Best Incense – February 2009 (by Nancy)

1. Kyukyodo / Yumemachi (4th down)- I really just can’t get enough of this incense. This company is just as old as some of the better known Japanese manufacturers, like Shoyeido, Baieido, and Nippon Kodo, but has a much smaller presence in the states. Intrigued by their pedigree I decided to purchase a small tube of Yumemachi from Essence of the Ages. Now that I have tried this incense I really wish I had more access to their catalog! There are so many companies that make a floral, a sandalwood, or a frankincense and it is interesting for sure to sample the many variations. However, I have yet to come across another incense like this one. Definitely a wood base but with what I believe is yuzu, or bitter orange, to round it out. This fruit is a cross between the sour mandarin orange and a specific type of asian lemon. Very interesting and delightful!

2. Baieido / Byakudan Kobunboku – I just keep coming back to this one. A very dry, complex wood, typical of Baieido’s signature style. This one brings me an immense sense of tranquility and I love to burn 4 or 5 sticks at a time all over the house, infusing the space with a peaceful stillness. Very layered and changeable, like a chameleon the scent morphs over time. Definitely one for contemplation. The Japanese word for enjoying incense literally translates as “listening to incense.” This one has much to say.

3. Shoyeido / Nokiba – One of the best incense bargains around! From Shoyeido’s Daily Incense line. I have a nostalgic love of this scent because it was one of the first Japanese-style incenses I every tried. I truly admire this company and have explored their line from top to bottom with many favorites picked up along the way. This one is a nice mossy wood, sweet and light. As the name states, this is a great Daily Incense.

4. Shoyeido / Kyo-no-ume – My first exploration into the traditional kneaded incenses. This style is made by combining plum pulp with ground herbs. The mixture is then placed in an earthen jar and buried, preferable along the moist bank of a river, and allowed to mature for a few years. When it is unearthed it is rolled into little balls that are burned on charcoal or warmed on a heater. This style of incense is very old and dates back hundreds, if not thousands of years. It has a definite time-transporting quality, with a thick creamy scent and a high note of aloeswood. This is a very traditional style of incense, much older than joss sticks or cones. A true artisan experience, presented in a beautiful porcelain container, hand painted with plum blossoms.

5. Shoyeido / Tokusen – This body powder has really expanded my appreciation of incense in it’s many forms. These were traditionally used to cleanse the aura before prayer or meditation. Wearing this 100% herbal powder not only brings me great olfactory enjoyment, it also provides a lovely tranquil cloud within which I can experience my day. A blend of spices with cinnamon, cloves, and camphor, yummy like chai tea!  This is the highest grade of body powder that they offer and it is definitely worth the extra investment.

6. Shoyeido / Ten-pyo – One of the most complex incenses I have ever experienced. Thick aloeswood notes are intertwined with an endless multitude of herbs and spices, layered like and onion. These are some of Shoyeido’s short sticks, only 2 ¾ inches long, but powerful enough to deliver quite the experience. Wow! I really love the Horin line in general and vacillate especially between this and Muro-machi. I recommend checking out the sampler of this line – each of the 5 is a very interesting experience.

7. Tennendo / Kohrokan – One of the richest sandalwoods I know. I really love this wood and this variation is a sure tribute to its true scent. Sweet, resinous and deep with a meditative quality. What more can I say? A pure wood captured with perfection.

8. Shoyeido / Miyako-gusa – One of Shoyeido’s Aesthetic incenses, a line that is low-smoke, formulated especially for those with allergies and sensitivities. This offering straddles the line between fruit and floral, hence the name “Botanica.” Decidedly feminine in nature without being overpowering or perfumey. Like a ray of sunshine, this blend lifts the spirits and dispels negative energy. [3/4/09 – Called Shoyeido today. As it turns out this incense is packaged just like the Aesthetic Series and is featured on Shoyeido’s website on the same page but this and Shino-nome are officially NOT part of this series and are not 70% less smoke.]

9. Awaji-Baikundo / Byakudan – A lovely take on sandalwood. While Tennendo’s version stays true to the wood, this variation plays with it, blending it in a most interesting way with lemon. I really don’t know of any other company that has a sandalwood like this one. This company currently offers only 5 incenses in the US and everyone is worth checking out. Their formulations are unique, with a hydrangea tea base that lends a soft, lofty quality to the entire line. This plant is significant because it is used ceremonially to celebrate births, honor one’s ancestors, clear the mind of misfortune, relieve tension, promote a longer life, and grant you courage and happiness. Auspicious indeed!

10. Shoyeido / Ohjya-koh – A royal blend of aloeswood and camphor. One of the more affordable selections from Shoyeido’s Premium Incense line, which ranges in price from $15.95 all the way up to $599.00! There is something very regal and formal about this scent that keeps me coming back to it again and again. I love the way this incense pierces through and un-clouds my mind. I keep this one on hand at all times and really enjoy burning it at night when I go to sleep. I find that it empties and stills my mind in a lovely and gentle way.


Comment Changes

WordPress have fortuitously added some more comment features, which I’ve just added to the site, which should help on a couple of those pages where the comments are getting deep (such as the Ask ORS page). I’ve enabled this so that 50 comments will appear max per page and the newest comment will now be at the TOP of the first page, so now you won’t have to scroll down for that. Nesting should also be available now, although I haven’t looked closely to see if it works. But hopefully this will make things a little easier and help make it possible not to close down the Ask page and start a new one.

Nippon Kodo / Ka-Fuh / Hinoki + Naturense / Inspired Mind

Aside from the kyara ladder which Ross reviewed in part a little while back, I’m probably not the biggest appreciator nor perhaps the true end user of Nippon Kodo product. Even their aloeswood incenses strike me as weaker than just about every other Japanese company and their moderns can often be bitter and very synthetic smelling. This latter observation could be a good reason why they tend to have a lot of affordable incense lines, but I’d prefer to shell out for quality in just about every case. Of course with every rule there are exceptions.

I’m setting this up because except for their premium incenses, I’ve not bought a Nippon Kodo incense in a very long time and probably don’t see myself doing so in the future, even to complete the two lines that I’m going to be featuring one incense each from in this post. But fortunately, I think I’ll be able to post this “odd and end” review on a high note as these are two of NK’s more pleasant scents.

I’m also not really the end user for smokeless lines. I’ve tried one other Ka Fuh scent, the Aqua, which I more or less reviewed in its smoke version in the New Morningstar line a while back. It’s a apparently a popular incense, but not really my style, even in its smoky version it’s a bit light and unimpressive, perhaps incense for those who find most incense offputting. The Hinoki (Cypress) blend on the other hand is actually quite good, in fact I’ve found myself enjoying it more with every stick. For one thing, I think Cypress tends to be a lighter, evergreen sort of scent so it works well in smokeless form, in fact the best Hinoki incense, Baieido’s version, is also low smoke. It’s a scent kind of hard to pick up if you’re not close to the burn but very pleasant when you pick it up. In comparison to the Baieido, the Ka Fuh version could possibly be slightly more synthetic but it really doesn’t come off that way overall, in fact it may just be slightly sweeter. Overall it’s difficult to say more, it smells like cypress without much of anything else and while I’d say start with a roll of Baieido Hinoki if you can afford it, this is much cheaper and only barely inferior. Unlike so many Morningstar scents, this seems to have some authenticity to it.

A company says a lot about the contents of their line when they set two aside as being natural incenses, it’s almost as if it explicitly casts the rest of their lines as being at least in part synthetic. The Naturense line is one of the two lines Nippon Kodo have labelled as natural, the other being NK Pure. Based on Inspired Mind, a lemongrass and orange scent, as well as the comparable but higher end Kohden line, Naturense seems to be an essential oil mix on wood base blend that bears a whiff of base as much as the oils, even in an oil blend as strongly scented as lemongrass and orange. It does indeed smell natural, not far from a mix of a standard inexpensive sandalwood incense and what you’d smell if you combined lemongrass and orange essential oils together. The lemongrass is dominant like it always is, but the orange does come through, lessing the pungency of the overall scent, probably a smart move. If you’re like me, you won’t need more than the occasional lemongrass incense every so often to mix things up and Inspired Mind does fit the bill as far as this is concerned.

So I think that wraps up almost every NK incense I own, apart from a Morning Star Gold sampler, a range which could be the posterchild for why the cheaper end of Japanese incense isn’t always a good idea and one that might take some time to build up the urge to comment on. On the other hand it won’t be long before I can resist a box of Tokusen Kyara Taikan.

Shoyeido / Himenoka

If an incense set were to win a contest just based on packaging and presentation, Shoyeido’s Himenoka set would certainly be in the final rounds if not winning the game altogether, it’s that exquisite. Housed in a cubical, black box, the four pressed incense aromas in Himenoka are arranged in a slightly pyramidal scheme. Each of the four fragrances have a different color (red, green, tan and purple) all of which match up to the same “elemental” scheme used in the Sakaki coils set, and like that set this appears to be another theme based on Tales of the Genji. Like Sakaki, Shoyeido informed me the different incenses aren’t named specifically. The incenses use different shapes that change in groups depending on the color including fans, leaves, flowers and others I didn’t immediately recognize.

Himenoka (Princess Fragrance) is part of the In-Koh Pressed incense line and is entirely designed for use on a heater. Although I haven’t tried it, I doubt it would work well straight on charcoal (although the more elaborate Koh method could work). Aromatically these aren’t terribly far off from the Xiang-Do line of incenses, with very strong oil contents, modern but at times very woody and certainly quite pleasant. It’s recommended one use lower temperatures when heating as the higher ones will volatize the scents too quickly. You can tell when they’re finished as the incense piece (which look a little like children’s vitamins in a way) becomes brittle and crumbly.

The red piece is a combination of woods and berry or fruit like scents and is extremely friendly and attractive in scent. It seems like it could be a cherry blossom scent except that the berries also remind me of strawberries and there’s a distinct spiciness and woodiness to the scent that gives it quite a bit of heft.

The green piece seems to be a sencha/green tea incense, not far from the Xiang-Do Fresh aroma, sweet with hints of mint, patchouli, and other floral qualities. It’s somewhat richer than the Xiang-Do incense overall and ends with some slightly grassy notes. The tea isn’t particularly oily in terms of the fresh leaf smell; overall it leaves the incense friendly and modern without any wood hints whatsoever.

The tan piece is a spicy sandalwood blend with lots of cinnamon and clove in the middle, a more traditional scent than the first two pieces in the set. There are even some nutmeg hints and the overall scent like many in this vein is like a sugar cookie or even spiced tea or cider. I’d make a guess based on its similarities to the Incense Road blend that this could be a chai incense, undoubtedly a good one for spice lovers.

Like many of the purple incenses in Genji sets, the piece in Himenoka seems to have some slight aloeswood tendencies, although overall this is a very floral incense with strong hints of violet in the middle. Like the red piece this has a strong wood backing to it, although the fruit and floral scents tend to even out the usual acrid/sharp aloeswood notes quite a bit, leaving them as just a note in a symphony.

Overall Himenoka is a somewhat pricey package at around $50, but with about 10-12 pieces per aroma, it’s likely to last you a long time, especially with a temperature controlled heater where you can set it on low and let the oils come out gently. It’s a great set for company, as these are all very accessible scents that just about everyone would enjoy. A real class work of art here from top to bottom.

Medicine King / Saffron Medicinal, Mandala Special Medicinal, Five Zambala Powder, Special Medicinal Powder (Discontinued Line)

A while back, I made some notes on two Medicine King sticks, but as can be the case I’m not sure I did them much justice initially, as this is a truly impressive line across the Tibetan spectrum, up there with the best Tibetan incense has to offer. While Medicine King doesn’t seem to be allied with any specific monastery, they create incense from ancient recipes, information for which can be found at the product link at Essence of the Ages, at the bottom of the page.

Medicine King export four incenses here, two sticks in very attractive boxes, and two powders available in 100g and 200g packages. All of these incenses are extraordinarily complex and sophisticated blends that represent the higher end of Tibetan incense and earn the asking price. The ingredients appear to be very low (if not completely absent) on inexpensive woods and fillers and feature so many facets as to be difficult to cover entirely on initial burns or even two or three experiences. I initially found the sticks to be a bit on the dry side, but my opinion on this has changed, perhaps because the bundles tend to dissipate much slower than samples. Over time, my opinion on all of these has improved substantially and I consider them nearly on par with the best Tibetan incense has to offer (Tibetan Medical College, Highland, Samye Monastery etc.)

The Saffron Medicinal incense certainly has the saffron present in both the fresh stick and the burning aroma. The sticks smell amazing even unlit, almost like spicy gingerbread cookies, but this aroma takes a bit of a back seat when the incense is burning. The saffron aroma is woven quite tightly to the other elements in the incense. Like many better quality Tibetan incenses there is a an almost corn chip like woodiness that’s central to the scent and which dominates early burns in scent, until one begins to pick up the panoply of herbs and spices mixed in. At this point the sweet spices come out a bit more, giving the whole experience a dry and rich feel. It’s an incense with a long learning curve for sure, one I don’t feel I’ve reached the end of.

Overall the Saffron Medicinal is something of a drier alternative to the Mandala Special Medicinal incense. Without the obvious addition of saffron, a lot of the spicy middle comes out in this incense and it’s one that has periodically made my Top 10 lists, it’s terribly addictive. I’m very fond of incenses which exhibit different characteristics from burn to burn and even within one stick, and this is a good example of one of these. Like the Saffron stick it still has that corn chip-like woodiness in the middle, but if that was the regular brand, this version has something of a barbeque or even mesquite like tang to the middle, a characteristic I occasionally notice in the high ends (not to mention a good indication we’re not in a cheap or filler wood territory). Perhaps without the strong presence of saffron in the incense, the other elements come out. It took me perhaps 10 sticks to realize this has quite the (animal?) musk presence to it, which really took it to another level for me once I noticed it. And just faintly there’s a defined agarwood presence – many Tibetan sticks count it as an ingredient but rarely is it an actual presence like it is in Japanese sticks. Like the Saffron, I still feel there’s a great deal to be learned about on this one, and it should be telling that in writing this I’m getting the urge to go burn a stick, one I can recommend without reservation.

The Five Zambala powder utterly electrified me on my first burn, like electricity shooting up my spine. It’s one of those Tibetans I’d describe as having a certain medicinal juju to it, an aspect common to most of the truly excellent and rare high end Tibetans (almost all of which seem to come from the Lhasa area). It’s astonishingly high grade and brilliant with a bright crystalline energy and the powder I’d say competes with the Highland as the best of the Tibetan powdered incenses. It’s salty, musky, sweet and rich, similar in some ways to Holy Land, but a bit sweeter and more overtly floral. What separates it from incenses in other line is a verdant greenness to it, in fact it almost has a snappy, green pepper like aroma on top of it that adds to its freshness. Most of this aroma comes out a bit stronger on the heater, on dar I found it a bit hotter and spicier and I assume that’s due to the floral volatility that knocks out some of the more subtle notes early on due to the heat. Again, this is one you don’t want to miss whatever your method of using incense powder is.

Comparatively, the Special Medicinal Powder isn’t quite as intense and seems to hit a more traditional note. It’s not so much a powder version of the stick as a totally different incense. It shares some of the same salty and green notes as Five Zambala, but in this case I notice a lot more benzoin/loban content in the middle, mellowing the sharper edges. On dar I found it to be sweeter and richer than on the heater, with the woods coming out quite a bit more (some sawdust here) and the tangy corn chip smell common to the sticks more prevalent, but this is quite a bit more sugary and sweet than the stick is upon burn. Given that the Special Medicinal stick smells quite sweet before the light, I’d suspect part of this is the method of burning being used. On dar it’s also less salty than on the heater. Of the four incenses here this is the one I know the least, so it’s perhaps a bit more insular to my nose than it might be down the line.

This is really an amazing company, one of the leading lights of modern Tibetan incense using the old recipes. Although you’ll be paying into the teens on these incenses, the quality you’ll be getting and payback are certainly higher than it would be for an incense a quarter of its price and you’ll likely marvel at just how impressive the Tibetan art is at its apex. Go with the Special Medicinal stick and Five Zambala powder for starters and if they impress, the other two should impress with their variation.

Shoyeido / Kyoto Moon Series / Tranquility, Abundance (Discontinued), Creativity

Ah, Shoyeido, one of the first Japanese incense companies to establish a formal presence in the US. When they originally came over here and opened their distribution center in Boulder, Colorado, they brought with them an extensive catalog of traditional incenses. Most of their offerings, however, were out of range for their American audience, both in price and in formulation. Up until then most of the incense that were available here were of the single-note, inexpensive variety, imported from India or manufactured in the USA by companies that rely on synthetic petroleum ingredients for scent. Americans had come to expect their incense to be cheap and perfumey so the traditional Japanese incenses offered by Shoyeido were, literally, foreign.

Shoyeido quickly became aware of this challenge and began putting out some new lines specifically targeted at the American audience. All of these still rely on natural ingredients, yet offer an introduction into the Japanese style that doesn’t put such a dent in the wallet.  Like Angelic, Jewel, and these other new series, Kyoto Moon is very affordable and is becoming more and more widely available at health food stores and new age shops as Shoyeido‘s presence in the states grows.  You can even pick up a sampler [NOTE 9/28/21: Nancy’s review pointed to the old sampler, with only two aromas remaining you can still find a two stick sampler here.] According to Shoyeido, “the moon symbolizes the dynamic, eternal, cyclic nature of life” and this series “celebrates the subtle influence of the moon in its three phases, Kyoto Moon awakens our senses of Creativity, Tranquility and Abundance.”

Tranquility: Sandalwood, Cedarwood, and spices. A mild wood blend, sweet and light. Uncomplicated, perhaps with a hint of musk. If you enjoy woods this is a lovely everyday incense to burn.
Creativity: Cinnamon, Cloves, and spices. Another nice, simple wood blend with a hint of spice. Slight floral notes round this one out without being overpowering or perfumey.
Abundance: Benzoin, Sandalwood, Cinnamon, and spices. My favorite of the three. Up front is the Benzoin, a sweet, sticky tree resin that has a kind of marshmallow aroma. One of my absolute favorite resins and, along with beeswax and vanilla, a primary ingredient in amber.

This series is a fine introduction into the world of traditional herbal incense, natural yet accessible and definitely worth checking out.  For the price you just can’t beat the Kyoto Moon series! Coming in at less than $4 a box this is a very nice grouping, with a wood, a spice, and a resin to choose from. The formulations are uncomplicated and thoroughly enjoyable, natural, light and aromatic. They are perfect for ambiance without being overpowering, just as one would expect from the master blenders at this 300 year old company. If you like these you really owe it to yourself to try some of Shoyeido’s other offerings. In general, as the prices increase the quality of ingredients goes up and the scents become more powerful and complex. Totally worth it!

Loose Incense Samplers at EofA -Ross

Essence of Ages has released sample packs of loose incense from Baieido, Shoyeido, Daihatsu and Kunmeido. This is a great opportunity to try these out as there are many different styles available. The great thing about the loose incenses is that there is no makko or other binders involved, so it is incense in its purest form. I highly recommend trying these on both charcoal or makko trials as well as an electric incense heater. There really is a difference in how the scent comes out. I have recommended the electric heater to many people who have a tough time with smoke but do want to experience the unique scents  offered by this style of incense. of course you can also use it for just heating up single ingredients like high grade frankincense  or essentual oils in water.

Enjoy  -Ross

Mindroling / Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3 (Newly Revisited Reviews); Grade 4, Grade 5, Soothing Incense (New); Medicinal Powder, Naga Medicine Powder (Discontinued)

Mindroling Monastery is located in the Lhasa region of Tibet and like many monasteries still within the borders of China creates what we might call “high-end” Tibetan incense. [EDIT: These incenses are traditional recipes that contain higher quality ingredients than most Tibetan incenses. As of 7/6/21 I have edited this page in order to place links to the current carrier of Mindroling incenses, Like many of these incenses previously carried by Essence of the Ages in the ’10s, there has been a substantial price decrease on these. Also since Essence of the Ages carried these, the packages have changed. However, while I do not believe the powders at the end of this review are still available, it appears that reviews of the first three grades of Mindroling are still quite applicable (with some clean up edits) and that the incense has remained largely stable. I will note that there are two further grades as well as a “Soothing” Incense also available.]

Mindroling’s stick incense now has at least five grades, three of which are reviewed in this article. I would highly recommend any newcomer to the monastery’s incenses start with this sampler. Grade 1 sports a light tan color, grade 2 is a a darker red stick, and Grade 3 a lighter red more typical of Tibetan incenses (in my previous review it seemed the colors on Grade 2 and 3 were switched). While there is certainly a theme, so to speak, throughout the three incenses, what this theme is mixed with changes the scent of the incenses dramatically. The drop in price from one grade to the next, also implies that 1 is the most deluxe and the quality lessens a bit with each subsquent grade (although this isn’t perhaps very noticeable in this group). One would have to define this common scent from the ingredients in all three: white and purple sandalwood, musk, saffron, flos caryophylatta, borneol and others. [Note that these ingredients came from a different source than, but I would suspect many of these ingredients remain the same.]

My previous review (now edited) of Grade 1 was largely based on a $40 price point. At the time I believed this to be a bit high for the incense, but now that it is at $25 it is more than fairly priced, in fact it might even set a good baseline for the type of quality you should expect at that price point. Grade 1 is a world class Tibetan incense. The first thing that really strikes me about it all these years later is that the overall scent profiled really highlights the delicate presence of the mix of ingredients. As I mentioned previously, the level of sandalwood in it is quite obvious, although it may not be the first thing that you notice which is the incense’s very powerful and intense musk. It is both a bit damp and sweet and weaves itself around the wood center in a way that highlights the obvious old and traditional recipe at work. The overall bouquet is very high resolution and complex, redolent of a large number of ingredients that are used in the composition of the incense. It also does what all the best Tibetans do as well, which I highly recommend as an exercise. Set a stick burning and walk out of the area until you have lost the scent. Let it build up a bit and then walk back in. I’ve noticed all of the best Tibetans reveal something else that isn’t as present if you stay in the room with it, an often floral or high level subtle note which is often surprising and impressive. Anyway it is more than time that this be added to the Hall of Fame here.

Grade 2 isn’t really just a watered down Grade 1, not in the slightest. The ingredients have obviously changed enough for such a drastic shift in overall stick color and it does seem like the elements of Grade 1 exist almost like a subnote here. But there are other elements in play in the Grade 2, aromatic qualities that aren’t in the 1 at all. The most obvious note is something I tend to attribute to juniper or juniper berry. It commonly shows up in red stick incenses and is completely absent in the grade 1. But whatever is causing this it gives a berry or even cherry subscent to Tibetans that makes them friendly, in fact it’s an element very common in Bhutanese incenses. So in a way Grade 2 seems like it’s a sort of berry-infused variant of the Grade 1. The musk is a bit more toned down, the sandalwood isn’t cutting through as much, but I really don’t think you’re losing much in the way of quality here. If you’re like me and find the berry note pleasant than I’m sure 2 would be the natural step after 1.

Grade 3 is where most traces of the finer sandalwood in Grade 1 have vanished; however, the stick has lost nothing in the way of a big musk hit, in fact it might be a muskier incense than the grade 2, or at least the ingredient shift allows it to come through more. I was thinking that if you were to experience this incense outside the context of it being one of several grades you would likely consider this a very aromatic and middle of the line Tibetan incense with all the characteristics you’d expect from it. It’s still a very good incense and while it isn’t quite as deep or complex as the two prior grades, it still feels like remaining elements are still high quality. It shares with 2 that same berry/cherry presence, and in fact really if you take that together with the musk you’ve almost described the incense. It might even be recommended, if you weren’t to go the sampler route, to start with this one and make your way up.

[8/11/21] I didn’t know until I came across them on that Mindroling had two more grades. Grade 4 starts to feel like its dipping into more inexpensive materials. The musk is nearly nonexistent at this point and the stick seems to exhibit more herbal qualities than the previous three grades. The woods that add to the base seem like they might be a little thinner in aroma. For me the biggest difference between this and the top three is simply that it doesn’t seem to have as dense as palate. What is going for it is a bit of evergreen in the mix which is something you don’t quite get as much in the previous three grades. Overall if you’re new to Mindroling I’d probably try the sampler first, but if you’re going by boxes I’d start with one of the top three grades, as the price differences are fairly gradual, before dropping to this one.

[8/12/21] So what do we find at the lowest grade of Mindroling? I know for me there’s almost like some psychological elements that comes the more grades you can find in a line and five is where I start worrying a little bit about quality. But honestly Mindroling Grade 5 is actually friendly enough. If you compare it to the 1 you can see how things have changed rather remarkably in that this is unlikely to be an incense with much in the way of sandalwood or even saffron. But strangely some of the maybe very slightly harsh qualities of the 4 aren’t actually apparent in this one, which moves back in a more berry-like direction. I imagine without having much in the way of proof that one of the most common ingredients in Tibetan incense is juniper, so it’s a bit easy to guess that the juniper amount is at its highest here. Strangely it feels like the musk jumps up a bit on this one from the 4, although it’s in such competition with the wood notes it feels like it maybe only comes out sometimes. I really like the gentle qualities of this incense and it shows that Mindroling actually pay attention all the way down the line.

[8/12/21] Mindroling Monastery Soothing Incense is something of a sidestep into a style fairly common in Tibet incense lines. The ingredients listed include sandalwood, agarwood, Carom carve L, and more than 30 others; but, from the scent of it I would say this is fairly similar enough to blends often called Agar 31 or at least are labelled as relaxation or calming innceses. Like the name of this incense implies, this sort of blend tends to be mild and mildly spicy and my experience with these is that they are indeed often pretty relaxing. We’ve covered some of this style fairly recently such as the Tibetan Medical College Long Du Relaxing Incense or TPN’s An Shen Tranquility Incense, but it would seem a fairly common blend in any larger company or monastery. This is certainly a pitch right down the middle, it’s as well done as any of this style, just be sure not expect pyrotechnics or deep complexity as it’s not what this is for. The agarwood essentially gives it a little bit of tangy woodiness. If you haven’t tried one this as good a place as any to start (although I still do miss the one I was first introduced to which was Dhoop Factory’s).

[The following two powder reviews are provided for historical context and have been discontinued. – Mike 7/6/2021] Mindroling also features a couple different powdered blends. The superior of the two in price is the Naga Nectar, but I prefer the Medicinal Incense Powder. This blend is like a mixture of cinnamon, cardamom, strawberry, tobacco, sugar powder, tea, nutmeg or mace and other herbs. The central base like many incenses without a lot of filler wood is a sort of tangy cornchip like scent that’s like a cross between Mexican and masala spices, a scent akin to some of the Medicine King products and one slightly stronger when used on charcoal or a makko or dar base. What works for me with this powder is a slight rose and carnation-like floral element which fades fairly softly on a heater. Like many an intricate powder it’s most interesting in this format as the various oils volatize earlier or later, giving the scent a motile quality that’s quite fascinating.

It’s hard to imagine why the Naga Nectar Incense Powder is pricier given that the list of ingredients in the Medicinal powder such as the musk and two aloeswoods seem to imply a greater cost, but scentwise there does seem to be a damper, muskier presence in the Naga. While most of the Mindrolings aren’t particularly dangerous, the Naga Nectar has a funk to it that could be a bit off putting to the westerner, it even had something of a fungal nature to it. It’s not terribly far in scent from the Grade A except for this unsettling quality and an overtone that’s kind of grassy, weedy or drily herbal. Overall it’s not particularly friendly overall, more interesting than pleasant.

Shoyeido LISN line discontinued in the US

As of March 31, the LISN line will no longer be available in the US despite its popularity in Japan. For a limited time you can still buy the incense from the Shoyeido webstore, but you’ll want to moved fast if there are scents you like.

Shrinivas Sugandhalaya / Satya / Royal, Geet Govind, (T. T.) Loban, Shivshankar

[Most if not all incenses reviewed here were likely made in Mumbai by Nagarj Setty LLP. I can not confirm if the reviews of most if not all of these are still current, as Satya recipes have drastically changed over time. Consider these historical records from the period. – Mike 6/18/21]

Previous Shrinivas Sughandalay/Satya Sai Baba products reviewed at ORS:

Nag Champa, Super Hit, Satya Natural, Satya Nectar, Black Blossom
Beauty, Milan, Supreme
Aastha, Ajaro, Vishwa Shanti, Fantasy, Valley of the Roses
Hari Om, Rajdhani, Ratha Chakra, Sai Ram

With this review, I believe I’ve covered most of the core Shrinivas Sugandhalaya/Satya Sai Baba products, that is, the scents that are most commonly found in stores, their longest running and most famous products, and the standards one tends to see in multibox samplers. There are also a large range of 100g box scents to be found that I hope to get to at some point (if I can ever manage to tell many of them apart) and, of course, there are a number of modern lines that have shown up in the country in the last five years. And there are at least a couple of new lines that have shown up in Europe and should be just making these shores this year. More disturbingly are a number of new incenses that buck the ever diminishing durbar style Satya are famous for and are basically perfumed masalas.

It’s quite clear that the halmaddi shortage in India has really hit the incense world pretty hard. As I’ve (slowly) awoken to this, I’ve noticed that the once wet durbar/champa style has grown increasingly drier, giving way to much harsher scents in order to try and approximate the smell. And where the most obvious change was in the blue box Nag Champa, I don’t think there’s a single formula among about 80% of Indian lines that hasn’t changed to something, unfortunately, less quality. That’s not to say what’s left doesn’t have much to offer, but so many incenses are not what they once were. And with growing aloeswood and sandalwood shortages, we may be at the tail end of the golden age of incense.

Satya Royal is one of many incenses that seems a bit drier than I once remembered, but remains roughly the same in scent. It’s a pleasant old school blend, soft and mellow, and certainly not as bright or loud as many a champa variant, including the blue box. It has a lot of confectionary notes in the mix, marshmallow, caramel and powdered sugar among them, with something of a resinous edge to give it some body. It’s definitely more perfumed than I remember it from a decade ago, but the oils are mostly sweet and woody and not at all floral or even spicy. There’s a bit of liquor or wine like aroma in the mix along with the usual sandalwood, honey, and vanilla. As such, Satya Royal is one of those incenses that varies quite a bit in scent. In the smaller boxes, I’ve noticed quite a bit of drying and age. My latest sample is in one of the longer yet still relatively small quantity boxes and it seemed fresher, although not as soft as it once was in the halmaddi age. Overall, even now it’s one of Satya’s better scents, finishing with a small evergreen or pine like scent, sweet and accessible.

Geet Govind is another of Shrinivas’s vanilla and sandalwood heavy durbar mixes (Ratha Chakra and Hari Om come to mind as similar if not exactly so). It’s dry, spicy and fairly generic, with a floral perfume in front as part of the mix. Overall, possibly due to the oil mix and ingredient adjustment, the recent Geet Govind comes across as fairly monotonous (I’d use “square wave” in snythesizer terminology), with the typical, slight fruity hints mixed in (maybe apricot in this one) and the florals (roses) on the outside. Like several Satyas it’s almost like it’s doing too much, trying to be durbar-like, fruity and floral all at once and not particularly suceeding at any one.

(T. T.) Loban is a scent found as T. T. Loban in smaller boxes, but Loban alone in the 10og box. Nonetheless they appear to be the same incense or close enough. It’s actually something of a classic durbar style, found as Amber Champa (or maybe even Frankincense Champa) in the Mystic Temple line and (I think) Golden Amber in the Incense from India line. As  the name suggests, the dominant ingredient is benzoin, although most of this is the firier benzoin siam rather than the more frankincense-like benzoin sumatra. It adds up to a fairly hot stick, benzoin siam is one of those resins perhaps better in smaller quantities (as it is here), as it’s a very choking smoke when too prevalent, but when it’s tempered by other ingredients it has a very pleasant amber vanilla like scent. I suspect the Shrinivas version here uses some perfumes to temper the scent, but probably still adds up as one of the most unadulterated incenses in the line. It tends to be less gravelly or harsh than many a loban stick or powder, the durbar style making the scent a little more pleasant and sweet. Certainly an incense that will solidify one’s knowledge of the more common Indian durbar styles.

Shivshankar is also a fairly generic Satya scent, in this case it’s actually fairly close in style to the blue box Nag Champa. Again, like Geet Govind, this one has strong vanilla and sandalwood notes, mixed with a fruity perfume and a touch of herbs, although in this case the results are less floral and more in the pear or apple direction fruitwise. The oils are fairly cologne like in some ways, possibly due to the heavier wood presence, although this can be mitigated as this is yet another stick that varies quite a bit in quality from box to box. At its best and freshest, it’s quite nice, but loses its appeal with age very quickly.

Next up Shrinivas-wise is a batch of newer incenses that hit these shores 2-3 years ago, most of which are modelled on the Blue Box graphics line: Celestial, Midnight, Patchouli Forest, Sandalwood and Sunrise, and a lone new product, almost like a spikenard champa called Trishaa.

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