Paper is the support on which a charcoal drawing is made. There are numerous brands of charcoal paper available, but many are too delicate (and too expensive!) to be very helpful to the beginning student. Each type of paper has its own personality, with pros and cons.
Strathmore 500 series- I would recommend Strathmore 500 series to beginners as the best available paper to learn to render on. I refer to working on this paper as 'rendering boot camp.' With great patience you can achieve very smooth, delicate modeling. You will have to work the charcoal into the weave of the paper slowly with needle sharp charcoal. I recommend waiting to experiment on other papers until you’ve learned the basic technique.
Pros: Cheap, widely available- comes in spiral-bound pads of varying sizes. The paper is durable and will take a lot of punishment (erasing, stumping, rendering with hard charcoal), which some of the more delicate papers will not.
Cons: The surface of this paper is fairly stiff, so it's hard to get the charcoal to stick, but it's also hard to erase it without leaving the ghost of the line on the page. Keep your charcoal very sharp; draw as accurately and lightly as you can. You can't push the charcoal around on the surface like you can with the Fabriano.
Fabriano Ingres 600 series- The lighter weight stuff- is ideal for charcoal drawings, and comes in 20x27.5" sheets.
Pros: It is smooth but not slick, durable but not scratchy or stiff, lightweight and luminous but not so delicate that you have to be precious with it. It allows you to manipulate the charcoal more freely than other papers, by which I mean it is easier to lay it on, take it off, and push and pull it on the surface. Drawing on the back side- with the watermark reading backwards- will give you a less textured surface to work on.
Cons: Discontinued by the manufacturer. If you can get your hands on some through kind friends or blackmail you will have to be gentle when transporting the paper or it will dent.
Fabriano Ingres 700 series- The heavier stuff- is my second choice for charcoal drawings, and comes in 27.5x39.5" sheets.
Pros: Similar to the 600 series. It is a little stiffer and scratchier, but not so much that I had problems working with it.
Cons: Also discontinued (I believe). Someone needs to write a persuasive letter to Fabriano HQ. The surface will deteriorate a little faster than the 600 series, especially under repeated erasing.