March Top Ten (Ross)

These are not arranged in order of wonderfulness or anything like that, but they are pretty much what I have found myself gravitating to through out the last month or two. I use my electric warmer quite a lot and my choices reflect this. The warmer opens up many more possibilities and also works well if smoke is an issue.

1. Divine Lover by Nathaneil Musselman
A Kyphi blend of very high standards and a wonderful scent. My recent review of this is here. Kyphi is a very old scent from Eygpt and that area that has been around for at least 3000 years. There are many different formulas for it, this one apparently comes from some new archalogical insights Quite a lot of it burned every night as an offering to Ra. One can only imagine what a city like Luxor smelled like when this was happening, rumor has it that the air got pretty thick with the smoke ( better smelling then LA however)  :)
2. Mermade Magickal Arts Aphrodesia
One of the best floral’s anywhere. You can see the write up here. High quality natural ingredients and a lot of attention to detail make for an incredible incense with none of the synthetic overtones that most florals seem to have. One of these incense triangles will nicely scent a room for quite awhile.
3. Shunkodo Yoshino no Haru
Perfect for the Spring. Spicy florals with Aloeswoods and a bit of camphor to give it a slight edge. This is compounded to invoke Cherry Blooms and it does the job, but not in the typical cloying sweet style. I pulled this out the other day and fell in love with it all over again. I use the thicker long stick which might put out more smoke and scent. It’s really a treat and the scent lingers nicely. Shunkodo is one of the best companies out there right now and Kotaro and Jay from Kohshi have done us all a great service by bringing the line into the US.
4. Daihatsu Sandalwood Sliced Chips
As far as I can tell, this is the best Sandalwood one can get here in the US. It has a superb aroma that gives one a whole new perspective on how Sandalwood is supposed to smell. A little goes a long way and by storing it in an air tight container it will last for a long time. This has pretty much become my reference point for how Sandalwood is really supposed to smell.
5. Baieido Byakudan-Kobunboku
This is easily one of the best deals in sandalwood sticks on the market. Baieido still uses Indian Sandalwood and it really shows. They make higher grades but for the money this is pretty hard to beat. So, yes, you can light up a bunch of sticks at one time and do up your whole environment. :o ) It’s very clean and very soothing, quite nice after work.
6. Baieido KADEN KOBUNBOKU
This is classic Baieido. A stunning mix of Aloeswoods, Sandalwoods and spices all balanced in harmony, yet each standing on its own. A pretty good trick and one that Baieido pulls off oh so well. I have the long stick, which goes for around fifty minuets or so. Its scent is extremely grounding and centering in nature. It also comes in many differnt sizes and price points.
7. Tennendo Enkuu – Horizon
There is nothing else that smells quite like this(at least that we can get here in the US, Shoyeido’s Nan-Kun used to be close but seems to have been reformulated of late.) A certain almost caramel/butterscotch note mixed in with a really nice Aloeswood. There is a really deep interplay of flavors though out the whole experience, it’s very captivating and to me, something very special.
8. Shunkohdo Kyara Seikan
This is basically Ranjatai with a supercharger bolted on. It is one of my absolute favorites and has done a lot of damage to my bank account. It is not that expensive but I like to burn a lot! The addition of the Kyara really makes it and it is not to be missed. The musk element in this stick is so captivating it can become very difficult too not just keep lighting more… You have been warned :)
9. Shoyeido FLORAL WORLD STAR     (bottom of page)
OK, this is sort of cheating as there are really three different scents in this set, but they are a really good mix that obviously is composed of very high quality ingredients. And yes, they also smell just ever so nice. Classic Shoyeido goodness here. The Jasmine and Violet sticks are a very good interpretation of the idea of the actual flowers and get the idea across while the sandalwood is just gorgeous.
10. Bosen Superior grade Vietnamese Hoi-An
I think this is a pretty good deal as far as Vietnamese woods go. It’s very much the straight up wood, hold the spice approach, and as such is rather refreshing and uncomplicated. Yet it also can really hold your attention and it perfect for meditation. It’s also at a fair price for something that will only continue to get more expensive and less available.

Some things to keep in mind about the state of incense at the moment. The actual availability of many of the raw ingredients( Aloewood/Sandalwood) is somewhat questionable right now. There are shortages of the higher quality woods and a lot of the blends we have gotten used to might be coming up for “reformulation” due to this. I think this is already happening within some of the major players. The price for the woods themselves is also very high right now and this will effect the street price and blends, probably sooner rather then later. Just something to keep in mind as you consider what to get during the coming months.

-Ross

Best Incense – February 2009 (by Nancy)

1. Kyukyodo / Yumemachi (4th down)- I really just can’t get enough of this incense. This company is just as old as some of the better known Japanese manufacturers, like Shoyeido, Baieido, and Nippon Kodo, but has a much smaller presence in the states. Intrigued by their pedigree I decided to purchase a small tube of Yumemachi from Essence of the Ages. Now that I have tried this incense I really wish I had more access to their catalog! There are so many companies that make a floral, a sandalwood, or a frankincense and it is interesting for sure to sample the many variations. However, I have yet to come across another incense like this one. Definitely a wood base but with what I believe is yuzu, or bitter orange, to round it out. This fruit is a cross between the sour mandarin orange and a specific type of asian lemon. Very interesting and delightful!

2. Baieido / Byakudan Kobunboku – I just keep coming back to this one. A very dry, complex wood, typical of Baieido’s signature style. This one brings me an immense sense of tranquility and I love to burn 4 or 5 sticks at a time all over the house, infusing the space with a peaceful stillness. Very layered and changeable, like a chameleon the scent morphs over time. Definitely one for contemplation. The Japanese word for enjoying incense literally translates as “listening to incense.” This one has much to say.

3. Shoyeido / Nokiba – One of the best incense bargains around! From Shoyeido’s Daily Incense line. I have a nostalgic love of this scent because it was one of the first Japanese-style incenses I every tried. I truly admire this company and have explored their line from top to bottom with many favorites picked up along the way. This one is a nice mossy wood, sweet and light. As the name states, this is a great Daily Incense.

4. Shoyeido / Kyo-no-ume - My first exploration into the traditional kneaded incenses. This style is made by combining plum pulp with ground herbs. The mixture is then placed in an earthen jar and buried, preferable along the moist bank of a river, and allowed to mature for a few years. When it is unearthed it is rolled into little balls that are burned on charcoal or warmed on a heater. This style of incense is very old and dates back hundreds, if not thousands of years. It has a definite time-transporting quality, with a thick creamy scent and a high note of aloeswood. This is a very traditional style of incense, much older than joss sticks or cones. A true artisan experience, presented in a beautiful porcelain container, hand painted with plum blossoms.

5. Shoyeido / Tokusen – This body powder has really expanded my appreciation of incense in it’s many forms. These were traditionally used to cleanse the aura before prayer or meditation. Wearing this 100% herbal powder not only brings me great olfactory enjoyment, it also provides a lovely tranquil cloud within which I can experience my day. A blend of spices with cinnamon, cloves, and camphor, yummy like chai tea!  This is the highest grade of body powder that they offer and it is definitely worth the extra investment.

6. Shoyeido / Ten-pyo – One of the most complex incenses I have ever experienced. Thick aloeswood notes are intertwined with an endless multitude of herbs and spices, layered like and onion. These are some of Shoyeido’s short sticks, only 2 ¾ inches long, but powerful enough to deliver quite the experience. Wow! I really love the Horin line in general and vacillate especially between this and Muro-machi. I recommend checking out the sampler of this line – each of the 5 is a very interesting experience.

7. Tennendo / Kohrokan – One of the richest sandalwoods I know. I really love this wood and this variation is a sure tribute to its true scent. Sweet, resinous and deep with a meditative quality. What more can I say? A pure wood captured with perfection.

8. Shoyeido / Miyako-gusa – One of Shoyeido’s Aesthetic incenses, a line that is low-smoke, formulated especially for those with allergies and sensitivities. This offering straddles the line between fruit and floral, hence the name “Botanica.” Decidedly feminine in nature without being overpowering or perfumey. Like a ray of sunshine, this blend lifts the spirits and dispels negative energy. [3/4/09 - Called Shoyeido today. As it turns out this incense is packaged just like the Aesthetic Series and is featured on Shoyeido's website on the same page but this and Shino-nome are officially NOT part of this series and are not 70% less smoke.]

9. Awaji-Baikundo / Byakudan – A lovely take on sandalwood. While Tennendo’s version stays true to the wood, this variation plays with it, blending it in a most interesting way with lemon. I really don’t know of any other company that has a sandalwood like this one. This company currently offers only 5 incenses in the US and everyone is worth checking out. Their formulations are unique, with a hydrangea tea base that lends a soft, lofty quality to the entire line. This plant is significant because it is used ceremonially to celebrate births, honor one’s ancestors, clear the mind of misfortune, relieve tension, promote a longer life, and grant you courage and happiness. Auspicious indeed!

10. Shoyeido / Ohjya-koh – A royal blend of aloeswood and camphor. One of the more affordable selections from Shoyeido’s Premium Incense line, which ranges in price from $15.95 all the way up to $599.00! There is something very regal and formal about this scent that keeps me coming back to it again and again. I love the way this incense pierces through and un-clouds my mind. I keep this one on hand at all times and really enjoy burning it at night when I go to sleep. I find that it empties and stills my mind in a lovely and gentle way.

Best Incense – January 2009 (Mike)

[For previous Top 10 lists, please click on the Incense Review Index tab above or the Top Ten Lists category on the left.]

  1. The Mother’s India Fragrances / Shanti Nagchampa – It’s been a few months since I did a personal top 10 and in those months, a lot of my sniffing has gone in the Indian direction, after all it’s the country most needing and least representative of reviews at ORS. Perhaps the most impressive discoveries have been the pentad of Nagchampas from MIF, old school durbars using a resin called mattipal at base. For most of us, the adulteration of ingredients in many mainstream champa incenses has been gradual, so it takes something richer to remind us of what we’ve lost across the board. The MIF champas are extraordinary, including this fabulous blend, one that may remind you of the Blue Pearl Spice Champa of yore that seems to have disappeared from the lists. As with all quality champas the aroma is heavenly, deep, expansive, complex and multiplex and this weaves new combinations like a kaleidoscope turning. All five are incredible, but I’m choosing my favorite two so as not to take up half this list, something I might easily do.
  2. The Mother’s India Fragrances / Ganesh Nagchampa – This might be the best of the MIF durbars, due to its most incredible lavender-infused bouquet, in fact this could be the most successful incense to use that delicate ingredient. The combination is startling in so many ways, giving the stick such a huge panoply of subscents, during my first three sticks I must have had my attention arrested numerous times. There are few durbars this incredible among a multitude of really interesting scents from a number of companies. If Shroff Channabasappa restored my faith in dry masalas, MIF has done it with durbars. One of the most incredible incenses ever created, a perfect base and a perfect perfume, it must be sampled to be believed.
  3. R-Expo/Bam Champa – Perhaps the best “unflavored” Nag Champa on the market at the moment, this fairly rare scent seems to have a healthy halmaddi component, reminding one of the old school Shrinivas blue box, but perhaps even more complex. I had a stick burning yesterday evening and was marvelling at how it spun out the old scent, vanilla hints, sandalwood and all of them at really high quality levels. Bummed you can’t find champas like you used to? Try this one. It doesn’t have any of the off notes in at least a half dozen champas I can think of.
  4. Shoyeido/Horin/Muro-machi (coils) – When I reviewed the Horins ages ago, I’d only tried coils on the low three. So it’s only dawned on me over time that the coils and sticks actually do differ slightly in scent. It may be the formats that do this, but the coils on all accounts seem to be slightly woodier and thus, in my opinion, superior to the sticks. Muro-machi, already a brilliant incense (in fact our group #1 pick for last year), just shines in coil form, giving out a fabulous woody element that has a slightly more submerged spikenard content than the sticks. But this has been something of an internal debate at ORS, the slight differences in scent across the Shoyeido spectrum. Which brings me to a very similar incense…
  5. Shoyeido / Premium / Nan-Kun – Nan-Kun and Ga-Ho are among my favorite incenses in any format to the extent where I wanted to spend some time not worrying about depleting my stock, leading me to purchases of the 135 stick boxes. What surprised me on both accounts was how different the incenses in these boxes smelled from the ones in the 35 silk starter boxes. In Nan-Kun’s case, very similar to the difference in coils and sticks in Muro-Machi, the 135 stick box’s incense had a much woodier aroma to it and, in fact, a bit muskier too, all of which improved my opinion of it yet again. Now this could be for several reasons. One, the top perfume oils in the 135s box had dissipated some. However that did not really explain why the incense’s performance had not waned. The other reason could be that there was an ingredients change from woods to oils and that the much slower selling bigger boxes hadn’t crossed the change divide yet. Needless to say it has spurred on quite a bit of guessing on my part. Except that while I love both incenses, I’d give the hair to the big box scent, it seems less perfumed and overall more natural. I’m continuing to wonder why.
  6. Shoyeido / Premium / Ga-Ho – The changes in Ga-Ho could be even more startling than in Nan-Kun. I’ve always wondered why the spikenard element in the list wasn’t so prevalent here like it is in the other few premiums containing it. When I lit the first “big box” Ga-Ho it was there like it had never been gone, sweet and caramel-like. not only that but the almost blackened tarry aloeswood smell in the 35 stick box wasn’t there, instead it was like real wood. The “big box” Ga-Ho, as a result, seems a lot more complex, although I must say I love that tarry element in the silk box. So here it’s like two variations on my favorite theme and I’m very happy with both.
  7. Fred Soll / Patchouli Champa – I used to buy Fred Soll’s incenses a lot more frequently in the past and figured it had been way too long since I’d checked the line out, noticing the number of incenses had nearly doubled since I’d last bought a stick (unfortunately the price went up quite a bit too, these are fairly deluxe sticks). I was pleased that out of the eight scents I tried now, with many more to come I hope, almost all of them were brilliant, with only the Honey Amber being different than I remembered. The patchouli in Patchouli Champa is just how I like it, a quality well above the oils found amongst Deadheads and the like, but still definitely earthy. Like many Fred Solls this one is so aromatic you don’t even really need to light it if you’re close. Not like any champa you’ve ever tried and as different in its own way as a Tibetan variant, in this case it still leads to a brilliant incense. But man these are sticky and hard to get out of the package (although it has NOTHING on the copal as far as that’s concerned)!
  8. Medicine King / Mandala Special Medicinal – Talk about a long learning curve, these Tibetan sticks are basically in the same class (and, often, price range) of the very best incenses: Tibetan Medical College, Highland and Samye Monastery. Made with the finest ingredients I’ve gone from thinking they were average to virtually deluxe with this one in the lead a hair in front of the Saffron Medicinal. You see, it took me almost ten sticks to notice these were as musky as Holy Land, Highland and Mindroling Grade 3, and when it clicked it was like getting a new incense. Spicy, deep, and wonderful, I’ll speak more on this one when I do a review. Great box artwork too.
  9. Nandi / Divine Flora – Nandi seem to concentrate on floral aromas so that means a number of charcoal based perfume sticks (which are all of uncommonly good quality) and a few durbars as well. Divine Flora might be the best of them and appears to be their best selling incense. It’s a wonderful Indian durbar that’s fairly difficult to describe, certainly floral like it says on the box, but spicy and rich as well. I’m not sure it’s a halmaddi champa per se but it’s distinct enough in its own right to be well worth checking out, it bowled me over on first light.
  10. Mystic Temple / Precious Forest – Mystic Temple do a number of very good durbars (I’m not nearly as fond of their masalas or charcoals) and Precious Forest could be their woodiest, with a really deadly beautiful perfume oil I find very addicting. As they’re very thick sticks, you only get a few sticks in a regular package, but it’s one aroma I may have to grab a 100g package of. The runners up here in the strongly sandalwood category of champas: Sacred Woods and Zen Meditation. All relatively new sticks that should cheer up the lapsing durbar fan. But as always, one wonders what they’d be like with the halmaddi increased.

The Olfactory Rescue Service 20 Best of 2008

While the Olfactory Rescue Service has provided monthly top 10 lists for the last year and a half or so, we’ve never had an opportunity to  provide a best of the year and thus present our first top 20 list. Before the countdown, however, are some disclaimers. First, we consider lists such as these to be anything but definitive. That is, they’re provided for a bit of fun and to perhaps spur some conversation and let us know what pleased our readers (the comments section is also open to YOUR favorites). As a combined top 20 list from the three ORS writers, consensus is rare, not just because we all have different tastes, but also because it’s unlikely all of us have tried each others’ picks given the diversity and quantity of what’s on the market. Thus the list is structured so that the first two picks are indeed a consensus among the three of us, while the next 10 or so are consensus among two of the three of us. The leftovers are provided as special picks from each individual, not only that we can get in a personal favorite, but also to balance out what is a largely Japanese-leaning list, undoubtedly the style of incense that has had the largest impact upon all of us. As an attempt at a group list, there are plenty of individual favorites left off the list, and we’ve also tried to concentrate to a slight extent on incenses fairly new to the market in 2008. As always this is for fun and to give us all a chance to remark on scents already reviewed elsewhere on this site. – Mike, Nancy and Ross

  1. Shoyeido/Horin/Muro-Machi – A remarkable full-on herbal immersion from Shoyeido‘s Horin line. High acrid notes and a deep and layered quality of roots, barks, and woods make this incense perfect for contemplative olfaction. Coming in at a diminutive 2.75 inches, this potent stick can easily scent a large room. Truly a masterpiece! Like Jihi below, this is a rare consensus pick for us, earning a top spot on this list. (Nancy)
  2. Awaji-Baikundo/Jihi – Awaji-Baikundo is basically the revelation of 2008, their first year of being exported to the US. Jihi is one of five AB incenses and is a scintillating combination of hydrangea tea, amber and spices. One of our two full consensus picks, Jihi abounds in oils and spices, creating a new and totally distinctive aroma that is friendly, sweet and memorable. (Mike)
  3. Tennendo/Enkuu – Arguably one of the best incenses in the world. A favorite here at ORS. Wonderful high grade aloeswood mixed with spices and herbs. Sharp, dry-ish and oh so elegant. Not to be missed. (Ross)
  4. Shunkohdo/Kyara Seikan – An incredibly potent stick for being so thin, this is kyara that cuts like a razor, every bit of aroma like fragrant euphoria. Sweet, pungent and totally memorable, it’s also one of the most affordable and genuine kyara incenses on the market. An ascendant version of Shunkohdo’s Ranjatai and one of 2008’s finest newcomers to these shores. (Mike)
  5. Baieido/Kun Sho – Any of Baieido’s five distinguished, pawlonia-boxed aloeswood blends could have easily been on a list such as this, but perhaps the middle incense, Kun Sho, could be the best deal for the price. Cambodian aloeswood with a cherry-like sweetness, this is smooth, elegant and startling in every moment of its burn. Definitely the sleeper hit in the whole line and a guaranteed conversation stopper. (Mike)
  6. Awaji-Baikundo/Wabi-Sabi – One of two recent AB exports, Wabi-Sabi is yet another totally distinctive and unusual blend created mostly from the caramel-like sweetness of spikenard and the herbal, tangy notes of reiryo root. What that combination doesn’t tell you is what a dark, aromatic and coffee bean like stick it is, hitting every note of what a coffee incense should be like but often isn’t. Improves consistently with use and familiarity. (Mike)
  7. Shoyeido/Premium/Myo-Ho – The deep purple coloring of this stick kind of sums it up. It seems to have a rather transformational and mysterious quality to it. It’s also a good bit less money then the top of the line Sho-Kaku, but to me every bit as deep and rich in taste. Top notch kyara, quite
    wonderful. (Ross)
  8. Tennendo/Tensei – A pungent blend of aloeswood and amber. Sweet and heavy, stimulating and intense. This incense lingers on, sometimes for days, developing into the resinous suggestion of aroma. A penetrating formula that awakens both the senses and the mind. (Nancy)
  9. Baieido/Jinko Kokoh – Dense, sublime and elegant. Baieido Vietnamese aloeswood at its best. Not inexpensive, but worth it, especially if you love aloeswood. This is done in a very classic style and lets the wood speak for itself. It is so very captivating and deserves the attention! (Ross)
  10. Shoyeido/Horin/Ten-Pyo – Yet another herbal  masterpiece from Shoyeido’s Horin line. The name translates as “Peaceful Sky,” hinting at the ethereal and mind-altering quality of this blend. Quality aloeswood is the base, with a harmonious, almost medicinal blend of herbs. Very smooth and tranquil. (Nancy)
  11. Shoyeido/Premium/Nan-Kun – Somehow the translation of the name (Southern Wind) really comes through in this blend. Never really sweet, but very fresh, like a desert wind through a lush oasis. Of all the non kyaras in the Shoyeido line this one just gets to me the most. There is also a certain similarity to Tennendo’s Enkuu. A side by side comparison is great fun! (Ross)
  12. Sawayaka Kobunboku (also called Koh) – An amazing sandalwood recipe from the masters at Baieido. Straight up
    wood in its truest, most mesmerizing form. So light and yummy, I am quickly becoming addicted to this one. Induces a meditative state like no other sandalwood I know. (Nancy)
  13. Shoyeido/Horin/Gen-Roku – The whole Horin line from Shoyeido is a good bet at any level. Gen-Roku is in the middle and the starting point where it moves into the woods rather than spices. Big aloeswood and resin presence in this one, quite nice and at a reasonable price. (Ross)
  14. Mermade Magickal Arts/Spirit Temple – Mermade uses the best ingredients possible and puts them together in wonderful blends. This one has lots of very high grade Hougary Frankincense plus aloeswood, sandalwood and others. A beautiful, rich and full scent and way under priced compared to Japanese incenses. (Ross)
  15. Tibetan Medical College/Holy Land – The ultimate Tibetan revelation, one of the most potent, electric and transcendent incenses on the planet. Woody, stately and created from unusual extracts and medicinal substances, this is a scent you will not soon forget and will haunt your memory and become an obsession. Tremendous mojo here. (Mike)
  16. Shroff Channabasappa/Red Sandal – Perhaps the best incense from perhaps the best line of Indian masalas, this is a classic in a range of classics. Like many Shroffs, it combines amazing sandalwood oil with natural and classy floral perfumes for a fragrance that is instantly addictive. This line was responsible for a personal Indian incense revival around these parts and  I burned through a third of my starter package in about two weeks. (Mike)
  17. Mother’s India Fragrances/Ganesh Champa – A lavender infused champa that is so delicate, classy and magnificent that it would have likely headed a personal top 10 of December had we not been composing this list. There are durbars and then there are durbars, this is slow burning and ultimately divine. Even those turned off from the usual lavender oils should give this one a sniff, it’s in a class of its own. (Mike)
  18. Kyukyodo/Yumemachi – A new favorite of mine from a company that predates the better known Shoyeido and Baieido. Blending sandalwood with orange peel in a most delightful confection. Yum! Very nice as a daily incense and a bargain at just under $10 per roll. (Nancy)
  19. Nu Essence/Nuit – A smooth, deep and sultry rose/jasmine blend for charcoal or an incense heater. Extremely high quality oils, resins and woods go into this wonderful blend. I find this type of scent to be one of the hardest to do well and Nu Essence makes what might be the “gold” standard. (Ross)
  20. Shoyeido/Premium/Ohjya-Koh – From Shoyeido’s Premium Incense line, an affordable offering from a series with a price range that spans from $15.95 all the way up to $599.00. The scent is very crisp, combining sandalwood with cloves and patchouli. It is refreshing and almost minty, with an obvious camphor note, cool and relaxing. (Nancy)

What was your best of 2008? Let us know in the comments, whether it’s one incense or several. Thanks to all of you for reading Olfactory Rescue Service and have a great holiday!

November Top Ten – from Ross

1. Nippon Kodo Tokusen Kyara Taikan Aloeswood
The more I use this the more I like it, not to mention that it gets rave reviews from many people that come through where I live. The combination of oils, spices and Kyara is wonderfully smooth and elegant. Quite additive.
2. Tennendo Enkuu
This is pretty much always on my top ten lists and for good reason. High quality Aloeswood and a somewhat dry and captivating blend of spices and herbs. If you have not tried this at least get a sampler, If you like incense you owe it to yourself to try this one, its that good.
3. Kyukyodo Spring
I lucked out and got a box of this, its not sold in the US (but there’s always hope that the US distributors for Kyukyodo might get gutsy and expand the line up here  :o ) )
It is along the lines of the ever wonderful Sho-Ran-Ko, but (I’m going over the top here boys, cover me) more refined and cleaner, not to mention a lot more money for fewer sticks. Quite an amazing scent with an oh so smooth delivery. Look for a longer review in early 09.
4. Baieido Kokonoe (Imperial Palace)
I use this a lot, it has a great wood scent using Indonesian Aloeswood’s with just a touch of floral (real faint, almost like an illusion) plus camphor, it also costs less then the others in this series. It’s a great combination and like so many of the incenses that Baieido puts out it’s a great deal as well having a very long enjoyment (learning) curve built in. A bit ore approachable then the more expensive ones in this line.
5. Baieido Bikou Kobunboku (Third Down)
This is pretty much what I burn most mornings when I wake up. I love the play of the Sandalwood, Aloeswood and cinnamon plus all the other spices. It is perhaps a little lighter then some of the others in the Kobunboku line. For around $20.00 you get a 90 gram box which seems to have around 200 sticks, maybe more. There is even a smokeless version, you can’t go wrong here.
6. Awaji-Baikundo Wabi-Sabi
Let me just say God (which ever one you like :o )  ) bless the guys at Japan Incense for bringing this company over here! There is a review coming soon on this one from Nancy, ( no pressure ) so all I am going to say is that it’s really very good, plus a bit unusual. Well ok, to me, it rocks.
7. Shoyeido EN-MEI
From Shoyeido’s Daily Premium line. Sandalwood and spices in the way that Shoyeido does so well. I find the scent wakes me up yet at the same time is centering. The ingredients list has patchouli and clove listed but there is a whole lot more going on then that. Shoyeido can be so coy about these things.
8. Nu Essence Nuit
A stunning combination of woods, resins, jasmine and rose in a loose incense form. There is also a touch of camphor that just sends it all over the top. A little goes a long way, perfect for electric heaters or charcoal. Based on esoteric teachings and writings and quite a treat for anyone right now. Nu Essence uses very high quality ingredients to blend up some very timeless and potent incense.
9. Mermade Magickal Arts Spirit Temple
If you like Frankincense you will love this one. It’s made with Hougary Frankincense and lots of other very high grade aromatics in a sort of flat cone shape. It is very strong in all the right ways. Perfect for the high holy days coming up. Mermade goes to great lengths to use the best and it shows.
10. Mermade Magickal Arts Wild Wood
Made from many different woods and resins in a loose incense format. When gently heated it smells just like a cool forest at sunrise. Really quite nice at the end of the day as a restorative. Wonderful stuff.

Best Incense – October 2008 (by Nancy)

 
1.  Awaji-Baikundo / Jihi – Most of us know hydrangea as the common garden bush with enormous flower clusters.  It is sensitive to the pH of soil, blooming pink when alkaline and blue when acidic.  Here it is mixed with the famous substance know simply as amber, an ancient Ayurvedic blend of benzoin resin and vanilla in a beeswax base, that elevates consciousness and opens the heart chakra.  In Japan hydrangea is used in both celebrations and offerings, said to clear the mind of misfortune, relieve tension, and grant one courage and happiness.  This very unusual incense is a blend of the two with a delicate, sweet and exquisite scent with just a hint of camphor to round it out.  The heavy, earthiness of the amber is a perfect foil for the pale, airy nature of the hydrangea, resulting in a mind-blowing combination of cultures and aromas.  The day I received my first box of this incense, I spent about an hour burning stick after stick, lying in savasana, with the burner placed mere inches from my nose so as not to miss a single molecule.  Now it is one of my favorites to light at night; I find it helps me drift off into a most peaceful sleep.  This incense is produced on Awaji, an island located off the coast of Osaka in the Seto Inland Sea, where 70% of Japan’s incense is manufactured.

2.  Shoyeido / Premium Incense / Ohjya-koh (King’s Aroma) – Made by Shoyeido, a 12th generation incense manufacturer founded in 1705.  This company is considered to produce some of the finest, most natural incense in the world.  Burning traditional Japanese herbal incense is an incomparable experience, nothing like burning charcoal dipped in a synthetic perfume.  The roots, barks, resins, oils, leaves, and flowers used have actual medicinal and psychotropic properties that are not replicated by artificial copies.  King’s Aroma is from Shoyeido’s Premium Incense line, a collection with a price range that spans from $15.95 all the way up to $599.00.  King’s Aroma is one of the less expensive options, and one that I find a lot more accessible to my western nose.  The scent is very crisp, combining sandalwood with cloves and patchouli.  It is refreshing and almost minty, but relaxing instead of being  stimulating.  Truly one to savor and best used on special occasions.

3.  Shoyeido / Horin / Muro-machi (City of Culture) – Like their Xiang Do and Incense Road lines, Shoyeido’s Horin line comes in potent 2.75″ sticks.  I truly enjoy this line as much for the clever packaging as for its unusual and unique scents.  Each box contains 20 sticks in a clever paper puzzle box with a biodegradable burner tucked away into a separate compartment.  City of Culture is my favorite of the five from this collection, a very unique blend that is not resinous or floral but decidedly herbal.  There is an additional almost acrid overtone as well making this one of the most unusual incenses I have ever smelled.  I find it complex and entrancing, perfect for meditation, with a deep and layered quality.  Truly a masterpiece!  Also available in coils, the Horin incenses are definitely one of the most remarkable and unique offering from Shoyeido’s extensive catalog.

4.  Keigado / West Temple – Incense burning has a long and ancient history of use in asian cultures as a measure of time.  Before mechanical clocks, incense blends were refined and calibrated as much for scent as for consistency of burn time.  At 12 inches long, this extra thick, slow-burning blend smolders for an amazing 90 minutes!  Designed specifically for meditation and prayer, the burning of this incense delineates the perfect length of a meditation session, allowing you to ignore time for a spell and focus inward.  Delicious and rich, West Temple is an unadulterated stick of the finest sandalwood, with the true scent of the wood coming through.  It is intended to be used in the evening, west being the direction of the setting sun.  It’s perfect compliment is East Temple, also from Keigado, a spicier and more stimulating blend of sandalwood, ideal for morning meditations.

5.  Shoyeido / Xiang Do / Peppermint – Coming in at a diminutive 2.75″ and with a total burning time of only 20 minutes, these short incense sticks are potent enough to fill even a large room.  While most incense is extruded and cut to length, Shoyeido’s Xiang Do series is pressed into shape with an exclusive process.   Each little box of sticks comes with a tiny biodegradable burner made of pressed paper tucked into a secret compartment on the underside of the package.  This makes them perfectly portable for traveling or when going on a hike in the woods with the intent of having a little outdoor nature meditation.  The Xiang Do series has 16 flavors in a rainbow of colors, each sparkling like jewels due to the inclusion of powdered mica in the blends.  Flavors range from woods like Frankincense and Palo Santo, to florals like Rose and Lavender, and a few more cryptic flavors like Mixed Fruits and Marine.  My most favorite of all is the Peppermint.  Such an unusual variety of incense executed beautifully with just the right amount of peppermint coming through in the very last note of each waft.  Peppermint is energetically cooling, used in herbal medicine to tame fevers, heartburn, sore throats, and the like.  As an incense I find it most appropriate for hot summer afternoons.

6.  Baiyeido / Bayakudan Kobunboku – A delicious, light mix of sandalwood and aloeswood.  The perfect blend of two of the most famous incense woods, suitable for daily use.  Sandalwood is so valued for its aroma and healing properties that all of the trees in India and Nepal are officially owned by the government, its sale being heavily regulated by CITES and other trade agreements.  It is used extensively in churches and temples because it induces a meditative state of mind.  Aloeswood, even more rare, is an aged wood formed when injured trees produce an abundance of resin, then fall to rest on the forest floor, sometimes for hundreds of years.  In this incense, neither wood dominates the other, blending together perfectly to form yet another scent, one that strongly imparts a sense of peace and relaxation.  I burn this one 5 sticks at a time, practically smudging my house.  This incense is very woodsy without being heavy, harsh, or too smoky.  A nice blend devoid of distraction or ornamentation, pure and simple and reminiscent of the warm burn of an open campfire.

7.  Baiyeido / Kai un Koh – An unusual square stick of incense with the pronounced aroma of cloves.  Traded heavily since the middle ages, this common spice was once worth its weight in gold.  Actually the bud of an evergreen tree native to Indonesia, cloves contain about 15% essential oil, the highest percentage of any plant.  Because of this high oil content cloves are always used sparingly, whether to flavor tobacco, curries, chai, or incense.  Unlike most blends, this one is motivating and energizing, pungent and even slightly bitter, but still with a high note of sweetness.  Cloves are energetically warming with a heavy spiciness, so this incense is best suited for cooler seasons or chilly mornings.  Sharp and aromatic, I find Kai un Koh to be mentally stimulating as well, making it an ideal choice to enjoy during  philosophical conversations.

8.  Keigado / Kaori – Smooth and mellow, burning this incense is like floating on a fluffy cloud.  The honey gives this stick a warmth and sweetness, while the sandalwood adds depth and weight.  This blend reminds me of toasted marshmallows or honey wine aged to perfection.  Along with Awaji-Baikundo’s Jihi, this is one of my favorites to burn when I go to sleep at night.  Far from being cloying and sticky, this honey incense is light and airy.  Like Nag Champa, this incense works well for covering heavy cooking odors, but distinguishes itself from the Indian blend by avoiding an perfumey overtones.  Very clean and natural and beautifully packaged in a colorful  six-sided  box.

9.  Shoyeido / Aesthetics Series / Shino-nome (First Light) – A light blend of sandalwood and cinnamon from Shoyeido’s Aesthetic Series, a line designed to produce less smoke than their traditional blends.  I burn this one at my acupuncture practice and everyone who walks through the door comments that they love it.  Also, it is less smoky so it doesn’t irritate those with sensitive lungs or eyes.  I burn only half a stick at a time and find it enough to clear the air.  (The other half I usually burn in the planter outside for those passing by to enjoy.)  This incense is rich and  uplifting.  It is universally loved and is one of my favorites for gift giving.  For the true addicts, Shoyeido even offers a 10-bundle gift box!

10.  Minorien / Frankincense – Minorien produces only five kinds of incense: Sandalwood, Frankincense, Aloeswood, Kyara, and Kyara Ryugen.  If you appreciate frankincense, this is a great way to experience it in its pure form!  I love this wood, but find most other varieties to either be too strong or combined with too many other ingredients, hiding the pure scent.  Frankincense is very resinous and can be overpowering, so skilled preparation is essential.  The smell is definitely heavy and woody, with a deep aromatic quality like cinnamon or cloves.  First mentioned in the Chinese literature in 500 AD it was then referred to as fan hun my  or “calling back the soul fragrance,” a reference to its use in funerary rites.  It has also been used for prayer, meditation, anointing, and even medicine, both topically and internally for pain.  It is related to myrrh and both species of tree grow primarily Somalia and the southern Arabian peninsula.  Like sugar maples, the trees are tapped for their sap, which is harvested and hardens into “tears” over the course of a few months.  This wood and its resin has been so valuable and important to human civilization that The Frankincense Trail in Oman, which includes ancient trees and the remains of a medieval caravan oasis, has been registered with UNESCO as a World Heritage Site since 2000.

Best Incense – September 2008

[For previous Top 10 lists, please click on the Incense Review Index tab above or the Top Ten Lists category on the left.]

  1. Shoyeido / Premium / Ga-Ho – The price on Shoyeido premiums necessitates some discipline in terms of frequency of burning, but despite all attempts at restraint, I’m closing in on the halfway point of my “silk box” and eyeing the bigger roll and wondering how I can afford one in this sinking economy. I just can’t get enough of what may be my very favorite incense. This one’s dry, unlike any other incense, heavy with high quality aloeswood, and the oil/perfume is stupendous. Just can’t get enough of this one. Extremely exotic and not nearly as immediate as the rest of the line.
  2. Shoyeido / Premium / Nan-Kun – And almost for a different reason, Nan-Kun is nearly as addictive. I think my appreciation for musk is higher of late due to all the Tibetans and while Nan-Kun gets its muskiness likely from the very high quality and heavy use of spikenard, it still itches that same spot while hitting the aloeswood and spice buttons at the same time. This one is very animal and rich, with an almost poignant sweetness to it. Possibly the best buy for money in the Shoyeido Premium line. To my nose, I enjoy Ga-Ho and Nan-Kun as much as the expensive kyaras in the line.
  3. Shunkohdo / Kyara Seikan – Seikan sticks are thin enough to look like they’d break in a strong wind, but their aromatic power for such a size is always startling, even if one does have to quiet down to “hear” it. In many ways this is the kyara incense that really focuses on the wood and while there are obvious ingredients that bolster the aroma, the sweet, sultry smell of the wood is central. A superlatively brilliant incense that I can barely get enough of.
  4. Tibetan Medical College / Holy Land – Down to about 15 sticks left in my box and I practically need disciplined meditation to stay away from it given the wait for a restock (when I go nuts). The very apex of Tibetan incense, a stick that rivals any country’s best work.
  5. Highland Incense – Highland’s the trusty #2 Tibetan brand for me as I wait for more Holy Land, a combination of animal (musk, civet?) and herbal spice that is incredibly comforting and relaxing right before sleep (I often burn about 2 inches of a stick as I drift off). Becoming a standard around here, don’t let this one go out of stock before you try it!
  6. Baieido / Kunsho – My recent musing is wondering whether Kunsho, the third most premium of five in Baieido’s Pawlonia box line, might be equal or better than the fourth, Koh En. As I get to know Baieido incense, more and more do I think you’re getting your best value for money from their products. I could see Kunsho at almost twice the price and still be worth it. Slightly cherry-esque with a very balanced and noble wood to it, this is truly impressive incense.
  7. Shoyeido / Premium / Myo-Ho – Definitely my favorite among the supernal trio heading Shoyeido’s premium line. It still strikes me like an electric muscat, deep, aromatic and sweet with an aloeswood strength that constantly reminds you of the incense’s depth. Another scent that’s painful to watch as your supply dwindles.
  8. Lung Ta / Drib Poi – I am returning to this Tibetan stick fairly often even though in doing so I keep sampling the rest of the line and wonder why I like this one so much more. I think it must be the curry-ish spice to it which seems missing in the others, a green-ish , exotic tinge that brings out the ingredient complexity.
  9. Minorien / Aloeswood – As I cycle through various incenses I often come across this one and am impressed all over again, particularly surprising as the two above it in the Minorien line are more refined and impressive. But there’s something so ancient and hoary about this aloeswood that it tends to scratch that itch I have with aloeswoods that aren’t too sweet. Like Baieido, Minorien’s products have a way of continuing to impress long after one’s initial purchase.
  10. The Direct Help Foundation / The Druid – I’m not sure this incense is still available, it was originally part of the Magic Tantra set and maybe one other, but perhaps it will show up again in the future. It’s actually somewhat similar in its salty herbalness to the Tibetan Medical College incenses, although not at all musky or dense like those. I’m not sure what the active ingredients is here, the mosses or something else, but the results are a very pleasant blend I hope comes back in the future. Because when TDHF get it right like they do here, they’re among the best.

Best Incense – August 2008

[For previous Top 10 lists, please click on the Incense Review Index tab above or the Top Ten Lists category on the left.]

  1. Tibetan Medical College / Holy Land – The question du jour: When is Essence going to restock this? Yes, I know I haven’t come close to finishing up the box yet. Yes, it’s probably a waste to burn 50 sticks of this at once, but I won’t know for sure until I try. Anyway, while the answer is certainly ASAP, I hope my (mild) anxiety over this reflects just how totally and completely crushed over Holy Land I am. It’s quite likely to be my favorite incense for quite a while as only…
  2. Highland Incense – …is anywhere close to how I feel about it. In fact Highland here comes pretty darn close as a #2 and as the product of a retired Tibetan Medical College doctor, it’s not difficult to think about these two in the same breath. But where Holy Land gets the step due to its unbelieavable floral middle, which comes out the most when you’re not looking for it, Highland has such a balanced muskiness with a nice sweetness that it also constantly compels me to return to the box.
  3. Baieido / Jinko Kokoh – Every premium series seems to have its own character and style and the kokohs aren’t any different. In fact the defining aspect, at least of the Byukaden and Jinko Kokohs, is more so the ingredients other than the woods. Particularly the borneol and spices which seem to be at about the highest, natural level available in these incenses. They help to make these among the most penetrating incenses available. Would love to see these in long stick form.
  4. Baieido / Kunsho – I think it dawns on anyone using any one of the five Baieido aloeswoods (in Pawlonia boxes) that the series is strong from top to bottom, but it really takes a good half a box to realize just how great they really are. I’d been a little late grabbing a Kunsho box, but so glad I did as every stick is an exercise in reflection. Sweet, deep, classy, refined, this one may be just as good as the next step up Koh En. Or at least I think so this week.
  5. Shunkodo / Kyara Aioi no Matsu - I’m so enamored with Kyara Seikan that it occludes my view on the Aioi no Matsu. The other issue is the AnM suffers pretty hard with aromatic fatigue, given that so much of its majesty is in the very top spice notes. But when you get everything, it’s truly extraordinary with a dozen or so different aspects going on. A tremendously complicated blend.
  6. Samye Monastery / Samathabadra – This would have been a little higher earlier in the month when I was finding it difficult not to burn it a bunch. It’s an unusual incense, more consonant when you’re not paying too much attention but extremely diverse when you are, as you notice all the aspects to it. And there’s really no other incense quite like it, dark, rich, mysterious and ambrosial.
  7. Shoyeido / Premium / Ga-Ho – I just can never get enough of this one, an easy all-time top 5 pick and my favorite Shoyeido premium. It’s dry and spicy/heavily resinated wood one-two attack gets me every time. The day I buy 135 sticks is the day it becomes a #1 pick for a few months.
  8. Encens du Monde / Meditation / Guiding Light – Probably because it’s fairly essential oil heavy, this incense does a fantastic job scenting a larger area over time. I really adore the smell of this one, especially after about half a long stick has burned. Even with all the oils this is at essence a very complex, very woody incense. Just one or two sticks a month tends to push it into my monthly best.
  9. Tennendo / Karafune Kahin-Gold – It took me a while to come around to this series, in fact had I written the review today I’d have compared them to the above-mentioned Baieido aloeswood series as they’re really that difficult to parse. Over time I’ve been noticing just how quality the aloeswood is in this and (in lesser quantity) the Silver. But now these are starting to really grow on me and I’m starting to notice more of the woody qualities. Sleeper hits for sure.
  10. Tibetan Medical College / Nectar – This one has fallen due to the Holy Land, which seems in comparison to be more of a B grade, but this is a B grade better than most A grades. The intensity of the spices isn’t as high and I suspect that’s due to juniper berry. But it’s still one of those incenses you can smell the musk straight off the stick and it only suffers in comparison to Holy Land

Best Incense – July 2008

[For previous Top 10 lists, please click on the Incense Review Index tab above or the Top Ten Lists category on the left.]

  1. Baieido / 350th Anniversary Sandalwood – This is arguably not even the best of the three incenses in this magnificent (and now deleted) anniversary set, but it was the most revelationary one to my nose, in that this is possibly the best sandalwood I’ve ever tried, with a quality of wood so high it’s like it becomes something else. It’s as if the aromatics and/or wood resins are so fine that they’re like an aged liquor. Given the incenses similarities to Baieido’s Kokoh series (at least the Jinko anyway), I wanted the Byukaden Koko right away. Without this entry I might have given the slot (if a bit lower on the list) to Kyukyodo Yumemachi, not quite as deluxe but still an amazing sandalwood.
  2. Baieido / Koh En – An incense I’ve returned to over and over in the last couple months, there’s something just at the edge of comprehension on this one. For one thing I believe this uses the Hakusui Vietnamese incense, a really gentle yet startling aloeswood, but the spices that accentuate the wood really bring it out. It’s like orbiting a new planet, no matter what spot you’re over there’s something new to look at. This line of aloeswoods might be the most sublime out there.
  3. Highland Incense – I’m over the moon with some of the higher end Tibetan sticks these days, and you really have to credit Essence of the Ages whose archaeological skills are unparalleled at bringing us these really legitimate and otherwordly monastery incenses. Highland’s one of the muskiest, most ever-present incenses you can imagine and will set off subconscious impressions for ages even based on the burn of an inch of stick. It’s about as deep and intense as a Japanese incense even if the aloeswood content is mostly a side note. But the musk here will redefine your experience. I hope they were gentle.
  4. Tibetan Medical College / Nectar (TPN) – If Highland really hit me the most the second or third time around, this Nectar hit between the eyes right in the middle of the third one. It’s an electric, intuition-triggering polyherbal blend like you wouldn’t believe. It reminds me a little of the Tashi Lhunpo Shing Kham Kun Khyab with a massive helping of lama juju. It’s clear, red and has a weird kind of kundalini playfulness to it. It made me want to order the entire college’s catalog.
  5. Shoyeido / Premium / Nan-Kun – A three-way hit of animal depth, spikenard sweetness and aloeswood infinity, it’s the most inexpensive of the Premiums to have this much higher mind impact. Everything above this level refines this sort of sweet musk, but here it’s wild and uninhibited. Starting to become an all-time favorite.
  6. Samye Monastery / Samanthabadra – Soon to be corrected, this is the only high end Tibetan incense I have in stock right now, so the samples of the other high enders have had me returning to this all month. It was my first incense of this level, and found the depth of scent and purity of ingredients to be startling and over time almost addictive. I’m not even sure I could describe this one, except that it’s highly likely the pangolin scales have a real distinct and dimension-adding effect to the overall aroma. Definitely 5x the aroma of most lowest end Tibetans, humming with the essence of the inner planes.
  7. Dzongsar Incense – You get the impression with most Tibetan incense sticks are mostly wood, at least in base and while that’s still true for Dzongsar it’s such a thick and heavy stick one wonders if it’s not made from clay. Aromatically it has similarities to a lot of Tibetan incenses that have difficult (for the Westerner anyway) ingredients (think White Pigeon, the side notes to Mandala Trading Tibetan Monastery, Essence’s Ayurvedic ropes), but in this case they’re refined to the point that it’s a lot easier to see their brilliance. Tangy, rich and definitely multi-dimensional, I think I’ve only barely begun seeing how good this one is.
  8. Shunkohdo / Kyara Seikan – I would feel weird leaving Shunkohdo off of a top 10 list given how much I use their products, many of them are virtual regulars around my place (Yae No Hana in particular nearly makes every monthly list). This kyara blend is always amazing to me due to how penetrating, sharp and sweet the aroma is. Like Baieido, no matter what Shunkohdo do, they never drown out the central wood notes. And I’m finding this one is complex enough to notice different things about it than I did when I first got a box.
  9. Tennendo / Enkuu – If newness wasn’t such a variable factor for these top 10 lists, Enkuu would likely make it every month, it’s quite simply one of my favorite incenses. I’m finding with some of the intense high enders like this that a little goes a very long way and have been finding myself taking out a stick and putting it in a burner and then burning it by thirds. Usually a third of the way down it’s scented the room like most incenses after a full stick. Shoyeido Sho-kaku is also perfect for this and could have interchanged with this selection easily. No doubt that one will be on next month’s again just based on one stick over the last few days.
  10. Lung Ta / Drib Poi – Ever proving the same rule that any incense this complex isn’t revealed in full until at least the fourth stick, I wanted to slip this fantastic, affordable Tibetan (or maybe Brazilian-Tibetan) in here due to its ever-revealing complexity. And it’s the most simple in the line!

Starter Incenses (Coming Soon)

To add some more fun and discussion worthy topics to Olfactory Rescue Service, Ross and I are working up a combined top 10 list for various topics. Our first topic, to be aired some time next week, is the Top 10 best starter incenses. I wanted to mention this early in case anyone wanted to chime in on what they might like to see in this direction. Would it be better to aim for inexpensive incenses? A range from high end to low enders? Maybe a Top 10 list that adds up under a certain price? Do let us know and we’ll keep it mind as we work up the list.

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