Primo Incense has been around as long as I can remember buying incense, indeed when I think of standard Indian masalas I may be subconsciously thinking about Primo sticks. In fact over the years this company’s scents have remained largely the same recipes, give or take a scent or two (one in particular that seems to be missing is one called Herbal Essence). The company is unusually transparent about how they create their incense with an informative description on their site, although I’d add that like many Indian masala companies, there are some sticks closer to pure charcoals and some that are more in the masala style.
Primo, however, appear to not work in the wet masala or durbar style, making a comparison to a company like Pure Incense somewhat relevant. In quality I’d rank them close to that company’s Absolute range or perhaps just under it in some cases. One comparison is that Primo also uses two different lines with some scents that cross over to both. They have an Original line which appears to be just under their Extra Special Connoisseur (ESC) line in quality, although both don’t tend to vary much from each other in price, in most cases Primo is fairly inexpensive. This particular write up covers perhaps 1/4 to 1/3 of the line incenses and at least two more installments are forthcoming.
In both the Original and ESC lines, Primo’s Amber is the classic pink colored masala that most will be familiar with from companies like Triloka, Mystic Temple, Incense from India and Blue Pearl. In all incense cases Primo do, however, have their own distinctive tilt to the style which becomes more apparent on trying their incenses. In the case of both ambers, they’re missing the better sweeter qualities of Triloka’s version, although those who prefer drier ambers might prefer either Primo for that very reason. The Original is slightly more dry and less concentrated than the ESC version, but the differences are really barely more than a hair. Ambers of this sort are rarely unpleasant in any way and even the differences from company to company aren’t severe, but if I was new to the style, I’d probably go with the Triloka or Mystic Temple (Amber Essence if my memory serves me right and recipes haven’t changed) as a starter.
However when it comes to comparing another common masala scent, Primo’s Cedar, I think Primo probably marginally win the stakes on this one even if this same scent can be found in all the above mentioned companies lines. This is really an excellent and perfectly balanced cedar and compared to the other lines, by a hair, the actual qualities of the wood are a bit more pronounced in this one and the typical vanilla and cocoa side scents a bit more submerged than they are in, say, the Triloka version. Perhaps the reason this one stands out is there’s a lot of strength to the oils or perfumes here making the cedar scent stand out in a more evergreen or crystalline sort of fashion. I’ve always liked this type of masala in general and would recommend this version as a starter (although I say this with Pure Incense Absolute samples still on the drawing board so I could change my mind).
Primo’s Champa (this one also used to be called Champa Flower) is largely charcoal based and could be compared to Triloka’s Lotus Champa to some extent in that the aroma almost implies part of its creation comes from jasmine oil and there’s a sense of vanilla that probably comes from part of the base. I don’t generally think charcoal champas work as the magnolia-like scent of the champa flower often seems to have to fight through the as-strong charcoal and vanilla base and thus seems adulterated in the end. And like many incenses with this constituency, it starts out fairly pleasant but wears on you by the end of the stick.
I don’t think I have a particular favorite Indian Frankincense masala, most of them are so close from company to company that it’s tough to make a call, and certainly Primo’s is a good version. The criticism as always on this type of stick is that in the end it doesn’t transmit the scent of frankincense resin down in any sort of purity, with subscents of sandalwood, cedarwood, vanilla and something sugary sweet coming through in just as much strength. That’s not to say it’s not a beautiful stick, like with the Cedarwood I’ve always found the masala to be quite nice, it’s just that frankincense is mixed in almost like an equal and it tends to show up as a more perfumed equivalent than the better resiny citrus notes that show up in good resin or even some Japanese sticks.
The next two incenses vary quite a bit in their Original and ESC versions and are definitely distinctly different incenses. The Original Jasmine is a light green-colored masala while the ESC version is a charcoal and very similar to other companies’ charcoal jasmines, even down to the same sparkly fixative. The jasmine perfume in the Original is particularly sublimated to the woods and bases creating a rather dull, slightly sour and indistinct incense. The ESC will likely be very familiar to jasmine lovers and it’s quite a well done charcoal jasmine with the oil at a strength to be dominant to the base (undoubtedly fading with age). It does have some similarities to the previously mentioned Champa, but is far more successful. Of course this makes it virtually identical to, say, the Triloka jasmine or any other you might run across created by different companies.
As to the two different musks, in this case the Original is just called Musk while the ESC is called Nepal Musk. These too are very different incenses, however they’re actually successful in both cases. In fact, the Original is quite a surpise, not necessarily because it succeeds as a musk per se, but because it turns out to be a very nice and somewhat nostalgic incense (for me it brings up slight memories of the masalas of my youth, scents I rarely seem to come across these days). It’s an evergreen sort of color and even sidescent and dry in a very pleasant way with only the slightest hint of a musk perfume. It’s not tremendously deep, but manages to strike quite a chord with me. The Nepal Musk, on the other hand, is a very different but yet analagous masala to that found in the Pure Incense line. It’s not actually comparable to either Absolute or Connoissuer in that line, but it still uses a similar base with a potent musk perfume on top, just one very different and not nearly as deluxe or fabulous as Pure Incense’s. But had you not tried those, the comparison wouldn’t create as much of a negative association as this too is quite a nice incense. Perhaps if one was to marry the earthier, clay-like aspects of the general patchouli masala style to a Pure Incense stick you might come up with something like this, although like lesser patchouli’s there’s a slight bitterness and legume/pea pod like snappiness to it that takes it down a hair. But ultimately if one likes herbal musks, green incenses or patchouli it’s probably worth a try in a sampler.
Many more Primos coming up in the near future. The attempt as in this write up will be to tackle every scent, comparing two line versions when they exist. In most cases the existence of Primo as a standard Indian masala/charcoal company will make comparisons to other company’s incenses somewhat necessary so it wouldn’t hurt to check back through the archives for articles on Triloka, Pure Incense, Mystic Temple, Incense from India and others if one is shopping for certain standard styles, something I’d indeed recommend as in these cases the tried and true really are worth checking out.