Best Incense – October 2007

[For previous Top 10 lists, please click on the Incense Review Index tab above]

  1. Kyukyodo / Sho Ran Ko – Sho-Ran-Ko has emerged for me as the reigning best incense I’ve ever experienced. One would have to put out a considerable amount of money (and the price on this is considerable in its own right) to experience an incense with such high quality and aromatic depth. It’s an explosion of scent with an alluring and sultry top note, the spices constantly interacting with the very highly quality aloeswood base to make each and every stick a new experience, one that makes it very difficult to nail down a description. Last month I described that quality as “great jazz musicians jamming.” I wonder a little if this incense is sold in smaller quantities in Japan as even though you’re paying over a dollar a stick that adds up to quite a chunk at 150 sticks. But then you’d be missing out on the outstanding packaging and artwork.
  2. Bo Rim (Dan) Sticks (bottom of page) – Running through some pages of Mike’s Prattle is something of a saga in terms of trying to identify a mystery stick. While I’ve never figured out what that was, this Korean incense has a lot of similar qualities, namely a very tangy wood and spice that I’d best describe as addictive. Essence of the Ages sells this both in a wood container (which contains 40 sticks or so) and a much larger box and I’m thinking I need the box, even if you wish most incense came in the nice wooden containers. I’ll probably get to this one in a bit more detail later, but this is well worth it.
  3. Shunkodo / Ranjatai (second to last on page) – I rarely see Shunkodo incenses in the US market, so it’s nice Essence of the Ages is carrying several of their sticks. Ranjatai appears to be the most premium of their several lines and like most of their sticks comes with packagaging, one page of which has a photo of a couple rather impressive pieces of pure, heavily resinated aloeswood. I guess that’s the picture that will stick with me in thinking of this incense, which is a really deluxe aloeswood scent which at times will remind you of the pure wood. The company does claim that this incense has extraordinary depth and after a number of sticks, I’m starting to see why. A description of which will have to wait until I catch up. But so far I’ve never tried, even in a sample pack, an aloeswood incense with this type of wood presence.
  4. Shoyeido / Horin / Ten-Pyo – It took me a while to come around on this incense, which surprises me a little given the obvious kyara presence. At first, for about 5-10 sticks I got a much woodier aroma, an almost bitter tang to the wood, but since then I’d describe this as sweeter and even candy-like. It’s a really gorgeous incense that now makes me want to splurge for the coil version just to see the differences. It’s almost the perfect blend of an expensive traditional kyara incense with a modern sensibility.
  5. Shoyeido / Premium / Misho  As I wrote in August, “While burning this it’s hard to imagine that there are five other premium incenses in the line that are more expensive and high quality, as this is every bit an incredible and formidable aloeswood blend, extremely heavy on the wood. In fact there’s not a stick in this line that doesn’t grow on you over time. It could be the green color to the stick, but that’s the color I associate with this scent, simply one of the most panoramic and intuition-heavy incenses I’ve ever encountered.” It’s mostly been dropping due to its cost and the fact I’m not burning it as frequently, not to say it’s wearing off on me at all. Although I more and more note its similarity with the Horin line Gen-roku (below).
  6. Kyukyodo / Azusa – From September, Azusa “is a truly individual and unique blend like no other, reminding me more of a natural floral smell than a 1000 jasmine and rose sticks. It’s got an alluring sweetness to it that reminds me of some of the sweet green patchouli masalas, but this is far more refined and tantalizing.” As I may have mentioned, despite that on the surface this is one incredible and distinctive incense, it doesn’t share the depth of some of its company’s other sticks, meaning I feel I’ve got the scent somewhat absorbed.
  7. Shoyeido / Horin / Gen-roku – One day I’ll end up writing rather enthusiastically about Shoyeido’s Horin line and probably would have by now except one of the five fragrances is becoming a distant memory. The third in the line, Gen-roku, as mentioned before, is a very green aloeswood incense with similarities to Misho, but with a slightly more modern edge. Both incenses strike me as being excellent blends of wood with spice, penetrating and cleansing.
  8. Joyoko Temple (second to last on page) – Hailed as a premium meditation blend, Joyoko Temple is a blend I expected to fall off this list after a month, but instead I’ve just grown to like it more and more. However inaccurately, I’m starting to see this as a more affordable alternate to the Sho-Ran-Ko and while this doesn’t have quite the premium essence of that incense, it does have a number of ingredients and a strong aloeswood presence that makes this similar in the way the ingredients interact. And since you can buy a roll of this for under $20, it’s easy to recommend as an affordable yet brilliant incense.
  9. Baieido / Kai Un Koh (bottom of page) – Becoming a Mikesprattle Top 10 standard. As I wrote earlier, “I tend to think of [Kai Un Koh] like some beautiful antique wood with finish, something you could lose yourself in.” One of the best price to quality ratios you can find in incense.
  10. Tennendo / Frankincense (third and fourth items on page) – I just reviewed this one before the weekend and don’t have much more to say than this is probably the best Frankincense resin aroma I’ve ever encountered in a stick.


  1. Mike said,

    January 25, 2008 at 7:56 am

    You’re welcome and thanks for your thoughts!

  2. Anonymous said,

    January 24, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    Finding good incense is rare. Finding genuine reviews is rarer. Thanks for sharing this info.

    10 Virtues of Incense

    It brings communication with the transcendent

    It refreshes mind and body

    It removes impurity

    It brings alertness

    It is a companion in solitude

    In the midst of busy affairs, it brings a moment of peace

    When it is plentiful, one never tires of it

    When there is little, still one is satisfied

    Age does not change its efficacy

    Used everyday, it does no harm

  3. Mike said,

    November 25, 2007 at 12:07 pm

    Hi Dee, You’re welcome, very glad to hear the recommendations worked out! I’m going to have to try out your idea with the two incenses, it sounds great. I like to get the effect occasionally of burning one type upstairs and one downstairs in order to experience the transition.

  4. Dee said,

    November 21, 2007 at 8:49 pm

    Amazing recommendations!

    My last order contained Joyoko Temple and Samye Monastery – both very, very nice.

    Great for meditation, great to just be “in”, and the Joyoko is also great for just making the house smell incredible.

    With a half stick of Joyoko at one end of the room providing smooth sweetness and a half stick White Pigeon on the other end supplying the contrasting scent, the result is very pleasant.

    It is my opinion based on what you were initially given, you couldn’t have possibly pinpointed better recommendations and I truly appreciate it. Thank you very, very much.

  5. Dee said,

    November 8, 2007 at 4:07 am

    Order placed 🙂

    I truly appreciate the time, effort and detail in your reply. Thank you very much.

  6. Mike said,

    November 6, 2007 at 10:02 am

    Hi Dee, thanks for your comments. When it comes to meditation, I tend to like incenses that aren’t too powerful in aroma, while still being quality (nothing too complex or distracting). For that purpose I tend to like some of the Japanese sticks (like Joyoko Temple), although I think I can recommend some other Tibetan brands…

    I bought a meditation twofer from these pages called Meditation which has a roll of Ebionite (myrrh and aloeswood) and one of Tibetan Nag Champa. Both are rather mild incenses but work nicely for meditation aids, particularly the Ebionite.

    I reviewed the second and third items on this page a week or two ago, but both of these would probably work pretty well, although the Tibetan Monastery blend is a bit sharp and complex, but it’s gorgeous incense and given its name, I can imagine it would work well, although I haven’t meditated to it as of yet.

    I’ve also tried the White Pigeon dhoop which is definitely nice. There’s also Relaxense, which is right below the two I mentioned in the previous paragraph. It’s rather mild and unobtrusive.

    I also think the Dhoop Factory incenses Medicine Buddha and Agar 31 here:

    are both nicely aromatic without being distracting.

    is a bit pricey, but very unique. It does contain animal extracts (such as pangolin scales) in case that’s an issue. But it does have a nice intuitive depth to it, which makes me think it would be a good meditation aid.

    Anyway I hope that helps some or narrows down what you’re looking for – mike

  7. Dee said,

    November 6, 2007 at 6:38 am

    Hi Mike,
    I just found your site and welcome it into my life in a grand way.

    I was wondering if you could possibly help with some recommendations..

    I have been purchasing Tibetan dhoop incense for a few years now via ebay and most recently through Essence of the Ages. The varieties listed in these pages mainly

    Our main purpose for using incense is to aid meditation, promoting peace, calmness and centering in our home. Very secondary though still valid is just to enjoy it’s smell.

    Quite recently we stumbled upon White Pigeon Dhoop from Essence as listed here and found it useful for our purposes, genuinely aiding in the creation of the actual feelings of calmness and peace – not just some smell and a claim that says “meditation aid” on the packaging (as we find so many do).

    From what I have read so far, it seems your site really gets into the smells in a deep and profound way which is quite useful. But I was wondering if you could make some recommendations based on what you have read here more based on feel than smell. With your depth of experience, I am very open to trying brands/types/individual kinds that you might recommend.

    Thank you very much for this site, your time and any consideration in reading or responding to this message.


  8. Mike said,

    November 3, 2007 at 8:03 pm

    Hi Chie, thanks for the feedback and glad the reviews are of use. I do plan on working on a top list of inexpensive brands. However, I’m kind of curious as to what you (and other readers) might consider expensive or not. I know most Indian brands can be found in decent quantity for less than $5 a package. There are a number of lower end Japanese at that price, but there are also good incenses at the $10 and $15 prices. One big favorite of mine is Baieido’s Kai Un Koh, a roll of which can be found under $15. and I think it’s an aloeswood incense on par with a lot more expensive ones.

  9. chie said,

    November 2, 2007 at 5:11 pm

    just wanted to thank you for your in depth reviews of incense. they are really useful, especially since i can’t find quality incense locally, but can’t smell much over the internet either. one thing: it seems like the majority of your top 10s are on the pricier side — i’d be very interested an occasional top 10 inexpensive brands.

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