The flood of Shroff Channabasappa incenses appears to be well underway as 24 new incenses have finally reached the shores of the States including a total of 13 in two new categories. One of these categories is that of the Soft (Semi-Dry) Masalas which is, perhaps, Shroff’s entry into the worlds inhabited by Nag Champa and other durbars. To the touch, all of these incenses are slightly wet and perhaps a touch more fragrant and intense than the incenses in other lines. I can’t say whether or not this is the presence of halmaddi or something similar in these incenses, but it would not surprise me at all if there was a small amount in there keeping these damp.
There are six incenses in this line and all of them are world class incenses, immediately rivaling and in many ways surpassing the champas and durbars offered by other companies. Because we’re dealing with a company here whose unique take on incense, due to many old oil and incense recipes, is basically not found anywhere else, they’re almost all unique in Indian incense, something many discovered through their regular masala line and its dozen or more classics (you can read about these in the links at the start of this article). These aromas are all well rounded, without any bitter or off notes, in fact even in their Masala Base line, which are largely charcoal and oil incenses, the relative dearth of offputting scents is particularly low for the style. But with the Soft Masala line we’re talking Shroff at their most potent, pungent and powerful, indeed just the fresh sticks of a few of these incenses could scent a small circle around a stick. In the 100g yellow boxes the aroma pops immediately with the removal of the top.
So it’s perhaps fitting to start with the line’s Champa. Champas, of course, are among the world’s most famous incenses, indeed the Shrinivas Sugandhalaya blue box Nag Champa may be the world’s best selling incense. However as is well known among those who’ve explored Indian incense to some extent, the most popular is not always the best and due to wholesale changes in champa ingredients many of the bulk companies have made changes that have virtually harmed the aroma they had become famous for. So it’s quite fortunate that some of these smaller companies, like Shroff, have created new Champas and in this case we’re possibly talking about one of the finest champas on the market, one at least as good as Bam Champa, Raj Laxmi Champa, the Shantimalai red box series, Goloka Nag Champa and at least a dozen others. It’s also quite different than these, given that so much of Shroff’s work tends to be with the perfume oils. Shroff’s Champa is almost mercurial as a result, with a floral (likely a plumeria mix of some sort) oil on top that shifts and changes depending on one’s attention. But what becomes apparent with use is that unlike many new reformulations, this Champa really does have some elements that resemble the rich scents of a decade past and older. By my fourth and fifth stick, wafts of what smelled like halmaddi would curl out and evoke deja vu, as well as the common vanilla and sandalwood accompaniment found in the midst of the floral intensity. So with each use it’s like looking at a gem from a different angle and only in doing so does one see the magnificence of the creation, truly a Champa that well lives up to the Shroff name.
Jungle Prince moves this soft masala base into more exotic, woodier directions and is a strange, mysterious scent that is very difficult to parse into its subelements. It shares in common with Moonlight and Pearl a very intense perfume oil that really comes out of the box at you. There are slight top hints of lavender and bergamot mixed in but the primary oil seems to be of a woody type, perhaps a mix of sandalwood, cedarwood and what may be a slight touch of oud oil, as the combination evokes a fecund, almost animal-like scent to it that creeps around the edges like a tiger peering from tall grass. The closest stick on the market to Jungle Prince is possibly Mystic Temple’s Precious Forest in that they both share a heavily woody, almost cologne-like and masculine feel to their bouquets. Overall it’s unusual, exotic and befitting its name both regal and feral.
Moonlight is also resplendent with fine oils and in this case it’s almost eye-stingingly fruity in a way that’s quite rare to be this successful on an incense. I’ll have to credit our reader Hamid for noticing the orange blossom top note on this, as when it was brought to my attention, it made this incense almost terribly obvious, and I could smell both the stinging citrus tint of freshly squeezed juice along with the type of orangepeel smell you get in a fruit bread. To some extent, however, it doesn’t stop at orange peel, I also notice some slight hints of strawberry especially in terms of the way strawberries smell in the heat in a patch, but this all works underneath the orange. And of course, like all soft masala types there’s the usual vanilla and intensity, and in fact that very intensity in the oil almost distills the orange scent into a liqueur like Grand Marnier and the combination with the vanilla also evokes those orange creme popsicles. Truly it’s difficult to compare this incense to anything else and I would probably not have blinked had it been called Orange Champa as it could very well be one, except for the slight spice content in the base that also evokes hints of spice tea.
Musk Flora in comparison to the rest of the line is probably the quietest and least oil rich of the incenses in this batch, and it’s not at all far from Blue Pearl’s Musk Champa, especially in the formulation it was, say, 10 years ago. In this case the musk is typically dusky and herbal, without the overwhelming power an animalistic musk carries and as a result it helps to create a mysterious note on what is basically a rather standard, vanilla, sandalwood and spice base. It’s hard to call any of Shroff’s soft masalas typically champa-like, but this one’s perhaps the closest, with only a hint of the perfume to make it obviously Shroff.
Pearl is the true gem in this grouping, and it’s not only the most powerful and penetrating of all the incenses in this series but it could be the most complex. It took me a few sticks to notice what in retrospect is a rather obvious French lavender oil as a large part of the bouquet, but to this day, even burning this in handfuls, I keep noticing all sorts of different notes, perhaps in the way that even though a pearl is white it can reflect an almost rainbow like refraction of light at its edges. Recently a stick of this evoked for me the lost and missed Mystic Temple scent Ascension which was like their opium-like Transcendence except with hints of licorice or anise, both of which are very lightly present in this stick. It also has the normal center of vanilla, honey and sandalwood at heart but compared to the rest of the line it’s also perhaps the sweetest in the center and would appeal to those who like their incenses friendly, if it was only for the fleetingly wicked and wild herbal note that flecks through the bouquet. This could be a part of just how potent the lavender oil is here, although it evokes almost sage-like characteristics at times, and it certainly appeals to the side of me that likes a friendly incense with a thread of adventure in it. I honestly can’t get enough of this one, and while your own favorite could differ wildly in this line, this remains my current pick, it’s truly one of the best Indian incenses I have in stock.
The final incense of the six, Vanilla, is perhaps the easiest to talk about as it does what it says on the stick. Champas of this sort already have vanilla as part of the note and of course there is the friendly and common durbar mix of vanilla and amber, but this goes even beyond that to a point where the vanilla oil or extract being used is almost like it is in a bottle, it’s so potent that it has herbal notes that you wouldn’t ever witness in the vanilla we tend to be familiar with from ice cream and other confectionaries. But like the aforementioned vanilla amber durbars, this stick is at least as powerful and long burning, marking an aroma you’re not likely to be able to get away from for a while. And unlike most of the other incenses here, the only truly obvious subnote in this incense is the everpresent sandalwood and as such it’s n0t ultimately complex as a whole.
It took me perhaps 7 or 8 sticks of each of these, at the very least, to even start to get comfortable to really discuss these incenses in depth as, except for the vanilla, they’re all astonishingly complex, aromatic creations among the finest in Indian incense and perhaps at the apex of incense art as a whole. When I heard these were to be released by Shroff and based on my other experiences I made the decision, rather than just trying a smaller sample or package, to go for a largest batch I could buy, and haven’t regretted the decision since the second stick of each one. It’s almost if at first they’re too powerful to get your nose around, but once you sit down and let them speak to you, it’s a divine language indeed. And as is always with Shroff the prices are ridiculously inexpensive for the quality you get, so if you’re inclined to Indian incense, you won’t want to miss any of these.