Bosen / Dakini, Herbal Meditation, Pythoncidere, Shangrila and Zambhala Incenses

Amazon-distributed and Taiwan-originated company Bosen has had a number of their aloeswood incenses reviewed by Ross here and here. The company also has a number of different blended incenses, several of which are considered to be Tibetan incenses by the company. Blend and ingredient-wise these are similar to Tibetan incenses in many ways but the sticks’ unique densities and high levels of quality wood make them more like hybrids between the Tibetan style and Southeast Asian sandalwood and aloeswood sticks and as such are fairly original and certainly a lot higher quality than all but the most deluxe Chinese exported Tibetan blends. I’ll be breaking up the eight current blends into two groups, the five here that have unusual or Buddhism-related names and, later, three (Blessing, Refining and Purifying) that are basically verbs. The division is somewhat arbitrary however, as my experience is that there are similarities among all the incenses.

In fact the similarities among the incenses are worth discussing first as there is a a base that is roughly common to all of their Tibetan blends. The binder, Machilus Zuihensis Hayata Powder, appears to be 10% of each incense and is likely what gives each incense a slightly evergreen flavor. All of the incenses, except the Pythoncidere, have quantities of aloeswood and sandalwood in them, although in a couple of cases the aloeswood is called agalloch eaglewood, 15% each in the Shangrila and Zambhala blends. Aloeswood is surprisingly at its highest in the most inexpensive blend, the Herbal Meditation 20% and lowest at 10% in the Dakini. Except for the Pythoncidere again, white sandalwood varies from 10-15%. So as you can see there’s a good 40% or so of four of the incenses that are basically the same. All five of the incenses have a large, unidentified quantity of several Tibetan Dharma medicines and nectars (spelled amitas in Shangrila). From there each incense varies by note.

Dakini Incense is one of Bosen’s two “Top-Grade” incenses and contains small percentages of lubu, nard, safflower, and semen alpiniae katsumadai (I’m not asking either). It’s the densest and most complex of the five incenses here with a definite strain of spikenard in the mix and a very fruity, sweet smell as the top note. Like all of the incenses here, due to the above-mentioned commonalities, there’s a tangy mix of aloeswood, sandalwood and evergreen binder, but the large ingredients list gives the incense some latent heft to it that improves the incense with use. It’s not quite as immediate as the next two scents but definitely seems to be the most deluxe of the batch.

The company’s low end Herbal Meditation Incense is something of a revelation and is available in 11″ bulk thin sticks, 8″ thin sticks, and 8″ thicker sticks (an earlier search pulled up 18″ thin sticks and powder, but I didn’t find them this go around). The uncommon ingredients in this blend are a good 25% of zijin rattan and 25% of lysimachic foenum-graecum hance. It’s rare to find a company whose lowest end incense is one of their best, but I’ve found this incense to be extremely addictive. While not particularly resinous in quality, the aloeswood does come through and give it some character and the tangy herbal quality of the foenum-graecum balances out the sweetness nicely. The entirety has hints of apple tobacco and other herbal qualities along with the light evergreen touch. It’s extraordinarily pleasant and a great deal for the money, especially at its bulk price. However, it may be an even better incense in its thicker form, where the sweetness comes out a bit more and the impact becomes heavier. I’m not sure if this is because the ingredient to binder ratio is higher, but it’s certainly more aromatically redolent in this form.

Bosen’s Pythoncidere Incense is a virtual triumph of incense making and one of the finest blends you’ll ever try outside of the aloeswood and sandalwood worlds. The company says the “…formula contains heavier density of Phytocid, which will make you feel like in green shower when you use it.” I’m honestly not sure you can really create a better description than this, it’s what drew me in for the buy and I believe they absolutely succeeded with this blend, which starts with literally a 50% content of high-resin hinoki (cypress). The evergreen qualities are cranked up to a high without the harsh qualities usually brought with it and the green qualities verges verdant with an almost banana like quality in the mix as well as hops and a sweet candy-like note. It’s the kind of green almost approached in alpine-like incenses or even those green durbar variants in Indian incense, but none of those perfect the quality like this one does. It’s literally one of the best incenses you can buy for $10. I’m hoping Bosen add a bulk box for this one as soon as possible as I’m already rocketing through my first box.

Like Dakini, Shangrila Incense is labelled as top-grade Tibetan incense, although I don’t think it’s nearly as successful as the rest of the line. It’s distinguishing qualities are 15% safflower and 15% ganten khampa, but the overall aromatic flavor is one of woods and an almost candle/beeswax like overlay.  Like all the Bosen Tibetans it has a certain sweetness, but unlike the others it also has something of a drier touch to it. It’s possible there’s a learning curve at work here but initially I’m not as impressed with this one as I am with the other blends. Shangrila is also available in coils and powder, neither of which I’ve tried but it’s possible both formats might improve the quality due to different ingredient ratios.

Zambhala Incense is set apart by 15% karpura and 15% artemisia oligoarpa but is an intensely evergreen incense that resembles Pythoncidere without being nearly as successful. In this case it’s almost the most traditionally Tibetan of the line, resembling in some ways incenses like Dhoop Factory’s Alpine, but quite a bit more refined due to the aloeswood and sandalwood quantities. Given the price similarity to Pythoncidere, I wouldn’t recommend this one first but I’ve also noticed the subtleties of the aloeswood peeking through on this one, promising a learning curve that might make it more worthwhile than my initial impressions.

Beautiful work basically, and given that Amazon fulfills this companies products, you can easily add a $10-$20 box to any other small order to get free shipping out of it (which also means that most of their aloeswood and sandalwood products get automatic free shipping as well). It should also be mentioned that the packaging of these incenses is world class with thick, high quality cardboard boxes, some padding for no breakage and silica gel to keep the incense dry. It’s all around top work from a great company who clearly make high standard product and get good ratings from buyers as well. ORS recommended to say the least.

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Best Incense – April 2009 (Mike)

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

  1. Bosen / Pythoncidere Incense – My top 10 will be a bit shorter this month, as about half of the incenses on it are from Bosen and I’ve got an upcoming review of them scheduled for the near future. This one’s if not my favorite, the most startling as it has a depth and resonance you rarely find outside of sandalwood and aloeswood based incenses. Basically a very green hinoki (cypress) incense that I really like.
  2. Shunkohdo / Ranjatai – The thing about having big Shunkohdo boxes is I can often let myself take out a good 4 or 5 sticks each and absorb them more. Ranjatai is the US high end in the big box (the more expensive kyaras are usually 40 stick) and I’m just constantly reminded what a fantastic incense it is when I burn it, it’s the most noticeably aloeswood-y in the whole batch. For such a thin stick it really cuts through. And I can be more liberal with than the Seikan.
  3. Bosen / Blessing Incense – A very heavy spikenard infused Tibetan-styled incense. Bosens are all sweet and friendly for the most part, this one’s decadent, almost candy-like. It’s also a bit thicker in stick than some of the others. An instant favorite with the type of ingredient depth you tend to find more often in Japanese sticks.
  4. Shoyeido / Premium / Myo-Ho – With the cost on this stuff I tend to take out a stick once every month or two but it always makes an incredible impression and is easily my favorite Shoyeido kyara. Like a fine wine really, so vividly purple with a rich, kyara depth to it and a bit of the charry high end aloeswood as well. If only I could burn this one in bunches…
  5. Kunmeido – Reiryo-Koh Aloeswood – Kunmeido really have an attractive set of low end blends and this (completely different than the original) aloeswood version of Reiryo-Koh continues to impress with use, getting better and better with every stick. Like Shoryu-Koh this one has a very nice tang to it and while it’s not super heavy on the a-wood (and it really couldn’t be and still be as affordable as it is) it really hits a nice spot.
  6. Bosen / Herbal Meditation Incense – This company’s low end stick is barely different in quality from the top ends and was the first Bosen I got addicted to. It’s a hard one to describe so I’ll leave that for a more in depth review but every time I get out the box, I burn at least two long sticks. Not to mention the thick version of it’s a bit sweeter and maybe even better.
  7. The Mother’s India Fragrances – Ganesh Nag Champa – Not a lot more to say that I haven’t already on this one, one of the finest durbars to exist with a perfume oil and scent that’s superlative. More a beginning of the month favorite as I’ve tried to control the rate at which I was burning them.
  8. Mermade Magickal Arts / Aphrodesia – I’ll eventually get around to buying a pack of these “cones” but my did the samples leave an impression on me. A floral incense with the depth of many aloeswoods, this just leaves an exotic aromatic presence in the room and in your mind for a long time. A lot of Katlyn’s work really does have an astral kick to it.
  9. Bosen / Dakini Incense – On my mind due to the ongoing review, this is Bosen’s top grade Tibetan-styled incense and while the difference between it and the Herbal Meditation incense isn’t all that much, experience does show it to be just that little more deep and expansive than some of the others. Like the rest of the Bosens it has a wonderful sweetness and this case some frutier tendencies as well.
  10. Mermade Magical Arts (via import) – Hougary Frankincense – I highly recommend everyone get themselves some of this goodness, it takes even your usual high grade frank to another level with an almost liqueur like note in the mix, just exquisite in every way. I’m hoping this is the stuff the magi gave as a gift.

This was a fairly tough Top 10, as I could easily have filled it with Shroff scents many of which could have nearly competed, but as I’m ending the month on something of a Bosen kick, it’s probably a bit more reflective of the last week or two. So the ranking here is probably a bit more arbitrary than it usually is….

Nathaniel Musselman: Kyphi, Jaguar’s Breath (from Ross)

Nathaniel Musselman is an incense maker living in Michigan who produces blends for different stores. These are three he has done for an online store in Ireland called White Witch.

Genuine Handmade Kyphi Incense:

This is a really nice authentic Kyphi. You can read about the process by which it is made at the White Witch website, this is obviously a labor of love. I can only imagine what boiling up a pot of frankincense is like.

Based on an Ancient Greek translation, this Kyphi is made with components that include: Chios mastic gum, Persian galbanum resin, Indian vetivert, Greek myrtle, lemongrass, Egyptian mint, and cinnamon. Plus a whole lot more. The aroma when slowly heated is deep, spicy, and smooth. You can sense the individual components at different times, yet it all blends together at the same time, really well done. Kyphi has been in use for thousands of years as an offering in Egypt and other areas. The maker of this batch has done a lot of study to get this blend right and the results are worth it. Works well on coals or an incense heater. This is somewhat different from the batch composed for Mermade Magickal reviewed a couple of weeks ago. Both are good and recommended.

Jaguar’s Breath Dry Powder :

Jaguar’s Breath is Mesoamerican inspired and heavily influenced by Aztec and Mayan components. It is unlike any other incense I have gotten to try, it is also somewhat difficult to describe. There is a light or airy quality to it as well as a sense of many spices and herbs, but not the style of Japan or India. The scent is very clean and uplifting with a slight “edge” to it, but still with semi sweet qualities going on at the same time. The aroma is quite wonderful and a small amount on the electric incense heater does a good job of filling the room. Not with smoke but scent. It tends to last for about two hours after one turns off the heater.

The active ingredients in Jaguars Breath include Mesquite, rosewood, wild cherry, tagates, damiana, salvia divinorum and copal..

Jaguar’s Breath Soaked in Honey & Mezcal :

This version has added vanilla infused honey and mescal to the above version. It is a wet paste that benefits from something along the lines of a wooden coffee stirrer to get from the bag to the heater or coal. But once you do you are in for a real treat. It has similar qualities to the dry Jaguars Breath but the added ingredients produce a unique blend and is not to be missed. The honey and Mezcal seem to act as catalysts and somehow the entire scent and aroma profile is amplified many times over. The vanillia  from the honey shines and is tempered by the Mezcal as well as the other spices in the mix. The scent ligers for sometime afterwards, yet it is not the overpowering floral/resin type of scent that you would get from Indian style incenses. Not to be missed!

I have not yet gotten to try the Angelico Incense Sticks, but you can read Claires review in our “Review Your Incenses” section(#4) . I have read other reviews of it and they all agree it is a knock out.

If you are in Europe getting this is a no brainer, if outside of Europe, the shipping cost is very reasonable and the actual price of the incense is low.

The truth of the matter is that these incenses are  way under priced to start with. They are much more creative and better made then so much of what you can buy today. The ingredients are all first rate. If you like incense and want something a bit different but which, at the same time, is really well done and very nice, try these out.

Oh yes, White Witch has quite a few things you can use on your heater at good prices Check out the Raw Materials section of their site.

-Ross

A few notes…

I’m having a bit of trouble finding the time of late to take incense notes, so things may be a bit slow for a little while on my end. But I did want to bring to attention a company Ross has talked about in the past, Bosen Incense. Ross has talked about the company’s various aloeswood scents, most of which I haven’t had a chance to sample, but I have checked out a few of the company’s Tibetan style incenses. Bosen is from Taiwan, so in a way the incenses in this style are kind of like hybrids between southeast Asian aloeswood or sandalwood sticks you tend to find in the US “generically” here and there and Tibetan blends, and in a way are something of an original incense style. I like all the ones I’ve tried but the two that really stand out to me are the Herbal Meditation Incense, which you can find in a few different sizes, and the Pythoncidere blend. The Herbal Meditation blend is one of the line’s most inexpensive scents but it has something of an aloeswood tang to it and a number of ingredients that made it instantly addictive to my nose, it’s really well done and you can get quite a hefty batch for a decent price. The Pythoncidere is very special, one of the greenest incenses imaginable. It has a very strong cypress and evergreen content to it with the green, resinous qualities enhanced to a considerable degree. It’s very fresh and unique, and I hope they eventually sell it in bigger boxes. Bosen is sold via Amazon fulfillment, which means that for the most part your items often ship with anything else you might order from them, meaning any $25 order or more gets free shipping. So keep these reviews in mind next time you’re hunting through the Amazon catalog, as Bosen should be better known…

Himalayan Herbs Centre / Traditional Mandala, Nirvana A, Nirvana B, Nirvana C

Himalayan Herbs Centre incenses are quite wonderfully packaged. In essence you get two choices, you can buy the bamboo tube roll alone, which isn’t always ideal as the hole you make in an end isn’t easily closed without that something extra, or you can spend the extra money to get what are rather striking silk coverings, which do the job and look quite nice (not to mention looking reusable for refills or other similar bamboo tubes). Basically you get a red silk package for the Traditional Mandala and Nirvana A, a yellow for the Nirvana B and a blue for the Nirvana C.

Unfortunately, except for the Traditional Mandala which comes with inner packaging, the three Nirvanas are loose in the bamboo tubes which given the make of the incenses, leads to increased breakage across  the entire batch. In all three of the Nirvanas, over 50% to 75% of the sticks were fragmented. I take it that part of this was because of the lack of a bundle with inner packaging but it’s also clearly because these incenses are formulated differently than most Tibetan incenses, leaving the finished product brittle. On the other hand this same style leads to a fairly improved product for rolls under $10, and the HHCs are actually among the best incenses in the price range. And given how long Tibetan sticks generally are, it didn’t bother me terribly that the sticks were in fragments, but do be warned.

The Traditional Mandala Incense (second from bottom) could be the best of the four incenses. Despite its ingredient list showing nagi, jattamansi, kapur, cloves and red and white sandalwood, the dominant impression is of a very resinous, frankincense-heavy incense in a wood base.  Even though the base of red and white sandalwood (quite high quality I might add) is obvious and the clove spice fairly prevalent, the stick largely gives off a very orangey, resin-like aroma which reminds me a lot of some of the church resin-like blends except with the obvious woody base a stick brings with it. Overall it’s the least complex of the incenses in this grouping, but it’s extremely friendly and very pleasant and among my favorites in under $10 Tibetan incenses.

The Nirvana line is labelled A through C, but in all cases I would think it’s because of a difference in style rather than grading. As mentioned before, all three of these incenses are quite brittle and fragmentable, but this appears mostly to be due to an unusual base, one that weakens the binding across the incenses. Like the Traditional Mandala, the Nirvana A contains kapur, nagi and jattamansi, and I’d go as far to guess it probably shares the red and white sandalwood base as well. But overall it couldn’t really be more different, although it does share the woodiness and a bit of orange spice to it. The difference is the lack of a greater resin quantity in the A, leaving it spicy, pepper and largely woody. It’s actually quite strange that for such a woody stick that it has as much complexity, although I’ve been using this for about a year it still seems fairly mysterious at heart. It’s not terribly far from the original Red Crystal but doesn’t share that incense’s herbal and sage-like mix.

Nirvana B uses agur, chandan (sandalwood) and dukura, yet had I mixed up the ingredient lists with the names, I’d have guessed the B contains amber, both due to its pinkish color and obvious amberish tones. It’s this aroma that leaves this incense as the most accessible and friendliest of the trio, and is also one of the most high quality and aromatic incenses you can find at the $7.95 range. The mix of sandalwoods common to the previous two incenses is also prevalent here and let me mention again that it seems to be an uncommonly high quality mix for the range (although I suppose the chandan tag might have something to do with it being so noticeable in this one). Overall it’s light while still dense and aromatic, fairly complex and sweet with a bit of pepper for kick.

Nirvana C is the least accessible of the group and contains saffron, tsampaka, pangpay, sandalwood and amber/sal dhoop in its ingredients . I’ve mentioned incenses that resemble corn chips before, but this one is probably the most foodlike incense I’ve experience, like some new concoction from the Frito company. Very tangy with an almost mesquite-like quality in the mix, it’s a hard one to get used to, although I’ve found its complexity tends to help with the learning curve over time. Overall it’s one I’d probably leave until you’re sure you like the other three.

Anyway I’m quite fond of these incenses, not only do they look good in the silk coverings, but they are rather unusual mixes that don’t really resemble  most other incenses (although the Traditional Mandala does resemble the Natural Arogya-Karmayogi due to its high level of resin and typical binding style). You might want to take a pass on the Nirvanas if excessive fragmenting bothers you, but in doing so you’d be missing out on some of the better Tibetans in their price range.

Incense from India / Amber Resin, Sanctuary, Shanthi Sai Flora, Snow Apricot

Incense from India 1
Incense from India 2

Today’s group from Incense from India’s gigantic incense line is another quartet in the durbar or champa style. I’ll mention up front that in some or all of these cases the base of the incense lack the softer, wetter halmaddi content that they used to and that it affects each incense to a greater or lesser degree. But even with those changes there is still a quality perfume and spice mix at work on all of these incenses and that they still represent some of the better incenses in the style. Two of these on the bookends represent two strongly scented durbars well off the champa theme, while the other two are definitively in the Sai Flora style that one tends to find in Shah Agarbatti’s line such as the already mentioned Sai Flora, Sai Deep, Sai Leela and others.

Amber Resin is an incense I’ve encountered elsewhere via a different company and name, although I haven’t been able to remember either. I just spent some time going over Shroff’s very different line of ambers but in general Indian amber sticks often come in a few different variants. There’s a dry masala with a pinkish color that gives off something of a powdery variant (this is the Amber found in the Blue Pearl line and I believe Mystic Temple has a variant called Amber Essence). There’s the black, more oil-based stick I mentioned as Royal Amber in the last Shroff review. There’s one often called Amber Champa which is very similar to the Shrinivas/Satya T. T. Loban stick. And then there’s the variant found here which tends to be a lot heavier, a bit more sour and intense than the other blends. Why it’s called Resin I would assume refers to the density and the fact it gets more of its aroma from the base than the wax and other ingredients. However, the sour and rich scent really covers up the usual benzoin tendencies of the amber. There are hints of clay and toffee in the mix, but overall this is the sharpest amber available. I’ve found it to be a stick you only bring out so often, but perfect for the right mood. I dare say it’s something of a classic scent and certainly worth a look, but it could be an acquired taste.

Sanctuary is one of the Sai Flora variants I just mentioned, a very thick extremely aromatic stick that puts out a great deal of smoke like all its variants. The thing about both Sanctuary and the Shanti Sai Flora is that these both tend to be less earthy and a lot more sweeter. While most Golden Champas get their name from the color, Sanctuary remains a dark brown as if it’s mostly base rather than added powder. Mystic Temple’s Reservoir of Pleasure used to be much different ten years ago but now resembles  this stick to some extent. I’ve found this one in either form to be pretty popular among friends, it’s definitely fresh, intense and very friendly. It even has some hints of cola or sasparilla in the mix along with the sugar powder to make it seem a very Western sort of aroma.

Shanthi Sai Flora is even better. When this first popped up in the Incense from India catalog, it was at the same time as the red boxed Shantimalai Nag Champa started being imported and in fact there’s also a a Shanthi Nag Champa available as well. I’ve never seen a red box Shantimalai Sai Flora, but roughly remember both Nag Champas being similar and wondered if these two incenses come from a similar source. I’d particularly like to know because when you compare the Golden Champas of Blue Pearl, Mystic Temple and Incense of India along with Sai Flora and all its variants, the Shanti Sai Flora to my nose is the most pleasant of all of them, certainly the most accessible. It’s lost a bit in the interim due to some base changes that have tilted it a bit towards the harsh side, but with a stick as smoky and aromatic it’s not likely to impinge on one’s enjoyment. In fact it’s not far from Sanctuary, with a bit more sugar and spice to it, just a little more complicated. However it’s not far from it in price either and unless you buy in bulk both are likely to run you a 25 to 50 cents per stick. But they’re also not far from being worth that price as they’re two of the most premium Indian offerings.

Snow Apricot is one of Incense from India’s most popular and distinctive incenses. It’s a drier durbar with an almost unbearably potent fruity apricot oil on top. I don’t think there’s a variant of apricot called the Snow Apricot, but it did make me wonder as the scent here is much more powerful than your average garden apricot with a sourness that’s more in the peach direction. Of the four incenses here the alteration in base has probably affected this the most, or at least the perfume verges slightly synthetic at times (and the base is a little harsh), but on the other hand it’s a pretty accurate fruity incense that you’re not likely to find a duplicate of anywhere else.

In the end all four are probably worth checking out for the durbar hound even if I make the caveat that the Snow Apricot isn’t a personal favorite, nor what it used to be. I do, however, try to keep the former three in stock when I can and have no problems recommending any of them. Certainly if you like the huge, earthy Sai Flora, Sanctuary and the Shanthi version will certainly be up your alley.

Kala Perfumery Works / Golden Bathi, Loban, Rajagar Bathi

Kala incenses are made by the Indian company NK Bharatharaj Setty and Sons and present products that are ardently traditional. Their incenses are generally extremely inexpensive and you should be able to pick up large rolls for only $1 to $1.50. I gave three of their blends a try a while back and attempted to warm myself to their aromas without much success. I’m not sure if this is because the spectre of the amazing Shroff was hanging over and affecting my appraisals or if perhaps I’m just not attuned to the aromas here. However there is one exception I’ll reach at the end of this short write up, but first the bad news.

I try to give incenses the benefit of the doubt and did so with Kala’s Golden Bathi. This appears to be a charcoal mixed with some herbal content with what is generally either a light or already faded oil on the top. In fact I really had trouble trying to understand what was going on in this one and came to the conclusion it must have been going for a similar cleansing scent you might find in a much improved aroma such as Baieido’s Izumi. That is, this appears to be trying to cross citrus scents with some sort of light floral. Overall it’s the type of scent that makes me think of lemon dish soap more than anything else and I found it fortunate the charcoal wasn’t too harsh otherwise it would have been a wash (excuse the unintentional pun here). In writing this up I burned about 4 sticks in a row and in that time it built up something of a floral afterscent, but it isn’t one as noticeable during the regular burn. Overall I think I gave it far more time than it was worth.

Kala’s Loban is very traditional and almost painfully harsh at times. I’m not sure if this is part of the base or a low quality of benzoin in use but I found too much gravel, clay and dirty in this scent to make it pleasant in any way. It had far too much in common with low quality Tibetans that give off tire and rubber side effects to recommend in anyway. Shroff’s Singapore Loban is superior in just about every way imaginable.

I had an initial problem with Kala’s Rajagar Bathi, but found myself warming to it in recent burns, unlike the others. This is a very small floral rose masala with a very potent top oil. Like any masala this skinny, it’s also largely stick but I found in most cases the aroma was strong enough to mask these issues.  Many Indian rose masalas outside of the Shroff line really bother me in just about every way but I found this one to be quite nice, although, again, I wasn’t so positive on it until I’d gotten used to it a bit. During one burn I had just finished one of Mermade’s Aphrodesia cones and noticed quite a bit of similarity between the two in scent (although the Aphrodesia is superior in every way).

Overall my experiences weren’t positive enough to inspire me to try the half dozen or so other Kala exports. At least with the Rajagar, the one I did like, it’s cheap enough to be worth a sample, but overall the other two aren’t even worth the $1-$1.50 roll they come in. Perhaps I just ended up with the wrong ones?

Clearing up Encense du Monde

In my last Encense du Monde article I was given assistance by a couple readers on the origins of some of the incenses, that is what company they originated from. Given that most of the line heralds from several companies I thought I’d put up the rest of the line to see if we can’t collectively clear up the rest of the line. Originally I thought in doing so we’d find out where some duplications are, however it’s become clear that even in cases where there seems to be duplication, there often isn’t. I was pretty stunned to find out that Middle Path and Mount Fuji were apparently the same name as the two Daily incenses Daigen Koh and Hoyei Koh, as they are very different in scent. So anyway, here’s the list after the break, if you can fill in the gaps in the comments I’d most appreciate it. Pictures of the incenses can be found here and on subsequent pages. Eventually once complete I’ll put up a comparison page between similarly named incenses for reference. Read the rest of this entry »

Shroff Channabasappa / 505 Amber 1882, 707 Amber Bath, Amber Boquet, Amber Floral, Amber Royal

Shroff Channabasappa Part 1
Shroff Channabasappa Part 2

Shroff Channabasappa really do have an amazing number of amber incenses. I touched on one of them in the floral group last installment, Amber Rose, and there appears to be at least one more on the way in the next batch that should be arriving to these shores.

Amber is probably one of the most hard to define of all incense types as it varies in both ingredients and scent. Generally speaking it’s a mixture of tree resins, beeswax, essential oils and other powders that probably originally attempted to mimic the smell of the rare sperm whale excretion ambergris and soon after took on a life of its own in a myriad of different ways. With Shroff Channabasappa and many other companies, the main ingredient of amber is benzoin, a common theme that pervades all of the incenses in common here and while all of them vary to some extent in their scent, in all cases there’s a vein of fine benzoin at the middle. In fact I’d go as far to say that in Shroff’s case you’re likely to fine some of the best benzoin scents on the planet in these incenses. The scents are resinous but in true Shroff fashion there’s a perfume or oil work in these incenses that elevate the scents to true works of art. These are ambers that will remind you of no others.

The 505 Amber 1882 is one good example of an amber that gravitates to the more oil-rich side of the aroma. While it’s very traditional in scent, almost a classic amber, the top oil is almost liqueur like in strength. This is a good example of how rich the benzoin content is in Shroff’s incenses, here there’s a combination of the vanilla edges of the resin along with some caramel and clay. The combination gives off something of a gold or coppery vibe to it, a side effect of combining an earth scent with a traditional perfume. A truly excellent blend that improves with use.

707 Amber Bath is a much more muted amber without the more intense oil overtones of the 505. It’s still as benzoin rich at its center and is unquestionably Shroff in its essence, but instead of a liqueur like top scent this is a bit spicier with hints of orange peel and leather mixed in as well as a more overt beeswax scent. In many ways it’s the most traditionally amber of the group, perhaps a good “vanilla” in some ways yet not as spectacular as some of the other amber combinations.

Amber Boquet is something of a more deluxe floral variation of the scent and closer to both the Amber Flora and Amber Rose in style. Like the 707 this also has a strong perfume on top that might be described as liqueur like, although in certain sticks it seemed like the oil wasn’t quite as infused. This is a similar quality to the Amber Rose in that when you hit one of the strong bathis it really impresses you with its depth. Like most Shroffs, continued use brings out the subtleties and I’ve grown over time to find this one of the best in the entire Shroff line, it even has some slight durbar-like qualities that enhance the richness. Very smooth and seductive.

Amber Floral is similar in ways to both the 707 and Amber Boquet and illustrates the difficulty in trying to separate and describe what are at heart very simialr incenses. All three of these have a strong and richly aromatic benzoin center, yet all three have subtly different perfumes that might all be described as floral in a way. I’d probably put the Floral itself between the earthier 707 and more overtly flowery Boquet, but to some extent its splitting hairs.  Perhaps if once considers this a flora incense in the sense of it having a combination of spicier, herbal and floral scents you might be closer to imagining its scent.

Most Royal Ambers I’ve tried from other companies tend to be charcoals with a rich powdery sort of amber scent that likely comes mostly from oils. The Shroff Amber Royal is quite different and in many ways a lot more traditional than you’d expect, more a cousin of the 505 than the richer, oil infused combinations. It’s got a bit of a classic touch with an obvious benzoin base that tends towards some spicier cinnamon touches and lots of earthiness and clay, with a hint of orange peel and nutmeg mixed in. Like the 505 it doesn’t have the perfume kick that really enhances the floral ambers but it also hints to a longer learning curve that could eventually enhance my estimate of the scent.

Overall I found myself gravitating towards the more overtly oiled ambers in the group, particularly the florals which are all the expertise of the Shroff company. I’ve mentioned the Amber Rose, which is really the classic of this group, but very close are the Boquet and the 505, both of which I found myself warming to increasingly during the evaluation of these incenses. But really, Shroff rarely put a foot wrong and all of these have their pluses. On the other hand given fragrances that are so close there’s no need to rush your way through these and I’d recommend trying one or two first and getting used to those before exploring the other variations.

Encens du Monde / 1000 Years of Wisdom, Pine & Orchid Wedding, Whispering Bamboo, Oriental Breeze, Aloe Vera, Middle Path, Mount Fuji

It’s dawned on me recently that if you want really high quality but low price incenses, the various Encens du Monde sandalwoods are really some of the best on the market. It’s true there’s something of a price markup with most of these due to the incenses’ long travel regiment, but I think the quality of most of these incenses does indeed offset these prices to some extent. The real difficulty with these incenses is making sure you don’t overlap with something directly distributed to your country; however, my experience over time has been that even in the cases that incenses do overlap, there’s still enough of a recipe difference to set two similar brands apart.

For example, I reviewed Kokando Rangetsu vs Encense du Monde Jade Orchid a while back and while you certainly only need one or the other, I felt the EdM variety was slightly the superior with a better wood base. Later I got the opportunity to compare Kunjudo’s Karin in the box to Karin in the tube and found that the difference was nearly significant, the former much sweeter, the latter muskier and more traditional, making me wonder if the Encense du Monde Forest of Flowers variant might differ in its own right. With these experiences I wouldn’t be quite so sure that even when two packagings match up in style that you’re dealing with the exact same incense. And Ross’s warning in the latest top 10 should be taken under advisement as well, there are indeed formulation changes happening with nearly every incense under the sun as aloeswood, sandalwood and halmaddi all get rarer. In the group I’ll be reviewing today, the Oriental Breeze packaging matches up with the “generic” Shobikoh incense distributed via the Incense Works, but I’d make a guess that the Shobikoh probably isn’t quite as strong as the Oriental Breeze given the difference in price. In summary, buyer beware. I believe most of the EdM incenses in this review are made by Kunjudo, with the known exception of Mount Fuji, which is a Shoyeido incense not otherwise distributed here. [Correction: Please note Francois’ comment below for the right origins of these incenses]

1000 Years of Wisdom (1000 Ans de Sagesse) is something of a potpourri type of incense with ingredients extracted from various wood powders, essential oils, cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus and patchouli. It’s a black colored stick but not of the smokeless kind usually found in this color. It’s a hard one to describe given there are really no dominant scents other than the eucalyptus content being fairly obvious with its almost menthol like cooling scent. It does appear to have the typical sandalwood base and although there is no obvious aloeswood content, oil or otherwise, has some similarities to the Shoyeido Sei-Fu blend. Whisps of sweetness, anise and even an herbal flavor that reminds me of veitivert pop up occasionally, but overall this is an incense formulated for a unique scent. It’s not at all a bad deal for the almost $9 a roll and one I’ve found gets better with use.

Pine & Orchid Wedding (Mariage du pin et de l’orchidée) I’ve tried in the short roll but it also appears to be part of the Japonessence line as well, although I’m not sure if it varies in scent or not. This is one of my very favorite under $10 sandalwood based rolls and in some ways it’s almost like a low octave and inexpensive version of the incenses you see as Seeds of Transformation and Blissful Mountain in the much pricier Meditation range. That is, it’s a wood based stick with a fabulous floral oil on top, a marriage I’ve really grown to appreciate with use. The floral oil isn’t as expensive or as high class as it is in the previous mentioned incenses but nor is it bitter or off  putting, just a bit mellower (it should be mentioned that the two top ends use lily essential oil rather than orchid, but the results are too similar not to compare). The pine is typical of its use in most Japanese incenses in that it’s a woody scent rather than the heavily resinous pitch you’ll encounter in, say, Fred Soll’s incenses (Shunkohdo Matsuba Pine is fairly close for example). Overall just a perfect scent, fresh and calming and even with the EdM hike, very affordable.

Like 100o Years, Whispering Bamboo (Le Chant des bambous) is a pretty complex and multi-ingredient heavy scent, although in this case we’re dealing with a square stick with the typical green color. The ingredient list has “a delicate touch” of violet along with sandalwood, cinnamon, eucalyptus, Chinese plants and patchouli. And in particular the Chinese plants aspect evokes similarities to various traditional Kunmeido and Shunkohdo scents that use medicinal herbs, with a unique spice as a backdrop. This is a much more intense scent than, say, the bamboo incense found in Kunjudo’s Three Scents box due to these herbs, although I would suspect the slightly fruity undertones are where the violet manifests (or at least it doesn’t all evoke for me what I typically think of as a violet scent). Overall its quite unique and another EdM winner that improves for me with every stick of use.

As I mentioned before, Oriental Breeze (Brise Orientale) has packaging reminiscent enough of Shobikoh as to hint that we’re dealing with a very similar incense and a significantly different price. Of all the incenses in this review, this is the most obviously inexpensive, it’s described as a sandalwood incense with clove and cinnamon, a combination very common at the lower price ranges. The wood, unlike with the other scents here, is a bit on the bitter side at times, and the oil content is much lower, making this one only roughly indistinguishable from most lower end “every day” sandalwoods. Although I haven’t tried the Shobikoh per se, it may be the one to start with given its low cost. Those stocked heavily with green low end sandalwoods will likely not need the duplication.

The next three incenses could be considered “sampler notes” in that I’ve only tried a couple sticks of each and don’t feel I’ve exhaused the aromatic potential of any of them. The good news is that with all three I felt my best experiences were towards the last stick, and in one case I did an almost complete turn around. This case was the Aloe Vera, admittedly not one of my favorite scents, it’s quite the common addition to soaps and even tissue paper, with its very noticeable green, verdant and fresh scent. My initial take on this incense was that it was too bitter and unpleasant, but I found myself actually warming to it by the second stick. It really does what it says on the box, representing the aroma in a wood base, with some hints of clay and patchouli in the mix. I perhaps did not have enough of a sample to know how I’d feel about it in the end but still ended on a positive note.

Middle Path I liked from the start, it’s a purple stick with a very purple “feel” to it, slightly mellow and otherwise not terribly far from most low end green sandalwoods, except it generally avoids the bitter tendencies found in the woods. There’s quite a decent sandalwood value here, with a noticeably sawdust like aroma, but the best part is the myrrh and spicy oil, the former of which would account for the mellowness. One I think I’ll be adding to the next incense order.

Mount Fuji, as previously mentioned, is a Shoyeido incense not distributed through the main company, perhaps because it’s fairly similar to the same line’s Miyako-gusa scent. That is, it’s a typically spicy, but uncommonly rich and slightly sharp low end sandalwood mix that wouldn’t have fit particularly comfortably in the Daily or Classics range.  There appears to be lily of the valley in this one, but I didn’t notice the same sort of powerful oil that’s in Seeds of Transformation or Blissful Mountain, more so I got impressions of forests, pine and other woods and maybe a touch of patchouli. But again, with only a couple sticks its possible I was just missing the notes.

Likely next up on the Encens du Monde agenda will be a look at the Aromambiance line, which to my nose is almost how I’d envision Nippon Kodo moderns if they were done a bit better. But that will be some time down the road. As far as these incenses are concerned, Pine and Orchid Wedding is something of a must, but other than the Oriental Breeze and maybe the Aloe Vera, all the rest seem to be strong low end sandalwoods all with unique combinations you may not have tried before.