Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Make Sense of Scents: Natural Solutions Magazine Interviews Ayala Moriel

Read Make Sense of Scents on p. 31 of Natural Solutions Magazine for an interview with me and some perfume advice to make the switch to natural in your fragrance wardrobe. The article is by Jolene Hart, who is also the editor of Beauty is Wellness online magazine.

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Mimosa Glow

Mimosa - 05, originally uploaded by Marie-Poppy2.

Early evening yesterday, I stepped into the drugstore to check my mail, and swept by the $19.99 shelf to find the tall frosted JLo Glow awaiting redemption from its place of non-glory. I thought I’d snatch it as a gift for my friend Tina, who loves spraying it on her hair and clothes (and it always makes her smell like she just washed her hair when she does). And right than and there, I decided to give it another try.

When Glow came out, I dismissed it as too sharp, too synthetic and too soapy to my taste. While this remains true for the first few minutes, I became pleasantly surprised when trying it on my skin for the first time in 8 years. In a world that sees a rapid life cycle for celebrity scents, JLo’s Glow is probably considered a classic by now, rivaled only by Sarah Jessica Parker Lovely.

What awaited me after the initial rash of synthetic orange blossom was something I did not expect. Although familiar, it took me a few minutes to figure it out… Provence! Shimmering mimosas, honeycombs and good old French milled soap. And a little bit of freesia too, which gives it just a touch of peppery greenness. And than a sweetness crept in, vanilla against mimosa, and I was in heaven for a few hours. By bedtime most of what I could smell was musk though, and that was the song I woke up to the next morning.

If Narcisso Rodriguez’s dry down resembles laundry detergent musk, Glow resembles whatever musk they like to put in milled soaps to keep your skin fragrantly “clean” for hours after washing. In that regard, the scent really is true to what it always claimed to be, starting from the ad copy, frosted glass that is reminiscent of a shower cell’s sliding doors and shaped like a yuppie shampoo bottle, to the image of Jennifer Lopez herself scrubbing all the ghetto-dirt from her perfectly carved abs and curves.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Happy Passover!

Passover - Shalom, originally uploaded by paurian.

Happy Passover to all of you celebrating!
My holiday is filled with spring cleaning and re-arranging my life for this early spring arrival (I can't remember last time Passover occurred in March, do you?).

I'm most looking forward to a bowl of Matzo ball soup, which is what I'm planning to make for tonight. Last night I was at a community Seder that had none. Which is outrageous in my opinion. This holiday dish is only rivaled by Matzo Brei. The one I make is rather fancy, with the matzo cut in half after it is rinsed in water, wrapped in towels for 10 minutes or so, when it becomes soft and can be rolls like crepe. At this point, I fill it with slices of cheese (Swiss or cheddar and feta), dip it in egg, and pan-fry. The cheese inside melts and it's just heavenly...


Monday, March 29, 2010

Decoding Obscure Notes Part IX-B: Religious Uses and Cultural Significance of Agarwood

The top consumers globally for agarwood products are the United Arab Emirates, Saudia Arabia, Japan and Taiwan. Singapore and Hong-Kong are the largest re-exporters of agarwood from its countries of origin (i.e.: Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, etc.).

Agarwood uses are mainly in incense, for both religious and cultural purposes; and to a lesser extent (because of its dear cost) in medicine and perfumery. The list of commercial perfumes using agarwood is rather short, because agarwood is very expensive and cannot be replicated very well with synthetics. Besides, the scent of agarwood is an acquired taste that has only recently become more trendy in the Western world.

Religious and Cultural Significance
Agarwood is used in religious rituals and ceremonies of Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. Agarwood culture have reached its height in popularity and sophistication in both Arabia and Japan – even though it is not native to either of these regions, and in both cultures it has become significant for both religious purposes and for pleasure, thus becoming a rich component of these two cultures. Because of its enormously high price, only select few people can enjoy agarwood, and even fewer can enjoy the highest grades of agarwood.
Agarwood is mentioned in the bible only in later books of Psalms and Canticles. Although both books are very holy to the Jews, the context in which agarwood is mentnioned in both books seems to be for lucury and personal use, rather than religious purposes (it is not mentioned in the holy incense or anointing oils of the tabernacle).

References and sources for entire agarwood series:
CITES: The Use and Trade of Agarwood in Japan
CITES: Agarwood Use and Trade & CITES Implementation for A. Malaccensis
The Cropwatch Files 1
The Cropwatch Files 2
Royal Oudh
Bo Jensen

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Decoding Obscure Notes Part IX-C: Oud in Arabia & Perfumery

Agarwood has made its way from Southern Asia to Arabia by way of the spice caravans, and is known as “oud” in the region, which is also the name for wood, and for an Arabic musical instrument resembling the lute. The nomadic cultures of the Arabs and Bedouins have grown fond of oud’s fine and intense aroma and use it for both religious purposes and for pleasure. Oud has become an inseparable part from Arabic culture.

Oud chips and incense are burnt in an incense burner called mabakhir during the holy month of Ramadan, after breaking the daily fasting with a meal and showering, and before the evening prayers at the mosque. It is also incorporated into the Hadj ceremonies and is burnt during Eid.

Burning oud is considered a great honour, and is part of the customs of guest welcoming (when the host can afford it!). Hospitality is a custom that is held in much regard, and is considered a virtue in Arabia and in the Middle East. The hosts share their best commodities with their guests, no matter how rich or poor they are. What began out of necessity for survival in the desert by offering clean water and a feast to break the wonderer’s hunger has evolved into entertaining with more precious commodities such as coffee, sweets and burning the finest and most precious incense the host possesses.

Oud is also used to scent clothing by saturating the garments in agarwood smoke, a custom that interestingly enough is common to both Arabia and Japan.

Grading: Agarwood manufacturers classify agarwood into four distinct grades:
Grade 1 Black/True Agar: mainly exported to Arabia as incense Grade 2 Bantang: mainly exported to Arabia as incense Grade 3 Bhuta or Phuta: sometimes extracted for a superior oil Grade 4 Dhum: used for oil (Source: Cropwatch)

The Arabs are particularly fond of oud oil, dehn al-oud, which they use as a personal fragrance. Because alcohol is forbidden in Islam, Arabian perfumes are traditionally either essential oils that are worn neat on the skin, or based in an oil carrier.
Agarwood is the most expensive natural essence known in perfumery, and therefore mostly been used by the royalty or nobelty, or wealthy merchants. Agarwood is more often than never used as a single note from a specific country and grade. And less often it is blended with other notes such as rose, sandalwood, musk, ambergris, etc. And as mentioned in the 1st part of the series, it is not uncommon for the oil to be adulterated with lodh oil and several synthetics.

Oud is also used in a lesser extent in Indian perfumery. I have with me a sample of “musk oud attar”, which is a very dark, musky, animalic oud distilled with other secret plant materials into sandalwood oil. It has great tenacity and longevity.

Agarwood is an unusual woody note that is rarely used in perfumery, because of it prohibitive cost. There is an increased interest in agarwood in the past decade, perhaps triggered by the release of M7 by YSL in 2002, which was the first Western commercial perfume to use agarwood as a distinct note. Until than, agarwood oil was mostly used by Arabian perfume companies (i.e.: Ajmal, Arabian Oud, Madini, Rasasi) and the odd niche perfume house (i.e.: Montale’s oud line).

Agarwood is used in luxurious Oriental and woody compositions. It creates a sensual, resinous-animalic or clean-woody warmth and blends well with resins, balsams, spices and precious florals to make outstanding perfumes. A little touch of agarwood can turn an otherwise simple and ordinary scent into a magical phenomenon.

Examples for contemporary perfumes with agarwood:

Oud Abu Dabi

Oud Wood

Arabian Aud (Ayala Moriel) - one of a kind

Click here for more perfumes I've created containing agarwood.

P.s. We will come back later with more insights on oud in perfumery.

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Decoding Obscure Notes Part IX-D: Jin-Koh in Japan

Japanese Incense Ceremony, originally uploaded by verhoeven2008.

Agarwood in Japanese is called Jin-koh, meaning “sinking incense” or “sinking fragrance”. It was introduced to Japan along with Buddhism, about 1,500 years ago, in the 6th Century, through the Korean peninsula. At first, it was used primarily as part of religious ceremonies, and gradually become a symbol of status and was incorporated into the rituals and ceremonies of the Imperial court around the Nara period (710-794 AD), and continued that way until the Meiji Restoration (1868), when such rituals have ceased. Most of the jin-koh consumption in Japan today is in fact for religious purposes rather than for the koh-doh ceremonies.

The first recorded history of jin-koh is in 595 AD in the Nihon-shoki (Chronicles of Japan):
“…aloeswood drifted ashore on the island of Awaji (near Kobe). It was six feet in circumference. The people of the island, being unacquainted with aloeswood, used it with other firewood to burn for cooking; the smoky vapour spread its perfume far and wide. In wonderment, they presented it to the Empress”.

In Buddhism practices, jin-koh was the best offering that can be made by burning it as incense. Incense was used for purification of the prayer space, and while studying the Buddhist sutras. This is not surprising, considering the effect of agarwood in increasing concentration and awareness. It is also used in powdered mixtures of spices and woods as a body incense, in order to purify the hands and body before entering a holy place. Jin-koh today is burnt as incense, on its own or blended with other fragrant woods, spices and resins as incense sticks. The Japanese incense makers usually blend agarwood with sandalwood, spikenard, patchouli, cloves, camphor, benzoin, cassia and galagal. Jin-koh incense is used in temples as well as in home altars for the ancestors and during funerals and by grave sites when commemorating and honouring the dead.

Like in Arabia, the Japanese also used incense to scent their clothing, a practice called soratakimono. This custom emerged around the beginning of the second millennium, and has developed into a game among nobelty, to guess the differences between different materials comprising the incense. Around the 1300’s, this practice led to the burning of individual incense raw materials rather than the blended incense (as was imported from China), which was the beginning of koh-doh.

Jin-koh has become a status of symbol in feudal Japan, when only the wealthy nobles and the warriors could possess it. At first, only men of the imperial and noble families and warriors burnt agarwood and practiced koh-doh. This art of burning incense was enjoyed together with other Japanese high arts such as Ikebana (flower arrangement), Chadoh (tea ceremonies), poetry, calligraphy and Noh drama. Incense burning rituals were referred to as koh o kiku or mon-koh (“listening to incense). It wasn’t until the Edo period that women were allowed into the world of incense. The art of Koh-doh was passed only verbally from koh-doh maters to accomplished students, a tradition that is maintained until now (with the exception of some books that were written recently).

Grading of Agarwood in Japan
Japanese classify agarwood in a system that is called go-mi rikkoku, meaning “six countries, five flavours”.

The five flavours were:
1) Sweet (resembling the smell of honey or concentrated sugar),
2) Sour (resembling the smell of plums or other acidic foods)
3) Hot (resembling the smell of red pepper when put
in a fire)
4) Salty (resembling the smell of a towel after wiping perspiration from the brow, or the lingering
smell of ocean water when seaweed is dried over a fire)
5) Bitter (resembles the smell of herbal medicine
when it is mixed or boiled) (Morita, 1992).

(Source: The Use and Trade of Agarwood in Japan).

The classifications vary between Koh-doh schools. The following is a classical classification that originated in the 16th century by Koh-doh masters that were appointed by the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa:
A name originating from the Sanskrit kara, meaning “black”. The highest quality variety
of agarwood and possessing all five component flavours (as listed below), kyara is prized for its noble and elegant scent – like an aristocrat in its elegance and gracefulness. Sourced from Viet Nam.
A sharp and pungent smell similar to sandalwood and possessing bitter, salty and hot
flavours – reminiscent of a warrior. Sourced from Thailand.
With a great variety of scents and rich in resin ingredients and possessing mostly sweet
flavours – coarse and unrefined, like a peasant. Believed to be sourced from the east (Malabar) coast of India, and perhaps from Indo-Malaysia.
Among the scented woods, this type has a rather shallow scent and is not strongly related
to any of the five flavours – light and changeable like a woman’s feelings. Sourced from Malacca (Malaysia).
A quiet scent with a light and faint flavour, with good quality sasora mistaken for kyara,
especially when it first begins to burn – reminiscent of a monk. Believed to be sourced from western India, but this is uncertain.
Rich in resin ingredients and sour at the beginning and end, sometimes easily mistaken for
kyara – reminiscent of something distasteful and ill-bred, like a servant in his master’s clothing. Sourced in Sumatra (Indonesia). [Source: Kaori no Techo (Scent Handbook) (Shoyeido Corporation, 1991); Morita (1992)]
Source: The Use and Trade of Agarwood in Japan.

Types of Incense in Japan
Japanese incense comes in several forms:

1) Jin-koh for Koh-doh, which is the raw infected wood, cut into very small pieces, the size of a mosquito-leg. Incense prepared that way is traditionally named by the Koh-doh master preparing them, and kept safe by individual storage in labeled and folded envelopes. These envelopes are a sort of a family heirloom that is passed from generation to generation, some of which are part of the imperial treasure house.

2) Shoh-koh is chipped agarwood mixed with other materials, usually 5, 7 or 10 in total, including sandalwood, cloves, ginger and ambergris. Shoh-koh is burnt on charcoal inside temples.

3) Naru-koh is incense balls, which are blended from as many as 20 different raw materials, ground into fine powder, bound together by honey or plums, rolled into balls and than placed in clay pots and buried underground to age and improve, usually for about 3 years.

4) Sen-koh are incense sticks in various thickness depending on how long they are designed to burn. Some sen-koh contain jin-koh,, and the proportion of it in the formula, as well as the grade used affect the price of Japanese incense sticks. These sticks are burnt for pleasure as well as in home altars and rituals to commemorate the ancestors who passed away.

5) Ensui-koh – incense cones, which are less popular than the sticks, and are essentially the same but made into a different shape.

6) Nioi-bukuro – sachets, which are placed in drawers to scent clothes and stationary, or tucked into kimono sleeves.

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Decoding Obscure Notes Part IX-E: Medicinal Uses of Agarwood

Uses of agarwood for medicinal purposes was also passed mostly orally through generations of practitioners of TCM, Ayurveda, Unani and more recently – aromatherapy.

In Traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, agarwood is used for its warming properties. In Tibetan, Ancient Greek and Arab medicine it is used for balancing. It is mainly used for ailments of the digestive and the respiratory systems.

According to Imam Bukhari, the Prophet Muhhamed said that agarwood can treat seven
diseases: "Treat with Indian incense ('oud al-Hindi), for it has healing for seven diseases; it is to be sniffed by one having throat problems, and to be put into one side of the mouth by one suffering from pleurisy."

Tibetan medicine uses agarwood to treat emotional, nervous and psychological issues, through its effect on the mind bringing it to a deep meditative state. It is also used as a local tranquilizer. Only the highest grade of agarwood (black agarwood) is used for these purposes.

Agarwood has similar uses in Japan, for its sedative properties, detoxification and fort the stomach. It is never used alone, but always blended with other ingredients, as in the patent medicine rokushingan, or the children remedy kiougan which strengthens the heart, lungs and liver, and treat sore throat because of its analgesic properties. Agarwood is used in other Japanese remedies (i.e.: Kannougan, zui-sei), but the use of all is decreasing because Western medicine have become more widely used than the traditional medicine in Japan.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), agarwood is used to relieve spasms, treat the digestive system, relieve pain, regulate the vital organs (heart, lungs, liver…), and to lower and redirect energy levels to support he kidneys. It is used to treat tightness in the chest, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea and asthma.

Ayurveda uses agarwood primarily for its warming qualities and for its profound effect on the mind when burnt as incense – centering the charkas and bringing the mind into a deep meditative state. It is also used for some skin diseases, and the powdered heartwood is given for treatment of diahorrea, dysentery, vomiting and anorexia.

In Unani (Classical Greek &Arabic medicine) it is used as a “stimulant, stomachic, laxative (purgative in large doses) and as an aphrodisiac”.

In aromatherapy, agarwood is considered “purifying and balancing, relaxant, rejuvenating, transformative, clairvoyant and transcending actions”, albeit it’s important to note that because of its high price, it is rarely used in practice.
(Source: Cropwatch)

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Secret City Features Ayala Moriel's Custom Scent + Weekly Giveaway

Visit Granville Sustainable City Living Magazine's Secret City for an article titled Creating my signature scent, naturally, in which Krista Eide describes her experience of creating a custom scent at Ayala Moriel Parfums studio.

What would your dream custom perfume smell like?
Comment below and enter to win your very own custom perfume by Ayala Moriel Parfums.

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Weekly Giveaway Winner Announcement

Congratulations to our two weekly giveaway of comfort scents:

Sarah, you won a mini of L de Lolita Lempicka.

Diana, you won a mini of Immortelle l'Amour.

Please contact me with your mail addy so I can ship your prizes.

Thank you to everyone who commented and participated!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hanami Perfume: Presentation (Creation, Materials, Structure...) and Reflection

There is much written about Hanami in my original notes published on Memory & Desire blog. The presentation at the Hanami Tea Party yesterday was pretty much the same as I did at Blunda in Los Angeles last April as part of the Natural Botanical Perfume Exhibitions, sans the big banner with my photograph of the sakura floating on water, and with different audience of course.

The focus was more on the materials themselves, and we went deeper into talking about each note, sharing impressions, and me explaining a bit about each raw material.

Bakul attar: Traditional Indian attar, bakul tree flowers are distilled into a base (carrier) of sandalwood oil. This attar smells mostly of sandalwood to me.

Vetiver from Haiti: Essential oil of rootlets from this tropical grass. The Haitian variety has a very light, almost citrusy and tart character. It feels more moist or wet than others.

Siamwood: Hardwood that is used to make coffins... Has a very similar scent to Himalayan cedarwood - transparent, clean, ethereal.

Cabreuva: Hardwood from South America. Used for making furniture. Extremely hard and has a scent that is flowery and mostly water-like.

Copaiba Balsam: Steam distilled from this South American balsam (pathological secretion from a tree or a shrub), it has a very light vanillic note, yet more on the dry clean and slightly watery side. It's a top note but possesses incredible fixative qualities.

Tonka Bean: High coumarin content from these beans that grow on this South American legume tree is what gives it its distinct almond bark, caramel and vanilla odour. One of the best fixaties as well and is what gives the "sakura accord" its cherry-like bittersweetness.

Vanilla CO2: Molecular distillation from vanilla beans gives a milder character, sweeter and less dark in both appearance and scent. It has less of the woodsy character of vanilla absolute as well.

Cassie Absolute: A type of mimosa, with wet woods, violet and leathery nuances. Really gives Hanami its metallic urban edge.

Violet Leaf Absolute: Like cucumber, crushed leaves and powder. Another contributer to the cool "wetness" of Hanami.

Pink Lotus: Dark and sweet, exotic, narcotic floral with some of animalic decaying murkiness of the water where it grows (it has to be harvested while immersing in them!) and a little powdery too.

Magnolia (White): Tree native to Asia and we see a lot of it here in Vancouver in white and in different shades of pink. The white magnolia is fruity, light and peachy. It gives the Sakura accord its lightheartedness and the sweet gourmand feel.

Oleander: Subtle and powdery as well. It's from a plant native to the Mediterranean region, where it grows mostly in stream and river banks. The branches and leaves exude a poisonous milk-like substance when broken off. It works as part of the heart notes in Hanami, giving it a soft oily-woody and pollen-like character along with the frangipanni and mimosa.

Tuberose: There is a lot to be said about tuberose, one of the most alluring floral notes in perfumery. This flower is related to narcissus, native to Mexico, and intensifies after it is picked, and releases more scent after nightfall. The scent can range between powdery and even a little green, to buttery and milky and all the way to intensely heady and even with medicinal camphoreous and with a lot of wintergreen-like(from
methyl salicylate) notes. I used one that is soft and creamy as part of the sakura accord as well.

Frangipanni: Also known as plumeria. This tropical flower has a nectar like scent in real life. The absolute is more on the creamy, powdery and oily side. It gives Hanami an almost aldehydic softness and a little bit of green quality as well.

Mimosa: Flower that grows on bushes from the legume family, native to Australia but has become an invasive species in Europe and the Middle East. It has a light, cucumbery, powdery, watery-woody character. Gives these wet wood qualities at the top notes for Hanami, and also gives it a nice floral top note, with that pollen-filled air touch.

Rosewood: Another South American hardwood, native to Brazil. Use to make furniture and jewelry boxes, etc. It has a lot of linalol in it, which gives it its floral (supposedly rosy) woody character. It gives any perfume a lift and in Hanami it's another layer in the floral-woody theme that is recurring throughout the different layers - top, heart, base.

Touches (scent strips) with Sakura accord, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

The guests also experimented with combining scent strips of different materials together to experience the separate accords the make Hanami what it is. We built the perfume base to top with the metallic wet wood urban base accord (Haitian vetiver - cassie absolute - siamwood - Bakul attar); the sakura accord at the heart (tuberose - magnolia - pink lotus - tonka bean) and the other heart notes and top notes that make Hanami the unique creature that it is, layering petals and pollen over wet woods and metallic cement landscapes to create something that smells like sakuramochi and ume blossoms in Vancouver.

Sakura & Highrise, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

It's all part of my world now.
Memories from two years ago when I created Hanami and worn it for the first time under the cherry blossoms an the rain that went on and on for almost two months (because it got really cold in the middle of the spring, which curiously preserved the blossoms), and than last year again, reminiscing about it in the first heat wave of the year in LA.
I hope this year Hanami perfume will turn to symbolize for me not giving up on beauty and perfume in particular, even when facing less than agreeable situations. I guess for me this perfume has become my internal samurai warrior that fights anguish whenever it sees it. Even if it turns it a little melancholy inside... It just makes it more beautiful and have more depth.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring-Welcoming Tea Ceremony

In this very modern and laid-back tea ceremony, I have incorporated botanical symbolism from a few cultures to create a modern tea celebration to welcome spring. The botanical symbolism was also included in the flower arrangement. The centerpiece at the tea table was this 4 piece bouquet of cherry blossoms, hyacinths, sprouted wheat and white magnolia.

Spring Botanical Symbolism, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Hyacinths (sonbol - سنبل)and sprouted wheat (sabzeh - سب) are both part of the "Haft Sin" - the 7 S's in Persian botanical symbolism for new year, which occurs every year on the day of the Vernal Equinox. The hyacinths symbolize spring, and the sprouted wheat symbolizes rebirth. Some of the other symbols are a wheat-germ pudding, garlic, sumac, apples and vinegar and coins (read more here), all to invite different blessings into the new year.

Magnolias were chosen simply because they are in season. In the European language of flowers magnolia means nobility and love of nature. I think the love of nature in this celebration is quite self evident!

Sakura (Japanese for Cherry blossoms) are a symbolic flower in Japan. Cherry blossoms and tree blossoms in general mark the return of spring. It is the happiest time for Japanese people as they celebrate the beauty of the trees in full bloom (the peak of which lasts only but several days), and even appreciate the beauty of the petal's falling down like snow... Sakura's beauty is intense and short-lived, and it is spiritually symbolic of the samurai warrior's short life: the samurai will sacrifice his life at any time to serve and protect his master, and lives a short but fulfilled life. Sakura symbols are incorporated into numerous family crests and also in the Japanese, and is Japan's national flower.

Interestingly, in Israel, there is a celebration surrounding the blossoming of the almond trees (also from the same family as cherry and plum). It occurs a lot earlier - usually sometime in late January to mid February. It is called Tu BiShvat and is considered the "New Year of the Trees". It is the best time to plant trees, and this is what the whole holiday is about. Other traditions include eating dried and fresh tree fruit, and most commonly - fruit salad containing dried fruits, almonds and nuts. The Kabbalists also celebrate Tu BiShvat with a "Seder" - a seasonal ritual incorporating different blessings, prayers and symbolic foods. The Seder of Tu BiShvat, similarly to that of Passover, calls for drinking 4 glasses of wine. However, instead of them being all red (as in Passover), each glass of wine is a different colour, to symbolize the four seasons, the four elements, and the four worlds of Kabbalah (that would be too esoteric to get into now); as well as the changing of colours of the flowers in the region from fall through late spring: in the beginning of the year (which for the Jewish faith begins in the fall), wild flowers are all white (Chaztav in September). Therefore, the first glass of wine is all white. Next come lightly coloured flowers (i.e.: Cyclamen and Karmelit during the winter), so the second cup is white wine mixed with a few drops of red; The third cup is the other way - red with a little bit of white wine; and lastly, the fourth cup of wine is pure red wine, which reflects the colours of flowers at the peak of spring - red anemonies and poppies.

I have decided to adopt the four cups concept, but use tea instead. I thought it would be neat to celebrate spring with the different phases of tea and how it's processed, from the most pure form of tea to the more fermented and oxidized etc. And I've also used some flowers in the process to make it even more fun and spring-like!

The different degrees of oxidation of tea leaves also affect the theine levels (aka the caffeine that is found in tea). White tea has the least, green has more, oolong is somewhere in the middle and black tea, which undergoes the most oxidation, has the highest theine levels. The white, green and oolong teas also have higher levels of anti-oxidants than black teas.

White Teas, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

White tea is prepared from the first buds of tea leaves in early spring, and is the least processed of all teas. The buds are hand-picked, than steamed, slowly dried and does not undergo a process of oxidation like green and black teas. The result is the most delicate tea, the finest quality of which is called Silver Needle (Bai Hao Yinzhen), which you can see in the above photo and looks like needles covered in fine white silvery plume. The next grade is White Peony (Bai Mu Dan), which has the top bud and also the next two young leaves, which also have some of the same plume. Both are grown in Fujian province in China. Both produce a very light liquor and have a fine, delicate taste that I can only describe as slightly peppery.

For our first cup of tea, I've used a blend of equal amounts of Silver Needle and White Peony, with a little bit of crystalized ginger and vanilla bean that I chopped up.

Ume Sencha, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Sencha is the purest green tea, and like white tea (and unlike Chinese green teas), is not roasted. Steaming prevents it from oxidizing, than rolled, dried and finally - fired in order to preserve them and give their distinct flavour. The result is a very fine, fresh and aromatic tea with a very vegetal and at times even seaweet like aroma. Other sencha tea leaves have a more nutty aroma, or in the case of the one I've picked (organically grown), a little fruity too (similar to peach or osmanthus). I blended it with ume (plum) blossoms, which I picked and dried myself during spring break in Victoria's Esquimalt neighbourhood.

Magnolia Oolong, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Oolong teas are like the champagne of teas. They are classified as somewhere in-between green and black tea (some are closer to green and some are closer to black). The best oolong teas grows in Taiwan or Fujian. The leaves are rolled into balls or longer curls. Many oolongs have a flowery aroma on their own. Some are further perfumed with flowers - such as this gorgeous magnolia scented oolong. Since the magnolias are out I thought it was a perfect occasion to brew this beautiful tea and share it with my guests. It is one of my favourite teas, and the more I get into teas, the more I discover how much I love oolongs in general. They are extremely different from one another and are just perfect on their own, with no sweeteners or any other flavours added. They are very rich in flavour, and are brewed rather concentrated, which gives off a bitter taste at first that turns very sweet aftertaste. They can also be re-steeped for many times (even as many as 7 with high quality oolongs!).

Rose Congou, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Rose Congou (or Gongfu) is a perfumed black tea that is formed into thin strips from unbroken tea leaves. It is oxidized with rose petals, which give off their sweet, fruity-floral aroma, and some of the rose petals are left with the tea for decoration. It gives off a liquor that is a little lighter than some other black teas, but is very rich in flavour.

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Hanami Tea Party

It's all in the details..., originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

This weekend was dedicated to the Vernal Equinox and welcoming spring with a flower-viewing tea party aka Hanami. Hanami is the Japanese flower-viewing parties, taken place under blooming trees in nature as well as urban Japanese gardens everywhere during the sakura peak blooming season.

From a very young age, I had high regard to Japanese culture and everything Japanese seems to possess such refinement and poise. My mental vision of hanami comprised of geishas and samurai (or just modern day people dressed up in kimono and obi) writing haiku poetry on rice paper under the cherry trees, playing the koto and performing chado ceremonies. I could not have been more far than the truth: Hanami is for the most part a picnic under the cherry trees, where everyone gets completely drunk with sake. An outdoors happy hour of sorts. The most popular spots for Hanami get packed pretty quickly, so companies and offices send their rookie employees to go early in the day and reserve a good spot while the more senior staff keep getting work done till the end of the day. By than, I heard, the rookies are quite thoroughly drunk and can be easily made fun of for the rest of the evening…

Spontaneous Hanami Picnic on Bute street, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

The custom of drinking sake under the cherry trees originates in Shinto (the native religion of Japan) tradition of making a sake offering to the spirit of the trees during the sakura blossom season.

The weather was a fickle spring day, not nice enough to do a picnic (which is how a hanami should be celebrated!). And in any case, drinking outdoors is illegal in Vancouver and I did not want to get into trouble with the authorities so I would have felt really guilty if it was a beautiful picnic day and had to keep everyone indoors for my tea brewing and perfume sniffing!


In my Japanese sachet..., originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

I love creating ambiance with small details, which sometime I can get carried away with. The napkins, for example, were almost too pretty to use (they are made of pearlescent paper!). I also burnt a Japanese ume incense before the guests arrived, and they could even smell it from the hallways. Another part of the ambiance was flowers, and lots of them. Including a giant bouquet of hyacinth which ended up in the guest bathroom because otherwise no one would have been able to smell the perfume or taste their teas and food without thinking about hyacinths! They are so strong.

The Flowers

Camellias, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Did you know that Camelias are from the same family as tea?

The flower arrangements, like the incense, create an ambiance. I didn't think I will be able to get the flowers I need in a flower shop, so I just picked them up myself all over the West End. I even got scolded once by a passer-by's "you're not suppose to". But I felt that since I was doing this for my guests, it's still part of sharing the community's flowers and I didn't really feel guilty at all (I don't normally roam around the neighbourhood picking up flowers after all, the most I would do normally is steal their soul by taking a photo).

I tried to keep it all quite minimalistic, a-la-ikebana, which I no very little about and was happy with the result. It was my modern and personal interpretation of the season and I also incorporated some botanical symbolism into it (more about that later though!).

Early B-Day Gift, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

One of the tea party guests was so thoughtful and sweet: she noticed on FB that my b-day is only two days away and got me a bouquet of my favourite flowers: freesias!

Magnolias, so fragrant and surprisingly spicy. Unfortunately they wilted a little faster than I hoped (the same evening as picking...).

Hyacinths, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

The Menue

Tea Tray, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

1st Tier: Sushi & Savouries

Ume-Shiso Sushi, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Tea Tray, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Ume-Shiso Sushi
Avocado & Japanese Pickled Ginger Tea Sandwiches
Ginger-Carrot Tea Sandwiches
Cucumber-Wasabi Tea sandwiches
Kosho (Hot Green Pepper & Yuzu paste) Tea Sandwiches

The ume-shiso sushi was something I tried last summer at the sushi bar in K-Mart (the Korean market on Robson street, which is also where I get the perfect bread for the tea sandwiches). I wanted to order from them a bunch for the party, but they stopped making them (it is not exactly shiso season yet, so that's understandable). Thankfully, the konbiniya (aka Japanese convenience store on Robson) had some fresh shiso leaves, so I was able to try to mimic what the restaurant did (total failure, because I always put too much rice in my rolls, and also the seaweed would have gotten too soggy by the time the guests arrives; so I stopped myself after one roll). Instead, I invented these little nigiris, using the rice molds in Tamya's sushi kit. I filled them with some ume paste and black sesame seeds, and wrapped them in shiso leaf, which remained fresh and pretty for hours.

As for the sandwhiches - the avocado is drizzled with yuzu juice to prevent it from discolouring. I've really enjoyed the tea-time-meet-Japanese cuisine adventure!

2nd Tier: Scones
Buckwheat Scones & Povidel (Eastern European Prune butter)

Buckwheat scones, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

I tested these prior to the party with three different condiments/jams - ume (sour plum) paste (see above) and cherry & carnation jam, and povidel (prune preserve). The last choice seems to complement the buckwheat the best so that's how they were served in the end.

3rd Tier: Sweets

Tea Tray, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Sakuramochi (Cherry Blossom pastries)
Charisma Truffles - with matcha, spearmint and jasmine
Hanami Truffles - with ground tonka bean, lotus, tuberose and magnolia
Black Sesame Shortbread Cookies
Torti di Grano Saraceno (Northern Italian buckwheat and almond torte with raspberry filling).

The Teas

DSC09930, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

First guests at the tea party are experiencing the white tea blend.

Sake and a fine selection of teas were served, including white, green, oolong and black teas.
More about the teas in the following post about the spring-welcoming tea ceremony.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Happy Spring Equinox!

Flower arrangements, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Happy Spring Equinox and Persian New Year!

It's a day late, I know, but yesterday I was too busy getting ready for my Hanamy tea party today.
Anyway, today is the first day of spring in my mind, because it's the first one when the day is a little longer than the night for a change. From now on things are only going to get better!

The sakura flowers are a Japanese symbol of spring. The wheat sprouts and the hyacinths are a Persian symbol (and part of the Haft Sin, aka 7 S's).

P.s. I'll show you pics from the party tomorrow. Now I should get some rest!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Comforting Scents for Uncomfortable Times: Joint Blogging Project + Giveaway

There are moments in life that none of us would have chosen to be in. But they are inevitable, unexpected and when they land on our heads out of the blue are extremely uncomfortable to say the least. Something just has to be done to ease the shock and discomfort. 13 other bloggers joined forces to help you find a sweet spot even in the worst of times (links at the bottom of the post).

Some of us find comfort in reading a book by the fireplace at the end of a rough day, some would cuddle up with a teddy bear, some would drown their misery in Southern Comfort, a bag of chips or a bucket of ice cream; and others will do all of the above. For us strange perfumista birds, the situation gets even trickier because when things get rough, it seems like the last thing you’d want to do is commemorate it with a beautiful scent that you’re bound to hate or dread for the rest of your olfactory life. So the damage is even greater when this one thing that brought so much pleasure, excitement and intrigue to our lives is all of a sudden out of the question.

So I’ve been thinking: What if instead of depriving myself from my favourite scents in those uncomfortable times – I’ll find some really fantastic scent to wear that will help to cope with the downright dreadfulness of the situation? Perhaps if I don’t wear it in the midst of the painful event, it will have the positive effect of comfort without the risk of becoming forever engrained in my memory as part of the pain itself?

Here are some ideas, for various degrees of non-fun situations and which scents I’d pick as an antidote. Keep in mind, that most likely the scent would be worn after the event has taken place. Just in the same way you’d brew yourself a cup of tea after hearing bad news.

Going to the dentist:
Opium Fleur de Shanghai. There’s enough cloves in this one to stop a tooth from aching. If that’s not enough try Opium in parfum extrait strength. A great tranquilizer.

Broken heart:
When I created Immortelle l’Amour, I made it exactly so thick with sweet intentions to remedy precisely that condition, that I’m quite convinced by now it might be sticky enough to glue together the fragments of a broken heart. And if it doesn’t, just take that blue heart bottle of L de Lolita Lempicka to replace the missing organ on your left side.
I think because both vanilla and cinnamon have such a positive association in my mind (from my grandmother’s baking!) that any perfume with high doses of both will never become a sad scent for me. Thank you grandma!

Learning that a close family member who lives far away is very ill, in the middle of the summer:
Sothing about Sofia. The lightheartedness of this flower and mango concoction could have been another fruity floral disaster, but it’s actually well done. The fruit is tart and refreshing and the flowers are just cheerful enough to keep your chin up and iron out some of those inevitable worry wrinkles unlit you find a flight.

Over 14 Hours Trans-Atlantic Flight:
The purest hydrosols and essential oils seem to bring the most comfort to long flights. Lack of air, lack of sleep, H1N1 and dry skin can all be made a little less terrible with some good lavender oil, tea tree oil, and pure rosewater or orange flower hydrosol.

Frequent visits to the hospital to take care of a family member whose life is in danger:
Well, life really is full of lemons sometimes. And in such a situation, anything too strong will probably not be appropriate to wear at the hospital. So I would stick to exactly that – but in a body lotion form. J.R. Watkins Lemon Cream was just perfect for that nightmare-ish summer visits at the hospital. If it wasn’t for the fact that it’s disappeared from from the shelves of the local drugstores I would easily continue to enjoy it even now. Applying the cream after shower provides just the right balance between lemony freshness and comforting vanilla and shea butter.

A cup of tea wouldn’t hurt either, and what better choice than Chartreuse Eau de Vie with its soothing chamomile, tarragon and osmanthus flowers? And finally, daily morning trips to the local bakery ensure that you get your doze of sanity (and something for breakfast), just by walking there and smelling the freshly baked bread and wood fire…

Paralyzing Back Injuries:
Anything with angelica, and better yet – Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis). A few years ago I could enver believe I would like anything with it. Now the scent of this, especially in my TCM’s is the most reassuring scent in the world. You know you’re going to come out of there feeling ten times better, and with packets of bitter powdered herbs that will make you wish you never had taste buds, but will also make you feel better.

In fact, I’m loving angelica so much now that I have created a new amber base which I call “Angelic Amber” to be worn alone or as base for my new dark osmanthus-rose Chypre.

Attending a family dinner party where you know you’re not welcome by the racist hosts: Eau d’Hermes. It has enough sunshine and cumin in it to make me feel at home (in my own skin at least) and proud of my Middle Eastern heritage and my own family values. No one could take that away from me.

Really nasty breakups that makes you not want to eat anything:
Un Crime Exotique, with its stark likeness to a curvy poached-pear in star-anise infused almond tart. There is enough softness in that flask to make even Chinese water torture seem amusing. Besides, with this kind of dessert, I’d skip a meal anytime.

Good tea to go with it: Milky oolong.

Getting fired:
Being self-employed it's hardly unlikely I'll run into that situation, but if I did, I would have to make sure I have with me one of those travel size sprays of Vetiver Tonka: some would go towards releasing any anger by macing the bearer of the bad news (how civilized), and the rest would go on my wrists and sweater, with this cereal-like rendition of caramelized vetiver. Nothing could be more soothing, grounding and centering than vetiver, and those sweet surrounding notes make it even better. Only downside: it would be hard to replace it unless a new job is found, and fast.

Spring Allergies:
An experience that is completely new to me (started last year). Sève Exquise provides a non-floral counterpoint between sneezing sessions!

Do you go "sans-parfum" or wear comforting scents when uncomfortable situations happen in your life? If so, what are your comfort scents?
Comment below with your and enter the giveaway of two cute and comforting miniatures: Immortelle l'Amour, and L de Lolita Lempicka.

Visit the following blogs for other ideas for comforting scents:

Roxana's Illuminated Journal

BitterGrace Notes

Perfume Shrine

Notes from the Ledge

Scent Hive

The Non Blonde

Perfume in Progress

Katie Puckrik Smells

A Rose Beyond the Thames

I Smell Therefore I Am


All I Am A Redhead

Savvy Thinker

P.s. This article's title is an homage to Michelyn Camen's original article of this same name on Sniffapalooza Magazine in 2008, in which I was interviewed to comment on what botanical elements make some of my perfumes comforting. Michelyn Camen is the Publisher and Editor in Chief of and the Editor-at- Large for

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Weekly Giveaway Winner Announcement

Congratulations to ScentScelf, the winner of the Feuilles de Tabac decant giveaway from last Friday!!!

Please contact me with your mailing addy so I can ship it to you this weekend.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Green, But Not With Envy

Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone!

For this occasion, I wanted to talk about green raw materials. And by green I mean simply the colour – not necessarily a “green” scent. And since I work only with natural raw materials, they also happen to have the “green” as in eco-friendly meaning as well. Synthetic raw materials are usually clear and colourless.

As with all of my perfumes, the above photo is of natural scents with no colour added. The lovely green hues owes its presence entirely to the green-coloured natural raw materials that make up the scent. Let’s mention a few of them:

Light greens:
These transparent oils may look green in the bottle, but won’t necessarily have that much of an impact on the finished product:
Cassie Absolute
Green Cognac Absolute
Green Mandarin
Kaffir Lime Leaf

Pretty green results:
More on the olive side of green. Sometimes a little dull in appearance, as some of these contain a fair amount of waxy materials and sediments or floating pieces, as they don’t fully dissolve in alcohol:
Clary Sage Absolute
Green Tea Absolute or CO2
Lemon Balm CO2
Rosemary Absolute

Intense green effect:
These essences are usually dark and thick and will look almost black when not diluted. When diluted they will become bright and vibrant green (as you see in the above photos):
Balsam Fir Absolute
Basil Absolute
Green Oakmoss Absolute (as opposed to brown)
Hay Absolute
Lavender Absolute (sometime green, other times it's turquoise)
Linden Blossom Absolute
Spruce Absolute
Violet Leaf Absolute

Monday, March 15, 2010

Rose with Jade Stem

Getting back from shipping packages at the post office today, I was back at the lobby checking my own mail, which had a package, a few bills, and as usual - a delivery attempt notice from UPS, which could only mean one thing: I missed the courier guy by just a few minutes, as usual... And than the unheard of happened: I found the package waiting for me patiently right at my doorstep!

This is unprecedented. It never, ever, EVER happens. But that was not where the good surprises ended today. This was a flacon of Patou's 1000 in parfum concentration I ordered off eBay last week. As it turns out, even though it was wrapped with cellophane and the bottle completely sealed, it was a vintage. In any case, it is at least old enough to exist before the IFRA regulations kicked in, with the requirement for a long list of allergens, and most importantly the oakmoss, which is now gradually being eliminated altogether from such Chyprish beauties!

1000 was better than I even remembered it. Releasing the stopper from the sealing film, I noticed it was covered but what looked like crystals (from the film perhaps?). Dipping the jade applicator in the precious jus (some of which evaporated) and applying it onto my skin was a magical moment. Off the jade glass rod, a rose emerged, with thorns and crushed leaves. Moss, amber, spice and a hint of tea-like osmanthus swirling around it like little green fairies.

1000 has the rich vintage air to it of a full-bodied, grown up perfume. It's not as dry and medicinal as I remember it. It certainly has the "old fashioned Chypre" feel to it with a tad of a soapiness (that seems to be the trademark of the 70's - 1000 was released in 1972 and was created by Msr. Jean Kerléo, who now runs the Osmotheque). And the rose really blooms and grows on the skin, a dark rose with its roots deep in patchouli, oakmoss, musk and a hint of ambery labdanum, and an even tinier hint of immortelle absolute. I'm in heaven.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Feuilles de Tabac - Review + Weekly Giveaway

Feuilles de Tabac is one of those strange scents that I love yet have a difficult time writing about. I’ve been smitten with it ever since I came across it, sometime in 2003 after meeting with a perfumista client who kindly bombarded me with tens of samples from European niche perfumeries. I immediately fell for it, and when the vial ran out, begged my friend who lived in London to get out of her merry ways and fetch me a bottle.

Whatever it was that caught me in the Feuilles de Tabac trap, I can’t describe. It was the sense of familiarity in it that was intriguing to me. Something that happened to me before with Habanita (which reminded me of my grandfather’s Old Spice). But Feuilles de Tabac had something else, and was certainly more dry at first, and later on became sweeter, though not nearly as sweet as Old Spice.

Feuilles de Tabac dances between astringent and woody finesse and rustic herbal medicine.

The opening is dry, a little medicinal even, with the cascarilla bark dominating. Cascarilla is a bark used for flavouring tobacco, and has a scent that is both woody, musky and a little spicy-warm. There are also citrus and coniferous notes, though no particular one stands out, and allspice (pimento), a spice that has a dry-woody character. The other important note is sage, which is bitter and astringent at first, and than becomes velvety and warm, especially with the slight touch of rose at the heart.

Dry tobacco and vetiver peak in, but quickly, Feuilles de Tabac is cured into a very warm and sweet concoction, similar to pipe tobacco, with the tonka bean giving it a significant soft sweetness, as well as an amber accord with a muted labdanum. Only patchouli saves it from becoming powdery, adding a bold, animalic undertone and depth.

Feuilles de Tabac exudes such confidence that wearing it is akin to gulping some bravery potion, or just having a courageous powerful man on your side (unless you happen to be one).

It's interesting to compare sometimes notes from time past with the current impression of the same scent. In 2005, I described it as follows: "What starts as a medicinal, somewhat harsh drink – reminiscent of Absinthe – extremely masculine and sharp-edged – dries down to a seductive earthy sweetness. Warm, enveloping and sophisticated, Feuilles de Tabac is the emblem of what leathery-tobacco scents should be: Daring, sensitive, and seductive in a reassuring confident manner". Cascarilla has a certain liquor-like aroma to it; and sage is very similar to artemisia (absinthe). Perhaps this is where the courage comes from...

Top notes: Citrus notes, Coniferous notes, Cascarilla, Allspice
Heart notes: Sage, Rose, Vetiver
Base notes: Tobacco, Tonka Bean, Patchouli, Amber

*Weekly giveaway: Post a comment and win a 5ml decant of Feuilles de Tabac.*

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Weekly Giveaway Winner Announcement

Thank you everyone for commenting on the weekly giveaway post from last Friday!
The winner for the Japanese Agarwood roll-on duo is Gator Grad.
Please don't forget to email me with your addy so I can ship it to you :-)

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Monday, March 08, 2010

Decoding Obscure Notes Part IX: Precious Parasites

Gaharu Buaya, originally uploaded by naz1098.

Did you know that the two most prized woodsy perfume and incense materials owe their existence to parasites?

East Indian Sandalwood (Santalum album) is, in fact, a parasitic tree which feeds on neighbouring trees through its roots system. And the most expensive natural raw aromatic in the world, agarwood, smells like nothing special until the tree is injured and becomes infected with parasitic molds and fungi, which causes it to produce a dark resin in the heartwood and inside the roots.

Formation of Agarwood
Agarwood is a resin that develops in several trees from the genus Aquilaria. Several different fungi are associated with the presence of agarwood, including Phaeoacremonium parasitica, but it remains unknown what exactly causes the formation of agarwood. It has been associated with physical injury of the tree, bacterial and fungal infection that cause production of resin, and also is reputed to be more likely found in older trees (between 20-50 years old).

The resinous (meaning infected) Aquilaria heartwood, aka agarwood, is unusual comparing to other woods, because it sinks in water. The Chinese name for it Chén-xīang means exactly that – “wood that sinks”; and the Japanese Jin-Koh means incense that sinks.

Only the resinous wood is called “agarwood” and is valued for incense and essential oil production. There are about 8 out of the 15 of the genus Aquilaria that produce agarwood. Aquilaria agallocha, aka Aquilaria malaccensis is the most highly prized in most places (also called “black agarwood” in Tibet).

The Trees

Agarwood is formed in several indicidual species, all from the Thymelaceae family. The main one know is from the Aquilaria genus, and to a lesser extent Gyrinops, It is very difficult to tell from what species a piece of agarwood was originated from, even with sophisticated technology and expert knowledge. Most of the time, agarwood’s species of origin is recognized by its place of origin, which can indicate what species grow there that form agarwood. For a full list of agarwood forming speices click here.

Aquilaria malaccensis aka A. agallocha is an evergreen tree, about 15-30 meters tall with a trunk up to 1.5-2.5 meters in diameter. It is native to Southeast Asia and is widespread in that region. It grows in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Aquilaria is quite an adaptable species, and grows in many different habitats and altitutdes, including sand, rocky slopes and even near swamps. They grow in areas with average daily temperature of 20-22 degrees C.

“Spikenard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all frankincense trees, myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices.” (Canticles, 4:14).
Agarwood is also referred to in the bible as “ahalot” or “ahalim” and is mentioned in the same breath with myrrh in several books of the bible (including Canticles and Psalms).

Agar is the Hindi name for it, where as in Assam it is called ogoru. In Western literature it is called aloes, aloeswood or eaglewood; in Arabic and Muslim countries where it is most admired, it is called oud, aud, audh gaharu; in Indonesia and Malaysia; and kyara is the name for the highest grade of agar in Japanese – to name just a few of the titles it goes by.

Description of the Scent
Agarwood oils posess a woody, animalic, musty, fungus-like, slightly medicinal, warm, musky scent. Some agarwood oils resemble sandalwood and spikenard, especially ones that are lighter in colour. Darker agarwoods, such as the cultivated agarwood CO2 produced in Assam, India have a scent like no other woody oil, that can be described as intensely animalic, reminiscent of ambergris but stronger and more penetrating, with an underlining note that is sweet and raspberry-like.

As for the incense, which is how agarwood is used more than any other – it varies greatly depending on the quality and resin content. The one agarwood incense that I have experienced was a Japanese incense stick of Kyara, and it was extremely refined and transcended above any other incense experience I’ve had. It was smoldering yet delicate, and brought an immediate sense of peace and depth to my existence. I have 4 little agarwood chips from 4 different places in the world, and some very basic koh-doh incense tools, but I am still waiting for the right moment to burn them. With this feature article, the moment have arrived, and once I have burnt them I promise I will write about each of them here on SmellyBlog.

Harvesting, Sustainability and Ethical Issues
Although only infected trees are odorous and possess potential for monetary value, many uninfected trees are felled and chopped in hopes of finding agarwood within the trunk and roots. This poses a serious danger to the species of Aquilaria in general, and Aquilaraia malaccansis in particular.

Pemilihan Kayu/ Teras Minyak, originally uploaded by azizilajis.

Only 7-10% or wild Aquilaria trees will develop agarwood. There are varying opinions and evidence about relationship between the age of the tree, its size and the yield of agarwood it may offer. Some say that the larger the tree, the higher agarwood content it will have – and that trees should be harvested between ages 20-50 to maximize yield of agrawood. On the other hand, there is evidence that agarwood occurs in trees as young as 3 years of age.

Although there could be some relation between dying trees (indication to that are dry brown leaves, leafless branches and bumps on the trunk and brances), aquilaria trees may show little or no signs of having agarwood within them. The tree has to be felled and split open to discover the precious resinous agarwood within. Unfortunately, this led to over-harvesting of aquillaria and the trees have become an endangered species to various degrees as a result. The (misinformed) belief that agarwood develops in the tree after it is chopped down also did not help in the matter.

In the past 10 years or so, some actions are finally being taken to reduce the risk of agarwood’s extinction, including research, regulations (mostly by CITES - Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) development of more sustainable harvesting practices, and finally – plantations of aquilaria trees for agarwood production.

inokulasi pokok gaharu, originally uploaded by ahmadkamal.

gaharu subintegra, originally uploaded by ahmadkamal.

By using new methods of harvesting, agarwood trees can stand and continue living: the tree is injured by making a hole in the bark, and once the agarwood is produced in the tree, it is scooped out so to speak, yet without cutting down the whole tree. Sometimes, a piece of round clay is used to keep the hole ajar so that agarwood can be collected repeatedly in the future (see above photos).

Hand repotting of 4 month old Agarwood saplings, originally uploaded by Plantation Capital.
Sustainable agarwood is also produced in agarwood plantations (especially in Assam, India), where using methods of injuring and infecting the trees with pegs carrying the agarwood inducing fungi and molds, to produce agarwood in the trees at a younger age. Similar methods are also used now in the wild, so at least this avoids unnecessary felling of trees that don’t even bear agarwood.

Forms of Agarwood Available, Grading and Pricing
Agarwood is sold in the wood in several forms, or as an essential oil. The wood can be extracted into either an essential oil or by a CO2 extraction, which is a relatively new method.

The wood is sold in powdered sawdust form, wood chips, wood pieces and to a lesser extent – as whole logs of wood.

The whole wood is mostly in demand in Japan for building private shrines. As an incense material, it has a near guarantee for no adulteration; but it will provide no consistency as some parts of the wood will be more infected than others, and some may not be infected at all. So its use for incense is not so practical for the end consumer.

The wood comes in many different sizes, forms and grades. Wood chips are more common, because they are easier to carry, transport, grade and use by shaving off small pieces for incense burning rituals. Wood chips will be graded based country of origin and their quality, which is based on both resin content and the particular demand within the country they are sold. The price for agarwood is oftern based on rarity rather than quality. So if you intend on buying agarwood, you should really know agarwood well and know what you will be using it for - rather than buy the highest price you can afford.

Another important thing to know when buying agarwood pieces for incense is that the appearance alone is not enough for deciding on the quality; neither is the smell of the wood as it is; it must be burnt as incense to fully evaluate its quality and scent.

Adulteration of the Wood
Agarwood powder is the most prone to adulteration or low quality. Agarwood powder is extremely lower in price comparing to agarwood chips and pieces of wood. This is because it is usually either by product of the agarwood oil manufacturing (i.e. the powder of the wood after it has been distilled and the true agarwood resin has been removed from it); or is simply sawdust from the uninfected Aquilaria. It is mostly used for incense production, as an odour-neutral base for incense sticks and cones.

Agarwood chips aren’t risk-free for adulteration either. According to traders from Mumbai, India “common chip adulterants were ‘lodh’ (possibly Symplocos racemosa) and ‘astrang’ (possibly Mandragora officinalum)”. (see: HEART OF THE MATTER: AGARWOOD USE AND TRADE AND CITES IMPLEMENTATION FOR AQUILARIA MALACCENSIS by Angela Barden, Noorainie Awang Anak, Teresa Mulliken and Michael Song )

Some traders will also mix resinous chips with uninfected wood to increase the weight and their profit.

Other forms of adulteration of wood include impregnating sculptures or beads carved from other woods, with agarwood oil. Aquilaria (the non infected wood) is very soft and difficult to work with, and even more so can be said for agarwood.

Adulteration of the Oil
High quality agarwood oil has a unique scent that cannot be reproduced synthetically, and any effort to do so will be very costly. As mentioned before, there is far more demand for agarwood than there is supply (thes supply is only 40% of the world-wide demand).

Agarwood essential oil is the most expensive essence in the world. Grades vary quite greatly, but it is not uncommon to find agarwood oil sold for $14,000-30,000 per kilogram! All of these factors make agarwood very attractive target for adulteration, mostly with other essential oils that have similar odour profile, i.e.: woody, musty, etc.
“Agarwood oil is adulterated with lodh oil, five or six other chemicals and/or agarwood powder that imparts
the fragrance of agarwood”.
It may also be blended with other natural oils that have some resemblance to agarwood and can extend its aroma (although in some cases the cost for using those is still rather high), including sandalwood, vetiver, spikenard, amyris (West Indian sandalwood), etc.

Next: Religious and cultural significance, medicinal uses, and use of agarwood in incense and perfumery.

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Sunday, March 07, 2010

Boronia & Grin Stock Updates

Boronia, originally uploaded by Helen Boronia McHugh.

Boronia absolute is finally back in stock after a long absence of nearly 6 months. Now I'm able to finally make a batch of samples for Grin (which up till recently was only in stock in full bottles of roll-on oil or extrait). If you were curious to try it but wasn't able to now is a good time to try it, when spring is approaching!

Grin is a Green Floral spring fragrance that will bring a smile to your face and flowers to your garden . It was originally designed in spring 2004 and 2005 as two different limited editions; than introduced into the permanent collection with this formulation in 2006.

Top notes: Galbanum, Green Peppercorn
Heart notes: Boronia, Rose, Jasmine, Violet Leaf
Base notes: Agarwood, Vetiver, Oakmoss

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