Kyara: An Exposé

It has been brought up time and again that using the term ‘Kyara’ in naming oud oils is misleading and inappropriate. So I think the time has come for some clarifications to be made, and some questions to be asked.

Firstly, no one knows what kyara is. Let me repeat that: No one knows what constitutes kyara. No one can explain the process that brings about the prized incense. Kyara remains a mystery to this day even for the most seasoned collectors of vintage kyara chips.

Some claim that the chemical make up of kyara is different to other types of agarwood. But how the resination process that leads to that chemical profile takes place, no one can say.

Kyara

If you’ve heard the term ‘kyara’ a million times, but nothing comes to mind, take a look at the pictures in this post. All the pieces here are sold as kyara, with prices starting in the tens of thousands of dollars—and people who invest this kind of money do their homework. As you can see, these are sold kyara chunks, not the tiny shavings most of us are at best able to get our hands on…

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According to the logic of not naming oils save according to their generic characteristics, using such terms as ‘Supreme’ and ‘Ateeq’ and ‘Sulaiman’ in naming oud oils ought to be deemed equally misleading and dishonest. What may smell ‘supreme’ to one vendor might very well send you to the nearest sink to reach for the soap. What might be considered ‘aged’ by some was barely separated from water to another.

What I aim to accomplish in naming an oil ‘Kinam’ or ‘Kyara’ is one of two things. Either to denote that it somehow displays a scent facet of kyara chips when burned; or that it stands, in comparison to other oils in its category, as kyara does to other wood—i.e. that it constitutes the apex of that oud family.

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It’s based on my dealings with the men who buy and sell this kind of kyara that I have come to my own understanding of the term. It’s pieces like these that I recognise as kyara—their smell when burned, their taste when chewed, the mouth numbing sharpness of their GREEN. And it’s the very same scent that is present to various degrees in a number of rare oud oils. 

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As an example, Qi Nam Khmer did not smell like kyara, but it was the rarest Cambodian profile I have experienced to date. Kyara Sayang‘s crisp green scent reminds me of a facet of chewing and burning kinam at the same time like few other oils do. I won’t blame you if you disagree—our skin chemistries are different. We perceive two different worlds entirely. So how should it be that every facet of every fragrance be experienced identically by radically different beings?

The question presents itself: Could it be that an oud oil is literally distilled from kyara wood?

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When I first smelled Kyara LTD (the original batch) I was convinced that the oil I was smelling was literally distilled from kyara wood. It was my own conviction, and it pertained to me only. No one else was bound to agree with me or believe me. However it remains to this day the most sought-after oud oil that has ever been released.

Now how is this possible? How can anyone in his right mind, upon harvesting a kyara tree, proceed to distill oil from it?

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Here, another question arises: At what stage of the resination process is a kyara tree, a kyara tree? Say the tree is 85 years when harvested. If left to grow for another 50 years, it would yield identifiable green kyara. Harvested at only 85 years, the resin has not hardened to the degree of being identified as incense grade agarwood, let alone kyara. Is this tree a kyara tree?

Let me repeat the question: A tree is bound to yield kyara if left to grow for 135 years. But this same tree is harvested at only 85 years, before the resin has hardened. Is it a kyara tree? Or just a regular agarwood tree? And why?

Seperator

A fellow oud connoisseur, Thomas S., had this to add to the discussion:

If we substitute, for the sake of this discussion, the word “kyara” with “cherry”, we see a different definition coming up.

The cherry tree will not produce apples, as it is its genetic disposition that only allows the tree to yield cherries. Just like a Malaccensis will not be a Crassna, as it is its disposition to produce this type and not another type.

So, if we assume that “no-one knows what constitutes kyara” (as you wrote) could we also safely assume that kyara is not a genetic disposition, but is related to certain environmental factors, such as nutrients, age, climate etc?

We could use yet another image to help clarify the issue: ALL students of the medical profression have the potential to become a doctor. But one will be a brain surgeon, the next one an opthalmologist, yet another a psychiatrist.

So do all agarwood trees have the potential to become a kyara tree, if only allowed to mature for 135 years? Certainly not as the enviromental factors will be different – according to the specific jungle.

I believe it is a process that yields kyara, a question of age, nutrients, soil, light, water and – of course – the bugs…

But if a medical student has not yet graduated, he is not a doctor. And so an agarwood tree who has not yet produced kyara is an agarwood tree, and not a kyara tree.

If we look at the cherry tree simile, it would seem to indicate that a kyara tree could qualify as a kyara tree no matter whether it contained any kyara or even any degree of infection: A cherry tree doesn’t need to bear fruit in order to be classified as a cherry tree.  it would seem to indicate that a kyara tree could qualify as a kyara tree no matter whether it contained any kyara or even any degree of infection.

But the next comparison takes a different view:  Any agarwood tree, whether of the Aquilaria or Gyrinops genus, be it Aquilaria Crassna or Agallocha or Malaccensis or Sinensis, or Gyrinops Decipiens, Caudata, Walla, etc—has the potential to produce Kyara.

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This stands in stark contrast to the Baieido ‘official stance’ on the subject, which I have discussed at length way back in the day with David Oller. He maintained that Kyara could only originate in trees of the Aquilaria Sinensis species that grew in Vietnam. Anything not harvested in Vietnam, cannot be Kinam. That’s the motto. Oller moreover posits that Kyara has a unique chemical profile which is not found in other types of jinko. There is a certain chemical called Dihydrokaronone which can only be found in Vietnamese Sinensis trees, as I recall him saying long ago and far away.

Now what does that say about the theory that any tree of the Aquilaria or Gyriniops genera could potentially yield Kyara? It would suggest that all Malaysian, Indonesian and New Guinean agarwood trees are going to be ‘medical students’ for quite a long time! They don’t stand a chance of ever producing Kyara. If Kyara is a unique, ultra rare species of Aquilaria tree that only grows in Vietnam, as Baieido maintains, then a Kyara tree is a Kyara tree irrespective of whether it contains any Kyara, just as an apple tree remains an apple tree even if it never bears a single apple.

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If the other theory is true, and Kyara is indeed the fruit of a unique combination of events which may take place in any type of Aquilaria or Gyrinops tree, then my original question still remains unanswered…. If that process is already in motion and we harvest the tree before the Kyara oleoresin has solidified, is not the essential oil currently amassing inside the trunk and slowly thickening and hardening into that oleoresin, Kyara essential oil?Kyara9If you say not, does that not entail that Kyara is only a type of wood, which is made up of undistillable hard resin that is chemically completely unrelated to the essential oil that collected and amassed into that resin over a period of many decades? I find that to be just a tad implausible. But don’t panic. That is just my view. And I feel entitled to it just as anyone else might feel entitled to theirs.

One enthusiast admits being sold ‘Kyara’ by the owner of a major Japanese incense company which when shown to the owner of a different company was promptly dismissed as non-Kyara.—If the bigwigs of the Kyara trade themselves cannot agree as to what constitutes Kyara, who can?

It is fair to say, at this point, that Kyara is a subject we need to agree to disagree about. It is far from clear, given the amount of conflicting definitions of Kyara among artisans, hobbyists, incense manufacturers, agarwood hunters, million-dollar Kyara collection owners, and other enthusiasts—just what exactly Kyara is, where it originates, what triggers its formation, how it can be accurately identified.Kyara33

 

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