Sri Lanka is a beautiful country, and its no surprise that it was given a name that means ‘gorgeous island’, and prior to that its older name ‘Serendib’ was the source of the English word serendipity – again implying brilliance and resplendence.
I’m staying at Mr. A’s gorgeous villa, which is far from the noise, traffic and congestion of Colombo. I had been thrilled that I was able to avoid going to Colombo (I dread and loathe traffic in places like Colombo, Bombay, and other such countries in South Asia), but unfortunately I did end up having to go there to pick up some distillation apparatus. The trip induced a massive headache. I was very silent on the way back, which prompted the driver, Tuan, to ask me “Why you quiet?”.
Colombo was really draining. I was trying to recover from the noise, heat, and pollution. Soccer-moms, stay far far away. You’re going to get a heart attack seeing little children riding on the handlebars of motorbikes (obviously no helmets).
The Sri Lanka oudventure is turning out to be my busiest oud trip to date; there is so much to do. Mr. A had already prepared as much as he could, based on conversations over the phone, email and WhatsApp. He had even got 42kg of raw material ready for our first distillation run. But despite all this, there’s still way too much to do, and too many changes needed to be made before we can actually proceed.
But I didn’t let this dishearten me. Like I mentioned before, people here are clueless when it comes to agarwood. So I have to start from scratch.. but I’m not wavering. When I smelled Sri Lankan agarwood here for the first time, it blew me away. It literally made my jaw drop.
The Walla-Patta agarwood trees found here seem to be of the Gyrinops species. The aroma does share some common elements with North Papua Gyrinops agarwood, but this stuff is just….. absolutely incredible. Imagine the golden-green sweet resinous aroma of North Papua agarwood (think pine resin), coupled with the honey notes of Sarawak Beccariana agarwood, and the sweet sweet zesty notes of Brunei Microcarpa. And then some.
This stuff is just great. And in my experience, this seems to be the most aromatic variety of agarwood, even in its raw form unburned. Even lower grade (yellow and brown) wood emits a wonderfully sweet aroma.
Chinese folks that come here to buy agarwood are only interested in large chunks, Double Super and higher in quality. No doubt there’s plenty of it here, but the prices are shooting up so fast (and so comically ridiculously), I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
The hunters, who are mostly just bored village folk with plenty of time to spare, are contacted by internet-savvy individuals who see what the Beijing market prices of agarwood are. So the hunters get paid handsomely (or so they think), and then the pedlars will take the wood from them and then make something like $100,000 profit per sale. Sounds crazy, right? It is crazy. The poor village folk of course have no clue.
Given this bizarre market dynamic, everyone’s focused on finding massive chunks for the Chinese market. Often times, smaller pieces get neglected. And other pieces which, otherwise great in all regards, don’t meet the requirements for the Chinese decorative/Feng Shui market are neglected as well.
Welcome, to the Wild, Wild South.
It wasn’t too hard to convince the hunters to collect some magnificent wood for us, by paying them upfront. To them, its bonus money. Its not Chinese-grade, so to them its garbage. So essentially, in their minds they’re being paid big bucks to collect ‘garbage’. If only they knew the value of this wood (easily surpassing the quality of raw materials used for creating oils like Royal Kampuchea, Cantik Candan, and Kuno Kayu)!
We have set up 2 pots at the moment. One is a full scale distillation pot with a 60kg capacity. Hybrid copper + stainless steel, and glass for everything beyond the neck. This is the setup I favour the most and have been implementing in my recent travels. Most of the upcoming oils which will be released in 2015 will have been distilled using such setups.
The other ‘setup’ is more of a haphazard collection of distillation apparatus connected to a 3kg pot.
As you can see from the photo, it is less than perfect, but it’ll be good enough to get the job done, namely: to determine the nature of Sri Lankan Walla-Patta agarwood oil. So I can assess the oil and determine what the best extraction method would be, so we’ll be able to make the full batch as perfect as possible.
I have a feeling quite a lot of work still remains to be done, so it may take a while for the first batch to be ready. But when it is…. hold on to your hats! I have a feeling the oil will blow you away.