Lung Ta, based on the Portuguese language on the rolls and the use of Brazilian Juniper, appears to be something of a Tibetan-Brazilian cooperative, but it’s not particularly clear if they’re mostly distributor or creative partner. Because even for Tibetan (and Bhutanese and Nepali…) incense these four incenses are quite unusual, with a base of ingredients that imparts certain qualities to all their incenses. These main ingredients include the aforementioned Brazilian juniper, sassafras, aromatic calamus, Indian cloves, cardamom and cinnamon. This base, while having some aspects in common with the general (Tibetan) style, actually moves in an almost food-like direction. The underlying aroma imparts hints of spice cookies and oatmeal cereal with the juniper basically buried and all the spices up front and read to interact with the finishing touches.
Strangely enough some of the specific incense ingredients seem to build upon this base and add other ingredients unusual for incense. For example, Riwo Sang Chhoe uses fruits, cereals, medicinal substances and mineral dust such as gold, silver and coppper. Some of these ingredients are more likely to be linked to the incenses’ mystical properties than to what they do aromatically, but what’s strange is that some of what I listed can really be detected. The base as above almost has lactic hints to it and the results almost seem like combinations of incense and cereals. It really sets this line apart from other Tibetan-style incenses and the blends tend to actually smoothe out some of the harsh notes you tend to find in some multi-herbal recipes.
From the look of it, Drib Poi has seven natural ingredients, so must be considered the simplest incense of the four here, but it’s also the one I like the most. I’m curious about the seventh ingredient as it imparts a green color the other three incenses don’t have, and not only that but a spicy, exotic tinge that reminds me of a spicy Thai green curry. The milkiness of the whole line definitely compliments the herbal nature and there’s a slighty sour, tangy quality that’s quite alluring. This is definitely a unique incense for the style, it made me wonder what it’d be like with a little agarwood.
Ribo Sang Chhoe is rather different although the spice cookie base stil remains and the above mentioned ingredients either overlap or were added. I laughed when I read in the description that this is “as if we were offering a complete meal that offers joy and delight.” Be sure not to take a bite of the stick after this description and the incense’s aroma as this is less an entree and more a confectionary. I got hints of cocoa butter, graham crackers and orange spice here with a stronger background wood presence that gives it a slight dryness and ties it roughly together with White Sur. While this still has a bit of tangyness to it, the aftereffects kind of fade into the citrus and spice.
White Sur opens up the ingredient list to over 200 entries. This sort of thing makes me think of centuries of experimentation in order to realize White Sur is what the creators wanted. The incense itself doesn’t necessarily set itself apart from the rest of the line by way of the implied complexity, in fact White Sur isn’t terribly far off from Ribo Sang Chhoe, but the many ingredients do start to impress themselves upon you with use. The incense starts out with an almost sweetgrass like aroma but once that top note starts to fade, you’re left not only with the base as already described but a lot of extras playing with it. It might be close to what Drib Poi would be like without the green herbal hints, just concentrating on the cereal aspects. The cardamom in particular seems to be the most out front.
Red Sur might be the incense of the four most reminiscent of what you may already have experienced with Tibetan incense, its red color moves it closer to a number of monastery incenses that end up with a slight berry aroma. With the food-like qualities of this line, Red Sur kind of reminds me of a tart raspberry or strawberry yogurt, or better yet like a bowl of strawberry Cheerios. The scent seems to be a bit tarter than the other three because of it and as such sets it apart a bit more, but at the same time it seems to have a drier finish, one that tends to move one’s attention from the base a little more. There still is a hint of cereal and spice in the background but here its the most muted in the line.
I didn’t imagine when sampling these things to be as impressed with the brand’s uniqueness as I was, and I could tell that my understanding of the complexity of these incenses increased with use, meaning there’s something of a learning curve with these. While they seem to use a lot of more common ingredients, it seems the creators have found a way to blend food and minerals to actually bring out qualities like that in an aroma, which couldn’t have been easy (but please don’t go trying to light your curry or yogurt on fire). And not only that but at $5 a roll they’re very affordable and there’s also a density and earthiness to the sticks that seem to make them burn maybe a little longer than other, drier Tibetan sticks. Definitely a stop for the olfactory explorer.