Shroff Channabasappa / Soft (Semi-Dry) Masala Incenses / Champa, Jungle Prince, Moonlight, Musk Flora, Pearl, Vanilla

Shroff Channabasappa Part 1
Shroff Channabasappa Part 2
Shroff Channabasappa Part 3
Shroff Channabasappa Part 4

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.

Shoyeido Blog

Shoyeido has entered the blogosphere.

Shoyeido Classics incenses discontinued

As of July 31, 2009, the following Shoyeido incenses have been discontinued: Hanakagari, Ake-bono,  Shino-nome, Miyako-gusa, Hana-noki and Kamo.

New Incense Retailer discussion thread

Under the page links on the left is a new page for a thread to discuss and share information on incense suppliers and retailers. Guidelines posted at the top of the threads.

Best Incense – July 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. Shroff Chanabasappa / Wet Masala / Pearl – These top 10 lists get harder and harder every time to compile, I’ve gone from them being fairly distinct in previous months to the point now where there’s more like 15 or 20 of them all roughly all the same in preference, so the ordering here may be somewhat arbitrary. I’ve been absolutely loving the Shroff wet masala series. I’ve been planning on writing up a review so I’ve had the 6 boxes up front for weeks, and I just keep rotating among the 6. While I’ll have 2 on this list, you could almost count the other 4 on here as well. But Pearl’s probably my favorite and some of you may remember me talking about it in previous threads. It’s like an alternate version of the Mother’s Ganesh champa, with a potent lavender oil mixed in with other perfumes, perhaps a vanilla touch and much more. It’s one that strikes you immediately on opening the box and it burns so decadently I can’t get enough of it.
  2. Dzogchen Monastery / Lotus Ground Incense – Still one of the most elegent, restrained and majestic Tibetan incenses on the market, aromatic Buddhist arcana at its most kundalini-like.
  3. Pure Incense / Connoisseur / Blue Lotus – It’s actually a bit tough to choose from this line, just about every single one is a work of magnificence with the finest, most natural perfumes to ever bloom off an Indian stick, so like with the Shroffs above, I’ll pick two for this list and this is the first. I think this one’s particularly special because its aroma is so unique and so vastly different to most florals I’ve come across, and not only that but it’s terribly deep, a quality best seen by comparing it to the Absolute version, which amazing in its own right, misses some of the exotic top notes here. And hey, it has a resonantly blue feel to it as well, which is pretty rare for an incense.
  4. Purelands / Rose & Saffron – This one drips with aromatics, a deep crimson champa with enough rose oil to be noticeable backed with all kinds of unique and spicey champa and spice notes to it as well. It’s another one just gorgeous right out of the package. Like the Blue Lotus and the Pearl it has what I’d call a heady aromatic power, it just makes you swoon in its presence. Upon two sticks of this I bought a back up box to be sure I wouldn’t run out too fast.
  5. Seijudo / Shiragiku (White Crysanthemum) – I’d likely have a lot of the new Seijudo and Yamamatsu incenses on this list if I’d have had the time to burn them more, we’re very fortunate to have Ross reviewing these fabulous scents, all of which are world class and worthy of any top ten list. But I think this is a particularly special incense, as Ross and other readers have noted, this is one of the few aloeswood incenses on the market that evokes kyara without containing the ingredient. Like Shoyeido or Tennendo, Seijudo works largely with perfume oils, all of which are of decadent expense and unparalleled quality and this one is a real treat and a fabulous deal for its price. Not at all far from the line’s top two treats, both of which are superb but in kyara price ranges.
  6. Fred Soll / Joyous Rose – Soll named this one in tribute to his wife and it’s a fabulous tribute given it’s one of the finest incenses in an incredible, wide ranging line of treats. Unsurprisingly different to the many fabulous rose masala incenses having past this nose in the last month or two, it’s a cutting, powerful incense that manages to have massive impact as a whole while the gentle rose perfume kind of floats on top of all this activity. In fact you normally think of copal or frankincense incenses as room cleansers, but I think this one works just as well. I might have easily had Santa Fe Spice on this list or any of the Cedar combos of late, 10 being a very small number this month.
  7. Shroff Channabasappa / Wet Masala / Champa – It’s funny but the first time I tried this stick, it didn’t make much of an impact on me, but the second and thereafter I’ve started to think of this as the best Champa incense you can buy today, perhaps even superior to the amazing Bam Champa. For one thing, it really does have strong hints of the champas of yesteryear during the bouquet, without the whole thing really adding up to being a clone. It has a fabulous perfume oil to it and a tremendously friendly base without any of the off notes and harsh factors modern champas tend to come with. It’s just a multifaceted brilliant piece of work. I should also give heads up here to Jungle Prince, Musk Floral and Vanilla, all of which might have made this list at another time.
  8. Pure Incense / Connoisseur / Agarwood – With the preponderance of incredible Japanese aloeswood sticks, Indian incense has really had few agarwoods that even come close to Japanese mid ranges, but finally here’s one that does. Yes, this is essentially a very different style, less wood on a heater and more oud oil-oriented, with an earthy almost fecund odor to it. But its real strength and one that the Absolute version doesn’t quite bring to the plate, is a camphorous, resinous top note to it that’s just utterly divine. Again this is a tribute to the virtual strength of the Connoissuer line, which brings much more of a quality oil presence to the incense than most Indian incense lines. Heads up also to the Connoissuer Rose, the Connoissuer Parijata, and the Absolute Golden Champa, all of which really deserve to be here as well.
  9. N. M. (Nyimo) / Jewel of Ancient Incense – My continual thanks to friend and reader Pinjie who sent me a lot of this wonderful Tibetan scent (and several others), one that’s not currently available in the US right now. This is almost a cousin to the Highland incense I love so much, almost potently musky and woody, with all kinds of internal spice notes. It’s apparently a very old recipe; I went through nearly an entire box in a month, and have been trying to hold back on depleting my stock. At another time the Khangdru incense (and I believe what is often referred to as the Wrathful Red) would have been on here too as well as Mingdru and one or two of the Cloud of Compassion Temple scents.
  10. Incienso de Santa Fe / Red Cedar – I really dug Nancy’s review on this set because my first run through of the Incienso sampler made me aware of the difficulty of reviewing a line of what is basically 7 different scents that resemble each other very closely and I’m not sure I would have navigated that isssue as perfectly as she did. And then the comment thread continued and Terry pointed out the Red Cedar, so I went through the box again and fell in love with this particular scent, finding it perhaps the standout in the line. It’s really not at all like pencil cedar or Himalayan cedar, it has an almost thick quality to the scent, but it’s one I think I could find very addictive in time. And I can imagine with more use that I could start to distinguish each of the woods in this line. They do start to get under your skin.

Chabana Aloeswood from Shorindo (Ross)

Chabana Aloeswood from Shorindo is a very nice offering in the world of Japanese incense and at around $10.00 for 50 sticks a pretty good deal. The Kohshi website lists it as having Aloeswood, Green Tea and flower scents. The Aloeswood is very apparent, suprisingly so at this price range( reminds me of Baieido in a way) and the Green Tea notes are also in there to me, but I have yet to get the flowers.  However, what I do pick up on is a nice blast of spiknard for that carrmal/butterscotch spice scent. The mix between  all these produces a really nice scent that slides back and forth between just slightly dry to the same on the sweet side. It’s interesting because it is very hard to pin down, which is what tends to draw one in.

Each time I have burned this with other people around they all have commented very favorably on it, which tends to make it a winner in my book. A great one to add to any order and a perfect gift for others or yourself!

-Ross

Boudha / Riwo Sang Chhoe, Tara, Tara Naga Lokeshor

Boudha Tibetan Incense neatly crosses the divide between Nepalese and Bhutanese incense. With only three different incenses being sold, the statement that the incense is made by a small family in Nepal seems to only apply to the third of these incenses while the other two also seem to be made in Bhutan and given the style and consistency of these two, I’d say they’re rather definitively Bhutanese in that so many Tibetan style incenses from this country have an almost plastic like consistency and strength.

Boudha Tibetan Incense also uses the same type of packaging, artwork and in some cases even some language akin to the original Red Crystal incense. Although they’re apparently different companies altogether, it’s difficult not to make a connection between the two in not only the packaging materials but in the scent of the incenses. Perhaps the middle incense is the closest in style, but again the big difference between the two is Red Crystal is a very traditional Nepalese incense and Tara incense is certain Bhutanese. So it all gets a bit confusing to say the least. Overall, however, you’re not likely to find superlative quality work here, in both price and scent these incenses are ultimately mediocre.

Riwo Sang Chhoe Incense is created from so many different substances, including microsubstances from gold to coral to cat’s eye (let’s assume we’re talking about a stone here), that any meaningful notes are more or less submerged in one very Bhutanese blend. Unlike a number of Bhutanese incenses with this sort of tough consistency, Riwo Sang Chhoe is the typical tan color rather than pink or red, however, it’s still fairly close in style to the midrange of Nado Poizokhang’s graded incenses. While the production and artwork is reminiscent of Red Crystal, the incense itself lacks that scent’s more sagey and tobacco like herbal notes leaving it mostly in the inexpensive sandalwood range. It’s rather tough to quantify, there’s a bit of spice at work and a bit of juniper berry in there somewhere, but overall it lacks its own personality.

Tara Incense is a bit closer to Red Crystal, although the consistency remains Bhutanese and the stick not so thick. Unlike RSC, this does have some wilder herbal notes in the mix and the more overt sandalwood feel is submerged into something less expensive with that slightly alkaline tang common to low end Tibetans. Overall it’s fairly dry and also not unlike Nado Poizokhang except for the tan color, but it also doesn’t have quite the same character. In a blind scent test it would take a fairly careful nose to tell this one apart from the RSC.

Tara Naga Lokeshor is much shorter and less expensive and moves solidly over into Nepali fare with a more brittle consistency and a darker brown color. Made with 108 different ingredients one will wonder why the necessity of such an endeavor when the end result is largely woody and inexpensive smelling. For the most part I get binder, cheap sandalwood, juniper and cedar in there and only a faint hint of anything else. It’s actually quite harsh overall which is typical for the very low price range.

Unfortunately it’s difficult to recommend any of these incenses in that it’s fairly easy to pick out others close in style that have more personality. Although Nado Poizokhang is quite a bit more expensive, it’s also a lot more savory then the two Bhutanese sticks here and Tara Naga Lokeshor may indeed comform to some ancient recipe, but it’s likely to have little positive impact on most Western noses. If you like the Tibetan artwork on the boxes, it’s far easier to recommend Red Crystal which has a much greater personality and a strong sandalwood middle none of these quite have.

Dzogchen Monastery / Lotus Ground Incense

Lotus Ground Incense is one of the finest offerings to be imported from China in the modern age, a truly spectacular, refined incense of an uncommonly high class. Sold in single or double rolls, this is a world class incense, not only among the best Tibetan China has to offer, but quite arguably the most sophisticated and Japanese-worthy scent to be offered. Not only is the stick slightly thinner than most Tibetan sticks, but it’s also redolent of extracts and perfumes directly on the stick.

When I first opened the box I knew this one would be special as it gives off a strong, spicy aroma like a combination of cinnamon, saffron and musk. And strangely enough, cinnamon isn’t even listed in its primary group of 17 ingredients, which also include red and white sandalwood, titepati, ganden grass, jattamasi, sunpati, aggur, kushum flower, surchandan and saldhoop. I would expect some of these ingredients show up as extracts as this is as redolent a Tibetan incense off the stick as you’ll find.

Aromatically this is also fairly unusual in that the smoke content’s a bit lower than it normally is for a Chinese Tibetan incense and the remaining ash tends to a brick red color, which is fairly unusual for any incense. The scent is both mellow and striking in its intensity, a rare balance, that puts the saffron, cinnamon and musk up front as the base aroma, but also implies a much greater complexity than these three afford in their own right. There’s definitely an unsual floral element at work that winds its way through the burn almost like it’s playing hide and seek, in fact the nature of this incense is almost like a sine curve in the way that it’ll play subtly in the background and then whip out to stun you with its pristine and regal bouquet. Like most excellent monastery incense it has loads of juju or spiritual potency at work and it seems difficult to not call this incense a product of the fire element, like kundalini at its very base, indeed its playfulness is very much like watching the flickering of a flame.

Overall it’s difficult not to see this one close to the apex of incense art, along with Tibetan Medical College, Samye Monastery, Medicine King and Highland incenses, but even with that said there’s even a greater refinement on this one, as it’s not quite as wild and untamed as the rest of these. Ultimately it’s a brilliant, classic incense that gets the highest marks I can give it. Tis a really prescient find via Essence of the Ages and the bonus is it’s also quite affordable, running about $13 a roll.

Ambergris.co.nz (Ross)

I found this site in New Zealand, called Ambergris.co.nz. They sell (and buy) beach caste ambergris. Beach caste means it is ethically harvested by being picked up off beaches, so no harm to whales. They have many different colors and scents and I noticed that they contacted me each time to see if there were specific needs.  I personally have bought from them twice now. They are very nice and the price seems really fair. So far I have created a mixture of ambergris, sandalwood and Siam Benzion plus a few other spices to use on my incense heater. I find that the ambergris has a very slight ocean scent but more importantly seems to increase and somehow make “richer” all the other scents. As the blend ages it also seems that the different components seem to “marry up” or bind with each other to a greater degree then I have noticed before. It is fairly potent in its effects and a gram or two would give you an idea as to its potential. I also have some soaking in 190 proof alcohol to use in perfumes and incense blends, but there is a 6 month wait for it to age correctly. I am very curious as to how this will differ from the raw material in an incense blend. Ambergris was (and who know, might still be 🙂 ) a component of many incense blends from Japan and many of the other countries of the East.

They also have a huge collection of carved Maori art on the site that is really beautiful. I was really taken by some of the small boxes as storage for incense. Have fun!

-Ross

Pure-Incense

This is sort of an informal post/thread for this spectacular company. I really think the Connoisseur level range of this line is among the finest in Indian incense, and is truly a high end range at just under a dollar a stick. But once you check them out you’ll be wondering where those 50g packets are like in the Absolute range.

I though the Absolute Agarwood was good, and it most certainly is, but the Connoissuer version is on its own level. As the description states, there’s a real amazing camphor note to this on top that really lifts it, and the agarwood oil being used is really something special, not at all in the Japanese heavy resin direction but certainly reaching in a sublime direction of its own, more reminiscent of descriptions of oud oils than woods. A whole stick of this just makes your space smell utterly incredible.

And even though there is no connoisseur version, the Absolute Vrindavan Champa is really something special, floral, sweet, and candy like all at once, utterly pleasant and kind of a side step to Mermade’s Aphrodesia in its own way, although not quite that floral.  A 50g package of this is a very good deal, it’s really hard to imagine how good a connoissuer version it might be. The same is true for both the Golden Champa and Green Champas, both superb and quite unlike the usual durbar styles for both. All three of these are easily recommended in their 50g packs.

The Connoissuer Rose and Blue Lotus are also quite amazing, each one a big step up from the already good Absolute versions. Like in all good rose incenses the oil has real clarity and doesn’t dissolve too early into bitter notes and synthetics, and even unlike many great rose incenses, these are created with real rose essential oil that just goes deep like a bouquet of the real flowers. Truly amazing and where a year or two ago I was wary of any rose incense I came across this is one of a few I’ve discovered that have totally turned my opinion around on the classic smell. The Blue Lotus is quite unlike any other Lotus I can think of an is quite evocative and mysterious as it should be, more so in the Connoisseur version than the Absolute.

I’ve noticed a great deal of the Absolute line (particularly scents like frankincense, myrrh, sandalwood and the like) are more or less the “classic” masala forms like you’ll find in Mystic Temple, Incense from India, Triloka, Blue Pearl and other companies, except perhaps even at this level there’s something startling about the ingredients. They make one very curious about the subsequent lifts in the connoisseur range, certainly at some point I’ll want to go through them all.

Anyway please post your thoughs and suggestions for this range, as without samplers, especially on the 50g packages, you get quite a lot of  incense for something unknown. In some ways it makes the connoisseurs the safer of the buys.

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