Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Trip to the Thai Distillery

This is a reprint of a 2010 AbsoluteTrygve post.

It’s a big one, near Ayutthaya, and I was a little leery. They do some distillation and solvent extraction on demand and so our Thai lotus is done there.
I needn’t have worried.
For one thing, it was women. And while some, if not most of the best distillers I know are men, men tend to take themselves incredibly seriously. It doesn’t mean they are jerks, necessarily, but you always have to watch them carefully, which they love of course

But here we had 2 lovely women, who started out professional enough, and were certainly knowledgeable and always delightful, but soon our group enthusiasm won over and we were picking flowers in the gardens, making tiny bouquets, taking photos, swooning in happiness, dancing around…..all the things that ylang ylang and champa and limes can make you do if you’re happy about it.
A handful of Ylang Ylang
Thailand has done some experiments recently, with ylang ylang and rose! The ylang we will have in the store, as soon as the wheels of commerce begin to turn. There is not a lot of it, and it’s a delicate, almost hesitant ylang ylang, a little timid perhaps, a bit shy, but wonderfully sweet and full bodied, as though unsure of usurping the place of the Malagasy Dowager Ylang Ylangs! We’ll still keep those, for sure, those sweet sisters are our ylang ylang family, 1, extra, and complete, but there’s always room for one more, an adopted friend.

Thai rose I shouldn’t even write about because we will not be carrying it…not my fault! It proved too expensive to cultivate. Cultivating roses for essential oil is as much of a commitment as getting married, and more so in many places. It’s really, impossibly, undoably, expensive. Pity, because the rose concrete, which I smelled, was very nice. I had been prepared to feel pity for it, a poor tropical lowland rose, but it was robust and beautiful. Couldn’t pay its own expenses though, and the land has gone on to other things. Sad, but no need to dwell on it.

We’ll be carrying Winter Lemon as well. Please remember that none of these oils are in the store now, and they have not even yet made the first slow grinding steps out of South East Asia. I will write a newsletter about them when they do come. As it is, I can’t thoroughly describe any of these oils because I either don’t have samples, or they are packed. But the winter lemon had a bright sunniness about it, like the eagerly absorbed winter sun in a place like Vancouver or Moscow.

Thai Lime is another lovely, and we will have this regular Citrus Swingle, which smells like a Christmas Party (everyone found this uproarious) and also the Kaffir lime, Citrus hystrix I think. It’s a really strange looking citrus, almost like it was once a bigger one, and then got squished down, but actually looks more like a brain, or the tracks a worm might leave in sand. There’s a whole lot of other things going on in there beside that limonene, let me tell you! It’s the Greek Chorus of citrus! And we’re going to have the leaves too, maybe, which smell closer to the peel than petitgrains usually do, kind of like a wild west version of the peel! Maybe we’ll call it Cowboy Lime!
Perhaps someone has noticed, perhaps not, but we don’t offer Chinese oils at Enfleurage. 

We have a ginger from there, because it took a long time to get the Vietnamese one last time, which, incidentally, is made with fresh rhizomes (as opposed to everyone else, including the Chinese, who make it with dried.) But that’s the only Chinese oil and we have taken liberties with ginger in the past. We used to carry one just one CO2, and yes, it was ginger. I don’t know why ginger is singled out for this, and it’s not just the fresh thing because we also have an unusual Anise, also from fresh fruit, also from Vietnam, but I am getting way off the subject. All I want to say it that……we’re going to bring in another Chinese oil. Osmanthus! It’s been like a silly quarrel! Can’t remember what happened, why we stopped it. I think our Osmanthus supplier disappeared and I have never been comfortable buying essential oils from any Chinese companies (please, no accusations!) But even though the origin of these flowers (those little tiny adorable sweet olive flowers!!) is Chinese, we will get it here, and it is lovely…I nearly cried, it’s been so many years!
Yellow Champa

White Champa

One of the most exciting oils for me, and I am thrilled to welcome him back, is Plai! Our plai guy disappeared; such is the case with so many small distillers. But now we are going to have this strong and assertive plai! He is like a tiny General! Plai immediately comes out, and declares himself. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is something he’s never heard of! He’s always a variation of the papaya lying on the sandy bank of the Mekong in the middle of the afternoon! And he likes it there. Maybe he’s the papaya at 3 o’clock, and maybe at 4. Maybe he has the peel on and maybe not. I will know more when he comes, because I was enraptured, entranced, just to smell him again, but had so many oils to play with, that although I kept coming back to the plai, I did not sit quietly with him.

There is another new Basil, Hairy Basil! The botanical name (which I am suspicious of anyway, as regular readers will know,) might be Ocimum americanum. I didn’t think there was any way in hell I could get talked into yet another basil for that store. We already have exotic basil, linalool basil, holy basil, verbena basil, and goodness know what else, but this one is do damn American smelling, and I mean it in the best possible way. He is reliable and strong, and smells exactly like basil should smell, pure, unvarnished, middle-of-the-road, apple pie, yes ma’am, tip your hat basil. He’s like a Sunday afternoon barbeque, a Harley Davidson, an Iowan cornfield basil. He’s a straight and true, unadorned, what-you-see-is-what-you-get basil. He is the Navy Seal of basils!
Not my fault here either; I call them as I smell them.

Then there was the Guava Leaf. This one I don’t know about. At first this oil was completely sweet, too good to believe, almost like a strange kind of guava candy, even a little too sweet at times, but still complicated and very interesting, very likable. As an hour passed though, he changed, with darker notes, woody notes, bitter notes, complicated textural tones and soon nothing of the original sweet fruit was there, leaving me to wonder if I had smelled it in the first place. I could not recognize this latter aroma with the one I had first let out of the bottle, dropped onto the tester strip. It was a complete surprise, and completely untrustworthy. Perfumers will probably like it but it’s going to take a lot to get used to him, and be able to predict his movements well enough so as to work with him when other oils are involved. All in all, this oil was all over the map, kind of like my ex-boyfriend. You think you’re getting one thing, and whammo, you get another! But in a bottle of essential oil it could be interesting!

The last oil I want to speak of is one that my staff will kill me if I buy, I know it. Because we had it long ago, and it was around forever. It was one of those oils that smelled interesting, but not pretty, and enough of a culinary treat that it was marked forever. That oil is “lesser galangal.” But here in Thailand he is called “fingerroot” and that sounds better, so we’ll go with that. This oil also has nothing in common with that sad little bottle of wishful thinking we have had for years. He was quite complicated too, but whereas the guava leaf turned into something entirely different than what I thought he was, the finger root is just a complicated and interesting oil. He seemed a little boring and rooty to begin with but only a few seconds in he was flipping out new tendrils of scent faster than a three card monty dealer. Sharp, sour, mossy, sassy, muddy! I kept coming back to him, going in for one last sniff, one more time, ok, one more…..

I guess that’s all I have time to write about, not so much the trip as the oils I tried, and in some cases, the plants were outside, happily represented. I even had a big misconception cleared up. I was always under the impression that yellow champaka was bakul.

Not logical, I know, but I had been shown this by someone who has a reputation as an essential oil guru. I never questioned it too much because I don’t live near yellow or even white champaka. I rarely see it. Bakul are these little teeny tiny wiggy ones. They are a little bigger than osmanthus (of course!) but probably 1/6th the size of a jasmine petal……

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