The Smoking Jacket

Independent Wine & Cigar Merchant

Dokha is a traditional Arabic tobacco which, in the past, was often mixed with herbs, spices, dried flowers, and/or fruit. Dokha tobacco has been cultivated smoked in the Middle East for over 500 years.  Some dokha blends, especially the more traditional type blends from Iran and Turkey, would also be mixed with the leaves and bark of various indigenous plants. Today, dokha is 100% pure tobacco, no chemical additives, preservatives, pesticides, or herbicides. Dokha comes in hundreds of strengths, flavors, and brand names. The main strengths offered by most sellers are cold (barid), warm (daffi), and hot (har). Many vendors also offer moderating strengths in these three ranges, usually designated as an ‘over-cold’, or an ‘extra-hot’. These designations refer to the actual harshness of the tobacco, not necessarily to the amount of ‘buzz’ a blend may impart. Generally speaking, the harsher a blend, the more ‘buzz’ it may impart, but there are many warm and over-warm blends that we have specifically developed to give the user maximum ‘laf raas’ (Arabic for ‘head spin’).

Unlike hookah tobacco, dokha is not cured with molasses or honey. Dokha tobacco, a type of tobacco found only in the Gulf region of the Middle East,  is extremely high in nicotine content,  and is harvested, dried, and processed with that feature in mind. Dokha tobacco is not harvested and cured like Western tobaccos, but is usually cut, transported, set to dry in the sun, and processed into various blends all in a span of mere days, or at most weeks. This expedited process is possible, of course, because dokha is cured and processed in areas where the daily temperature can easily reach 135f+  degrees daily with a humidity of less than 7%. No chemicals, preservatives, or enhancers are used in the processing of traditional dokha blends. Dokha comes in two types, the traditional non-flavored, and the modern flavored blends. The flavored blends fall into two general categories, savory and sweet/fruit. The ‘traditional’ flavored dokha blends are mostly savory, though were flavored very lightly with a wide variety of spices, herbs, and dried flowers, all used to enhance the very distinct flavors and notes of the different dokha tobaccos. The more modern flavored dokha blends are patterned after hookah tobacco, and are heavily flavored with fruit, mint, or clove flavorings, and meant to cloak the actual tobacco taste and soften the harshness.

There is some typical cultural confusion as to the genesis of dokha, and the small pipes (called medwakh or midwakh) dokha is traditionally smoked with. Coastal Arabs claim to have invented both the medwakh, and the various tobacco mixes smoked in them. The Iranians (Persians back then) say that they were the creators of both. Both theories may actually be correct. The pipes and original herbal (non-tobacco) smoking mix originated in the Gilaki area of northern Iran in the 1400’s or earlier. The original Iranian smoking mix was a variation of a mixture of various fire and sun cured non-tobacco leaf, small dried powdered flowers, bergamot oil, fig leaf, and almond/pistachio oil. This mix can still be found, with a little searching, in that area of Iran today. The small pipe used to smoke this mixture was ideal for sailors to use while at sea, and gradually the use of this smoking mix and pipe made its way up and down the Caspian sea.  As tobacco was introduced into the Middle East in the 1500’s, the Iranian smoking mixture was fortified and eventually replaced with various blends of dokha tobacco. During the next few hundred years in what was then the Ottoman empire, various attempts were made to stop and outlaw the smoking of all tobacco consumption in public and private, which ironically led to the popularisation of dokha tobacco and the medwakh with the general Arab public.

The small inexpensive pipe (medwakh) and extremely potent easily cured tobacco became the ideal ‘stealth’ smoking method. Heavily fortified with spices, the familiar smell of tobacco wasn’t as easily recognized. Such a small amount was smoked at a time that very little ‘second hand smoke’ was produced to attract unwanted attention, or stain ones clothes and fingers. In a worst case scenario, the inexpensive pipe and small amount of tobacco could simply be dropped and walked away from without attracting a large amount of attention, or incurring a large monetary loss. As Arabic cultural views on the use of tobacco gradually relaxed, and hookah smoking became the preferred method for tobacco consumption, the popularity of dokha waned, except with the sailors who had originally introduced it. As it was impractical for those at sea to use a hookah, the medwakh and dokha remained popular with sailors and in the coastal areas they would trade and eventually settle in. This is why today dokha in the Middle East is found almost exclusively in the UAE, home to the Middle Eastern sea trade and Arab sailors for the last 1500 years or more.

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