Heating Incense

Since I’ve obtained an incense heater, it’s almost felt like I’ve doubled my incense supply. Every resin, wood chip and even incense stick has a totally different quality to it than burning. This difference usually varies from significant to startling.

I haven’t gotten around to trying everything by this method, in particular anything resinous usually needs a small bit of aluminum foil to protect your dish. I’m also not quite sure just when a heated aromatic loses its potency as without combusting the rest of the material, the aroma seems to just kind of slightly fade. Aloeswood chips usually end up looking charred, probably because the (black) resin in the wood tends to bubble.

The biggest surprise for me had to be myrrh. I’ve always found myrrh not only to be extremely variable in quality but often kind of gnarly smelling straight on a piece of charcoal. But in heating it you can be immediately convinced over why this material has been so prized over the ages. Whatever impurities or off notes I noticed on charcoal just don’t pop up here and even at a rather high heat it dissipates very slowly. The myrrh I’m using is a golden color rather than the darker brown stuff usually found in US stores and it’s sweet, sultry and has a depth of character many other resins don’t. Now I know I really want to try what’s considered high end.

I’ve also been experimenting with various aloeswood chips, which was my primary reason for wanting a heater. I’ve got about five or six different types/grades of aloeswood and they all have very different characteristics. I probably enjoy Baieido’s Hakusui aloeswood the best, and it is their highest grade barring kyara. Slightly spicy, deep rich and expansive, Hakusui had major impact for me. At the other Baieido end, the Indonesian Kokonoe no kumo doesn’t actually even seem to dissipate all that much on a heater or has such a mild aroma it’s difficult to detect.

I mentioned Shoyeido’s “seasonal” wood chip box a few weeks ago, containing aloeswood, sandalwood, and kyara chips as well as some kneaded incense. I believe the aloeswood is Shoyeido’s take grade, which is quite nice for being their lowest graded woodchip, similar, but richer than other low end chips. The kyara, of course, is lovely, but the chips are so small the impact seems to be over fairly fast. The sandalwood chips do seem very fine though and heating them reminds me of old mountain wood and other sandalwood sticks that accentuate the oil quality of the wood.

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