Best Incense – May 2009 (by Nancy)

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.

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15 Comments

  1. David said,

    March 17, 2015 at 3:21 am

    the best incense i came across, i Royal green Hojary frankincense, i get in online from a london based store called puresacra

    • Dead Crow said,

      March 21, 2015 at 8:18 pm

      I have had great luck with ordering from another company in London, located in Camden Stables Market, whose owner makes regular trips to Oman for the product. His grading is impeccable, my favorite being the lime, just between the yellow and green. Unfortunately the store is out of stock on all 3 at the moment 😦 Highly recommend The Frankincense Store as well as Mermade’s green.

  2. Mumon said,

    June 10, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    Kyukyodo’s Shiun is too cinnamon for meditation in general. But thankfully some aloeswood does come through. Useful for informal gatherings.

    Syukohkoku IS wonderfully noble, and very good for meditation, as is the Byakudan Kobunoku.

    • Nancy said,

      June 10, 2009 at 7:24 pm

      Hello Mumon! Incense preferences are so subjective so it’s nice to hear from someone who has similar tastes. I can totally see what you’re saying about Shiun, it’s very rich and spicy, way too stimulating for meditation.

      • Mumon said,

        June 11, 2009 at 6:32 pm

        Thanks! I greatly admire this site; if it weren’t for this site I would never know the names of the incense I’d bought in Japan; I now know I can buy them in the US. (I had Minorien aloeswood before I knew its name, and was overjoyed to find I can buy it in the US.)

        I also love the way you folks know and appreciate incense above the “pot-head” grade; this is a world in which few in the West know about.

        • Nancy said,

          June 12, 2009 at 2:45 pm

          Well, Mumon, let me tell ya, it’s been really fun writing for ORS. Definitely deepening my appreciation for all things aromatic. And, honestly, I simply can’t deal with the pot-head grades anymore. Shoyeido, Baieido, et al. – they’ve spoiled my nose!!!

  3. David Oller said,

    May 27, 2009 at 6:22 am

    I’ve been hesitant to say anything because I just love what you guys are doing, and I don’t want in anyway to jaundice your opinions because what I really enjoy is hearing these accounts unfettered.

    I will say, Nancy, that I should get you to help me with the English names! “Imperial White Sandalwood” That’s fantastic!

    David Oller

    • Mike said,

      May 27, 2009 at 7:48 am

      Hi David, glad you did stop by! I think I can safely say that your work with Baieido and all the fantastic English language references at Alice’s Restaurant and japanese-incense.com have been influential and inspirational to all of us at ORS. Love the new blog too! – Mike

      • David Oller said,

        May 27, 2009 at 7:53 pm

        Thanks Mike! I appreciate your kind words, I feel most of the credit for anything I’ve been allowed to share belongs to Kyozaburo Nakata, Koushi Yoshiko Nakata, Souke Hiroyuki Jinpo, Professor Yoneda, Nakata Sama (Chairman of Baieido) and President Nobuhiro Nakata who were unusually and patiently generous sharing their knowledge with me.

        David

        • Mike said,

          May 28, 2009 at 9:01 am

          Duly noted! If there’s anything I’m constantly aware of in writing about incense it’s literally how much guessing we have to do, so all of the objective information we can get is priceless. Particularly in that our relationship with these scents continually evolves, I often feel I like all the quality incenses 10 times more than I did than when I wrote a review.

    • Nancy said,

      May 27, 2009 at 3:18 pm

      Thanks David. I really love those poetic Japanese names!

  4. Mike said,

    May 26, 2009 at 9:20 am

    The Hougary Katlyn is importing really can’t be more highly recommended, it might have topped my list this month too. I think probably the only tree resin I like as much is Copal Blanco. The Hougary really accentuates the Mermade blends as well as does the Mastic when it shows up. BTW, since you’re such a sandalwood fan I have to recommend Mermade’e Spirit blend – I think it’s up there with all those great Baieido sandalwood blends, it really comes close to the wood on a heater.

    I hope to post the Shroff part 4 article today if all goes well, including the Frank and Guggul blends. I’m probably not as fond of them so I’m glad I’ll be able to reference your top 10 for the bright side…

    • Nancy said,

      May 26, 2009 at 8:40 pm

      Yes, I really must try some of the Mermade stuff. I keep poking around on Katlyn’s website. I think my next order will definitely be from her!

  5. Nancy said,

    May 26, 2009 at 9:13 am

    Thanks Ross! And thanks for introducing me to the houragy. BTW, we had a party in the backyard this past Saturday. Took a coal from the fire pit, smoldered some hougary with it, and passed it around. It was a hit! It was really cool looking too – the coal and the resin basically became glued together, melding and feeding off each other. Way better than incense charcoal or an electric burner!

  6. Ross Urrere said,

    May 25, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    I love the snapshots of history and culture that grace your reviews and lists. It makes the incense seem much more real and “there” in the room with you.

    I started laughing when I read the part about blowing through the box of BYAKUDAN KOKONOE KOH.That threesome is really amazing, but not something that leaps out at the first stick. They sort of sneak up on you.
    -Ross


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