In the first part of the two-stage process of distillation, large stills – traditionally of copper – are filled with roses and water. The still is fired for 60–105 minutes. The vaporized water and rose oil exit the still and enter a condensing apparatus and are then collected in a flask. This distillation yields a very concentrated oil, direct oil, which makes up about 20% of the final product
of the whole process. The water which condenses along with the oil is drained off and redistilled, cohobation, in order to obtain the water-soluble fractions of the rose oil such as phenethyl alcohol which are a vital component of the aroma and which make up the large bulk, 80%, of the oil. The two oils are combined and make the final rose attar.
Rose attar is mobile in room temperature and is usually clear, light yellow in color. It will form white crystals at normal room temperature which disappear when the oil is gently warmed. It will tend to become more viscous at lower temperatures due to this crystallization of some of its components.
The essence has a very strong odor, but is pleasant when diluted and used for perfume. Attar of roses was once made in India, Persia, Syria, and the Ottoman Empire. The Rose Valley in Bulgaria, near the town of Kazanlak, is among the major producers of attar of roses in the world. In India, Kannauj is an important city of fabrication of rose attar, Kannauj is nicknamed “The Grasse of the East” or “The Grasse of the Orient”. Grasse (in France) is an important city of fabrication of rose fragrance.
Due to the heat required for distillation, some of the compounds extracted from the rose denature or break down chemically. As such, rose attar does not smell very similar to “fresh” roses.