #44  
Old January 6th, 2011, 03:08 PM
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Default Re: Checking Out How Ar Rass Is Made,

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Originally Posted by carto0n View Post
oh man.....I wish you had some pics of that pipe. I can imagine it was awesome. Congrats on the experience....not many people will be able to do such things.
Glad you liked hearing about my little adventure.

I can't really take pictures since I was in the guy's home and besides, no one wants to see what I look like if they can avoid it.

Basically the narghile is very simple in that it's made up of a couple of pieces of very thick drawn brass tubes with no decorations of any kind, a typical Egyptian style smoke chamber and a Syrian style floating ashtray. I've found that in rural areas those sorts of rigs are typical and the ornamental rigs with spun and cast parts that we all have are pretty rare. Most of the old school smokers tend to use leather hoses with wooden mouth pieces although the older style brass or wooden tubes attached to the narghile with a wooden mouth piece on the end are still popular in a few places.
  #45  
Old January 10th, 2011, 11:09 PM
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Default Re: Checking Out How Ar Rass Is Made,

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Originally Posted by linerndunch110 View Post
exactly. chances are theres simply not enough demand, ignoring that fact that it would have to be regulated and such so it most likely wouldnt be the same anyway. Also, to make it the most profitable, the vendor would have to order an enormous amount, resulting in alot of unfresh moassel. if youve ever got zaghloul at a local store, chances are that it was not moist or sticky as it should be, because it had been sitting there for years.
It's hard to say if demand exists for a product that no one bothers to supply. Fifty years ago the idea of spending as much on a bicycle as one would on a decent used car was too crazy to consider yet these days it's a given that such a market exists. For decades no one suspected that Americans would ever buy anything but Bud/Mil/Coors in quantities worth talking about.

Some of you may be aware that a whole range of urban cars exist called Petite Voiturettes in Europa or K cars in Japan which you legally will never be able to buy in the states. If Americans had a less regulated market I am willing to bet that such vehicles could get a decent sized foot hold in the American market place.

When it comes to high end Middle Eastern tobacco I am willing to guess that demand could be surprisingly large. Most here are too young to remember but prior to the cigar boom of the early '90s cigars basically consisted of machine made crap for lowbrow types and a couple of dozen handmade marques with fairly poor distribution that only old fogies smoked. When the cigar boom hit literally hundreds of "premium" and "ultra-premium" brands popped up over night and high quality cigars went from a tiny, dying market segment to a "life style accessory" for every yuppie in the Western world. The cigar boom days are long gone yet enough people with significant disposable income were exposed to good cigars that it's still a good sized business even now.

I would be willing to guess that a lot of people that like high quality pipe tobacco or cigars could seriously enjoy quality moassels, tobamels and juraks if they ever heard about them and given the shocking price of decent Western style pipe tobacco I could easily see the market taking off. Of course this hobby of ours is something like 95% college hipsters smoking super highly processed products and the vast majority of pipe and cigar aficionados would never even consider trying a narghile because they want high quality tobacco tastes rather then plant cellulose being a medium for "flavour casings". I think that could change with a bit of careful marketing but clearly 95%+ of the current narghile users would have no interest in traditional products. Even so, the bottom line is that 5% of the current market could be rather profitable for an enterprising (and well connected) vendor or two.
  #46  
Old January 11th, 2011, 09:46 PM
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Default Re: Checking Out How Ar Rass Is Made,

I am glad to help out FF. I think that people will really like this stuff and it's rather different from anything that can be had without a lot of effort and great contacts which is why I am making available.

As to the cedar/olive wood bowls designed for this sort of thing I had one but it got busted during luggage handling a while back. I have no idea how to buy them since the one I got came from the auction I was writing about a couple of weeks ago.

In other news I found that the folks are Ar Rass make five different blends but only three are madein any given year and what they make is driven by leaf availability.

The stuff I am having brought in is called "Evening Reward" while the blend from the auction I wrote about a while ago is just called "Number One".

Lastly, Mr. Romdhani has conveyed his willingness to make small, semi-regular shipments of "Evening Reward" should demand here prove reasonably strong.
  #47  
Old February 18th, 2011, 04:44 PM
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Default The Hajo Files

A lot of folks seem curious about how I get the exotica that I do since the smaller, family owned producers never have websites, advertising or even regional distribution.

Basically the answer is a lot of hard work by people that I get on well with and a lot of luck. When I am in some less then well traveled locale (which is quite often) I go to great lengths to find local narghile cafes which is typical done by having the translator i've been assigned inquiry for me. Occasionally my translator has enough local knowledge that I don't need to look but that is rare. Sometimes I stumble upon a decent cafe when being driven to some meeting or wondering around what ever hotel I get booked into. Sometimes the little gray men I spend so of my life talking to share my passion of all things tobacco related or introduce me to someone that does and as a result I find out about a little local producer or cafe.

Once I make it to the cafe I make inquiries via my translator and since people that look like me aren't exactly common in the local narghile cafes I tend to attract a fair bit of interest. After a couple of visits people usually are willing to tell me what is good locally. Even so, i'd guess that roughly 60-80% of the time I can't actually find what I seek. Usually it takes several visits and a lot of chin waging with a lot of people to find good locally made moassel/jurak/tombacs or what have you.

Often people won't want to sell me stuff because they think that Occidentals can't possible smoke anything but cigarettes. Explaining that narghile stuff is actually popular in the West generally is meet with disbelief. In a lot of rural places the brands we all know are obscure or unknown outside of a couple of massive Egyptian or Gulf producers and it's usually assumed that that is what I want when it becomes clear that I don't smoke cigarettes. In a lot places i've been the locals assume that no one makes moassels or juraks other then little family run enterprises and they've never heard of Al Fakher or whatever. Typically the way to convince a leery shopkeeper that I don't want AW/AF/ Nakhla is to shown them either my Furat narghile I travel with or some craft made tobacco product I happen to be carrying at the time.

Once I find the good stuff and try it out I discover that it's usually made & sold out of a single storefront/cafe or sold via mail order to an established client base and since production can't simply be ramped up buying the good stuff in anything other then very small quantities is often not possible without personally dealing with the patriarch that runs the concern in question.

After spending a bit of time in an area (often several visits over the course of year or more) I get to be known as "the strange foreigner with straw coloured hair that likes what I sell" and I convince them that I really want to see how it's made I get an introduction to the "brand's" patriarch.

Typically before the first such meeting I donate a few boxes of canned goods to the local Mosque or Church. So doing is a great way to meet people but it's also good business practice in general and the local merchants it seems always know about such things so it spreads a bit of good will.

The visits to the local "brand's" patriarch involves a good deal of ritual.
I always give the gift of a kilo or so of high quality tobacco leaf or pipe tobacco and a freshly baked treat of some sort which I say was made by my nurse rather then by me and a small home furnishing of some sort. After a few translated greetings I am usually offered a cigarette and my reaction is carefully watched since it's expected that I turn it down.

Next comes coffee or tea and a bit of discussion about family and business after which I inquire about buying enough moassel or what have you to run a sampling for my fellow HPers. The initial answer is always along the lines of "surely foreigners can't appreciate what they make" and me talking about how big narghiles are in the West. After a bit more small talk and tea/coffee I am told that they have no extra product.

The next step is that I invite the patriarch out to dinner and if he accepts that means he does in fact have some product for sale but you can't suggest that such is the case. A few days later a diner happens somewhere in a near by town and I give gifts as before but after the meal and I am invited to stop by the patriarch's home in a few days time.

At the next meeting comes lots of questions about ethics, normally my take on usury and why I want to distribute the moassel or what have you at a lose, and a bit of talk about how short supplies are these days. After an hour or so the agreement is made to supply me with the amount of product I need but the price is always about 30% more then what I find reasonable. As a result, I typically have a final meeting where prices are discussed a bit more and payment details made.

This basic process is the same no matter the country or the specific background of the family that makes the moassel or what ever.
  #48  
Old February 19th, 2011, 02:47 PM
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Default Re: How To Buy Rare Moassels/Juraks/Tombacs

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Originally Posted by A_Teator1 View Post
^HAHA nice! I find the difference in culture very intriguing. You go to great lengths to convince people you are "worthy" of trying their product and its awesome that you know how to do so. To be honest I would most certainly be dismissed as a rude foreigner since i know not of the correct way to go about these dealings. Another fascinating read Hajo
I recall years ago when I tracked down the Iranian Khansar moassel that I got treated to a little lecture by the brand's patriarch ( who was a proponent of the Mawlawi Order and very much a mystic) about what his craft is all about. He said (more or less): "Tobacco is a great gift from God that delights one sense of taste and smell by taking all the qualities of the earth and rewarding men for labour. A good moassel is a product of not just God's generosity but also the wisdom and labour of men for the glory of God. It relaxes and sharpens the mind while thrilling the tongue with tastes no food can provide. It is like the writings of
Sayyid Abū Bakr ibn 'Abdallāh Al-'Aidarūs, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī and Farīd ud-Dīn in that it makes life richer and helps to reflect upon the wisdom of our creator."

You are right about the worthiness thing in that once I was visiting a jurak maker and trying to wrangle some of his product when he ask me to do him the favour of starting his coals. Doing so required the use of a traditional coal starter which looks like those terracotta porch stoves they have in the states. Well, my attempt to start it failed since I assumed it was worked like an American grill and the deal vanished since the old gent decided I didn't know how to smoke after all.

A couple of months later a kid that worked at cafe in Goa showed me how to do it which was apparently quite a spectacle for patrons since they all stood around watching me try and figure it out with a mix of puzzlement and amusement.

It's a good thing I learned how to do it since several times i've ask to start the coals to prove my " smoking credentials".

What I find so amazing about tobacco lore is that I am always learning new stuff and I meet folks that have forgotten more then I'll ever learn.
  #49  
Old February 22nd, 2011, 03:35 PM
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Default Re: Ar Rass Number One Blend

That Number One blend is really mind blowingly good and man, it's mega expensive and damn tough to get. It sold out at the auction in a matter of minutes and by the time I actually got to contact the makers the yearly supply was gone. I suppose I should be delighted that I managed to score 500g but I sure wish I could have gotten more.

I have noticed that if you don't stir the Ar Rass blends before use they really don't smoke well at all. It still bums me out that I got my new date wood black moassel bowl broken by those slobs at the airline. Still, my super chief has survived hundreds of flights so I suppose I am lucky indeed.
  #50  
Old February 23rd, 2011, 02:46 PM
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Default Re: Ar Rass Number One Blend

North Africa black moassel bowls tend to be about 100-120mm in diameter with a shape about the same as a vortex but i'd say that the height is about 20-30% less. What makes the bowls interesting is that they have a two piece construction with the central column/floor/inner wall (basically everything that touches the moassel) being one piece and the second piece consisting of the stem that attaches to the narghile and the outer wall. The other difference is while the vortex has holes around the central column only the North Africa black moassel bowl has one or two sets of holes placed around the wide portion of the interior wall. Typically you are looking at 4-6 holes per set with one set a third of the way up and a second set about two thirds of the way up. The ones that have a single set of holes on the wide diameter inner wall tend to be at the same height as the holes on the central column. As far as I can tell, North Africa black moassel bowls are usually made of date palm wood although cedar and cyprus are also used. I've also seen the same design made from clay (both glazed and unglazed) but i've no idea if wood or clay is more commonly used.
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