Here. Scroll to about the middle, there’s a new two-fragrance set called Ukifune (Rowboat) and a smaller 20 stick package of Hanachiru-sato (Field of Blossoms). Just a guess, but I’d guess at the $39.95 asking price for Ukifune that there’s probably some aloeswood involved.
Shroff Channabasappa / Dashanga (Burning Powder), Frank Incense, Guggal Bathi, Green Durbar, Parrot Green Durbar
Often, just when you think you’ve finished a project, you end up finding you’re only half way through or less. In Shroff Channabasappa’s case, I’m hoping that now I’ve finished reviewing the 20 blends that have been imported into the US that I’ll find out I’m not finished reviewing them after all because of a new batch making its way over. This is a company that offers a high quality product at a ridiculously low price and is often one of the best buys in incense as a result. In fact Shroff may just about ruin other Indian incenses for you once you become familiar with their products.
However, it looks in many ways that I’ve saved, perhaps, my least favorite incenses among that first 20 until last in at least four cases here, so I’m pleased to reference Nancy’s latest top 10 as a counterweight to a couple of the reviews here. It demonstrates at least that Shroff probably has an incense or two for everyone’s tastes and in no ways should my reviews here prevent anyone from trying the lot if they get a chance. That is, my feelings on these are probably more related to the ingredients involved than to the craft.
Dashanga is definitely the black sheep in this first group, being the only powder in a group of sticks. It’s also not nearly as potent an aroma, close only to the most earthy ambers and other resin/dry blends in the Shroff line up. Dashanga’s ingredients volatize in a completely different way whether you use the powder on a heater or charcoal making the incense very different depending on how you use it. It’s perhaps most effective on a heater as the powder burns very quickly on charcoal, losing a lot of its subtleties. On charcoal you do get an impression of sandalwood and benzoin , with both sweet and earthy qualities but one must keep the heat to a minimum to prevent the floral qualities from being completely lost. On a heater these qualities come through in bunches, a multitude of floral aromatics, certainly rose on the top, as well as a talcum powder, leather, and butter in the mix. Perhaps the main criticism is it isn’t as distinct in its aroma as many of the sticks are making it a tough one to remember after the fact.
We’re generally very spoiled with frankincense in an age where we get an abundance of imported Hougary Frankincense as well as high quality frankincense sticks from Tennendo, Minorien and Shoyeido. If it weren’t for these I might give Shroff’s Frank Incense higher marks as it does indeed hit the right frankincense notes, it just does so in a less resinous and more perfumed/masala like way that strikes me as not being quite as superior as the abovementioned frankincenses. In this case there’s obvious sandalwood aroma (which I suppose makes the Minorien version perhaps the closest in a way) and due to the woodiness it’s not far from Shroff’s own Singapore Loban. Along with the ambers and the below Guggal Bathi, it remains one of the line’s driest incenses and, of course, it remains eminently affordable, although at least in this case I can’t see it as a particularly superior masala compared to others in, say, the Mystic Temple or Incense from India line. But that probably speaks more to how great frankincense is in any form.
As a contrast, I’m not nearly as fond of guggal gum. I’ve occasionally seen it referred to as an alternative or even “false” myrrh due to both aroma and the closeness of the two different plants on their respective family tree. Both gums can vary widely in quality and my experience with guggal is you really need a high quality gum for it to be even enjoyable. Shroff’s Guggal Bathi does indeed get the better quality aroma down in a stick, but even at this quality it’s not a scent I personally relate to, with high quality myrrh being a close but much more enjoyable experience. With that said, it’s something of a simple stick and close to the Frank Incense and Singapore Loban sticks in being a masala delivery method for its particular resin with all of these incenses sharing qualities of sandalwood and benzoin in the mix. I’d again reference Nancy’s latest (May) top 10 list for a more positive take than I can give on this one.
Shroff’s Green Durbar is my favorite stick in this subgroup and perhaps the definitive aroma of its type. Both Mystic Temple and Incense from India have Green Durbars, however at least in terms of the definition of durbar being more like a champa type incense, only those two are in that classification. That is the Shroff Green Durbar is still a drier masala like most of the incenses reviewed so far, but as such it doesn’t have some of the harsher qualities of modern durbars with a reduced halmaddi content. Green in this case refers to minty, herbal (think patchouli or vetivert), and even lime, all of which makes you wonder if the name or the aroma comes first due to all the connections. Needless to say an aroma like this may not appeal to everyone, but its connection to the primal, verdant and prehistoric always has a great subconscious effect on me. Plus it’s difficult not to smell the Shroff signature on this one.
Parrot Green Durbar, perhaps unfortunately, also brings some of the same mental connections with it and I perhaps hesitate in noting which ones, although anyone who’s cared for a bird probably can guess. The color is definitely a lighter, indeed avian-like, shade and along with the deeper green has gone the more herbal, evergreen and minty like scents of the regular durbar, leaving behind a bit more the lime and a much lighter, almost animal-like scent with hints of lacquer-like resin with it. The animal nature of it, whether its suggestion or part of the mix, definitely restrains my opinion of it, but surely it’s an incense like no other.
So overall, of the five in this batch, perhaps only the Green Durbar can garner a strong recommendation from me, especially when compared to my reviews of the other 15 scents in previous Shroff reviews, most of which I can stand behind wholeheartedly. Although fortunately this is unlikely to be the last you’ll hear about this great company from ORS given the plethora of new scents possibly crossing the Atlantic or Pacific as we speak.
1. Hougary Frankincense – This is a specific type of frankincense resin, pure and simple. There are many different species of frankincense, and they grow all over the southern part of the Arabian peninsula as well as in northeast Africa. Hougary comes from boswellia sacra, the sacred frankincense tree, and is considered to be the absolute best in the world. It grows exclusively in Oman and was once so revered that only royalty was allowed to burn it. The resin itself comes in enormous beautiful “tears,” or globules, that are translucent in color like gems. The globules are so large that the resin remains quite sticky and fresh on the inside. This kind of frankincense burns very clean with an amazing fruity bouquet that you simply must try.
2. Baieido / Syukohkoku – “Gathering of Fragrant Countries” My new favorite from Baieido. An amber-aloeswood blend similar to Tennendo’s Tensei but just a bit more refined. Sharper and more pungent than Baieido’s typically bitter woods, rounded out with definite hints of frankincense, cinnamon, and peppermint. Baieido’s incense tends to be a bit subtle, melding into the background. This stick is definitely bolder and one is more than adequate to perfume lots of space.
3. Kyukyodo / Yumemachi – “City of Dreams” Kyukyodo is extremely adept at blending aloeswood with fruity aromas. Yumemachi in particular is a truly notable selection from this fine company. I don’t know for sure but I think this blend is a combination of aloeswood and yuzu, or bitter orange, a fruit native to Asia. Really exceptional and unusual, with a pronounced citrus presence. An absolutely delicious incense with a beautifully appropriate name.
4. Kyukyodo / Shiun – “Purple Could” Another must-have from Kyukyodo. Aloeswood base with a light fruity note that’s difficult to describe. Apple? Grape? Ephemeral for sure but definitely present. This incense is a perfect compliment to Yumemachi so if you like that incense you really owe it to yourself to try this one.
5. Shroff / Frankincense – A fine masala version of frankincense from an esteemed manufacturer that is over 125 years old. Surely a blend of natural and synthetic but very pleasant and a super deal at under $2 for 25 sticks! A bit sweet and floral compared to the Japanese interpretations, just as you would expect from an Indian manufacturer.
6. Awaji-Baikundo / Wabi-sabi – Wabi-sabi is term that really has no English equivalent. It refers to a pervasive Japanese aesthetic based on Buddhist ideas of impermanence. Wabi-sabi art is simple, rustic, and unrefined. It celebrates the asymmetrical and imperfect and reveres the use of natural materials that shift and change, gaining character over time. Such a curious name for what is most assuredly a coffee incense. It has a yummy roasted bean aroma with a nice caramel compliment. I can honestly say that I’ve never tried a coffee incense by another company, but this has got to be one of the best out there! Everything by Awaji-Baikundo is exceptional so do yourself a favor and check out their other stuff.
7. Baieido / Byakudan-Kobunboku – “White Sandalwood Plum Flower” My favorite selection from Baieido’s Kobunboku, or Plum Flower, line. Actually, one of my favorite incenses from Baieido period. There is something really special about this incense. For one, I love sandalwood and this one version really smells awesome. Many companies tend to over sweeten their sandalwood blends. Not Baieido, of course, these masters of the subtle art of woods. Additionally, this incense seems to have one of the most noticeable psychotropic effects, melting away stress and offering up a deep peace instead.
8. Tennendo / Kohrokan – “Sandalwood” Another completely different take on sandalwood from the one listed above. Super woody and rich in a way that really only Tennendo could pull of. Sweet and smoky but not cloying or overpowering. This has got to be a really fine grade of sandalwood. An uncluttered homage to this amazingly aromatic wood.
9. Baieido / Byakudan Kokonoe Koh “Imperial White Sandalwood” From Baieido’s Jinkoya Sakubei line. There are three incenses in this line, each developed as a commemorative blend dedicated to Baieido’s founder, Jinkoya Sakubei. This one really got me. It started off slowly but then I started to burn this stuff like crazy. Then one day I realized I had burned up all 50 grams in just a few weeks! Totally addictive and universal.
10. Shroff / Guggul – Another fine singe note incense from this traditional Indian manufacturer. Guggul is an Indian species of myrrh and is an important herb in Ayurveda, the 5,000 year-old traditional medicine of India. This ancient herb is still used today, most notably as a treatment for heart disease and high cholesterol. If you like Indian incenses, like Satya Sai Baba Nag Champa, you should try some of Shroff’s selections. You won’t be disappointed.
Seems like there’s been a few new incense-related blogs/blog activity popping up of late, so I’ve added some new links to our blog links roll to the left, so check them out! Hello from ORS…
Gyokushodo (bottom of page) is a rather interesting company, one that seems to have been pretty well hidden until the last year or so. Not all that big (at least what we get to see) but they do turn out some really good incense at very reasonable prices. They use a good grade of Aloeswood combined with a unique blend of oils and resins to produce some very nice scents. None of them come across as “heavy” or “fill the room” types of incense (what used to be called , I think, “Hundred Pace” style,) just very pleasant and ones that do get your attention. Their incense tends to make you sit up and notice and at the same time not get overwhelmed. In other words, great for meditation or as a background scent to create an atmosphere in a room.
Jinko Yozei, which is the newest of the line to make it over here, pretty much holds true to the above. Good aloeswood, a really nice oil/resin scent floating above the wood and in general just a really pleasant experience. An overall impression of resins mixed with a certain muskiness without florals. I have gone through three sticks at this point from a sample sent to me from Kohshi in San Francisco. One thing that has happened each time i have used it is that at some point into the stick I find myself thinking i have Shunkohdo’s Seikan burning. There are some real similarities here in the oil/resin department (the wood in the Shunkohdo is at a much higher level ). Given the price difference between the two there are most likly huge differences in formula between them also. But still, it keeps happening to me. If anyone else has sampled this i would be very curious as to your impressions.
Shoyeido may have more 2 3/4 inch incenses than most other companies’ full catalogs. Their Horin, 12 Month, LISN, Incense Road, Floral World and the lion’s share of their Genji series all feature this type of stick which is something of a modern style, with a thicker, circular heft and a dominance of perfume oils which manage to not overwhelm quality bases in most of the incenses. The issue now that we’ve reviewed a good chunk of all of these lines is that after a while the aromas start to blur together and resemble one another. While the Horins can be set aside for being the most deluxe from this style and the LISNs due to the print on the stick, slightly different base and even more emphasis on modern, perfume styles, the rest of the 2 3/4 inch series really start to resemble each other especially when you’re presented with a 12 stick sampler.
This is the Angelscents sampler, a series of incenses with LISN-like names and aromas that crisscross the above-mentioned series. With only one stick the fleeting comparisons to other series are mostly what comes to mind, except, like with the Genji scents, the occasional wish that a certain aroma was actually made in bulk so that one could get to know it better. One gets the impression of a modern incense laboratory churning out variations in style where the big hits get made in bulk and the near misses shunted off to various sampler packs. Indeed, so many of these sticks in and outside the Angelscents sampler, are fleetingly reminiscent of Horin classics like Muro-machi. And like with the 12 month series, an incense will have noticeable hints of sandalwood and/or aloeswood in the mix, not at Horin-like quality levels but often close enough. My game plan was to burn half of a stick, record my impressions and then come back for a second round. In most cases my first round impressions captured about all I could without getting to know a scent over time and in all of these cases the impressions will be preliminary only. But that’s the sampler in a nutshell, as far as I know none of these scents can be found outside this package in the US, despite the fact they’re so close to scents in some of these other series.
Ethereal Times kicks off the series with an unusual mix of lemongrass and pine-like scents, slighly floral with a mix of low end aloeswood and sandalwood. The lemongrass-like scent gives it a bit of tang at the top but it’s not as strong as most incenses and could be a byproduct of the combination of perfumes being used.
Only For You resembles the Genji scent Kurohige found in the Enishi set (and if I’m not mistaken there’s a green stick in the Utataka set, Hachisu, that’s roughly in the same area), with a typically green aroma, with lots of mint, almost like sandalwood topped with wintergreen or spearmint and a bit of aloeswood in the mix. Shoyeido obviously do lots of scents like this, although I’d certainly love to see one in bulk as all three of these are merciless teases.
Talk of Stars seems like a variation on the cherry blossom scent with a mix of sandalwood and aloeswood, not quite as deluxe as the pressed incense in the Himenoka set but roughly along those lines. It has a touch of something a bit more dangerous or herbal to mix things up, but overall is a very friendly blend.
Mystic Beat is one of those sticks that might have fit into the Floral World series, it has a strong jasmine-like or perhaps floral bouquet scent with a touch of vanilla. It’s perhaps a bit too faint or mellow for the style to be a complete hit but it’s a nice change of pace in the set.
In My Light is reminiscent of Muro-Machi in terms of a caramel-like sweetness but on the surface has something of a coffee like aroma to it. It returns to having a touch of aloeswood for depth as well as the clay-like subnote I often associate with patchouli. Very unusual and intriguing.
Moondust really ups the sandalwood content and is an incense I find unusual in that this sort of orange and sandalwood sort of scent is one I tend to consider more solar than lunar. It’s in fact fairly hot and firy and quite peppy, if not particularly individual in its own right.
You can add Dancing Angels to the short list of scents listed in Only for You above, it has all the spearmint and evergreen you’d want in a green stick. Both of these are sweet, perhaps this is the less so of those in the Angelscents series, but it remains fairly candyish in the sense of those spearmint like candies that come out around Christmas time.
Infinite Moment probably reaches for something sublime given its name but comes off after one stick as a fairly weak and ineffectual light sandalwood-based scent. It also has hints of Muro-Machi, but is wispier and not nearly as complex and interesting as the In My Light scent mentioned earlier.
Perfect Time is another scent that could have been a Floral World “outtake” (for those not familiar with music speak, an outtake is generally a recording of a song that didn’t make it to the original album and is usually trotted out as a bonus track in the modern age). It could be lavender or violet in this one, it has features similar to both types, and is bolstered by quite a bit of sandalwood in the base. However, like the previous incense it’s a touch on the thin side, certainly an incense that wouldn’t measure up to at least the top three levels of the Floral World series.
I Can Fly is another variation of the sorts of sandalwood incenses found in both Incense Road and the Floral World lines in that it’s more than just the wood itself. This one has a touch of patchouli and tends to the slightly creamy.
Majestic Pinwheel is one of the best in the group, a sultry, exotic eastern floral with a bit of spice or even spikenard in the background. There even appears to be a touch of anise to the scent. Overall quite complex and deserves its own box.
Incognito Traveler is another really great once, perhaps a bit too wispy to last as its own incense but its combination of low end aloeswood with a spicier, cinnamon-based incense is very intriguing. There’s a 12 month that’s remotely similar (I want to say the December), but doesn’t capture the spicier qualities as definitively.
At $9.95, the Angelscents series is closer to Shoyeido’s lower priced items but at 12 sticks it’s gone a little too fast for comfort. One might be better advised starting off with the other similarly styled incense lines. Samplers like this can be fairly heartbreaking and in Angelscents case a good 1/4 or 1/3 of the scents are good enough to exist on their own (and it wouldn’t surprise me if they do in Japan). To use another musical metaphor, this is kind of like the “B sides” compilation for Shoyeido, at least existing outside more context.
Finially made it over to the Japantown Center in San Francisco to check out the new digs of Kotaro and Jay, called Kohshi, Masters of Scent.
If you have never been to the Japantown Center in San Francisco you should and now you have an even better reason. Tons of shops and resturants all geared towards Japanese culture and “stuff”, great fun.
The Kohshi space is a bit bigger then their last store and in a much better location. This time all the incense is out for inspection as well as a really great selection of candles, soaps and scents. It is a true treat for the nose! There are also things in the store that are not yet on the website, and I can tell you that there are some really top drawer incenses coming in soon that have not been seen in this country before (attention all aloewood/kyara lovers 🙂 ).
One of the nicest things about going into the retail store is that Jay and Kotaro truly take good care of their customes and lots of sampling can happen. They actually take the time to find something that will really work for you, regarless of the price. The selection is huge ad right in front of you, really, if you like incense you need to swing by the place and check it out.
Have fun -Ross