Tsheringma / Men-Sang Ja-Tsa Gyed

So here’s a bit of a change up on the Bhutanese scale. Men-Sang Ja-Tsa Gyed isn’t a purple or Jaju incense but something a lot heartier and more wood-based in fact it’s something of a spitting image of a campfire sort of scent. I think this one’s likely, as a result, to be a bit harsh for some users. I had a friend once smell something similar to it and called it “burnt tire,” an allusion that has always struck me as being true enough, but mostly in low quality Nepalese Tibetan incenses which are primarily cheap woods. I don’t really get that’s as much of the case here, it feels more like its just heavily woody, after all the description says that this has over 108 different ingredients. But this is not quite what I’d call a western friendly incense overall.

However let’s also look at the caveats on the package. This is one of the first incenses I’ve ever seen with what passes for a sell by date. It not only says to store this in an airtight container but that it’s best before 10 months from manufacture. The date on mine says Februry 26, 2020, which means we’re well over that at this point and I don’t know where it travelled. On the other hand 10 months is perhaps a reasonable sell by date for a lot if incenses that may lose some addition heft in the early months. So I’m not sure really how much I’m losing burning it now and I’m particularly not sure if there are some fainter or missing top notes now, but I’d guess they’re still relatively minor.

Anyway the incense is a bit sweet, quite herbal in the profile, along with the woodiness. It has something of a cooling middle and a very streamlined whole for an incense with as many ingredients as it claims. It’s fairly unlike any other Bhutanese incense I’ve sampled and there’s some more grassy herbal notes that take over the profile at times as well. Overall, it’s a bit of a hard sell and certainly not my first choice from Bhutan so buyer beware.

Temple of Incense / Nag Champa Gold; Oudh Masala; Dhoop Cones / Absolute Sandalwood, Benzoin, Frankincense, Lavender, Oudh, Rose, Vetiver

Temple of Incense Part 13
Temple of Incense Part 14
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

Wrapping up the Temple of Incense reviews is everything else I managed to get that was in stock. After these reviews, the only things missing are the Palo Santo cones, and the Bakhoor aloeswood chips which I may review at a later date. Also, want to note that both Mike and I figured we had covered Nag Champa Gold but I’ll insert that here as we both didn’t manage to review the ToI version of this famous stick.

Starting with Nag Champa Gold, one of the flagships of the HH line is also a flagship here. This is essentially the same stick. For those unfamiliar, this is a very dry and astringent version of the famous nag champa scent. It has gold flakes/dust that comes from mica. I was told that this is actual waste from statuary production and since mica doesn’t tend to add anything to a scent it is purely aesthetic, like eating gold leaf. The stick itself is a yellowish bamboo core with a extruded charcoal-based masala dusted in tan and gold dust. The oil of the magnolia in this is exquisite and scents the stick before you light it. After lighting, the saltiness of the sandalwood and a touch of halmaddi/vanilla to give it some sweetness. My understanding is that if you used to like this stick a decade ago that it has a touch less halmaddi in it which makes it drier and more astringent. Overall, this is still one of the better Nag Champas on the market.

Absolute Sandalwood Dhoop Cone is an all black charcoal cone with oils added. This should not be confused with incense sticks of the same name because this is not similar in any way. This has some of the same oils I think go into Sandalwood Extreme, as this is a fairly good representation of Mysore sandalwood in all it’s salted butter notes. There is a touch of something sweet like maybe a hint of benzoin in here as well but it only seems to come out and play briefly before it gets coated in santalum smells.

Benzoin Prayer Dhoop Cone has a different format for cones, this is more like a thick cylinder that might be as big as 3-4 of the other sized cones. My biggest complaint on this is that they are harder to light without a graduated tip, but they give off a bigger smoke/smell and burn a lot longer. If you like the Benzoin Absolute stick that they make, this is a great continuation of that scent. This is a less sweet version of benzoin, while I’m still not an expert on the resin localities, this one doesn’t have the vanilla mashmallow scent and instead is something more like baking marzipan cookies and gunpowder. This is possibly my favorite of the cones I’ve reviewed in terms of scent.

Another in the cylinder format, Frankincense Prayer Dhoop Cone is different in that instead of being an all-charcoal base, this looks like pressed sawdust. This is a good representation of the boswellia sacra resin, it has a clean, citrusy scent that is a bit crisper and cleaner than the Frankincense stick they offer. Great for any application where you need 20 minutes of constant frankincense aroma, this is a room filler because of the thickness, and it has been a favorite in the family when I light one because everyone in the house smells it.

Lavender Dhoop Cone returns to the cone-shaped charcoal format and does a good job of bringing out a few different formats of lavender. Opening the jar, it smells like my favorite version of lavender oil, the one that captures a bit of the ‘green’ note like you’re in a field of lavender. When you light this, it becomes apparent that this oil is pretty much the only ingredient as you’re met with a mixture of both the fresh lavender and the more ‘warm’ lavender that I associate more like with soap and dryer sheets, the smell of relaxation. This really has a very clean feel to it and the marketing copy on the jar says it will ‘balance all seven chakras’ and I do enjoy how this seemed to have brightened the room a little bit.

Oudh Dhoop Cone is another cone-shaped charcoal formatted cone. Essentially, this is a cone version of the Oudh Masala, or at least, this is what my initial impression is upon lighting this black cone. It has a strong ‘cologne’ presence of oud here, where they are using distillation techniques that compress the scent into a much thinner profile without all the extra bells and whistles of the nearby plants and animals mixed into the scent. This is oud. Oud oud oud. As the cone has burned a bit, I can tell now that this is a bit different than the oudh masala, and it has a lighter, sweeter note than the Oudh, which is earthy and strong. Either way, I love how this scent is coming out and I definitely want a lot more of this.

Oudh Masala comes in a 60g Miron glass jar and is a powder meant for a electric burner or charcoal. I picked this up because of the name conjuring the HH reference and because I’m a huge fan of the stick. This is hard to describe, but if you’ve experienced Oudh and Himalayan Spikenard, this is like combining the best aspects of both of those and cranking up the intensity and the resiny goodness as loud as you can handle. In fact, if I put too much on at once, it gets overpowering because the oudh cologne scent is right there in the middle. If you enjoy powder incense format, this is so oily that you can actually just make a little pile and light it on fire. You won’t consume 100% of the powder but it burns most of the way by itself it’s so dense and resinous.

With Rose Prayer Dhoop Cone, we have another cylinder format, but like the Frankincense Dhoop Cone, this one isn’t made of charcoal, instead it looks like crushed rose petals and something like makko. Infused with what must be a mixture of oils, we get a fresh rose scent with a slightly sweet undertone like the roses are central to a bouquet that also includes something sweet like candied rose as well. Overall, this is a really good cone and the size of it means it burns a bit longer than the conical ones. This is good for people who really like the rose to smell fresher. That candied rose is under the central rose scent, which really is very good and reflected in the price point. It smells like rose petals and confectioners sugar. Really nice.

At Last, the Vetiver Dhoop Cone. Vetiver is always a wonderful scent when it is done right. My husband and I love vetiver essential oil and for many years used the oil as a perfume and received many compliments. This is a sweeter version of khus. This black cone seems to be charcoal with oils and I’m guessing they’re using all the best. There is a touch of what I detect as sandalwood in here, or maybe it’s just another note of vetiver I’m unfamiliar with because so rarely in incense do you get vetiver by itself for a conversation, most of the time it’s in a chorus.

Kourindo / Jyakourin Musk, Kodaikourin Aloeswood, Jinkourin Aloeswood, Ichiikourin Aloeswood, Saikourin Aloeswood + KorindaiKyara (notes)

It is a truly wonderful thing to see that Japan incense is now carrying the greater Kourindo line. There is perhaps no greater pleasure then to see a new, traditional Japanese line available in the US and it really can never be said enough of the efforts of Kotaro and Jay in increasing the visibility and availability of Japanese incense here. And not only does this mean there are 11 new Kourindo incenses to choose from but Japan Incense has gone one step further and provided this handy sampler as a starter kit. It’s where I started and I’m sure many readers here will do the same. But it should be said that there’s really not a bad incense in this bunch, they are all magnificent scents across the broad price range. Today I am essentially going to tackle the priciest 6 of the 11 (I hope to do the other 5 some time in October or so). I will have boxes of all but the high end kyara incense, but for that one I will be going off the one stick in the sampler and just providing some (surprisingly longwinded) initial impressions. For the rest of these I’ve tried to break into the box a little and spend some time with them first. Please note that one feature of the Kourindo line is that these sticks are just a little bit thicker than the usual Japanese stick and so it might be worth considering that in the stick to dollar ratio if you’re adding things up that way.

In most high end ranges you will be used to seeing aloeswood incenses, but I think rarely do you see one that advertises the musk first. Don’t get me wrong, Jyakourin Musk is definitely still an aloeswood, but its green color and highly noticeable musk hit are the big attractions here. In fact if you really want a stick that gives you a very obvious and profound taste of what musk actually smells like you can really do no better than checking this one out, it is not only a beautiful stick but it will be educational in pointing it out in other incenses. For example, think of Shunkohdo Ranjatai or Kykuyodo Musashino as two incenses with a noticeable presence of its sweetness. The greenness of the overall scent is also somewhat reminiscent of the green incenses in the Kunmeido line as well, although I would imagine the musk content in those is much smaller. I can not confirm whether this is animal or vegetal musk, but I suspect the former or at least a mix of both. But overall what you’re getting here is the musk up front, sweet and present, on top of what is a complimentary aloeswood base. And it is the mix of these things that makes this the great incense that it is. In fact I am so used to traditional aloeswoods at this point that this was the immediate standout in the line. It’s just a stone classic, with the musk and aloeswood mix giving the profile a great deal of complexity and warmth. It’s quite frankly a masterpiece and even though we’re about to move up the price scale, I think Jyakourin sits right next to anything in the line.

Kodaikourin Aloeswood is then already the sixth aloeswood in the series going from the most expensive up the chain and if you count the Jyakourin. It’s only a touch more expensive than the Jyakourin overall. I’ve most recently taken a few shots at incenses in this price range in terms of their aloeswood content, but rest assured the profile is wild and excellent on this one, in fact I might even argue that it’s actually fairly superb at this price range, with the kind of balanced bitter and resinous notes you tend to find in something like the Shunkohdo Ranjatai or Kida Jinseido Ikuhohkoh. Which actually makes sense as with both of these where you might be paying 1 1/2 to twice the price you’re also getting about the same hike in the number of sticks. But the similarities are fairly apparent because there’s some level of sweetness in Kodaikourin that provides something of a caramel note and there may be a bit of musk in there as well although certainly not at the level of the Jyakourin. But overall what you’re experiencing here is a stick meant to balance a decent level of wood with a lot of friendlier notes. If you’re someone who doesn’t want any sweet with their woods, this might not be to your taste but if you don’t mind it while not shirking some excellent aloeswood notes, I think this is a superb stick. Overall it’s actually not unlike Shoyeido Muromachi or perhaps more of what it was like when the wood content used to be higher. But here the wood definitely cuts through and keeps it satisfying.

So, now, strip away some of that sweet, caramel decadence, not all of it, maybe more the density of it than the presence, but back to the point where it becomes something of an equal subnote with something new. Tone down the bitterness a bit as well, into something that is a bit more of a glossier wood front. Jinkourin Aloeswood is something of a different grade where the woods seem a bit more dialed up and the recipe to compliment the woods created to highlight a bit more of a drier affair. You can feel like there’s something like a very faint touch of floral playing around the edges of this one, perhaps something faint from a spice cabinet in a more masala-like fashion (is that coriander?). This is the sort of Japanese incense that tends to fall into the aristocratic or noble styles. What’s interesting is that the woods feel a lot more polished here and it almost gives the trick of making it feel like the aloeswood in the Kodaikourin is a bit richer. It really feels like more of a shift in order to highlight the real subtle tendencies of a higher grade wood instead, almost as if all the other materials act like a foil. As a result there’s less of wilder feel to it, but it manages to highlight the aloeswood in a fairly unique way and at times the spices really pack a punch. And then wow that resin hit, almost like it was hiding at first. It’s like the Kodaikourin is a fantastic incense, but this one’s more of a work of art and likely to pay back greater listening. You might get the Kodaikourin right away but this is more of an interesting puzzle and you almost have tease the notes out. But wow when you do, it’s hard to believe this is priced so low. I keep having a similar conversation with several incense aficionados over the relevant merits of kyara. But seriously if you can get a box of aloeswood incense like this for under $70 who really needs it? It is literally shocking how good this one is.

Kourindo have three more scents above the masterpiece that is Jinkourin, which is quite frankly hard to believe given the high level of goods still under $100 a roll. But there’s a jump into that territory with the Ichiikourin Aloeswood. I had burned several sticks of all of these before launching into my writing, but once you really sit and listen to these it’s almost like trying them again brand new, and I could barely wait to get into this one. It’s worth noting while all the previous three incenses had approximately 40 sticks to a box, once you jump to this one, it’s not just the price but the stick count appears to go down to approximately 30, if somewhat thicker sticks, based on the info at Japan Incense. However it seems to me my box went over a few and this may be true for many of these boxes. Anyway this incense, after the Jinkourin, seems like a very similar jump to the Kodaikourin to Jinkourin. This is an even less caramel (if still there on some level), and more woody incense and it feels at this point that a lot of the additives from the previous incenses are becoming thinner on the ground so you’re getting a lot more wood presence. Not to mention the floral and spice like notes in the previous incense aren’t really in this. Seems like this one might have mixed in a little high quality sandalwood as well. Like with the Jinkourin there’s some level of waiting to see where the latent deep aloeswood note will hit. It doesn’t feel quite as polished as the Jinkourin but the aloeswood strength is closer to eye-watering. But it feels a bit more straight forward than the Jinkourin. If there was no Jinkourin then I might not be so hesitant in my recommendation, since this is a wonderful aloeswood incense, but given the differences in price and stick count I’m not sure you’re getting that much of a leap forward from the Jinkourin. I’d just underline that the profile of this incense and the previous two aren’t super different, almost as if they work on a similar theme with the wood being the main difference. But overall starting with the Jinkourin still seems like the best bet on a number of levels.

Saikourin Aloeswood shakes up the line’s profile by moving to a square cut stick. There’s a much more noticeable difference with this incense compared to the previous two. It reminds me a little of the difference of the scent profiles between the old Baieido Ogurayama and Hakusui woods, where the former leans a bit to a sweeter wood and the latter to something spicier. So Saikourin off the bat is a much tangier and spicier aloeswood stick. If there was caramel throughout the previous three sticks it’s fairly well buried here. But conversely you don’t miss it at all because this has such a unique presence of its own. You don’t really have to hunt for the resin as its fairly well in front of the burn and the whole thing just sings of high level wild wood. In fact coming back around to what I’ve said about kyara, this level of high end spicy wood is generally just as satisfying to me. It’s powerful, brash and has all of the elements of a deep wood that you’d want. It has the multi-note complexity of all the best aloeswoods, plenty of space to sink into and muse over. It’s interesting as well if you compare this price to the kyaras in this range, two of the Yamadamatsu Firebirds or the Seikado Kyara Koh Hien. If you’re going for something without all the additional sweetness, you’d certainly have to go with the Saikourin.

Because if you want to go with the Kourindo kyara option, KorindaiKyara, you triple the price point and nearly quadruple it if you count a slightly lower stick count (my guess is a stick is something like half or more of the cost of the sampler). These logarithmic jumps in quality are something I’ve considered quite a bit in my incense journey. I think nearly anyone who explores kyara incense wants to know how much kyara is in them, whether it’s worth the price. There’s legitimate anxiety to be found in an environment where you don’t know if the expensive incense you just bought is going to be up to what you hear or read about. I can say this about the Kourindos up to this point and that all of them still have wild aloeswood profiles commensurate with what you would hope to expect at these price points, and quite a few of them even perform above these prices. But $600 for KorindaiKyara is a gigantic leap, it’s essentially something like Shoyeido or Seijudo level pricing. All the Minorien kyaras, the Kunmeidos, the Shunkohdos, etc all of these are cheaper incenses. So one would assume that there is some level of real kyara in this stick, that it’s not just the magnification of a good thing. I set my high level kyara bar somewhere near the chip provided in the Baieido Rikkoku set or the gold standard Baieido Kyara Kokoh. OK enough already, Mike, tell us.

It’s an impressive stick, the kyara is right up front and the difference between this stick and all the others in the range is immediately obvious. It feels like Kourindo have gone the route of not making this a sweeter kyara but a peppier or spicier one. But leave no doubt at all that there’s a high level of rare wood in this, that there isn’t perfume artistry making up for the materials and that’s largely why you’d be shelling out such a large cost. It is the kind of stick that demonstrates to no uncertainty why this wood is as prized as it. There is that intense note that only this fine wood can bring, something almost like a floral mixed evergreen note and while this doesn’t lean as heavy to the green note as the Baieido kyaras do (or used to), this does indeed have the complexity you want to see at this price range. It’s probably closest in range to something like the Yamadamatsu Shuju Kyara in style and while it approaches the Baieido Kyara Kokoh, it’s maybe not quite there. But to experience the wood mixed in with this different range of spices is kind of a treat in itself because it’s not duplicative of other kyara incenses. And what a great kyara always does, so annoyingly, like the most painful of siren calls, is to make you start looking at all of those dollars you saved in a bank. And like these incenses I’ve compared it to, because this incense is materials first it’s likely to last you a long time if you take it out on special occasions and not decay very quickly. And that makes it a lot more superior to the perfume-based kyaras. If I ever do get some sort of windfall that makes me grabby for a full box, I may circle around again because I really doubt the half to 2/3 of the sample stick I burned probably does it the justice it deserves for such an insanely complex incense, but hopefully I’ve given potential buyers some heads up to what they’d experience. Coming round to what I said at the beginning, you can always grab a sampler too. In the end, bravo Kourindo, you are among the finest houses in incense and these are all deep treasures, among the best in Japanese incense.

Labrang Monastery Formula Incense Coils

This is a really good deal, 40 of what I called “medium sized” coils for about $13. They’re the type of coil you often see in China and southeast Asia, a format a lot of aloeswood incenses come in. The Labrang Monastery Formula Incense Coil feels like something of a hybrid between a woody coil and a Tibetan incense which makes them quite fascinating. I had originally not taken quite as much to the regular Labrang Monastery stick, but after surveying most of the Tibetan incenses at incenses-tradition.ca and realizing nearly all have them had some sort of latent learning curve of sorts, I figured maybe trying the coil out and circling around again might tip me off a little to what is going on here. For one thing these have a fairly noticeable aloeswood content, maybe even surprising given its price and also a note much more akin to aloeswood coils of the southeast than what you might find in an Agar 31 blend. That note tends to be mixed in with the sort of tangy notes I got from the Dhe Tsang Sacred Mountain incense. But there’s more going on because there is a sort of polished wood note you tend to find in the more evergreen sorts of incenses that sits right alongside the aloeswood. It’s got a bit of saltiness, a touch of resin in there somewhere and what feels like a bit of a cypress note. Honestly the more you sit with it, the more you notice. It’s also fairly low smoke for the style, in order to get some of it for a review I had to sit close which means there’s also something of a diffusion difference as well. Honestly this one seems quite a bit of a steal at this price, and it comes in somewhat unostentatious packaging almost as if someone gave you some incense in a tupperware container. Well worth checking out, especially because 40 coils of this length and slow burn are likely to really last you a while. Oh and yeah I did try the regular stick again and liked it much more this time around. Very common with monastery incenses.

Temple of Incense / Sandalwood, Vanilla Woods, White Sage, Oudh Extreme

Temple of Incense Part 12
Temple of Incense Part 14
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

Finishing out the series of Temple of Incense sticks, we have some woody ones and the last one, Oudh Extreme, is another ‘advance sample’ as the ToI does not yet have it up on their website but when they do, hopefully this review will still stand up.

Our first stop is Sandalwood. This is the third sandalwood stick, after Banaras Sandal and Sandalwood Extreme. This is an oil-heavy charcoal masala hand-applied to a thick natural bamboo core. There is some flecks of light powder here and there but it doesn’t appear to be finished with powder.

Lighting this up, the oils become apparent as the stick immediately bursts into flame as it gets close to a heat source. The sandalwood is here, but it’s not as strong or as luxurious as the expensive Sandalwood Extreme. There is also something else added in, something sweet and dry, making this more like some of the cheaper Japanese sandalwoods where there is things like cinnamon and clove to spice it up as well as cover the fact that the sandalwood is probably a lower grade or else you’d just make a stick without the spices if it was nicer. Now comparing to cheap Japanese sandalwoods like Mainichi Koh isn’t to say this is a bad stick, I’m trying to zero in on the profile of sandalwood presented here, because there are hints of richer, salty and buttery sandalwood but they come sandwiched in this drier sweet note.

I’m going to post a note here and mention that when I compared this review I wrote to my initial impression of this stick, I realize something is wrong. In my initial impression, I describe it as a handmade masala on a bamboo stick painted red with a light tan powder finish. This is a different stick here because in my initial impression, I compared the sandalwood smell coming off it to Minorien Sandalwood, just a bit stronger because of the format. So perhaps there was a quality/consistency change between my sample and the purchase of the box.

Vanilla Woods is a charcoal masala hand-applied to a bamboo stick that appears to have been dipped in something. The masala has a sprinkling of a green powder (possibly that mint note). On the box, it is described as “Vanilla, Cassis, Sweet Musk, Woods, Hint of Mint.” My first reaction as I light this is that it smells like those sunscreens that are bad for the reefs. That sort of ‘banana/coconut/tropical’ sort of smell. But it transformed quickly between multiple scents vying for pole position. The mint is cooling and comes and goes but the clear leader is this vanilla smell that seems to trade places with a richer sweet scent that might be the cassis. However, I am not sure I detect a ‘sweet musk’ unless that is the sweet scent I called cassis or perhaps the sweet musk and cassis are on the same team? Regardless, as a charcoal stick that might have been dipped, this has a lot of class and character.

The second sage entry from ToI, White Sage is a handmade thicker agarbatti, finished with a light tan powder. This comes on a natural bamboo stick. This comes across as clean and crisp, though it is less exemplar of what I consider sage to be as there is something sweet in here as well as a soapy note that reminds me a bit of Ivory or Irish Spring in that sharp acrid note. The more I spend time with this rather cooling smoke, cool possibly because of the mint mentioned on the box, I am realizing that the scent reminds me a bit of when the dentist’s sterilized hands were in my mouth and against my nose. This is back when I was a kid before fear of things like HIV meant people wore gloves. Overall, I’m not a fan of this scent but it does have a very fresh and clean scent, like someone doing laundry with Fels-Naptha.

Oudh Extreme appears to be a triple threat. The bamboo is purple and discolored as if it has been dipped in oudh oil and my fingers smell of oudh after touching just the bamboo. The masala is a charcoal heavy masala, finished with a tan powder. My guess is the masala is charcoal and oudh and agarwood and then the stick is dipped in a oudh perfume/oil, and then finished with an oudh powder. This has so much oil in it that it lights like a torch. The scent is definitely deeper and more complex than the Oudh stick, this actually has a lot of scent profile in common with their Oudh Masala, which is a powder you can buy in their bakhoor section. This is very rich, very heavy in the perfume oudh profile. This has a bit of interplay between a sort of cologne scent you’d expect from the Persian area of the world, and the oudh sticks that Happy Hari/ToI carry. I really like this. It’s like when you’re burning Minorien Aloeswood and decide that you want a bigger punch so you reach for Minorien Kyara Chokoh. This is the bigger oudh punch. Recommended for anyone who loves Oudh and Oudh Masala from Happy Hari.

Ba’er Qude Si / Incense Cones

Like the Ganden Monastery cones, Ba’er Qude Si Cones seem very similar to the monastery’s flagship stick incense. However, the ingredients list is a bit different and includes white and red sandalwood, safflower, clove and other ‘natural, medical ingredients’ (the jar itself also adds three kinds of aloes). We can assume that the safflower subsitutes for the the saffron, but there isnt anly lilac, musk or cardamom listed and instead there’s the clove, which you might not pick up much of at all if it wasn’t listed. It all adds up to a lot of things you’d expect from a red color scent except that the aloeswood that is weaved in here is fairly typically Tibetan and you can tell that part of its intent is to be relaxing as it’s supposed to help with insomnia. The other difference from the Ganden cone is these don’t have the drillhole that marks them as backflow cones so you can’t use these cones on those types of burners, but frankly that works for me a little better as backflow cones don’t work as well on a bed of ash either (well I might get one of those cool holders one of these days!). The aroma still falls in a roughly autumnal area, although some of this may come from the safflower in the mix, but it also feels something like an Agar 31 incense in discguise. It’s a bit milder and less complex as a bouquet than the stick and as always the issue with many a cone is that the mix tends to be a bit harsher to my taste, especially when the cone reaches the base and the end of the burn. But earlier on, it’s still pleasant, quite comparable to the Ganden cone which I might tell apart from the backflow holes only. Incense Traditions also mentions a yellow jar of these that originates from a different temple as well, so there might be some mild variation.

Nehnang Monastery / Nehnang No. 1 Tibetan Incense

I’m always a bit charmed by what lowering the ambient temperature of the room does to Tibetan incense. If you consider the colder weather in higher mountain latitudes, it sort of makes sense, but in California, where a streak of 100 degree plus days is a fair norm during the summer, you do have to take into account that even regular heat can sometimes hide the notes of a fine monastery incense. I often like lighting one of these first thing in the morning when its cooler and it’s almost a necessity for an incense as complex and interesting as Nehnang No. 1 (I covered the No. 2 some time back). The No. 1 is described as containing “25 kinds of “pure natural precious fragrances”, incl. nutmeg, clove, spikenard and cinnamon.” While spikenard (or sometimes nard) is often not listed in a monastery incense ingredient list (although it might often still be there), when it is you can almost be sure it’ll be a more profound note and here you can definitely sense it as part of the background. In fact there’s something about it that I think tends to pull out the resinous elements that aren’t listed. The remaining listed ingredients, of course, show that this has a nice bit of spice to it. But it might be stressed overall that this does have a different profile than the No. 2 and one might stress that this appears to be about double the price of the next grade. Perhaps strangely while sandalwood is listed in the No. 2 but not in the No. 1, I would still describe this one as a bit woodier of an incense. It’s just that within the base there’s a large amount of spice and herbal notes that come out that show an almost delicate intricacy to the composition that is intensely fascinating. I might say it earns an almost Baieido-like level of “listening” in order to suss out how truly complex it is. As I let this stick burn down, I’m quite surprised at how the spice comes out sometimes, while at others its the spikenard or some unique, leafy herbal note. While I wouldn’t describe this as quite as musky as the No. 2, it does have some level of it that is sweet. It might be worth nothing here that there is a Nehnang Vegetarian No. 1 as well which kind of hints that this one probably isn’t. If I would further sell this incense, I would just remark that it’s fairly unique in its scent profile, much more so than the No. 2. Anyway this is certainly recommended for the monastery incense afficionado for sure, it shows the marks of a blender of high skill and sophistication.

Admin Notes

A few updates to the site:

  • A note added to Awaji-Baikundo Shoujou review here. While it feels like it’s changed a little since I last had a box, I just wanted to confirm it wasn’t hugely different and still feel like Ross’s review is accurate.
  • A note added to the Baieido Kai Un Koh review. I struggled with this one a bit as it is somewhat different, but after sitting down with it a bit I think the changes are relatively mild. This is a very old review, 2007, which was about when I split off the incense reviews from my old blog and created ORS. But it still feels like it’s mostly accurate. I think Baieido incenses, given they are so woods based, are a bit more sensitive to materials changed and really think that’s mostly what is happening with Kai Un Koh. But it didn’t feel like it needed a new review. I do plan on revisiting the five aloeswoods in the relatively near future as I feel like supplies have really changed most of those.
  • Added King of Amber back to the live Happy Hari reviews (added picture) and removed Royal Amber from the Happy Hari discontinued reviews. This was just a sample oversight. Royal Amber was simply renamed as King of Amber and it is also equivalent to Temple of Incense Amber. This one has been plenty covered.
  • Rewrote the Oudh Saffron review as I felt the comparisons to The Wood Spice in the TOI line weren’t quite as accurate as I originally thought.

I also wanted to announce that starting October 1, we will be downshifting to reviews every other day and probably tapering off more into the holidays. Amazingly, we have been posting one review a day since June 23rd and this clip has really allowed us to catch up a great deal and I’m starting to see some air on the other side. I would guess it’s nearly about 100 new reviews and even more single incenses than that. The pile of completed reviews is starting to get larger than the pile of incenses that’s left to review. I feel like working a bit of a break into the scheme of things will not only allow a refresh on reviewing energy, but it will also give me a bit more time to work on site upgrades and all the more invisible things that need to happen to ORS. Some of this is busy work that I need to have the energy for. But I’d like to get ORS as updated for the current times as possible.

One other thing that’s come up of late too is that in terms of reevaluating incenses, especially in comparing modern stock with the incenses we reviewed years ago I think one of the big obstacles is that the incenses we’re not as fond of are not going to be incenses we would naturally buy again or restock and then have them on hand to reevaluate from an old review. For example I do find Japanese sandalwood incenses, especially in the modern era tend to be packed so closely in a range together that reevaluating a lot of older sandalwoods may not be something we can tackle at this point. But of course most of what I have reevaluated already are the ones I really like. But as I redo the reviews index I take notes of incenses that may need a refresh and much thanks to Stephen for taking some of these on as well.

We may also be featuring a series of incenses that are no longer on the market for historical prosperity. We will of course be really clear these are coming, as we don’t want to get any hopes up, but it will likely supplement some reading material as the amount of incenses reviews we have dwindles.

Kyukyodo / Mukusa no Takimono

Kyukyodo’s little Mukusa no Takimono set (I’m not sure if this is an exact translation but the set is basically “six kneaded incenses”) includes six different modern, short-stick scents and a holder and is clearly intended as a gift box. I would definitely pop over to this Kohgen page for more info. The downside to sets like these (think of many of the Shoyeido Genji gift sets) is that if you particularly like a scent then you have 5 sticks and counting and will need to buy the whole gift box over again. This is essentially a seasonal themed set although the total of 6 scents is tabulated by having two corresponding to winter and one that is all seasons. They are all color coded. I am not sure I have ever tried a Kyukodo modern, per se, so it was interesting to compare this to previous Shoyeido and Kousaido buys, which these sticks most closely resemble. But it should be kept in mind that all of these are probably as comparable to actual kneaded incense which you usually heat on charcoal of a mica plate. Also, the description of this set as modern sort of belies the fact that is really a high-end, deluxe agarwood selection and certainly recommended to fans of the wood as well as traditionals. The price of $48 a set actually seems fairly dead on for the quality on display here. It’s a work of art.

The first, all-season stick is black and is called Kurobou. My translation skills aren’t great and searches brought up some odd and concerning ideas for what it means. There’s a translation that corresponds with a form of Japanese sweet, although it does seem to take a bit to realize how sweet it is. In the end I’ll thank Stephen and some Reddit sub support for the translation here being “subtle scent.” It’s basically an aloeswood stick in the modern sense, and the ingredient list at the Kohgen page lists agarwood, clove, sandalwood, powdered operculum of a rock shell, white musk and kunriku powder (I’m not exactly sure what this latter element is as the Kohgen page is the first one up on a Google search). It reminds me a little of Kyukyodo’s Seigetsu, not only in that its a black stick but the sort of caramel tinge here is also really prevalent once it kicks in and it’s a little reminiscent of the way Shoyeido’s Horin Muromachi coils have that too. It’s probably my favorite stick in the box and while the wood doesn’t go too deep, it’s a genuinely pleasant little treat that balances a bit of heartiness against the delectability of it.

Baika is a plum blossom incense with a red color, and perhaps not surprisingly is the set’s spring incense. The ingredient list gives agarwood, sentou (the closest translation I found was something like “public bath”), powdered operculum of a rock shell, spikenard, sandalwood, clove and white musk. It is a much deeper incense that you might expect from, say, Shoyeido’s Baika-ju and seems to have a healthy amount of aloeswood and sandalwood in it, making it so whatever blossom scent from it is about even with the base. It’s the kind of incense that makes you wonder why there isn’t a bigger box of this available, as it reminds me a lot of the most recently reviewed Minorien Chrysanthemum. I kind of love this sort of floral and woods mix, it’s like the best of both worlds, and it’s something of a shame to need to lay out this money for about 10 inches of the scent. Like the Kurobou this is my kind of modern and it very much resembles your basic kneaded incense that is going for a Baika scent, although it’s a bit more perfumed than you might find in that sort of traditional format.

Kayou (lotus leaf) is a green stick for summer and the ingredients given are spikenard, agarwood, powdered operculum of a rock shell, sandalwood, turmeric and patchouli. It is fairly similar to the Baika except the turmeric and patchouli particulary turn it away from a much more obviously floral bent into something a bit more general. There’s still the same level of sandalwood and agarwood here and as one goes from incense to incense one can also feel how the operculum gives way a bit to the tendencies you tend to find in kneaded incenses, almost like a mix of salty and marine. Once again one is struck by just how deluxe the ingredients are here, at the same time you are searching for each incense’s specific scent, you tend to notice the similarities that underpin them all.

Kikka (chrysanthemum) is a yellow stick (for fall) containing agarwood, clove, powdered operculum of a rock shell, kunriku powder, white musk and spikenard. It’s a bit drier and less sweet compared to the recently referenced Minorien chrysanthemum, but it’s certainly roughly similar if a bit more deluxe. As previously mentioned, all of the incenses have an underlying kneaded-like base to them that creates as much of the aromatic profile as the top notes, so this still has a touch of marine saltiness in the very background. It’s a tremendously gorgeous and rich little treasure with quite a bit of depth to it. Like the Minorien the floral plays beautifully off of the woody notes.

The two winter incenses are last. There is Jijyu, a purple stick which apparently means “chamberlain.” The ingredient list here is agarwood, clove, powdered operculum of a rock shell, spikenard and turmeric. Kohgen also seems to mention something about sentou and musk, although it is phrased in a way that implies that they may have been in the recipe rather than this version of it. This is a very noble, woody, and not at all floral incense with something of a similarity to the Kurobou, although missing all of that incense’s sweetness. Once again the impact of the strong agarwood note is the most noticeable thing about it with the usual base notes secondary. One might describe this scent as heavily masculine, but it’s the kind of agarwood scent also described as aristocratic.

And finally the brown stick Ochiba (Fallen Leaves), which lists agarwood, clove, powdered operculum of a rock shell, kunriku powder, white musk and spikenard. Kohgen notes that “the amount and order of adding ingredients are quite same as in Kikka, but the quantity of agarwood or white musk has been increased.” It’s interesting to not see sandalwood in this list as the overall aroma seems to have a rather powerful level of it along with the rest of the wood powder. It doesn’t strike me as wintery in the same way the Jijyu does, but you can certainly get some level of the clove at work which does have the extra effect of adding a bit of a holiday vibe to it. It’s a lovely little stick, and don’t forget like all the others, this has a strong agarwood and operculum presence as well.

Anyway I should mention that when I went into reviewing this it was on my third stick in each box, but it almost felt like I didn’t really start to notice the power of the scents until I got started writing about it. This is a very special set. I have reviewed sets like the Shoyeido Genjis before where occasionally you might find one scent in a set with some agarwood in it, but you rarely find one like this where all six have this aroma in abundance. It’s a high end gift set utterly redolent in more of the high end ingredients you see in Japanese incense and well worth checking out.

Temple of Incense / Patchouli Woods, Pineapple, Rose Absolute, Saffron

Temple of Incense Part 11
Temple of Incense Part 13
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

So we’re coming down to the final few Temple of Incense reviews. Our second to last installment is a mixed back of floral, wood, fruit and herbs.

Jumping right in with Patchouli Woods, this stick is very similar in look and smell to Green Patchouli (aka Patchouli Khus) that Absolute Bliss sells. This is a handmade charcoal blank that appears to have been dipped in scented product due to how the bamboo sticks appear to have been treated as well. While I’ve talked about not liking dipped styles of incense, this one is another case where the quality of the product stands out. The scent is a very soft, herbal patchouli that feels like it’s muted with a bit of something else like saffron. Due to there being this secondary note in here, it gives plenty of interplay. If they had just stuck with patchouli this might have turned into a cloying drone of a scent.

The other thing that makes this interesting is that most of the time Indian style patchouli comes with a lot of sweet and vanilla and similar, this does none of that, which makes it almost seem like this is a more serious and down-to-earth type of stick than the typical patchouli. If you collect patchouli, this is definitely one to add because it’s a more mild and muted interpretation and not so sharp and ostentatious as other patchouli agarbatti.

Pineapple! This is a very sweet stick, opening the box and pulling one of these handmade agarbattis out, I am met with a very sweet pineapple smell, though it has a scent that I would normally associate with pineapple candy. The sticks are finished with a soft tan powder and have a natural bamboo core. When you light them up, the candy pineapple turns into multiple different pineapple scents, but none of them smell exactly like fresh cut pineapple, but you DO get pineapple flower, pineapple plant, pineapple candy and something that reminds me a bit of the guava stick, perhaps a sweetener?

As Pineapple continues to burn, I realize that I am no longer smelling pineapple at all, that the guava smell has taken over and I think that this overlaps in scent with guava. I ran off and lit a Guava Guava stick and there is definitely a big difference as Guava Guava has more of the guava smell in it than Pineapple, but Pineapple ends up being less pineapple to me, only because after the initial hits, it fades into the background and takes a back seat to this more sweet ‘candy’ scent that I noted the unlit stick smells like.

Rose Absolute is another rose entry from Temple of Incense, and this one doesn’t seem to have an analogous stick in Absolute Bliss/Happy Hari as I compared this to Queen of Roses and Krishna Rose to make sure. This is a pink bamboo stick with handmade charcoal masala with a brown finishing powder. The smell of rose is heavy in the packaging. After lighting, the scent is pleasant but not the kind of rose I would expect. It smells like marzipan to which rose water has been added. It has a sweet kind of ‘bread made with rose’ as the rose here is not exactly a fresh rose but also not a candied rose and not the hand lotion rose either. This is exciting primarily because it kind of smells like a fancy cookie to have with some high tea.

When I focus just on the rose to try to say what it is, it does have a little edge of cosmetic-type of smell to it, like rose scented rouge. If I had to ‘rank the roses’ that Absolute Bliss and Temple of Incense do, I would rank it: Queen of Roses, Rose Absolute, Krishna Rose, Indian Rose.

Saffron is difficult to place. I can’t tell if it is a extruded dough agarbatti heavy with charcoal or if it is a charcoal blank dipped in solution. Either way, the bamboo core has a color similar to the stick which tells me it got soaked in the same solution. I’m guessing that they used either saffron oil or a saffron absolute to make this stick because it has a depth many saffron scented sticks lack. When I add saffron to rice or something neutral, there is a bright, grounding scent I associate with saffron that if you spend time listening to it like you’d listen to incense, you’d get a deeper spice that is warming. All that is in this stick and I’m impressed because the style generally is not something to impress me.

I didn’t initially like Saffron, but I bought a box anyway after getting a sample because I know that the company it keeps is impressive so I gave it a second chance and now I think I’m halfway through the box. It is a good starter incense for the early morning, giving you space to work up to something stronger and more pungent.

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