My relative inexperience burning agarwood makes it difficult for me to link the scent of a piece of wood to a particular geographic area. I hope that as I gain experience I’ll be able to recognize the broad similarities that characterize woods from the same place. My notes below are based on a few samples of wood from the named region and I have not reason to believe these pieces aren’t representative. I enjoyed discovering their unique characteristics and hope that the more I burn the better I’ll become at recognizing many more of their individual subtleties as well.
The Maluku, Cambodian and Sulawesi pieces were burned on an electric burner on a low setting. The Banka and Aceh samples were also burned on or next to charcoal.
Sulawesi- Damp, mossy and herbal notes reminiscent of patchouli and oakmoss suggest moist, earthy, brown tones. A hint of white pepper is interlaced with the cool and green scent of watermelon rind. At higher temperatures the wood smells crisp and snappy. When burned on lots of layers of tinfoil atop charcoal (I made a little tower) vanilla finally emerges, but Sulawesi is pretty low on the sweetness scale. One of the things I most appreciate about this wood is that it changes faces which makes burning it a stimulating, as well as a mellow, experience. The pervasive oozy dampness is grounding while the shifts in other notes makes me feel contemplative. The big surprise was that, when burned on charcoal, the wood smelled like tomato sauce with Italian spices and chili powder mixed in! I’ve smelled these tomato and feisty chili pepper notes in ASAQ’s 12 yr old oil and I’ve always gotten a big kick out of them ☺
Bangka Isands- This wood is much sweeter and more vanillic than the Sulawesi. Marzipan, peanuts , cinnamon, nutmeg, white pepper and earthy notes were the ones I was able to decipher. To be honest, I was very frustrated with this wood. It was quite dense and required more heat to burn than I’m accustomed to using. It was the most satisfying on tin foil with charcoal and because, for me, it did best on high heat, this is one I’d use for room/clothes scenting.
Aceh- A lovely combination of vanilla and woods with sharp cinnamon overtones. Occasionally there’s a whiff of fresh, green mintiness. It is primarily deep and woody with a light, chocolate-y sweetness. I found it slightly difficult to tease out the notes until I tried burning it on ashes in close proximity to charcoal. Like the Bangka wood, I think this is nice for room scenting.
The last sample I tried was not Indonesian, but Cambodian and it was my personal favorite. This wood has classic notes of clean, smooth woods, sweet, caramelic vanilla and some dry, bitter, cleansing tones. (I love these bitter notes so please don’t read this as a negative). Brown sugar, maple and jam-y plum notes are most evident on lower heat. The contrast and interplay between these sweet and bitter flavors creates a dynamic dialogue which I found very satisfying,
My thanks go to Gregg King for making these samples available. Gregg is one of the nicest people with whom I have corresponded. He is very forthcoming with information about his woods and he is full of interesting information relating to many different aspects of incense, from its history to its crafting. Thank you, Gregg!