First, disclosure. Both Ross and I are working on a “weekend” side project for Beth at Essence of the Ages describing incenses in the Essence of the Ages lines (I’m not sure when these will go live yet). Obviously, none of these will be reviewed here, but as these incenses are created by the Direct Help Foundation for EofA, I felt it important to note that before I talk about the TDHF line itself.
TDHF incenses are a little confusing in that a) there are single rolls b) there are double and triple roll sets which include incenses not available in single roll sets c) many of the sets overlap rolls, for instance you can find Kumary House, Disciple of Lhasa and Indra Mudra incenses in several sets and d) purchasing a TDHF box is going to likely be affected by one’s attraction to the artwork. Particularly on this latter point, the love and care that goes into the handpainted boxes is pretty amazing, most of them look like they’ll be reusable for quite some time. As a fan of Visionary Art, which often uses eastern religious motifs, I’m quite impressed with all of this art, the vibrant colors and the symbolism. Honestly with the 30% sale I’m almost satisfied just paying this much for these boxes.
Incense-wise, Direct Help Foundation incenses seems almost purely natural and the ingredients vibrantly fresh. So even while I don’t enjoy the entire line, when a certain scent hits the palate just right this freshness gives it a little extra oomph. On the other hand those of you who know that certain ingredients that might smell better fresh than lit know that the fully natural route also has its hazards. The first incense that comes to mind is the Cinnamon, Vanilla and Honey. That’s a gorgeous sounding combination, but despite the stick smelling amazing, once lit, the incense has the same issues as these ingredients on their own. Without essential oils, the aromatic impact isn’t too great and cinnamon is very difficult to get right (Baieido Koh is one great example).
On the other hand, when TDHF do get it right, they hit bulls eye. The two-shot punch in the Magic Works box (now out of stock unfortunately) of Myrrlin and Amberlin is very fine, particularly the latter incense. Here we’re combining ingredients and I’m starting to feel this is where the Tibetan style really excels. The Magic Tantra box, also deleted, has the incense I liked the most in it, The Druid (moss, roots and resin), which even has slight hints of the same herbs in the Tibetan Medical College Holy Land and Nectar. Above all, none of the incenses are overstuffed with cheap cedar woor or other fillers and quite a few of them are surprisingly low smoke for Tibetan incenses. For example Ebionite probably has the same smoke content that Shoyeido’s Aesthetics series has.
A few minor comments on some of the others: Nag Champa seems fairly typical of Tibetan incenses in this mode, much drier than the Indian equivalents without the rich perfume oils. The Blue Lotus has a pretty nice Lotus aroma, although perhaps a bit too floral overall for my tastes. The musk in the high end Tibetans basically make the TDHF Green Musk a wash, there’s just no comparison. The multi-ingredient blend Kumary House (2006) is quite zesty with a slightly unpredictable nature and lots of evergreens. Himalayan Jhakri is very woody with slight spice and a very dry character.
While I’m obviously not close to finished evaluating these incenses, it’s hard not to see a highly level of quality at work here, even if the aromatic nature of these incenses are tempered by the rare or absent use of essential oils (or perhaps they’re just applied judiciously here, I’m not totally sure). But with 30% off and the incredible artwork, it’s hard to not suggest that you all give a box or two a try before the next wave comes in. At the very least it’ll be a place to store other Tibetans that come in the rattier paper packaging.