How to make charcoal
Chuah Kee yong shows the BRaTs how charcoal is produced.
THE traditional method of making charcoal has drawn tourists from all over the world to Charcoal Factoy Kuala Sepetang. while you should definitely go there to experience it yourself (and get lots of amazing photos!), here’s a quick rounddown on the process.
1. Boatmen go around the Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve, where they chop down 30-year-old mangrove trees in plots allocated by the Forestry Department of Peninsular Malaysia. For every tree chopped, a new sapling is planted, and the boatmen can only return to a cleared plot in 30 years, so it’s all very sustainable.
2. A canal system based on the tide allows the boats to carry up to nine tonnes of logs back to the factories, located inland. This can only be done a few days before and after the first and 15th of every month according to the lunar calendar. That’s when the tide is at its highest, which fills up the canal.
3. The logs are carefully arranged vertically inside a kiln. Small pieces of charcoal are placed at the bottom of the logs to allow even circulation of heat. Each kiln can hold up to 50 tonnes of logs.
4. The smoking process begins! A fire, fuelled by chunks of wood from mangrove and rubber trees, is lit at the opening of the kiln. The fire smokes the logs for 10 days, when the 85˚C optimum temperature is achieved.
5. The factory’s “head man”, a welltrained expert who smells the smoke coming out of the kiln to determine if each step is complete, then creates a smaller flame for another 14 days. The opening of the kiln is also reduced using bricks and clay.
6. During this period, the head man smells the smoke coming out of a vent in the kiln. when he no longer smells any moisture in the smoke, the cooling phase commences. The kiln will be completely sealed, and left to cool for eight days.
7. once the kiln has cooled down, the opening is broken down, and you’ll have perfectly smoked charcoal inside. The logs will be a mere fifth of its original weight because of all the lost moisture. That means for each round, a kiln can produce roughly 10 tonnes of charcoal, which is then broken down to smaller pieces and packed by hand. It is then sold domestically and exported to Japan.
One of the
factory workers, ah Choo, 67, weighs a
bag of charcoal
while packing it. The heat is on: One of the supervisors, Tan Chin Soon, adds more fire wood at the opening of the kiln. This is what a kiln looks like during the smoking process. The opening, where the mangrove trunks and discarded rubber tree trunks are burned, serves as a door. The factory workers go through the door to stack the mangrove logs and to remove the charcoal once it’s ready.
Chuah Kee yong, 43, explains the process of making charcoal and the history behind his family’s business to a few BRaTs members.