Best Incense – September 2008

[For previous Top 10 lists, please click on the Incense Review Index tab above or the Top Ten Lists category on the left.]

  1. Shoyeido / Premium / Ga-Ho – The price on Shoyeido premiums necessitates some discipline in terms of frequency of burning, but despite all attempts at restraint, I’m closing in on the halfway point of my “silk box” and eyeing the bigger roll and wondering how I can afford one in this sinking economy. I just can’t get enough of what may be my very favorite incense. This one’s dry, unlike any other incense, heavy with high quality aloeswood, and the oil/perfume is stupendous. Just can’t get enough of this one. Extremely exotic and not nearly as immediate as the rest of the line.
  2. Shoyeido / Premium / Nan-Kun – And almost for a different reason, Nan-Kun is nearly as addictive. I think my appreciation for musk is higher of late due to all the Tibetans and while Nan-Kun gets its muskiness likely from the very high quality and heavy use of spikenard, it still itches that same spot while hitting the aloeswood and spice buttons at the same time. This one is very animal and rich, with an almost poignant sweetness to it. Possibly the best buy for money in the Shoyeido Premium line. To my nose, I enjoy Ga-Ho and Nan-Kun as much as the expensive kyaras in the line.
  3. Shunkohdo / Kyara Seikan – Seikan sticks are thin enough to look like they’d break in a strong wind, but their aromatic power for such a size is always startling, even if one does have to quiet down to “hear” it. In many ways this is the kyara incense that really focuses on the wood and while there are obvious ingredients that bolster the aroma, the sweet, sultry smell of the wood is central. A superlatively brilliant incense that I can barely get enough of.
  4. Tibetan Medical College / Holy Land – Down to about 15 sticks left in my box and I practically need disciplined meditation to stay away from it given the wait for a restock (when I go nuts). The very apex of Tibetan incense, a stick that rivals any country’s best work.
  5. Highland Incense – Highland’s the trusty #2 Tibetan brand for me as I wait for more Holy Land, a combination of animal (musk, civet?) and herbal spice that is incredibly comforting and relaxing right before sleep (I often burn about 2 inches of a stick as I drift off). Becoming a standard around here, don’t let this one go out of stock before you try it!
  6. Baieido / Kunsho – My recent musing is wondering whether Kunsho, the third most premium of five in Baieido’s Pawlonia box line, might be equal or better than the fourth, Koh En. As I get to know Baieido incense, more and more do I think you’re getting your best value for money from their products. I could see Kunsho at almost twice the price and still be worth it. Slightly cherry-esque with a very balanced and noble wood to it, this is truly impressive incense.
  7. Shoyeido / Premium / Myo-Ho – Definitely my favorite among the supernal trio heading Shoyeido’s premium line. It still strikes me like an electric muscat, deep, aromatic and sweet with an aloeswood strength that constantly reminds you of the incense’s depth. Another scent that’s painful to watch as your supply dwindles.
  8. Lung Ta / Drib Poi – I am returning to this Tibetan stick fairly often even though in doing so I keep sampling the rest of the line and wonder why I like this one so much more. I think it must be the curry-ish spice to it which seems missing in the others, a green-ish , exotic tinge that brings out the ingredient complexity.
  9. Minorien / Aloeswood – As I cycle through various incenses I often come across this one and am impressed all over again, particularly surprising as the two above it in the Minorien line are more refined and impressive. But there’s something so ancient and hoary about this aloeswood that it tends to scratch that itch I have with aloeswoods that aren’t too sweet. Like Baieido, Minorien’s products have a way of continuing to impress long after one’s initial purchase.
  10. The Direct Help Foundation / The Druid – I’m not sure this incense is still available, it was originally part of the Magic Tantra set and maybe one other, but perhaps it will show up again in the future. It’s actually somewhat similar in its salty herbalness to the Tibetan Medical College incenses, although not at all musky or dense like those. I’m not sure what the active ingredients is here, the mosses or something else, but the results are a very pleasant blend I hope comes back in the future. Because when TDHF get it right like they do here, they’re among the best.
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4 Comments

  1. Adam G said,

    September 28, 2016 at 11:54 am

    Tibetan incense exporters may soon be forced to reformulate products like Holy Land that contain nagi / pangolin scales, due to developments in the ongoing CITES conference. Check out this newsflash from NBC:

    DELEGATES AT A U-N WILDLIFE CONFERENCE VOTED TODAY (WEDNESDAY) TO BAN TRADE IN ALL EIGHT SPECIES OF PANGOLINS.

    (–VO–)

    THE SMALL, ANT-EATING MAMMAL IS HEAVILY POACHED FOR ITS MEAT AND SCALES, WHICH ARE USED IN TRADITIONAL MEDICINE IN PARTS OF ASIA.

    FOUR SPECIES ARE FOUND IN ASIA – FOUR IN AFRICA.

    THE CREATURE IS CONSIDERED THE WORLD’S MOST POACHED MAMMAL.

    THE COMMITTEE VOTE CAME AT A MEETING OF THE CONVENTION ON INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN ENDANGERED SPECIES OF WILD FAUNA AND FLORA IN JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA.

    THE DECISION IS EXPECTED TO BE APPROVED AT A PLENARY SESSION NEXT WEEK.

  2. greg said,

    November 18, 2010 at 8:57 am

    i must confess that baieido’s ‘koh en’ varies noticeably with the batch. i’ve purchased a box of this incense from two different vendors and there definitely is a quality issue here. the only obvious way to differentiate the batches is that one box has no stamped markings on it and the other one has ‘koh en’ stamped in kanji characters. the stamped box contains a sublime stick that is redolent of aloeswood and other spices. the unstamped box is rather dry and characterless, almost as if it was left open for a year or two and the essential oils have dissipated. so, depending on the batch, you can have an exquisite example of the incense blender’s art or something quite lifeless.

    • Steve said,

      November 18, 2010 at 10:42 am

      Hey Greg – holding the wood box facing in front of me, I flip it over and on the back, towards the bottom, are 2 kanji characters embossed in the wood. Are these the characters you are referring to? I have 4 boxes of the stuff and just checked to see if they all have the stamp (they do) – in addition to the decal on the front face of the box. I, too, sourced my supply from 2 different vendors but went so far as to burn a sample from each box just to ensure they were the same, which they were. Very interesting (and disappointing) that you appear to have a dud box. Did that wood box come in the outer Baieido cardboard box/sleeve when you received it? Does it have the decal on the front? The folded rice-paper insert and tissue wrapping around the sticks? Would hate to think someone sent you a repackaged box with inferior/substitute incense in it…

      • Steve said,

        November 18, 2010 at 11:20 am

        Another thought – have you let the vendor know about your experience? If they are listed here as reputable, they would hopefully work with you…


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