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    An Oud to Paradise: The Quest for the Perfect Cup of Agarwood Tea

    Gaharu, agarwood, or oud, also known as the Wood of Gods, is one of the most expensive woods in the world. Its high price is due to the scarcity of agarwood trees and the lack of cultivation, and it has been listed for conservation because of habitat loss and overlogging. In Indonesia, designated conservation areas are home to the primary source of agarwood, the Aquilaria malaccensis. The hardwood tree can grow up to 40 meters with a 40-60 cm trunk diameter; its wood is straight with whitish brown bark and delicate texture, while the inner part of the wood before the core or the sapwood is uniformly black and exudes a fragrant aroma when cut. This part of the sapwood determines the quality of the agarwood.

    The fragrant aroma of agarwood is caused by the fungus Fusarium sp, which attacks the sapwood but also causes changes in its chemical composition for which the agarwood is sought; the fragrance for perfume and incense, and the anti-bacterial, anti-fungal capabilities for cough medicine and insecticide. Its high resin content makes it widely used in the perfume industry.

    This particularity of the agarwood plant attracted Ridwanti Batubara, S.Hut, MP, a lecturer at the Faculty of Forestry, Universitas Sumatera Utara, to research other benefits and uses of agarwood. Her previous studies focused on medicinal plant research; Ridwanti began conducting a series of research in 2012 with assistance from The Wikstea Instant Prastartup Team consisting of Sri Megawati Lubis (CEO), Rizki Hambali Harahap, Adrian Anshori Hasibuan, Karina Aulia, and Ilfa Nindita Harahap for research development.

    The process was carried out through an extended period from 2012 to 2021. It began in 2012-2014 with initial product development, chemical content, potential anti-oxidant research, consumer testing (hedonic test), and comparison tests with other herbal teas. They continued testing in 2015-2016 on the safety of agarwood leaf tea non-clinically, then on the availability of raw agarwood leaf tea resources and shelf life in 2017-2019. In 2020, the development of products made from agarwood leaf extract and instant agarwood tea began. In 2021, a shelf-life test and microbial contamination were carried out, and the “Instant Wikstea” pre-startup was pioneered.

    Ridwanti states that agarwood leaves are rich in benefits and anti-oxidants. Although the tree has begun to be widely planted and cultivated in recent years, its leaves are rarely used. She sees this as an untapped potential for research into agarwood leaf tea, although with some reservations.

    Many people complain about agarwood tea because it has a tart and unpleasant taste due to the presence of tannins. Thankfully, rigorous three-year safety tests reveal that the tea is safe for consumption and possesses beneficial properties for the skin. Both natural and cultivated agarwood are rich in benefits and anti-oxidants.

    Ridwanti revealed that she tried the agarwood tea processing technology with a simple drying method. The leaves are dried, brewed, dried in the sun, in the oven, then roasted. This process determines the optimum longevity of the anti-oxidants after the tea has been packaged. Ridwanti emphasizes that she wanted to avoid using various additives to increase shelf life and recommends three months at a cooler temperature for display storage.

    Regarding its taste, Ridwanti also experimented with natural flavorings for those who don’t like the tea’s bitter taste. Through some consumer testing, the most favored ones are the original agarwood, ginger, and lemongrass flavors.

    Ridwanti intends to explore further uses for the efficacy of agarwood tea on health, such as for COVID-19 patients, considering that one of its benefits is to increase stamina and immunity. In cooking, dishes can also be mixed with agarwood leaves, and if mixed in while cooking rice, it can also slow down its staleness.

    For its many benefits and valuable properties, Ridwanti still hopes that the government can further strengthen the conservation of Indonesian agarwood forests while wisely controlling the utilization of raw agarwood materials for various industries. She explained that natural agarwood and cultivated agarwood are strongly influenced by soil quality. Agarwood can grow in the lowlands to the highlands. Common on the banks of rivers and in rubber tree forests. Its symbiosis with rubber plants suggests a healthy ecosystem is needed if this tree of paradise has a hope of continuing to grace the earth with its divine aroma.