some incense side thoughts

Got in a sampler order from shoyeido.com  If you order over $25 worth of merchandise they give you two free samplers with your first order. Anyway this company writes the book on fine incense. After about a centimeter sample from each stick, maybe 30 or so fragrances, I’d have to say the work they do is astonishing, and I wasn’t going through the premium sampler this time around as I’d already gone through it (which led to a further sample of their Kyo-jiman line, which is fabulous stuff). Anyway, overall I really liked their Daily lines, especially for the price. The White Cloud, top of the daily line, reminds me of a buddhist temple blend resin I’ve long loved and the Kyoto Autumn Leaves, Golden Pavilion and others are really nice. I went and splurged on full boxes of the whole line. The Horin line is great as well, and at least on a first go around I seemed to like the cheapest two of the five, which is unusual, especially as there’s kyara in the top line of the five. They originate from coil incense and with the fetching colors, it’s going to be hard not to want to get a box or two of those as well. Their Xiang-Do line presents unlikely candidates for incense such as Mixed Fruit and Marine, but even these are at surprising quality levels, with a perfect blend of various spices. Perfect sort of thing to mix it up occasionally, especially since diversity in scent enlivens the whole experience.

And a slight warning note for some of the links in previous articles, one of the companies linked to is causing me some concern on the customer service front and I’m stating this mildly because other than that there really aren’t any complaints. Having five unknown sticks that I consider totally glorious stuff is frustrating to say the least, unfortunately they’ll be remaining unknown until I chance upon it elsewhere. But I think I have a pretty good idea what it is…. Anyway I mostly mention this because, Scented Mountain and Shoyeido aside, my on line incense buying experience hasn’t been perfect so I’m trying out other companies.

Shrinivas Sugandhalaya/Satya Sai Baba Nag Champa, Super Hit, Satya Natural, Satya Nectar, Black Blossom (was Incense (7)/Satya (1))

Well, rather than doing the whole line in a group, I figured I’d nibble it off in chunks instead. I’d much rather talk about incenses after getting an idea on the variation even within a brand and style. I’m leaving links off as I’m still not quite decided on the perfect mail order place at this point, but you should be able to find these anywhere that sells incense.

Satya Sai Baba Nag Champa – I’m not sure when the original Nag started becoming available but I know it was an incense (and style of incense) that I did not know about for quite some time and was a revelation at the time. In retrospect after sampling dozens of variants and the like it’s become almost like vanilla ice cream. For a perspective on the rest of the blends, you really do need to check this one out, though as it seems to me many of the Satya blends are just slight variations, maybe a different essential oil or two.

Unfortunately this is one of the most variant incenses on the planet and is so overstocked that you’re more likely to find an old crusty box that has been sitting on a shelf than a fresh one, and the difference between the two is vast. Aged, Nag Champa loses a lot of its luster, fresh it’s rather glorious. Apparently it’s a mix of sandalwood, musk and a bit of the champa flower that gave it’s name. Sometimes it can be a bit sharp or tangy, but when those notes aren’t overpowering you just get that mellow, warm and almost overpowering rich and sugary nature, at times almost like baking confectionaries.

Super Hit – I’m not sure if this is Satya’s second best selling brand of incense but it’s definitely the one I see the most often after the blue box. Super Hit comes in black boxes and is also extremely variant. When I first tried it it went rocketing to the top of my favorite incenses, but since then all the sticks I’ve owned seem to pale in comparison to this memory. It definitely doesn’t have quite the tang of the blue nag champa and seems like it might be a little more friendly to western noses, but it’s a fairly close relative of that and I only wish I had a fresh box to remind me of what I liked so much about it.

Satya Natural – I was first introduced to this champa style through Mystic Temple’s Honey Dust (renamed Vanilla). I know matchlessgifts.com has special arrangements with this company, so I always wondered why Honey Dust seemed slightly superior to Natural, but overall it’s virtually the same. All the names seem to point to various qualities in the incense, although I smell the honey sweetness in this stick more so than the vanilla hints, which tend to come out more in other types (that is I don’t see vanilla as the dominant note). As a champa it’s mellower than the usual without many of the sharper and more pungent tones. The kind of incense that tends to impress me on first light and then becomes somewhat forgettable later.

Satya Nectar – It may not mean anything, but the packaging of this variant is very close to Satya Natural and Nectar seems to be as rich and intense as Natural isn’t. It happens to be one of my favorites in the entire line, a mixture of oils on the champa base that I haven’t seen duplicated by any other lines, reminding me of exotic florals. I think this one only comes in the big sticks, so this is only for those who want it loud, in fact they don’t get much louder. But it’s as complex as it is loud.

Black Blossom – And just to shake it up a bit I chose this charcoal based oil stick by Satya as a comparison. This is not a champa and I’m not a fan of charcoal sticks dipped in oil as this seems to be, and unsurprisingly there are off scents under the oil that cause me a little discomfort at times. The exotic floral oil that makes up the black blossom is very unique and strange, but intensely overpowering. Lots of charcoal sticks will lose their oil scent pretty fast but I’ve never had a box of BB that didn’t overpower nearly everything in the room. Worth trying out for those who like roses, jasmines and other florals, but as more of a resin and wood type, it’s not a particular favorite.

Incense (6)

Got a fabulous new order of incense in from the people at Ecclecstacy, pretty much everything I wanted with some samples, including one unlabeled incense that could possibly be one of the greatest sticks I’ve experienced, and I still haven’t heard back on just what this is, but I want lots more of it. A very watery (in the esoteric sense), musky blend that I can still smell in my office miles away from where I last burnt anything. Unsurprisingly it was wrapped with the Sho-Kaku I mentioned in another post, as it’s very close to that level, and I was definitely glad to get more of that fine blend as well. To be able to burn a full inch of it felt like a luxury and it’s even better over time, almost a zillion different subscents pop out at you.

Most of what I got were Satya champa blends and I’m hoping in the not too different future to provide a guide to that brand’s wide and varied blends, some marketed for the West, some as obscure to me as the language, but most rather amazing. It’s taken me a while to get around to getting opinions on these incenses as there seem to be issues, primarily the fact that I’ve noticed a major difference in quality between fresh Satya blends and those that seem to have sat on a shelf since time immemorial. If your sticks are dry, cracked and retaining no poweder, you might as well throw them out given how much of the luster has been lost.

For instance, many of the larger Satya packs come with a sample of another blend in a small box, these are often dull beyond measure. I had several boxes with an incense called Aastha, well if I had gone on my opinion from those boxes, I would have said it’s fair if not worse, but in actually getting a fresh pack in the mail, I’d say it’s absolutely brilliant stuff. I’m not sure how one can avoid these issues except by purchasing from mail order places or someone with a lot of turn over. Not record stores, head shops etc.

It is worth mentioning that Satya have five new blends out. The first I was introduced to, Trishaa, is fabulous, and I’d hesitate to say there’s a strong spikenard content to the stick. The other four are all packaged identically except for box color: Celestial, Midnight, Sunrise and Patchouli Forest. I’ve tried all but the latter so far and they’re all great, maybe Midnight could be an instant classic in my book.

Also grabbed a few more Nu Essence Blends (something else I’d like to talk about after trying them all), resin incense blends based on thelemic concepts, something I was very pleased to see. They’re all superb, and now I have some nice accompaniment for when I drop out of society and call up my HGA. Also (finally) got a little Ensei sampler, a few Japanese blends that mix aloes/sandal with spice. I tried the spicy aloeswood which made me feel like the spice got in the way.

Scented Mountain (Incense 5)

An exchange in the comments section of recent posts, led me to check out Scented Mountain, a company I keep wanting to call Sacred Mountain, which is probably the western esotericist speaking in me. And I suppose they’re almost interchangeable here. Anyway, they offer agarwood grown in a sustainable manner (explained in detail on the site) and offer various grades of aloeswood both in stick and wood form. So I decided to order their Highest Quality grade aloeswood and got in my order (quite quickly) over the weekend.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this aloeswood is as good as anything I currently own. It’s not in the kyara category of course, but it does, just a little, hint at that and it’s definitely a stronger and more full aroma than the various Vietnamese and Indonesian aloeswoods I mentioned in a previous article (it’s maybe a bit better than the top grade). The pictures of the incense itself at the site are definitely magnified quite a bit, but suffice it to say I must have burned about five or six of these 9cm sticks over the weekend and nearly had to force myself to stop, truly is the aroma breathtaking, anything from the resinous presence in all high quality aloeswood to almost cinnamon and clove like tinges to it. In fact I’d be amazed if anyone didn’t think this was a blend of some sort.

Anyway thanks again to Kerry for the referral, I’m starting to wonder what 100g bundles might cost. I should also mention I was sent a sample of the wood itself, although it was impossible for me to tell what grade it was, it burned quite nicely on the makko itself…

Aloeswood again (Incense 4)

I did managed to go on a bit about kyara earlier, but I’ve been finding that the Vietnamese aloeswood sticks are just getting better and better every time I burn one to the point that I can see aloeswood being a gigantic part of my palette of scents in the near future. It has such a deep and powerful scent, so multifaceted that I notice different things about it every time.

[I’ve deleted the Ecclecstacy-specific links on this page as I can’t recommend them.]

It’s obvious to mention that aloeswood is a totally different type of incense from the Indian durbars and champas but I find them really complementary in terms of switching from one style to the other. Maybe the only potential casualty are my sandalwood incenses, which I love, but truly pale in comparison. While durbars are almost overwhelming in fragrance, aloeswood starts out “humble” and then proceeds to impress with various subscents. Even though the bamboo-less stick puts off less smoke, it’s as noticeable in other ways. Over the last couple days ago I’ve gotten minty hints from the #2 and #3 grades, occasional wafts of fine tea, as well as other hints I’m just starting to recognize. Of course the resinous nature that makes it so amazing is more prevalent with the more money you spend, none of these have that extraordinarily rich kyara scent the Shoyeido blends I mentioned earlier do, but they’re extremely fine incenses that I’m enjoying mostly because those Shoyeidos are toast and I’m waiting on a restock.

I also went for the high grade aloeswood box from Scented Mountain that Kerry commented on in an earlier post, so I hope to talk about that as well. If they are anywhere near as good as the three above at that price, I’m likely to be very happy.

Seriously, anyone remotely interested in incense reading this owes it to check some of these scents out, they’re like magick.

A mild warning about Capricorn’s Lair

One incense dealer worth avoiding appears to be Capricorn’s Lair, and it’s really quite a shame. It’s the only place I know of that has a resin and incense of the month club and both sounded like a really fun thing, so I went for the former. For about $30 + postage a month you get maybe $40 in resins and such and, supposedly, a couple rolls of charcoal so you have something to burn the resins on. Well, when my order showed up, it didn’t come with the two rolls of charcoal, but what I did get instead was a note saying that a customer was not allowed to claim that there was something missing from the package and three signatures to “prove” that the order complete. Needless to say, I tried contacting the company twice, at the very least to confirm, like it said in the blurb, that I’m supposed to get two rolls of charcoal. Nothing. And strangely enough I haven’t been charged or contacted about the second month even though I didn’t resign from the club. That’s bad business in my book, I guess they’re happy with their current clientele. Beware.