Everything’s Coming Up Roses – A Valentine’s Day Tribute to the Flower of Love

It’s February 1st, and Valentine’s Day is only 13 days away. In keeping with the holiday centered on love and romance, I have decided to do reviews on rose incenses. After all, the rose is the flower most often associated with amour (that’s the French word for love, by the way) and romance.

Indeed, the rose makes a significant appearance in one of the most deeply romantic of Shakespeare’s plays, Romeo and Juliet. It is a love struck Juliet that mentions the rose in her famous soliloquy:

JULIET:
      ‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
      Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
      What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
      Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
      Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
      What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
      By any other name would smell as sweet;
      So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
      Retain that dear perfection which he owes
      Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
      And for that name which is no part of thee
      Take all myself.

So was Juliet right? Does a rose by any other name smell as sweet? With regards to the following incenses, I’d say… definitely, maybe. The following ten incenses cover a range of styles, countries, and prices. Each has the rose scent in one form or another, and each is, in its own unique way, special and lovely. I hasten to add though, that this is not the list of the top ten best rose incenses, ever. There are a million rose incenses out there in the market, and it’s impossible to cover them all, obviously. These ten incenses were selected to give you, Dear Reader, a sampling range of what’s good, available, and perhaps to you, new and different.

I have grouped these incenses by Country, and where possible, have even given the word for ‘rose’ in that country’s language. After all, a rose by any name is always a thing of beauty!

Japan:

Fun trivia fact, the Japanese word for ‘rose’ is ‘Bara.’

Encens du Monde’s Rose:

 As some of you already know, Encens du Monde is a French company based near Montpellier, France. They are a major distributor of quality incenses in Europe, offering a fine variety of Japanese, Indian, Tibetan, and other incenses. It’s speculated that some of their incenses are actually made by Japanese incense companies, and then sold under the Encens du Monde label. At any rate, Encens du Monde’s Rose incense is a Japanese style incense, i.e. without a stick core. This incense has a soft, slightly spicy floral rose scent. I catch whiffs of benzoin and clove mixed in with the rose scent. The rose is both a top note and mid-note here. The benzoin and clove come in at the end. Incidentally, the marketing write up on the label reads “The delicate and feminine nobility of the May rose.” And that is actually an apt description, the rose scent here is decidedly a young rose scent; this is not the deep full-bodied aroma of a mature rose, but that a of young spring rose, just in the process of blooming.

Shoyeido’s Rose (as a part of the Royal Floral World Incense Pack):

Shoyeido’s Royal Floral World Incense Pack contains 60 pieces of three different scented incenses. There are twenty sticks each of jasmine, rose, and sandalwood. The sticks are a short seven cms or two and three quarters inches. Despite their tiny size, don’t be fooled, these little guys pack quite a scent wallop! One little stick will scent a room easily. The rose incense in this pack is a strong spicy rose floral. The rose is actually a mid-note here, with the top notes being spicy, and again, there is benzoin, clove, and cassia. I even catch a whiff of sandalwood and vanilla as the endnotes, which add a sweet finish to this stick. This is a more mature rose scent, deeper and a bit darker, but it’s not a strong rose aroma. Nonetheless, it’s quite enjoyable, and I think those that like spicy florals will like this incense.

Baieido’s Rose (Smokeless incense):

Like incense but have a problem with smoke? Or have family and friends that have allergies and issues with smoke? Then smokeless incense may be the item for you. Baieido’s smokeless rose incense is a soft subtle rose incense. This is a gentle rose aroma that quietly wafts around the room, scenting the atmosphere. This rose scent doesn’t have the spice elements of Encens du Monde or of Shoyeido. This is a simple, gentle rose scent, with just a hint of greenery mixed in at the end. The green note connotes leaves, and stems, and adds a light airiness that is quite enjoyable. Indeed, I wonder if the green note may even be green tea.

India:

Fun trivia fact, the Indian word for ‘rose’ is ‘gul’ or ‘gulab.’

Pure Incense Connoisseur Rose:

I’ve recently been a bit critical of Pure Incense for using the same base blend in all their incenses. I mentioned that the base elements often exude a vanilla and honey sweetness, resulting in all their incenses having a similar scent with no distinct personality of their own. That said, I do like Pure Incense as a brand, and I do like their Connoisseur Rose incense. Unlike Encens du Monde or Shoyeido, this is not a spicy rose floral scent. Rather it’s a sweet rosey floral, with elements that verge towards candy like at times due to the vanilla and honey notes in the base. Indeed, the sweetness reminds me of desserts and candy such as rose scented Turkish delight. Those that prefer sweet florals over that of spicy florals would probably like this. In fact, I think this incense would appeal to children because of the sweet elements in it.

Shroff’s Night Rose:

Of all the incenses reviewed in this post, I think Shroff’s Night Rose is the most romantic named one of them all. I don’t know, but there’s a certain romantic element there, the name kinda just connotes romance, and love, and starry skies over a trellis full of roses, with their sweet floral scent gently wafting in the evening air. Well, ok, I’m a bit of a sappy romantic at times; you didn’t know that about me, did you? 🙂

Anyhow, Shroff, the masters of Indian agarbattis, serve up another delight in their Night Rose incense. This one is actually similar to Pure Incense’s Connoisseur Rose, but without as many sweet elements; there’s a vanilla note here, but it’s not as strong as in the Connoisseur Rose. More importantly, the rose is stronger, and is the topnote, too. Even unlit, this stick is choice, smelling softly of roses. This is not a super strong rose scent, though, so those of you looking for that should look elsewhere (and I’ll tell you where that is at the end of this post).

Tibet:

Fun trivia fact, I don’t know what the Tibetan word for ‘rose’ is. Though it might just be ‘sa snum.’ At least that’s what popped up when I tried to use an online English/Tibetan dictionary. However, I’m not even sure that the dictionary was working. If you know, chime in!

Chandra Devi Rose:

This is a smokey rose incense, with the typical campfire smoke smell that is common in so many Tibetan incenses as an endnote. The rose scent here is a soft and subtle one, and comes in bursts. This isn’t a bad incense from Chandra Devi, though their jasmine one is far superior to their rose. If you like smokey rose scents, Chandra Devi’s rose may be the one to try.

USA:

Fun trivia fact, the American word for ‘rose’ is ‘rose’, just like it is for the Brits, Canadians, Ozzies, and the rest of the English speaking world! 😛

Orthodox Incense’s Mt. Athos’ Rose:

This particular rose incense is done up in the Greek orthodox anthonite style, which is to say that pieces of frankincense are soaked in floral oils (in this case, rose) and dried and cured, and then dusted with purified clay powder. The end result is a rosey frankincense scent, though here, the rose florals dominant, and the frankincense is a slight endnote. This Mt. Athos rose was actually made in a monastery in America, thus my classification. Anyway, the rose scent is a soft sweet floral, and quite rosey indeed. This is a fairly potent incense, two teaspoons of it on my electric incense burner scented my apartment very well. In other words, this has a good scent throw. And the scent is very nice, too.

Nu Essence Venus:

Ah, Venus, an aptly named incense to feature in a Valentine’s day themed review. Venus was the Greco-roman goddess of love. And the Nu Essence Venus incense is definitely inspired by that. The write up on the back of the tin states, “Creative imagination, the bridge between the mind and the heart, from thought to Art. Remembering that real victory is through love.”

This is a very interesting incense. Visually, just looking at this incense is arresting. It’s the color of red ochre clay, and is soft and powdery with little bits of dried rose petals in it. There are a number of other ingredients, and rose is not the star player, but is instead, a member of the symphony. Every ingredient is playing a part, and rose is one element of many. Some of the ingredients are sandalwood, benzoin, marshmallow root, nutmeg, rose, peppermint and myrtle. The scent is a bit complex, starting off floral, then hitting spicy, then drifting into sweet, and finally ending as minty (that’s the peppermint kicking in) and uplifting.

Fred Soll’s Joyous Rose:

If Shroff’s Night Rose has the most romantic name of all the incenses in this post, it’s Fred Soll’s Joyous Rose that is the most romantic incense of them all. Fred created this incense for his wife, Joy, and named it after her. And what a joy it is, indeed. Fred’s signature use of pinon resin and high quality oils are present here as in all his other incenses. The pinon and the rose would seem to be an odd blend, but they work as nice contrasting elements, and play off each other well. I liken this to finding an unexpected wild rose amongst a pinon forest. The rose shouldn’t really be there, but it is, and it brightens and uplifts the surrounding pinon forest.

United Arab Emirates:

Fun trivia fact, the Arabic word for ‘rose’ is ‘wardh.’

Duggatal Oudh Wardh Taifi:

Oh, you really didn’t think that I wouldn’t give this one a mention, did you? This is still my all time favorite rose incense, and is one of my favorite incenses, plain and simple. Earlier I said that if you were looking for a stronger, truer rose scent, I’d tell you where to find it. Well, Dear Reader, here it is. I’ve already given a detailed review of this incense, so I won’t repeat myself. Suffice to say, this is the truest rose scented incense out there that I know of; the scent is incredible, and perfectly captures that of fresh cut red roses.

Well, there you have it. A sample of various rose scented incenses for you to peruse and try. All the incenses mentioned above, except for the Duggatal Oudh Wardh Taifi, may be purchased at Essence of the Ages. The Duggatal Oudh Wardh Taifi may be purchased at Paradise Perfumes.Com.

Whether you plan on using any of the above rose incenses for a Valentine’s Day evening with your sweetheart, or if you simply want to scent your home with the scent of roses, I think any of the above would create an interesting atmosphere. I’d like to think that there’s a little something for everyone, and that the price ranges for these incenses reflect that sentiment, too. The prices range from a few dollars for a roll of Shroff’s Night Rose to close to forty for Shoyeido’s Royal World Incense pack.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post, I know it was a pleasure writing it for you.

Best,

Anne

January Top 10

January is drawing to a close and it’s time for this month’s Top 10!   If you were to drop by my office at the ORS Studios™ (I am the first door on the left past the ORS lab), you would likely encounter one of these fine scents wafting from my open door:

 Sho Ran Koh from Kyukyodo has long been my go-to scent for guests.  After some time away from it, I recently rediscovered it, rekindling the love affair.  While we hear of aloeswood frequently, this is an example of the incense actually smelling like aloe – that smooth rich scent in good unscented body lotions.  Throw in wondrous spices and you have the elegant and sublime Sho Ran Koh.  It’s cheaper than you think – you are just forced to buy a very large quantity at once, which will last you a good, long time.  At only about a buck per 10.5″ (!) stick, you’ll see this is a cheaper incense to burn than, say, the next incense on our list:

Nippon Kodo’s Bamboo Leaf is an entry in their Yume-no-Yume line and, if I didn’t know better, would assume was rather a part of Shoyeido’s Incense Road line.  The marketing and packaging of these 2 lines seems quite similar (and trendy) and you pay for that.  Bamboo Leaf can be had for about $6 for a pack, which includes beautiful graphics and a plastic tray which securely and individually holds each of the 12 sticks.  But with sticks only 3.25″ long, this burn is more expensive per inch than Sho Ran Koh (!), yet another (unfortunate) similarity with the Incense Road line.  Price not withstanding, Bamboo Leaf is an indulgent treat and if you are a fan of Shoyeido’s Incense Road Nan-Zan, then just imagine replacing Nan-Zan’s frankincense with green tea, keeping all the sweet underlying richness, and you have Bamboo Leaf.  On the menu of Japanese incense, you’ll find this one under desserts!

 Pearl from Shroff has been arresting my attention of late. The champa brings something familiar and comfortable, yet with a perfume intertwined and pulsing that is new and always captivating to me. A prime example of why Shroff gets the hype they do around here.  Extra cool point – the packaging seems to have a typo, with the incense being called “Peral” – an ominous sounding and entirely offbase A.K.A. if ever there was one.

 If you love sandalwood, then do yourself a favor and pick up a roll of Yumemachi by Kyukyodo.  Everything these folks do is superlative and reasonably priced and Yumemachi is no exception.  Super smooth slightly citrus sandalwood! You’ll be burning handfuls of this stuff before long 😀

 Reiryo-Koh from Kunmeido was part of my very first order of Japanese incense and has been a sentimental favorite ever since.  It’s one of a handful of incenses that just nail the sweet spot – great spicy aroma with a low price that allows you to freely enjoy.  I pack Reiryo-Koh with me whenever I travel and I burn it in my car overnight to scent it, no kidding!

Koh En from Baieido is a classic. While certainly a luxury pleasure, sometimes you just have to allow yourself a few guilt-free sessions and enjoy.  It’s a nice companion while reading, writing or otherwise sedately reposing – when your senses are quiet and aware and the many subtle layers of scent can roll by under your appreciative contemplation.

 Shoyeido’s Seifu is the slightly more premium of Shoyeido’s two Premium Daily Incenses. The darkly colored stick manages to approximate the deep watery-ness found in high-grade aloeswoods (Tennendo’s Enkuu comes to mind here) at a fraction of the price. A great incense to try if you’re new to Japanese incense or if you’re looking to start exploring finer (and more expensive) Japanese offerings.

 There is a tantalizing combination of powdery sweetness (almost talc-like) and woody spiciness to Tennendo’s Kuukai that is intoxicating. Your nose keeps jumping between the two, trying to latch on to one scent just as the other pulls your attention away.  To be safe, you better just pick up the 10-roll box on this one  😀

 If you are a Tibetan-style fan, you owe it to yourself to try Nado Poizokhang Grade A.  It is in the same vein as Tibetan Monastery Incense and equally as good.  I actually have cravings for this one from time to time.  I wrote comments recently on NP Grade A – rather than repeat myself, just take a look at the link here to the review & comments.

 If they’re good enough for the Dalai Lama, then you should certainly enjoy Bo-rim sticks from Korea (I still am unclear who the manufacturer is – ChuiWoon HyangDang or Sam-sung?)  A dry, bitter-yet-smooth stick that evokes both burnt toast and burning leaves, I find the aroma both arresting, focusing and calming.  I see Frank Lloyd Wright working on a new design at his drafting table with this burning in the background.  If you haven’t tried a Korean incense, this is the top notch way to go.  If I had it to do over again, I would take all the $ I spent on Bosen and other Korean incenses and just buy more Bo-rim!

Hope you enjoyed this month’s Top 10, and while I’m at it, a reminder:  Have you subscribed to our RSS Feeds yet?  Make sure you never miss a thing at ORS and have all new Entries and Comments delivered right to you!

– Steve

Primo / Extra Special Connoisseur / Night Queen (+ Original), Patchouli (+ Original), Ruh Khus, Sandalwood (+ Original), Spice, Yellow Rose + Original / Kashmiri Rose, Lavender, Magnolia, Saffron

Primo Part 1

It was very interesting to put two and two together recently and discover that the family who makes Primo Incense in India, Haridas Madhavda, is also responsible for the Pure-Incense and Jivada lines, in fact I’ll end up making this change in the category lists to the left at some point. It does make sense, though, given the similarity of the bases in all of these incenses, but it’s also quite interesting to see that there are still not a lot of true duplicates across these various companies. Clearly Madhavada create incense from different specs, despite using similar bases.

However, while I’ve not tried Jivada yet, I think it’s safe to say that Pure Incense’s blends are definitely made at a much higher quality level than what we’re seeing from Primo, and, of course, the price does reflect these differences. Primo incenses are very basic and unfortunately this does not bode particularly well for their charcoal florals and in the case of very similar incenses like sandalwood, frankincense and the like, the Pure Incense versions are nearly always recommended as being the better buy, that is, even the Absolutes are more potent than any of the Primos.

But even in Primo we do see a two level difference in some of the aromas. For example with Night Queen there are both Extra Special Connoisseur and Original formulas, although I’d doubt many would be able to tell the difference between them, being that both are floral perfumes on a charcoal and vanilla base. In both cases the vanilla leaks through far too much and the floral oil is either gentle enough or dissipated to really have much of an impact. However, the oil is fairly powdery and pretty and somehow it ends up not being too much of a disaster (particularly in the Extra Special Connoisseur version where it’s a little stronger), although when you realize you can get the Shroff version without paying much more, there seems to be little reason to settle for either of these two.

The differences between the two versions of the Patchouli are a little more pronounced. The Original version is nearly a wash, with the oil so faint you’re almost left with just the base, the only impression being a rough earthiness mixed in with vanilla and charcoal. The Extra Special Connoisseur is far more intense, with the typical dry earth and clay mixture, but even though the scent is noticeable, the charcoal and vanilla base still causes quite a bit of conflict in the scent. In fact these days it’s almost inexcusable to produce a patchouli that doesn’t work given it’s relative affordability and sure enough, even the Pure Incense version is much more refined than this one.

Strangely enough, the Extra Special Connoisseur Ruh Khus is a lot closer to the way you’d wish the patchouli would smell. The charcoal here has been reduced to more masala-like levels and even though there’s still a noticeable vanilla subnote in the mix, the Khus is still well defined: earthy, pungent and green, with even a faint menthol touch and that bit of sweetness common to the herb. As a green and earthy aroma it’s quite similar to some green patchouli masalas, but this is quite a bit more special. Not perfect, but definitely in Primo’s upper echelon (I have to admit to looking forward to trying Pure Incense’s version, which given their track record, must be better).

I’m almost to the point where reviewing this type of masala Sandalwood is something of an exercise in tedium, being that it’s so common along many Indian lines, a masala with a hit of lower quality sandalwood oil in the mix. Perhaps the differences are intensity, with the oil being the best in the Pure Incense Connoissuer line, coming down a bit in the Absolute and then perhaps the Triloka and Original/Extra Special Connoissuer versions might be right after. In Primo’s case I thought maybe the Original had the better formula, with a small bit of spice in the mix and a slightly more intense oil, but at this point I think the differences are virtually trivial. Sandalwood incenses are often so similar that one’s advised to go for the Pure Incense Connoissuer if you want an Indian stick, or better yet, to try one of several Japanese incenses for something a bit more authentic to the real wood.

Spice only exists in the Extra Special Connoisseur range and you’d expect that anything with such a name should pop off the stick in a mix of cinnamon and clove, but unfortunately this one’s quite a bit duller. The base seems more herbal than spicy and the top notes only seem to have the lightest cinnamon-like aroma to it. Perhaps the mix with the base is what weakens the whole, but at the same time there’s some hard to place notes in the middle that keep it from becoming unpleasant and therefore it’s more bland than offensive.

The Yellow Rose is fairly typical of low quality floral charcoal disasters, the oil seems very cheap and the base is as much a part of the bouquet as the perfume is. That’s not to say the base overwhelms, after all the oil here is quite strong, but the mix of all the poor elements is quite offputting to say the least. I’m assuming the Pure-Incense version is far superior, as this is the sort of incense that almost made me swear off Indian florals at one point (which would have no doubt been to my detriment). The Original Kashmiri Rose fares no better. Perhaps the only difference is that one does get the impression the perfume oils are different enough to warrant the names, but I think I liked the Kashmiri even less than the Yellow. Or perhaps the base is even harsher here, way too much charcoal and vanilla in the mix.

The Original Lavender continues the issue from the roses, charcoal and vanilla bases but with an oil that barely resembles any sort of lavender you might be familiar. I should reiterate at this point that all my samples came fresh directly from Primo itself and that I’d tried all of these not far after purchase, so it’s difficult to even assume these might be too old, but the lavender is so faint in this one it barely seems present. Definitely one to avoid.

You’d think the same issues would exist with the Original Magnolia but it’s definitely more pleasant than the Night Queen, roses and Lavender even if the red color of the stick hides the fact we’re still dealing with a roughly similar base. It would be difficult to blame the Madhavada family entirely, after all the Pure Incense Absolute Magnolia is amazing, missing entirely the sort of sour middle note the Primo stick manifests. But clearly cheaper materials were used in this one.

At least I can leave this write up on a higher note, as the Original Saffron is a much better incense, different in quality from either the Shroff or Pure-Incense versions and probably more traditional in that it’s a masala with a noticeable sandalwood-heavy base that helps to drown out the usual charcoal and vanilla notes in so many Primos. In fact this is probably one of the line’s standout scents, with a sweetness in the mix that reaches a bit further in the champa direction that most of the line. It burns pleasant throughout even if one gets the impression there’s probably very little true Saffron here.

This covers just about the entire Primo line, although I see in both samplers there’s no Vanillatopia, but given the wallops of vanilla in nearly all the Primo scents it seems like it might end up being a pretty redundant and thus it’s not a stick I’m in a hurry to try. Overall, it seems that Pure Incense has more or less superceded Primo in quality, with much finer incenses from the same original and venerable incense making family, so there’s really no need to waste any time on this group, although I did end up coming out of the appraisal with positive opinions of the ESC Cedarwood, ESC Ruh Khus, Original Musk and Original Saffron mixes. It’s interesting to realize that for a long time Primo was very much considered one of the better incenses available in the US, so while we’ve lost quite a bit of quality in champas and durbars, it seems that we’re seeing much better product in the masala family.

Fred Soll / Part 3 / Cedar & Patchouli, Ceremonial Rain, Desert Patchouli, Frankincense & Patchouli, Patchouli & Dragon’s Blood, Patchouli Rain

Fred Soll Part 1
Fred Soll Part 2

In the large Fred Soll catalog you can roughly break down some of the incenses into groups. There’s a large number of frankincense incenses, quite a few champas and then several with sage, patchouli or cedar as the basic scent. I’ll be covering the patchoulis this round, and I believe Anne will be covering the frankincenses at a later date. The champas have been sadly out of production for at least a year now, so we’ll be waiting if and until they’re released again, the question being whether halmaddi resin will ever be available again. And of course we’ll have a couple more miscellaneous batches to come, one in the near future from Ross. All in all, including the champas, that should be about 7 installments in this series and given the selections are pretty fluid, perhaps more to come in the future.

This part, I’ll be covering the patchoulis and an incense called Ceremonial Rain, which fits into this batch alongside the Patchouli Rain incense to round out the group. The thing is, it’s fairly easy to summarize most of these incenses without going into a lot of detail. Except in the case of Ceremonial Rain, all of these incenses use a very deep and beautiful patchouli oil, one that combines the usual herbal essential oil you’ll often find, with a sweet finish that is often rarer. Combined with the pinon, charcoal and wood base, Soll seem to have found a very nice combination that works most of the time. However, I should mention that in a couple of these cases, the incense has a hard time staying lit, although you can mitigate this issue by burning the incense horizintally as the directions suggest. It isn’t foolproof, but I did experiment and found that at least one of these incenses burned without extinguishing once the stick was horizontal.

This incense was the Cedar & Patchouli, which I found very difficult to keep lit vertically, so this is one you’ll want to burn the other way. And you will want to burn this as it’s once of Soll’s more pleasant scents with the cedar wood and oil wonderfully fragrant along with the usual patchouli. Given i’s smokiness it’s a remarkably mild scent. In many ways it’s an east/west blend, a skill Fred Soll seems very fluent in applying.

Ceremonial Rain is the one incense here that doesn’t (seem to) have patchouli, and acts instead as a cross between a forest resin sort of blend (something that usually has a high level of pine pitch anyway) and a deodorizing, cleansing incense. This tends to reflect quite nicely the quality of the environment after a bit of rain. The resin and gum mix is quite pungent with that apple-like quality resin blends often have, yet one will be left guessing at the rest of the elements, certainly some pine and cedar are in the mix, but one wonders at possible lavender, juniper and dragon’s blood notes that may or may not be present. Overall you tend to get the fruitier resin notes on the top and a more herbal-like oil below. It’s almost like burning five different Soll sticks at once and ends up being one of the line’s most intricate recipes.

Not terribly far off from the Cedar & Patchouli mix is Soll’s Desert Patchouli, perhaps an incense a touch more in the western direction. The patchouli is perhaps a bit heavier here with the pinon element more of a note. The balance provides a dry herbal feel, a touch of spice and perhaps an even fainter touch of sage in the mix. Intense and very smoky at heart this still seems to be mostly a pinon and patchouli mix, so you may want to either buy this or the Cedar & Patchouli as the two are similar enough that one may feel they’re somewhat duplicative. Of course fans of patchouli might like to compare the subtle differences.

Frankincense & Patchouli combine, perhaps, two of Soll’s most common ingredients (along with the ubiquitous pinon). As always the use of frankincense resin, generally of the less expensive and mild kind, tends to quiet this incense down, and as such it’s quite a bit less intense than any of the previous patchouli blends. It’s virtually a cross between the Classic Frankincense stick and the Desert Patchouli and the two ingredients turn out to be quite complimentary, the resin matching the intersection where the patchouli is sweet, no doubt with a little help from the pinon.

Patchouli & Dragon’s Blood is also very similar to the Desert Patchouli blend, with the distinctive Dragon’s Blood resin lessening the sweetness the Pinon usually applies. As a result, this tends to be even more so in the Western direction with a distinct campfire like scent to it, a bit hotter and slightly tangy. I’d add this to the minor differences mentioned between the Desert Patchouli and Cedar & Patchouli, all are different in only minor, slightly adjusted ways. You can perhaps attribute this to the strong personality of the patchouli oil.

Finally, the Patchouli Rain and as you may have guessed, this is like taking the five Fred Soll sticks you’re burning to make up Ceremonial Rain and adding a Desert Patchouli stick, but without the smoke such a hypothetical situation would entail. This stick I found trouble keeping lit either horizontally or vertically, which is a shame as this is the most intricate incense in this group here, with the wet, cleansing feel of the Ceremonial Rain without as much of a fruity resin blast, thanks to the patchouli evening it out and giving it a better balance. It may even be a bit too multifaceted, at least looking from the angle that often Soll’s work is so good given its simplicity and two or three note scents.

As always only patchouli lovers need apply here, but really those who think of Deadheads and their patchouli oils might be surprised to find a better quality oil at work here, one with less of a cheap oily smell and more of a sweet open ended scent.

Gyokushodo Saimei koh & Umeshoin ( Ross)

Japan Incense/Kohshi recently brought in two more additions to the Gyokushodo line. Gyokushodo is very well thought of in Japan and is only recently getting the recognition it deserves here. You can refer to the other write ups we have done on the company here, here.and here

Saimei koh comes in a thin square cut stick with a orangeish brown color that reminds me of Turmeric. Unlit the scents of  Borneo Camphor and a large helping of herbs, spices and a back round note of oils are evident. When lighted the Borneo Camphor is not noticed but the quality of the woods present becomes the dominate back round note (Aloeswood and Sandalwood) with, in typical  Gyokushodo style, the spices and oils intermixed. There is a definite spicy punch here, the Turmeric mentioned above comes to mind, with the oil note sort of rounding out and smoothing things together. This sort of reminds me of Tennendo’s  Karafune sticks, the Silver or Gold.

This does not seem like the other offerings that Gyokushodo has had here before. This one is much more about the spice/herb notes mixed in with excellent woods rather then the oils that have predominated before. Nice contemplative scent and also works well as something to use before a dinner or gathering. I think this would be a great addition to ones collection at a good price for what you are getting.

Umeshoin also comes in the thin, square cut stick, this time with a medium green color and also with the Borneo Camphor scent as well as an assortment of spice notes. When lighted the Borneo Camphor once again sinks below what my nose can sense (your results may very  ). The overall impression here is that the wood notes are being showcased more then the spice or oil notes. There seems to be a great helping of the woods in the mix and the other scents are there to sort of shape the scent rather then play a major part. This one reminds me of a really good, expensive and elegant men’s cologne(somewhat spicy citrus or Chypre) from long ago. It’s like it was applied some time ago and just the barest hint is still there. I find this one needs to be studied and tuned into, some time taken with it.  Good for meditation or reflection, probably not something you would use to scent a room. Many of the higher end Japanese sticks have this quality, they use great woods and a minimal amount of “colorant”  so that they become much more of a personal moment rather then a crowd pleaser. Then again many go the other route, so much for trying to put incenses into neat little niches!  -Ross

Shroff Channabasappa / Dry Masalas / Paneer, Poona Amber, Rose Masala, Rosy Sandal, Sandal (K)

Shroff Channabasappa Part 1
Shroff Channabasappa Part 2
Shroff Channabasappa Part 3
Shroff Channabasappa Part 4
Shroff Channabasappa Part 5
Shroff Channabasappa Part 6
Shroff Channabasappa Part 7
Shroff Channabasappa Part 8
Shroff Channabasappa Part 9

For the final installment of “Shroff Week” we’ll be going back to the last group of Dry Masalas that showed up for the first time earlier in 2009. This should catch things up with the entire available line except for the 14 Base Masalas, which will be forthcoming eventually in two installments, hopefully sometime in February. The Dry Masala line, of course, was Shroff’s original group of incenses, and while categories have been a little confusing of late, it can safely be said that the five incenses here are fairly standard for Shroff.

In all of these cases, these seem to be additions to the already sizable number of rose, amber and sandalwood incenses already in the catalog. If anything might be said about these five incenses as a group, it’s that they’re not quite as perfumed as many already released in their categories and represent fairly traditional scents, even if they do represent slightly different takes.

I appreciate Maharani letting us know in a previous comment that Paneer means “rose water” in Kannada, as a quick search in Google might have made me wonder if we were dealing with a cheese incense instead. Certainly this Paneer seems to be another scent combining wood and floral oils to great effect, in particular this has a very deep, lasting sandalwood at base that would make a wonderful incense in its own right, let alone the addition of rose or rosewood scents in the mix. It has some nice and light complex notes in the mix as well such as caramel, coffee and a very light Tibetan-like musk. It reminds me a little of Pure Incense Parijata blend, but the Paneer is a darker blend without the sweet high end notes of Parijata.

Poona Amber is Shroff’s seventh amber and is quite a bit different from the others in that the amber scent itself isn’t particularly strong, in fact it seems to just merge intgo what seems like a general Indian floral. It’s a very mild incense and after sampling it for a few sticks, it still has never seemed to assert its personality as strongly as some of the other ambers, while still being quite different from them. It’s sweet and pretty but ultimately not one of the better Shroff incenses.

If Amber Rose and Rose Natural share a very similar rose perfume at the heart of the incense, the perfume used in the Rose Masala is slighty different in an ineffable sort of way, even more than a different base or the lack of amber might account for. For one thing the oil is a bit stronger in this incense, more noticeably floral as a style and perhaps a bit closer in scent to a garden rose itself. It’s pretty, but ultimately not as gentle or refined as other rose sticks in the Shroff line. On the other hand it’s still quite a ways better than the plethora of cheaper rose incenses found in various Indian incense lines, demonstrating Shroff’s trustiness with the type of scent even when they’re not superlative.

Rosy Sandal has about an equal mixture of rose and sandalwood material or oils to the point that both blend with each other enough to where a more unique hybrid of the scents is created. The rose is gentle and melds with the sandal to the point where the typical characteristics of sandalwood such as vanilla, butter and wood are submerged, but not enough to where you might call it a base. The rose comes out mostly in the top note, but the balance keeps it from exhibiting entirely floral characteristics. Like the Rose Masala, it’s an interesting take, but not necessarily a memorable one.

Sandal (K) strikes me as the purest and most natural of the Shroff sandalwood incenses, particularly more so that the perfumed and stylized White and Mysore sandalwoods, in fact this seems like Shroff’s closest analog to the usual sandalwood oil masalas found in most Indian incense ranges. However it’s certainly not as intense as the Pure Incense Connoisseur sandalwood (or as deluxe), but on the other other hand the oil is quite a bit more mild, seemingly balanced just as much by the natural qualities of the wood. It’s a nice and simple incense and one might find that the newer sandalwood incenses in the Base Masala group, Sandal (K) Special and Sandal King, are even better versions of the lineage started here.

So at this point we’ll end Shroff Week here, before returning in a few weeks or so to survey the Base Masala group…

New Admin

Just wanted to extend a public welcome to Anne Chan, who we’re thrilled to have accepted our invitation to join our writing team here at ORS. I also wanted to mention, in case I hadn’t before, that we also have Steve Page, helping us out as a moderator here, not only has he been an ORS benefactor almost since we started here, but his assistance handling comments and other ORS issues has been invaluable, especially since my home computer came down with a virus. We’re pleased to have both Anne and Steve on the team!

Shroff Channabasappa / Wet Masalas / French Musk, Saffron

Shroff Channabasappa Part 1
Shroff Channabasappa Part 2
Shroff Channabasappa Part 3
Shroff Channabasappa Part 4
Shroff Channabasappa Part 5
Shroff Channabasappa Part 6
Shroff Channabasappa Part 7
Shroff Channabasappa Part 8

Continuing Shroff week at ORS, we have two incenses in the newly christened Wet Masala line. The idea of a wet masala evokes many of the ideas explained in my recent Champacopia article, regarding halmaddi and its presence or lack of presence in champa and durbar style incenses, however, perhaps in this case we can’t necessarily assume that this is the case in this new wet masala line. From the looks of both, I don’t really see the presence of the gum any more than I do in the Soft Masala line, in fact I’m not quite sure why the French Musk wasn’t just added there, but I’ll get more into that with each specific incense. Suffice it to say, both of these scents are uncommonly rich and perhaps are more so than the decadently rich scents in the Soft Masala line.

The French Musk may be one of the most long burning scents in the entire Shroff line, in fact on at least one occasion I swear I remember one stick burning for perhaps 90 minutes. This likely entails a base full of gums and other dense ingredients and the result is definitely very similar to other musk champa blends, for instance it has some similarities to the Musk Champa in the Blue Pearl line. It certainly has a ton of vanilla, honey and sugar in the scent as well as that sweetest of musks, one that might be described as being on the opposite axis to the animal Tibetan musks. In this case you have a much more refined and sweet, perfume-like scent, like a different version of the Vanilla / Honey Dust / Satya Natural sort of smell. In fact even if there is no halmaddi in the scent, the creators have still managed to imitate the sweet honey and vanilla scent as a base and it makes this a very decadent and pleasant incense to burn, certainly toward the more intense side of things due to the oils, but accessible and Western friendly.

I almost got choked up when I first took a whiff of the opened box of Saffron, it not only has the strongest, legitimate Saffron scent I’ve ever smelled in an incense, but whether it has halmaddi or not, this is truly a wet masala with the oils coating the inner packaging. This is a very red incense, red in color, red in the sense of a saffron scent, and red with the other subscents such as the middle cherry lozenge sort of aroma. I’m not sure if this scent is sort of an aftereffect of the noticeable saffron floral scent or a part of its combination with the sweeter base, but it’s very luxurious and it has the sort of intensity that makes it seem almost kinetic with energy. Like with the French Musk, the base is sweet with vanilla and honey, but there’s no clashing at all going on with the rich oil and perfume scent on top. Other than a perhaps coincidental similarity with Dzogchen Monastery’s Lotus Ground Incense, which too is a very red incense, the Saffron is very unique, and miles away from the saffrons seen in, say the Primo or Pure Incense lines. Overall even with the cherry/saffron oils and sweet vanilla/honey base, the combination has a slightly and very pleasant sour candy vibe to it as well as some slight poppy or rose-like florals in the mix. I found this stick to be an instant classic and definitely hope Shroff have more incenses in this style up their sleeve for later release.

Either tomorrow or early next week, I’ll complete the most recent series of Shroff reviews by looking back to the last batch with five more masalas not covered from the last import collection, before taking a break and moving on to some other company works. In a few weeks or so, I’ll be back to discuss the strangely delineated group of “Base Masalas” hoping to catch up on the company in case we get swamped with another batch by then.

Shroff Channabasappa / Natural (Masalas) / Masala Natural, Rose Natural, Patcholie, Vetivert (Lavancha)

Shroff Channabasappa Part 1
Shroff Channabasappa Part 2
Shroff Channabasappa Part 3
Shroff Channabasappa Part 4
Shroff Channabasappa Part 5
Shroff Channabasappa Part 6
Shroff Channabasappa Part 7

Yesterday, I went over the latest group of Shroff Channabasappa incenses and their classifications, all of which you can catch up with by reading the link at Part 7 above. In it I discussed the new grouping called Natural Incenses, in which a group of nine incenses are split between five charcoals (also reviewed) and four masalas, and in this article I’ll be discussing these other four.

What we have here is a slightly unusual incense style that seems to be even more wood-based than your average masala. All four of these incenses, despite any individual ingredients are based on a warm, sawdust-like wood center, which manages not only to capture the particular herb added but to combine with them in quite consonant ways. It’s difficult to tell what woods are being used, I’d guess some sandalwood, but the wood blends don’t just smell like sandalwood based incenses. I’d guess that these wood blends are actually used in a similar method to the charcoals in that they act as an absorbent to capture essential oils. Perhaps in the case of charcoals such woodiness would overwhelm the particular scents, but here it seems to be assumed that the added oils are powerful enough to come out in their own right.

The first of these incenses, Masala Natural, might act as a sort of base stick and is unfortunately one of the few Shroff failures, an incense that seems to only smell like a base wood punk. While I’m not sure if this contains benzoin or not, the stick reminded me of the rough and ready nature of the more basic lobans, and even more so it’s an Indian that is reminiscent of the more campfire-like Tibetan sticks. As such, it’s not impressive in any way and is one of the least Shroff-like scents in the catalog in that it doesn’t seem to have much in the way of perfume or oils. It’s almost like the scent of mesquite charcoal heating in a bit or even burning paper. I’d hold out hope it might get better but I would not expect it to given it has so little breadth.

Fortunately the other three wood masalas here are more up to the usual Shroff standards. In fact the Rose Natural is quite lovely, as with the wood taking up so much of the aromatic panorama, the rose scent tends to be milder and more gentle than it tends to be as a perfume. It’s almost what it would be like if you took away the amber aspects of the Amber Rose and added a woodier base, dissipating some of the strength of the perfume. Like the rest of the masalas in this group, the base is a very clean, almost fresh-cut wood scent and it gives the atmosphere of the incense both a down to earth simplicity and a subtle beauty. One of the best in the new batch and another where Shroff shows how they excel in rose incenses.

The other two incenses feature two well-known, deep, green herbal scents. The unusually spelt Patcholie continues the trend of embedding a fine essential oil in a wood base and the results are both similar and quite different to the wide variety of patchouli incenses in other companies. For one thing this is not a sweet patchouli, featuring the more dry, herbal, green and claylike scents found in some green masalas as well as the black, oily notes you tend to find in the oils. As with all the oils used in this subline, there’s a clarity and intensity that’s quite impressive and overall I came out of this thinking that it was just different enough to sit alongside the varying patchouli styles so common in the incense world.

Vetivert/Lavancha costs approximately twice as much as the preceding three incenses, and we’ll assume that the cost increase is due to the expense of vetivert oil. After all, this is a fabulously earthy, green and pungent vetivert scent, mixed in with a fresh-cut sawdust base wood, a combination that seems to combine for a very fresh and invigorating scent. Like with the patchouli the oil seems natural and true to form rather than a stylized perfume so the more intense and pleasing elements of the herb come to the fore. In fact I’ve always felt both vetivert and patchouli have some crossover similarities with the patchouli being a bit darker and more overtly oily and the vetivert more grassy and herbal, so certainly one should be confident in buying both if you’re only familiar with one. Only in resin and herbal blends have I experienced a vetivert scent with this sort of definition and I love the balance of it being seated in a woodbase, especially as I would have never expected it.

So overall 3 for 4 in this group, with a style that seems to be somewhat different than I’ve seen in Indian incense, wood-based in a closer sense to charcoal-based than the mix usually found as a base in Indian masalas. Up tomorrow (most likely) will be the two new wet masalas in the Shroff line up.

Coming in early 2010…

Got a lot of notetaking done while I was gone, so finally have a backlog of reviews to throw down over the next few weeks or so. This week, I hope to finish up a couple more batches of the new Shroffs, including the rest of the Natural line (the woody ones) and the two Wet Masalas. I’ll also be finishing up the five Dry Masalas from the last batch before tackling the 14 Base Masalas in two parts.

Also up soon are the rest of the Primos in two groups. I’ll also be covering a few of the Shoyeido Genji scents we’ve missed so far, including one I think is very special the Yamazoto, a really unique and exotic floral (also Hanachiro-sato, Kikoushi and Ukifune). Group 3 of the Fred Solls, mostly the patchouli blends. Three miscellaneous Indian charcoals. Sampler Notes on the Tun Bo series. And I’m almost ready with the next group of Pure Incenses including the Champas and Vrindavan incenses in the Absolute line, as well as the Magnolia, a really great group of accessible floral scents.

After these, likely up is the Stupa Buddha collection of five Tibetan incenses. A series of Flora and Fluxo incenses from various companies. The 4th in the Fred Soll series including Fresh Peach, Happy Hemp, Joyous Rose, Lovely Lavender, Moonlight Jasmine and Taos Pine. New installments in the never ending Mystic Temple and Incense from India series. And then more from Triloka (cones and ropes), 4 from Shechen, the four aloeswoods from Baieido; three more granulated blends, two In-Koh pressed scents, and three kneaded incenses from Shoyeido, the beginning of a long series of Nitiraj and Atmosphere incenses (something like a billion champas in these), a few parts of the Krishna line and more from Pure Incense and Fred Soll.

And in the midst of all this, hopefully we’ll get up one or two new basic introductory documents up.

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