The steam chalice takes spiritual consumption to a new high

From hot knives to dab rigs and bottle tokes to bongs, we’ve come a long way when it comes to improving the ways in which we consume cannabis. But some things just can’t be improved with time or technology. Enter the steam chalice.

Many regard the steam chalice as the original cannabis vaporizer. The tool for consuming herb is considered sacred by the Rastafari people, as it allows for a method free of toxic byproducts, making it a truly ital (or natural) way to enjoy cannabis. Today, the steam chalice is used by both Rastafari and non-Rastafari people alike, and has gained popularity among younger Jamaicans who are interested in reviving culture.

Danielle Hoogenboom first exposed me to the “steamer” at a reggae event in Vancouver in 2017. An entrepreneur with a long history of involvement in the local cannabis and yoga communities, she has been travelling to Jamaica every year for nearly a decade to lead yoga retreats. Ganja is a huge part of her yoga practice, and she'll often use it before, during, or after a series of movements to feel more connected to her body.

I visited her in Jamaica last spring, where we spent our time smoking fine ganja, practicing yoga on the beach, and hours waxing poetic about the lack of spirituality accompanying cannabis culture in the west. I was fed up with our corporate approach to weed in Canada, and in my Lamb’s Bread haze, the steam chalice seemed so far removed from everything that had to do with legalization.

Photo credit: Danielle Hoogenboom

Hoogenboom regards the steam chalice as one of the finer ways to interact with cannabis. She uses that word interact specifically—because using a steam chalice has less to do with consuming cannabis, and more to do with engaging with it, she says. It was her involvement and interest in the reggae roots revival scene in Kingston that led her to her first taste of the steamer.

“I was first introduced to the steam chalice in Jamaica through Rastafari people,” she tells Inside the Jar by phone. “There was really this movement of younger people looking at ancient ways to interact with ganja. I had seen it at a lot of concerts and cultural events, but it was my friend Jah9 that taught me about it, and had the patience to teach me how to use it.”

Made entirely out of naturally occurring materials, a steam chalice consists of a coconut (used to hold water), bamboo (inserted into the coconut, through which vapour is inhaled), and a clay bowl called a kutchie (where the herb is held). The kutchie is connected to the coconut with another shorter piece of bamboo, and is typically larger than the average bong or pipe bowl, with a capacity of about three grams.

To ignite the herb, coconut-derived charcoal is placed on top of a gritty, a clay grate covering the kutchie, and then heated. This produces a flavourful vapour that can be enjoyed during a long session, as the coals don’t need to be relit. Hoogenboom says another thing that makes the chalice appealing is that it doesn’t require “Babylon elements” like rolling papers or lighters (the charcoal is usually lit around an open fire).

“It brings together the four elements: you have the water in the coconut; the kutchie, which is made of clay, the earth; and then you have the charcoal coconut, fire; and you are the element of air, so you’re participating in an elemental ritual.”

“What I really enjoy about using the steamer is that it’s like ceremony and sacrament. It’s by no means like sharing bong rips,” says Hoogenboom. The process is more spiritual, like a “sacred exchange or an act of offering” between those who take part in sharing the steam chalice. Those joining in a session are often passed the steamer with a blessing, and asked to express gratitude before taking their first long slow draw.

“It brings together the four elements: you have the water in the coconut; the kutchie, which is made of clay, the earth; and then you have the charcoal coconut, fire; and you are the element of air,” she says, “so you’re participating in an elemental ritual.”

While the act of sharing a joint in a session may last a few minutes, the ritual of consuming from the steam chalice begs for something a little more celebratory: in Jamaica, most outdoor concerts are accompanied by a large fire. “All the herbalists and steam chalice users will go directly to the fire, and if there isn’t one, we’ll build one,” she says.

“It’s not, ‘let’s just steam for a minute’, it’s going on for hours,” says Hoogenboom. The slow burn of the charcoal and structure of the device calls for longer, slower breaths than a joint or a bong. This deep breathing makes for an incredibly meditative high.

Photo credit: Danielle Hoogenboom

“It’s a high that feels higher in your head because you’re breathing in a different way,” she says. “Jah9 used to call it ‘pranayama for your lungs’, or yoga for your lungs.”

Cannabis is just one of many herbs that Jamaicans integrate into their diets and practices. Many steam chalice users like to add other ingredients to their cannabis, like rosemary, mint, ginger, or thyme for additional flavour and medicinal properties.

“With the steam chalice, you’re getting the medicine as a vapour, without the element of the burning paper or the butane of a lighter,” says Hoogenboom. And by drawing the vapour through charcoal, the flavour of the herbs is expressed in ways that knock the socks off of any long-time smoker. It sure did for me.

For some readers, tasting such true expressions of the terpenes and flavonoids in cannabis might be all the spiritual experience you’re looking for. But for those of us that appreciate the process of the ritual, the deliberateness with which cannabis is prepared, and the slow, conscientious breaths taken while interacting with the plant, using a steam chalice is just one more way to connect with cannabis, and ourselves, on a deeper and more spiritual level.

No access to a steam chalice? Channel the steaming vibes with these tracks:

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