Pure-Incense / Absolute & Connoisseur / Agarwood, Blue Lotus, Hari Leela, Nepal Musk, Pink Sayli, Rose

British distributor Pure-Incense (available in the US) are responsible for two of the finest Indian incense lines available in the Western market, in fact they’re probably the only company that delievers a product on the same level with a similar large and diverse catalog as Shroff Channabasappa. Not only do Pure-Incense distribute fine versions of the most common variants in Indian incense but the company raises the bar by adding a wide variety of combinations and new forms. And ultimately its finest achievement is their Connoisseur line, a higher quality level of Indian incense than found in their regular line. Here there are oils to bewitch and enchant even the most ardent Indian incense skeptics, scents whose level of aroma move into the level of memory, nostalgia and sheer mastery of scent.

The base of both incenses is created from a mixture of charcoal, vanilla and sandalwood. The ingredients of this base can not be stressed enough as it has an impact on the aromas, particularly in Pure-Incense’s Absolute line. The base contents are reduced for the Connoisseur line, perhaps in an opposite manner to the way some Tibetan companies create grades by adding juniper wood to thin down content for cheaper versions. It’s particularly important to note here, however, as the presence of vanilla is very noticeable at the Absolute level, to the point where it becomes part of the overt aroma. At the Connoisseur level the base is far less apparent. In incenses where the charcoal content is at its most overt, generally in the more floral types, the Connoisseur level is particularly impressive. However, there’s no question that in either range there are some very high quality oils at work and in all cases I believe these to be natural and pure and it makes all the difference in the world.

Pure-Incense’s Agarwoood is impressive in both ranges and it’s a very different incense depending on which version one purchases. In the Absolute range it’s not a particularly complex incense and actually resembles a number of other woodier incenses in the range, somewhere between the cedarwood, sandalwood and Golden Champa. But make no question, even at this level there’s a distinct agarwood oil in the mix. The deciding factor as it is with all these incenses is that with the heavier vanilla content the Absolute Agarwood is a sweeter incense, with slight hints of cocoa, honey and floral oil in the mix. The Connoisseur version is a revelation, to date the finest Indian agarwood available in the Western market. With the reduced base and much stronger oud oil presence, this becomes a much woodier and complex incense. The company’s claim of “camphor-like” is much pronounced here although it is only one impressive note in a bounty of woody subaromas all of which reflect rather well the intricacy of good agarwood, however unlike Japanese agarwoods all this seems to be done on an oil level. While the honey and vanilla scents from the absolute only work on a sublime level, added are hints of root beer/sasparilla, tea, maple and a very slight spice. Overall a truly world class incense and be sure not to start with it and move backward to the Absolute.

The Absolute Blue Lotus is one of the many in the range where the vanilla is so obvious as to be a co-note rather than a side aroma. In this case the melding is quite pleasant, giving the light Blue Lotus oil a more polished and subtle feel. The perfume is hard to describe, very feminine and unique, but it’s only at Connoissuer strength where the concentration moves into areas that are heady and magickal. Here you have a reduction of vanilla and an increase in the perfume oil and it’s profoundly mystical and gorgeous at this range, an instant winner in my book. Lotus is such a variable aroma that in incense it’s very difficult to find a standard (perhaps the closest would be the Blue Pearl Lotus, but that’s definitely not a Blue Lotus per se), but in this Connoissuer version it’s more than just a charcoal and perfume, almost as if there is some unknown new base notes at work that enhance the whole. Pure-Incense describes this as ethereal and really it’s hard to find another incense that so earns the description.

Hari Leela is a floral mix and charcoal heavy in both its Absolute and Connoisseur ranges, in fact the only major difference as always is the vanilla has an aromatic presence in the Absolute and the oil levels are cranked up in the Connoisseur. The perfume is very mellow in the Absolute version, something like a mix of rose and carnation notes with the overall mix kind of polished and smooth. In the Connoissuer version I seem to sense more hints of jasmine in the mix with the increased oil content, but overall of the almost dozen incenses that share across the two ranges, the  two versions are pretty close for Hari Leela. It should also be mentioned that scent apparently comes from the Bakula tree, so I can only approximate the overall scent by approximating the subnotes. From a more general view this is yet another heady, exotic floral and as it has few analogs outside the range, certainly worth adding to your incense diversity.

Pure-Incense’s Nepal Musk is not only one of the line’s classics, but it’s also one of the finest herbal musks you can find in incense and I say this as someone who finds herbal musks “mostly misses.” The incense actually holds some similarities to the previously mentioned Blue Lotus as if the two just varied by color and vibration, the color here being an obvious green, carrying with that connotation some very earthy notes along with it. Again, the Absolute version has a distinct vanilla presence and while I’ve noted it as being consonant with some of the other styles in the line, here it manages to combine with the oil to give off some odd and intriguing notes of tobacco leaf and mint or menthol, which aren’t nearly as noticeable at the Connoisseur strength. What is obvious at the Connoisseur level is that the oil is at a strength more competitive with the more controversial animalistic strength found in Tibetan incenses and despite what you may feel about the use of real musk, it’s precisely that potent and mindbending strength where you want a musk at, so it should be celebrated that one can find one so potent at an ecologically friendly level. However the musk oil, while not quite so feral, is equally sublime and mixed with the greener notes evoking patchouli and various evergreens, making for a classic and memorable scent. This is one that had me after a stick, a tremendously addictive and complex incense.

If the Blue Lotus and green Nepal Musk nailed their color schemes rather perfectly you’d certainly have to add Pink Sayli to that mix, although the pink quality is really only noticeable in the Connoissuer range (I thought it telling that my Absolute sample had dropped the pink from the label). The Absolute version is practically a charcoal incense with some light pink sprinkling (that tends to fall off quite easily). Sayli is really as pink and sweet as valentine’s day candy hearts, and that association while perhaps lost with the “pink” gets most of it back with the increased vanilla content, making a terribly friendly incense. But in this case you might just want to jump to the Connoisseur level which brings this to the heady strength of the entire line, with the incense stick obvious wreathed through with pink material that’s sugary, sweet, floral and at times slightly berry-like. One might even call this something of a foofy incense if it wasn’t for the strength of the oil being so memory resonant. Extraordinarily feminine, it’s hard to imagine anyone not liking such a friendly, pretty incense. And in the end, based on the other incenses in the catalog, one feels like they can trust this as a perfect rendition of the South Indian flower.

And in fact a good reason for one’s trust in getting things right is Pure-Incense’s Rose incense which had gotten a heavy buzz well before writing this up. Rose incenses are very difficult to get right, or perhaps they are only when using analogs or cheap perfumes to approximate the scent, nearly all of which leave offputting chemical or housecleaner like bitter scents. But not only does Pure-Incense get this right with their charcoal Absolute, they absolutely raise things to an incredibly high standard with their Connoisseur, one of the very best Rose incenses on the market no matter where the origin. Both incenses work because the oil being used actually smells like what one would sense by smelling a large bouquet of roses before or just after they’re picked. It’s refreshing to know that such a lovely smell can be done correctly and while the Absolute certainly has the vanilla element in the mix, the perfume oil is not lost at all, just mellower than the profoundly intense scent of the Connoissuer of which a third of a stick could easily scent one’s general area.

So in many ways of this first six, there’s really not a Connoisseur version you’d want to miss, they are indeed some of the most beautiful and intense incenses you’ll find, and it’s true that you do pay for the increased quality (although if you’re like me you’ll find you’ll want to go for the 100g packages after just a sample). But again, as good as these are I don’t want to detract from the evaluation that the Absolute range really only comes in second place in comparison to the Connoisseurs, when you put many of these up against other incense ranges they still come off as extremely impressive, undoubtedly some of the finest Indian masalas available. If you’ve enjoyed the Shroff range this is undoubtedly the company you’d want to check out next and fortunately I’ll have more in both ranges to discuss over the next several months. High Class A+ work here folks.

Triloka Premium Incense / Amber; Frankincense; Frankincense, Myrrh & Sandalwood; Jasmine, Lavender Fields, Lotus Champa, Patchouli, Sandalwood, Sierra Cedar, Vanilla Sandalwood (Ross and Mike)

Triloka has been around as long as I can remember an incense stick and probably a lot longer. Like many companies their scents have changed over the years with a lot of ingredient modifications due to increasing scarcity, and they’ve settled in the modern age on a combination of masalas and charcoals, at least for their Premium Incense stick line. In the past Triloka have been responsible for a number of startlingly good incenses and I still have almost body memories of walking into local stores and experiencing and buying various scents. We’d like to thank the company for sending us samples to review (we’re talking above and beyond the call of duty here) and in fact we’ll be eventually rolling out reviews of cones and ropes in the future. Over to some introductory impressions from Ross…

When I first saw these I had also just gotten in some of the Purelands, Shroffs and Pure-Incenses (plus a bunch of Japanese kyaras) and, at first, was a bit underwhelmed. I should also mention that I find Japanese incense and some of the American blends in general to be in my taste preferences. Not that I cannot appreciate the artistry involved in many the Indians, especially those mentioned above, yet I also enjoy being able to go through many sticks in a setting and the Indians tend to saturate my environment. All that being said it took me many tries to understand where this line appears to be coming from. One thing I noticed right away is that the scent of most of the sticks was very clean, no synthetic overtones that seem to be found in oh so many sticks of late (this is not restricted to any one country or style, it’s pretty much all over now). No, these seem to use very good ingredients, about as natural and high quality as it is possible to get at this price point. I also found them to be somewhat less intense or forceful than many Indian incenses. Which is not to say bland, just a bit mellower.

The Amber is very nice, a middle of the road or baseline as ambers go. This is probably my favorite in the group, but then again I really like amber and this one is well made. This is also interesting as there really do seem to be different notes appearing at different times of the burn, some dryer, some sweeter. This is not a floral amber style, much more toward the resins.

The Frankincense is a very sweet incense, I found the resin to be covered up by the floral/sweet/halmaddi notes. This is still a nice presentation but a little misleading if you are expecting a serious frankincense hit.

The Frankincense, Myrrh & Sandalwood Blend manages to present all three of the main notes as single aromas and in combination, a pretty good trick in my book. Again this is built on a sweet base, but this time you get to meet all the players in a very nice piece of work. Lots of changes also go through this stick, much like the Amber, from resins to woods and even a touch of very light floral from the base.

The Jasmine seems to be a charcoal base, which I have always assumed were used so the oils would not be interfered with by anything else. This has a sort of a jasmine and gardenia mix as a top note with a vanilla-like base chord. The gardenia notes make this a lot more interesting then I was expecting but at the same time I am not too sure about what kinds of oils are generating all this. Gardenia, jasmine and vanilla are all really high dollar oils, with real gardenia coming onto the essential oil market only this year. This is not an overpowering scent, nicely balanced and at a strength to act as a nice background aroma in a room.

The Lavender Fields is a dark purple, almost black stick with a high charcoal content. You can see sparkles on top of the stick and the unlit stick gives off a pleasant lavender and vanilla scent. However, when lit the lavender and vanilla notes are totally overwhelmed by the burning stick
material. I tried a number of sticks with the same results and have to assume this is an older batch in which the oils have lost their potency. Too bad as there was a lot of potential here given the scent of the unlit stick. Over to Mike for the second half…

Like the Jasmine and Lavender Fields scents above, the Lotus Champa blend seems to use a mixed vanilla and charcoal base similar in style to the Pure-Incense line. The vanilla seems to work quite well in keeping down the harsher notes of the charcoal and while it tends to mix with the top scent, it allows the essential oil to come through. In this case I seem to remember an older version of this incense from a decade back or so that was a durbar or masala type, but in charcoal form it’s difficult to get either lotus or champa impressions very strongly. In fact it’s not terribly different from the jasmine, although it’s more like if the jasmine was sitting on something earthier, such as patchouli. It’s an intriguing incense and I wouldn’t want to forget that the vanilla also plays a part in the overall bouquet here.

I’m quite fond of the now generic sweet patchouli style as typified by the Triloka Patchouli. It’s classy, intense, sweet and dry at the same time and could be the best version of this common green masala. Like many of the Triloka line, there’s a strong similarity with those in the Absolute Pure-Incense range, not only due to the vanilla and charcoal base, but the oil also captures the similar resonant, sweet, and clay-like patchouli leaf scent at the top end. Other incenses of this type often have some bitter top ends, almost snappy or legume-like, but the Triloka is quite well balanced.

The Triloka Sandalwood could be the very picture of the standard Indian sandalwood in that there are better and worse masalas. It has a moderate oil strength and the typical buttery wood scent common to Indian masalas with a slight tinge of vanilla mixed in from the base. There’s not much more to say, it’s not high enough quality to get the crystalline resin notes out like the best sandalwood incense, but nor is it adulterated or plain like cheaper versions.

The Sierra Cedar seems to be unusually named as I’d consider this style more of a Himalayan Cedar as it has a much sweeter and less drier type of aroma to it. Like the Frankincense, Patchouli and others in the Triloka line it’s something of a generic scent with analogs found in Mystic Temple, Incense from India, Primo and Pure-Incense lines. In this cedar I get a pleasant side note of cocoa powder in the mix which often seems to be a part of this style; it won’t knock you out but it’s quite pleasant. Perhaps in this case I might go with the Primo version by a hair.

The Vanilla Sandalwood might just increase the base vanilla and given there always seems to be vanilla in a lot of Indian sandalwood masalas, the increase in side scent seems fairly natural. There used to be an older bulk version of this scent in the Triloka line, which I reviewed a while back, but this is quite a bit better, a lot more distinct in scent. But again, this is also a fairly typical style and thus won’t generally impress with complexity, quite frankly the sandalwood on its own does a better job.

In many ways the Triloka Premium Incense line is a good way of getting a sort of base idea of some of the most common of Indian masala and charcoal scents. Most of these are very common and time worn scents and in many cases these are among the best of the standard masalas, comparable to Pure-Incense Absolutes. However, this line, based on the most recent catalog, has 15 more scents to it, many of which cover a variety of more complex and less common aromas, and based on having tried some of these in the fairly distant past, it’s possible that the ten scents here are actually among the least impressive in the line, and some of those are very good indeed. Triloka incense is also very inexpensive and sampler packs are available so there’s really no reason not to check out one of the more available Indian lines, indeed in many cases you’ll be getting close to Pure Incense quality without the added costs.

September Top Ten (from Ross)

Somehow September is about to end and here is what I have been burning this month. This list is NOT arranged in any kind of order of wonderfulness as I have come to the conclusion that my favorite incense is the one burning at the moment.

As  the Fall season moves in, it seems more in line to shift towards woodier  and deeper scents. In fact, after attending a Koh Doh demonstration earlier in the month I have decided to save up for  a Six Countries Set and  go for “Maximum Aloeswood” 🙂 ! Getting a chance to try pure, high quality Aloeswood can change your outlook on incense.

Seikado: Solitude / Hitori-Shizuka – Sandalwood A really beautiful, Sandalwood based incense stick with Essential Oil notes that just works. Not overwhelming, fades from the room within an hour, truly pleasant  and very elegant aroma. Very nice late at night or while going to sleep. A real winner.

Yamada Matsu: Genmyo Kneaded Incense There are three of these and you can see my review here. To me, this one is the most refined with so many levels going at once, kind of makes you work to get it. These run around two dollars a pellet, which seems like a deal to me as each one can last hours. Deep, penetrating and with those sublime Kyara tones that just call out to you.

You will need to contact Japan Incense/Kohshi for prices. Made for heaters or Charcoals.

Mermade Magickal Arts: Deep Earth Premium Perfect for the season, deep, thoughtful, loads of wonderful aroma from many different resins and woods. The ageing process involved in the Kyphi style really lets all the different aspects conjoin into a wonderful harmony. Made for heaters or Charcoals.

Tenendo:  Enkuu This continues to be one of my favorites. It is a tremendous mix of very high grade Aloeswoods and spices, resins and herbs done in a very strong, almost bitter style. It might take you a number of sticks to get it but when it suddenly clicks it’s like heaven.

The quality is very high and for what one is getting the price is very fair. You can get this in a sampler from Essence of the Ages and try out a bunch of Tennendo’s high end line at the same time. Not to be missed and a true master piece of the art.

Baieido: Horyu koh Baieido’s  Jinkoya Sakube line, of which this is a part of,  is a commemorative tribute to their founder and has three different incenses. This is the middle one and is a wonderful Vietnamese Aloeswood blend. It is very “old Japan” in its style, just woods, a little resin and some spices and herbs. Very elegant and mellow with a touch of a sweet note, as compared to the other side of Vietnamese Aloeswoods which can get spicy/bitter. There are quite a few sticks in the box so it can last a long time.

Baieido: KoKonoe This is one of Baieido’s Premium Aloeswoods, the wood comes from Indonesia and has a very different quality to it then the  Vietnamese or Cambodians. I burn a lot of this as I find the scent to be very easy to deal with and mellow. It took me awhile to get this one, it is not as well thought of as some of the others in this line but it has its own unique character and presentation. A bit less dry then some of the others, yet not sweet, “Approachable” one might say.  It doesn’t hurt that the price is very good for a quality Aloeswood from a maker who is at the very top of their game.

Seijudo Kyara Seiran – Heavenly Orchardl Simply awesome. Kyara, Aloeswood and musk: with a soul deep quality all its own, this incense has it all. Not something you are going to be burning all the time, but for those times when you want something really special, it’s perfect. The scent will hang in the room for over an hour, as good quality Aloes are known to do, and really burning a full stick is almost too much. Not inexpensive but worth every penny. Not to be missed. Plus you got to love the name!

Pure_Incense: Connoisseur Agarwood This does not necessarily smell anything like a Japanese Aloeswood. OK, it’s not even close, yet it is a really, really wonderful stick of incense. A bit woodier and dryer then many of the Indian’s that I have encountered with a real live touch of Aloeswood in there dancing around all the other spices and oils. The quality and the way all the different scents work together is first class all the way. The Sandalwood in this line is also a favorite of mine. Probably the best oil based Sandalwood on the market.

Shoyeido: Kyoto Autumn Leaves In the under $10.00 level of Japanese incense Shoyeido has a lot of winners. Many of them are templates for their more expensive Premium line. The Kyoto Autumn Leaves is Sandalwood based with a spice mix that stops just short of becoming an Amber(like, say, Golden Pavilion, another winner). It is a bit dryer, less sweet yet still strong and something of a classic Japanese scent. Very nicely done and at a really great price. A whole lot of people around the world buy this incense and for good reason, it is a really good deal.

Mermade Magickal Arts: Sacred Grove This contains an amazingly huge grouping for resins and woods, blended in such a way that they all get to come out and make and appearance. It is very deep, yet clean and centering with a long lasting scent that tends to ground the environment. I have found that it also appeals to people who do not normally notice incense. Wonderfully well made with the best of ingredients and great skill that does such a great job of getting you to that wooded calm space within. The name pretty much describes the scent.

Ramakrishnanda / Ganga, Govinda, Hari, Jaganatha, Mayapur

The second group of Ramakrishnanda incenses can all be found in the Kurma variety pack, the most affordable way to sample all five of these incenses. However, I’d almost put quotes around the word variety as in the case of four of five scents here you’re talking about extremely similar incenses and the variety pack tends to confuse the similarities a bit more than the packages would on their own. That is, in the packages the similar oil strengths tend to be more vivid and defined, while the conflict in the variety package makes them a little harder to tell apart (I will say, however, that the internal packaging is intelligently done in the samplers with a separate inner packet for each of the five aromas – it’s less an issue of bleed through than a lack of aromatic concentration).

Ganga might have belonged more naturally in the previous sampler pack with the other flora incenses as it’s of the same style. It features a cinnamon, lavender and jasmine blend and like one or two other Ramakrishnanda incenses with three listed ingredients, one, the lavender, appears to be a bit lost in the mix. Perhaps this is not a surprise when cinnamon is involved, a presence that is practically dominant here, but like Gopinatha, the jasmine does manage to come through as part of the lower end of the stick’s overall scent. In the end it’ll be up to the user’s opinion whether such an unusual blend of spices and florals actually works. I like some of the drier qualities involved but there’s a part of me who thinks a tweak or two might have rendered this a classic rather than another very nice incense.

Govinda is the first of four incenses here that move the style distinctly into the champa genre. Unlike some of the better champa styles incenses we’ve seen recently imported (such as the Shroff and Bam versions), the variations here are rather par for the course and only slightly improved on the modern Shrinivas formula where the disappearance of a solid halmaddi content has given way to more sandalwood and a less notable base. Govinda’s listed ingredients are sandalwood, sage and lavender, but the overall effect doesn’t particularly surpass any average champa incense. While the sage adds a slight bit of pepper to the bouquet, the lavender is again lost (perhaps it fades quickly with age in this line) and there’s a rather strong scent of vanilla that cuts through the entire scent.

Hari lists amber and sandalwood as ingredients, but again the sandalwood ingredient more than strengthen’s the scent’s entry into modern champa style. Unusually, the amber here is somewhat dry and perhaps a bit salty, more reminiscent of true ambergris than the sweeter amber scents you tend to find in Indian masalas and it gives Hari a slight touch of the unusual. Unfortunately it really isn’t enough to set it apart from many a generic nag champa. Again it’s difficult not to estimate that there’s a limited shelf life at work here, as if the oils would be stronger very close to the initial creation date.

Jaganatha describes itself as a botanical flower blend, but again it hangs right with the other champa styles rather than the more attractive floras in the line. As such blends go, there aren’t really any stand out single subscents, rather the typical sandalwood and vanilla of the champa style stand out the most here, with a mild, slightly sweet floral oil in the mix. Unfortunately it seems to have little overall personality, perhaps yet another casualty of the sampler package (although I would say my impressions have remained the same over two sample packets).

Mayapur has been given the description of Nag Champa Supreme, although it’s a stretch to see this as some sort of supreme improvement on the Vrinda Devi, the scents only seem to slightly differ due to the oils used. At the risk of repeating myself, it’s difficult to see this as much more than a slight variation on all the durbar-like formulas in this particular variety pack, in this case it’s the typical vanilla and sandalwood mixed in with, perhaps, a slightly fruity subscent. Of the four champa scents in this variety pack I might prefer this the most, slighty, but I’d honestly be hard pressed to tell them all apart without knowing the ingredient list beforehand.

Overall, I’d recommend the Kurma variety pack as a cost conscious way of being able to sample all these scents, but I’d give the caveat that one’s opinion of these is likely to be improved by checking them out as single scents. When I first sampled these a year or two ago, I used the sessions as a buying guide to what I might like and out of this package I believe I only went on to try the Ganga on its own, so it’s a bit of a conundrum – the samplers making it difficult to distinguish the champas from one another and thus perhaps obscuring what might be better incenses on their own. Fortunately Ramakrishnanda keep the prices low enough where one might pique their curiosity to go on and try 1o packs of all of the eventually. But unfortunately, while the Ramas compete quite nicely in their flora styles, they’re certainly falling behind in the champa race.

Ramakrishnanda / Gopala, Gopinatha, Mukunda, Vrinda Devi, Yamura

The first time I got a whiff of Ramakrishnanda incense was when walking into the local new age store one afternoon. The use of ingredients and oils in these scents was so potent that you could tell new incense had been added as soon as the door opened even with the incense at the very back of the store. While Ramakrishnanda have a few different styles within their catalog, including charcoals and durbars, their most common scents tend to be in the flora category. Flora incenses (perhaps the  most famous is the Sai Flora blend created by Damodhar, which is the genesis of the Golden Champa style most commonly found imported to the US) are heavily aromatic Indian incense masalas, however in the case of Ramakrishnanda, the thickness of the sticks tend to be much closer to the typical durbar style rather than the extra thick size of the Sai Flora type blends.

However, they do have in common with Sai Flora and the like an oil mix which is probably the root of the flora style, a mix usually so complex it’s difficult to parse into its elements, but it imparts not only a heavy perfume but a marriage with a sweet base that makes them quite attractive and accessible. In four of the five incenses in this group, all of which can be sampled in the Dhanvatari Variety Pack, there is a distinct similarity in the base of the incense which only tends to be modified by the top oil notes. It, perhaps, made them a little difficult to review as I found myself a bit blurred out by the time I reached the fourth stick. At the same time, the first three of these are actually some of the best incenses in the line.

Gopala is described as a special flora, and as such appears to be one of the few incenses in the line where specific ingredients haven’t been provided. Like all of the incenses here there’s a very sugary, sweet and heavily oiled base at work, however due to the thinness of the stick, the scent isn’t totally overwhelming, and it gives rise to a very pleasant top note that is like a mix of orange, spice and earth, a scent that’s somewhat accidentally a lot like earlier champa blends. There appears to be quite a bit of clove in the mix and it reminds me a bit of spiced tea. Strangely enough and very unlike most flora incenses it’s quite the fast burn, however like most floras the scent is quite long lasting.

Gopinatha, described as a mix of Iris, Daffodil and Jasmine, isn’t terribly different in style from the Gopala although it does indeed lose a lot of the hotter and spicier qualities. As such it’s perhaps a bit closer in style to the classic Sai Flora/Golden Champa style, but as usual, thinner sticked and mellower overall. The entire incense seems to be anchored by the jasmine element, which blends nicely with the sugary base with the iris and daffodil elements playing somewhat drily on the outside. If anything it might suffer from being too indistinct at times, an issue for many flora incenses that hit you with all the ingredients at once. But this problem isn’t quite so pronounced here.

Mukunda‘s patchouli and spice blend doesn’t render the stick closer to the typical mix of patchouli and champa elements, in fact the patchouli’s more wilder, earthier and controversial side seems to disappear into the blend, leaving only its drier and, thanks to the base, sweeter qualities. It’s also not unlike Gopinatha, once again reminding one of how similar the bases of all these flora incenses are. Of the group here this is probably and marginally the closest to my personal tastes, but in saying so I almost wish for some of the wilder more feral elements of the patchouli to come into play, this is something of a safe mix as a result.

Of the four floras, I’d say Vrinda Devi is the least distinct, but as the line’s straighter nag champa, I wouldn’t initially consider this with the preceding floras if it weren’t for the base being so similar. Perhaps the lack of the creamier and more honey/vanilla side of the champa is what’s missing on this one, or perhaps entries such as the Bam and Shroff eclipse this one in power and presence by comparison. What I described earlier as a mix of oils and sweetness at base seems to move this in a direction I’d say isn’t generically champa like and it even has a dryness I find unusual. Not a bad incense on its own merits, but as a champa it’s distinctly uncompetitive.

Yamuna is the odd one out here being a charcoal and oil mix and I’m not sure if Ramakrishnanda have improved their charcoal mix or if my nose has grown further accustomed, but this strikes me as being a lot better than it did when I initially tried it out a couple years ago. As a mix of vanilla, copal and amber it’s something of an unusual blend and possibly why I appreciate it more now, particularly as you rarely see copal in a charcoal blend. But amazingly all three elements are fairly apparent in the oil blend (the vanilla the dominant note) and it’s something of an attractive mix. An interesting comparison could be the Pure-Incense Hari Leela in either Absolute or Connoissuer lines, it has that back and forth way of both impressing with the oil mix and slightly detracting due to the charcoal.

I recently modified our Hall of Fame list for Incenses from India, removing the Ramakrishnanda incenses in this sampler from the list. However this is more an attempt at improving the quality of that list than a general slight on the Ramakrishnanda line as these are all actually quite good, particularly the first three, in fact perhaps the major change is that at 10 sticks per package these aren’t quite up to what is being imported now compared to what was on the US market two years ago. But if you’re looking to expand your Indian stick pallet, you definitely need to stop here and considering you can check out all these scents for an affordable price, there seems little reason not to.

Updates/Coming Soon

Been fairly busy the last couple weeks and just starting to catch up again on the incense front. Will be rolling out more reviews during the next month or so. Soon up, we should have a composite review of Triloka’s premium stick line. I’m also working on redoing the reviews of the Ramakrishnanda line, hoping the first installment should be up today or tomorrow. When I first did these it was well early in ORS history, when this site was part of mikeprattle and comments were not only perfunctory but the context of what was being imported was very different than it is today. Not only that but the company has come up with five new blends in the meantime, meaning that it should roll out in about four parts (they even have their own aloeswood blend now, which is quite nice).

I should also be rolling out a more informal and light overview of a bunch of new and mostly modern Japanese sticks, as well as the new Ancient Forests line from the US, which should be of great interest to fans of Mermade and Incienso de Santa Fe – these are something of a priority to get the word out on a lot of new product. On tap also, a trio of newly imported Yamadamatsu sticks available through the Japan Incense store, the next trio of flavored Nikhil champas, a bunch of Primo incenses, more Trilokas in the cone and rope categories, further installments in the Shroff and Fred Soll lines, and the beginning of an indepth look at the world-class Pure-Incense line starting with the Connoisseur blends. And as usual lots, lots more, there’s so much coming out now it’s almost hard to keep up with!

The Frankincense Trail

While the link lasts and probably only for our UK readers as BBC often blocks streaming video outside, you can watch episodes of the documentary The Frankincense Trail here. Thanks to Claire for the link!

Yamada Matsu Kneaded Style:Umegaka, Kurogata, Genmyo (Ross)

Yamada Matsu is a very old and well established incense maker in Japan. They are very well respected and have a very large catalog. Japan Incense/Kohshi has started to bring some of their line into their retail store in San Francisco. You can only buy them at the store or by calling or emailing the store, no Internet sales as of yet.

This review looks at some of the kneaded styles Yamada Matsu makes, there are also some incense sticks and incense body powders available.

I personally discovered these when dealing with a cold and wanting to smell something beautiful but without the smoke. These came to my rescue. There are around 30-35 balls in each box and they tend to last around 2-3 hours each at a low setting on my electric incense heater. I also have discovered that they somehow seem to revive themselves between heating’s and just keep going.

Umegaka: A combination of Sandalwood and spices with a sweetish deep aroma, almost, but not quite perfume like in its qualities. Very pleasant as well as strong and a great way to scent a room.

Kurogata: Aloeswood and spices with the sweetish scent qualities that seem to be a part of most kneaded styles(the honey that is used as a binder could have something to do with this). A more aristocratic take, deeper with more levels and a sort of aromatic dance between the Aloeswoods, honey, cloves and other spices. Again, strong and long lasting not to mention really good.

Genmyo: This one uses Kyara, Aloeswoods and an assortment of spices. It has the honeyed sweet scent as a backdrop for the woods, is much deeper and “fuller” then the other two. This one sticks me as being much more in the realms of something you would spend quality time with, sort of like the difference between just lighting a stick of incense and “listening to incense”.

These have become some of my favorite incense of late, I find them very pleasant and, well, captivating.

You will need to call or email Kotaro and Jay at Kohshi to get these for your own. Stay tuned for more from Yamada Matsu.

-Ross

Review of Samurai Spirit(Incense and the Samurai) Presentation

I managed to get away from my work to take in the Samurai Spirit (Incense and the Samurai) lecture and demonstration at the Nichibei Kai Culture Center in San Francisco today. It was taught  by Mr. Kihachiro Nishiura who is an extremely gifted presenter. He combines a true passion and in depth knowledge for the subject as well that most wonderful of talents of being able to communicate at a level for all of his audience to understand. This is the mark of the true master, one who really understands what he is talking about.  Some how he manged to fit about 1500 years worth of information into about a 45 minute lecture and then proceeded to set up, prepare and direct at least 12 Koh cups. Luckily he had a fantastic group of helpers. One of the aspects of this style of incense appreciation that he pointed out was the meditative quality of “Listening to Incense” and I noticed that as he was preparing the cups that indeed he looked to be oh so centered and in the moment.

It was a wonderful experience and I would highly recommend attending one if you get the chance. I know I will be on the look out for them in the future.

-Ross

New from Mermade Magickal, Part 1: Deep Earth Premium, Habbi and Dreaming Lotus (from Ross)

Mermade had come out with a wealth of new scents in the last week or two, so I am dividing it up a bit.

As people continue in their art  they become more sophisticated and refined. The power is right there but, at the same time,  the delivery becomes much more skillful.  In using these over the last week or so the word that keep coming up for me was “refined”. These have an almost Japanese sense of being to them, not because they smell like Japanese incense, but because of the sophistication in the use of the materials and techniques to make them. Not to mention the amount of time spent in the creative process, they are very carefully thought out and presented.

Deep Earth Premium: This takes an old Mermade favorite and refines it into a very lush updated Kyphi version. Soft resin or Kyphi style incense are traditionally ages for many months causing the ingredients to conjoin in a sort of aromatic harmony. It has all the resiny wonderfulness you expect, with a woody background and a play of spices that seem to come and go as the heating process continues. At a low temperature each piece produces scent for quite awhile and the scent strength tends to stay pretty constant until it simple fades away. If you are a Deep Earth fan you will love this, it is very much about taking it up to the next level.

Habibi, which means “beloved one” is a Bakhoor style blend, it is also a lot more refined then any other Bakhoor I have gotten to sample. Bakhoor can be overwhelmingly potent, this is not the case here. This particular blend has a great trick of filling a room with a really delicate rose and Aloeswood and Frankincense perfume that never overpowers, yet has just enough presence to make one take notice. It sort of reminds me of Aphrodesia without the smoke, there are the same rich scents of roses and resins plus the addition of a very good Aloeswood for aromatic lift and staying power. Quite beautiful.

Dreaming Lotus: This flat cone style incense is designed to help one relax and also promote a vivid dream space. I can tell you from personal experience that it does both, it also has a great smell. The almost watery scent of the Blue Lotus is very apparent as are the resins and I can detect the Labdanum and Galbanum. The other ingredients ( there are quite a lot) I am not familiar with but can tell that there are many different levels at work here… The overall quality of the scent is a deep yet clean resin with floral and herb notes. It is a very pleasant, not “new age healing healthy smell”, scented incense that actually works as intended. It comes with three cones for the price and is fast become a night time favorite for me.

By the way, if you like Mermades “Pans Earth” incense, they also have a perfume that is very much like the incense.  Its very nice, in a Panish way 😉

-Ross

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