As a creator of a number of different modern lines, it could be said that Nippon Kodo, at least in its American front, leads the market when it comes to user friendly, accessible and modern scents, and as such it’s a company that doesn’t really make a lot of incense that appeals to my personal taste. But even beyond this disclaimer, a lot of modern incenses I have tried in the Nippon Kodo stable have gone beyond just having a different aesthetic into what I find to be unpleasantly perfumed incenses. That is, there’s a difference between not being a big fan of fruity or floral incenses while recognizing that there are times when they are well done and just dismissing anything of the sort. Having reviewed (and not altogether positively) incenses in lines like Free Pure Spirit, East Meets West, Elemense and New Morning Star, it’s time to turn to some incenses that, while not being my thing, are sometimes well done for what they do.
Café Time is a series of cone incenses that come in pairs in cylindrical cardboard containers with five cones for each of two flavors per container, with a theme to tie them together. Café Times are rather small cones and even if they’re quite affordable between $5 and $6 a container, you’re still paying at least 50 cents a cone. Given these cones are done in 15 to 20 minutes, you’re not getting a lot of value for the money, but at least in most of these incenses you’re getting a decent scent, with very few of them showing the off notes and cheap perfume aromatics of some of other NK’s lines.
The first package I tried, Quiet Evening, includes Cassia and Mocha cones. The Cassia is quite a success for a fruity type of aroma, with a black currant aroma quite reminiscent of that “jelly baby” smell I remember from being a child growing up in England (jelly babies are confectionaries only vague similar to gummy bears). It’s a bit tart and very berry and ought to please nearly everyone. The Mocha cone, if less successful, isn’t quite as intense as the Fragrance Memories Paris Café aroma and much closer to the New Morning Star Earth blend, although in the Mocha case there’s not the same sort of accompanying spices as there are in these other two references. Chocolate never seems to come out very well in incense and while the coffee part never overwhelms it in this case, the whole aroma seems muted and quiet, neither offending or impressing.
Bright Afternoon creates an unlikely pair of Sakura (Cherry) and Green Tea and in this case the two incenses couldn’t be farther apart in impact. The Sakura is possibly the closest in this series that I’ve tried to the more synthetic blends earlier and where Cassia succeeds as a fruit incense, the Cherry falls flat with a combination of florals that do little to approach either cherry or cherry blossom scents. If Cassia encouraged me to dig deeper into this line, Sakura probably prevented me from finishing it. On the other hand, the Green Tea is almost a revelation. This is the one cone I’ve tried that is so rich with oil that it literally leaves your cone holder covered in it by the end of the cone. It goes for a surprisingly natural green tea scent with the almost sage/herb like top notes, that remind you of the dried leaf itself, a bit muted. It’s an incredibly potent cone for a 15-20 minute burn and it’s been hard for me not to compare subsequent green tea incenses to this one as this one never gets too sweet.
Refreshed Mood goes for a closer pairing than the previous two packages, with the Lime and Mint Tea cones being fairly close in color and both being featureless enough for me to have occasional trouble telling them apart. The differences become a bit clearer after burning both, as one relates the slight bitterness to lime peel in the first cone. It does roughly manage to get that freshly squeezed lime, airy sort of aroma, but this peak fades pretty quickly into something a little less distinctive. The Mint Tea cone also suffers a little bit from a lack of distinction that the Green Tea cone managed to avoid. There’s definitely a bit of mint, but overall the cone’s not particularly interesting with that same sort of multi-ingredient head on collision natural to many NK modern scents.
Enchanted Mood also pairs two scents even more difficult to tell apart than the Lime and Mint Tea. Both the Lotus and the Wine cones here need perfumes in order to approximate their scents, both of which vary widely in terms of aromas. The Lotus cone doesn’t come close to the success of more traditional aromas in this vein that present a sultry, complex oil as a vehicle for the lotus aroma, here it’s a bit too friendly with a slight bitterness. As someone who’s spent some lab time guessing scents from wines, it’s somewhat amusing to consider a cone labelled Wine considering it could be anything from a citrusy, fizzy white wine smell to a deeper berry. The result is closer to the latter end of the spectrum with a burgundy-ish clolor and sangria-like aroma that’s way too reminiscent of Glade air fresheners and candles for my tastes, while not being quite as bitter or offputting.
Overall this series follows my arc of interest. I bought Cassia and Mocha a while back and liked them enough to try three more packages, most of which failed for me and caused me not to seek the other two packages in the series Fresh Morning (Orange and Darjeeling) and Relaxed Mood (Apple and Jasmine Tea). As I tended to follow a more traditional path with incense, scents like these aren’t quite as much to my interest, but even in retrospect I’d have to admit there are a few here worthy of interest. Certainly if you want to try a good example of a fruity incense, the Cassia’s one of the best. And while I’d recommend the Green Tea here, there are certainly comparable green teas that are better deals for the money. The rest, however, aren’t distinguished enough to recommend.