February Top Ten (or so) (Mike)

[For previous Top 10 lists, please click on the Incense Review Index tab above or the Top Ten Lists category on the left down the page a bit. Please also check the Reviews Index for longer reviews of all these]

I can’t really order my top ten nor necessarily even contain this list to a top ten this month, I think categorically I’m thinking of things in groups and such, making this sort of a top 8 to 12 kind of thing. There were too many strong contenders this month so this will be formatted a bit differently…

I know when I’m using a lot of daily incense that when I pop in even one stick of something premium that one usually goes right to the top. Indeed I’ve had my Kyukyodo Sho-Ran-Koh box out again now that Japan Incense seems to have some in stock, but it made me realize that comparatively I still have more left with a half box of this incense than most full boxes. Seriously is there any better deal in incense? It’s almost the equivalent of paying up front for four $40 boxes except that you’re also getting one of the best incenses in the market. This is seriously one of the most elegant, mysterious and mercuric concoctions ever to hit a censer, better than many kyara scents twice its price. It’s just a must in every way.

Similarly favorites Tennendo Enkuu and Shoyeido Ga-Ho and Shoyeido Nan-Kun all made runs in the last month and they’re always my favorites while burning. Enkuu’s another one of those aloeswood incenses that’ll make you forget about kyara, it’s just the go-to for those of us who like our woods dry, lacquer-like and changeable. You think of Nan-Kun as an aloeswood, but more and more I think of it as a spikenard incense because for that scent I think it’s the most elegant incense you can by, it’s almost like a spray of humid, musky, sweet air with a rich aloeswood burn lifting it all up into the stratosphere. Ga-Ho’s still one of my personal favorites as it’s like some bizarre green and black exotic flower, again with an aloeswood charriness that etches the surroundings. Both of these are so powerful and glorious that I literally can’t get enough.

The two newest Gyokushodo imports Samei-Koh and Umeshoin are also in heavy rotation although I find it hard to suggest one needs both as they’re so close in many ways. Like the high end Kunmeido incenses everything from Jinko Yomei on up seem to be variations on a theme, with a definitely spice and wood oil mixture that tends to refine itself as the scale and expense increases. Yomei is almost the basic level, somewhat floral, while Samei-Koh seems hotter and spicier and Umeshoin halves the oil content to share with a mellower wood and a cooler greenness. Needless to say my only issue with these is they’re so mellow, I’m often tempted to burn two sticks at once.

I’m still totally bowled over by how great the two Shroff mixes Amir and Shamama Gold are. When I first bought these I went for the 100g batches and all four are subdivided into quarters and I’m through or almost through the first quarter on both batches. The essential oil mixes here are the product of a very clever alchemist, one who has combined a number of very different perfumes to create a scent with different faces. I’m reminded of a pliable surface that surrounds shapes that push outward in variation in constant movement, from a glimpse it all seems to be one object but it’s impossible to capture the whole of it in one description. Often with both of these incenses I’m just amazed all over again as some new facet comes billowing out. There are really no other scents like these and you honestly wish Shroff had a full catalog of charcoals like this as they’re so very good.

Continuing the theme of dry and less accessible woods, I’ve not mentioned it often but I get a lot of mileage out of Minorien Aloeswood, Minorien Kyara, and Minorien Kyara Ryugen. Despite their very natural like scents I think there’s a density here that implies wood oils are part of the formula, but all of these never get too sweet and indeed the straight Aloeswood just has a rough, hoary sort of scent that always stands out of any pack with the Ryugen the most elegant of the three and the regular Kyara having characteristics of both.

I still can’t get enough of the Kunmeido Kyara Ten-Pyo, which overlays confectionary like chocolate and a heavier wood content over the signature Kunmeido green oil, it’s like the best of a bunch of worlds. It occured to me that it has completely supplanted both Asuka and Heian Koh for the month (which probably helped to slow down dwindling stock). Tenpyo is one I put away and then bring out and put away and bring out again, which I haven’t stopped doing since my roll arrived.

I also wanted to fit in here the two Shoyeido Premium Dailies, En Mei and Sei Fu, both of which I burn very frequently, enough that they should be on this list even though I look up and see we’re already talking 13-14. And also in the distinguished runner up category, any of the Mothers Nag Champas all of which give me that piney mattipal dose that I can’t get enough of. And so I better stop while I’m ahead.

What’s you top 10 or 5 or 2 or 1 this month?



  1. Maharani said,

    February 28, 2010 at 10:11 am

    Duggat al oudh ma wardh Taifi
    Shroff: Shamama Gold, Mogra, French Musk

    I have been a bit quiet the last few weeks as my house was burgled on January 13….I am only just coming out of it and starting to resume my usual interests. I feel as if I have been “somewhere else” the last month or so. I lost a LOT of stuff but the burglars left my incense collection alone, which is something I suppose. Needless to say, I burned a LOT of it in the days immediately afterwards in order to get the psychic residue of those creeps out of my place…..

    • janet said,

      February 28, 2010 at 10:26 am

      I’m so very sorry, Maharani!
      Yes, I had wondered where you had gone to….
      That must feel so horrible!
      I don’t have any Mogra, but I will burn some Shamama and some French Musk on your behalf, I don’t know if you can send “incense vibes”, but I will try!

      • Maharani said,

        February 28, 2010 at 4:09 pm

        Thank you so much! A Circle of Hell is reserved for those people, I hope. It was devastating: I have replaced all my electronics, but they took a great deal of stuff that is irreplaceable. Still-lets get some perspective here…my incense is still OK-and one has to laugh at the sort of fools who would make off with a completely nonfunctional digital camera worth a good deal less than the incense ……. The predictability and banality of such things is quite striking, and I find it rather pathetic that rapidly obsolescing junk technology such as flatscreen tvs and iPods is in such demand…Easy to replace and of no great account.

        • janet said,

          February 28, 2010 at 4:23 pm

          I guess I was thinking more of the violation than the stuff….although some stuff is more important than others, and maybe it’s just as well they valued things that can be easily replaced.
          True to my word, I finished the French Musk an hour or so ago, and am currently burning the Shamama Gold! Not that it does any good, but – why not?
          This is good stuff, right here….I’m glad you had your incense left to burn for comfort.

          • Maharani said,

            February 28, 2010 at 4:40 pm

            Oh, I feel violated, for sure, and it will take me a very long time to get over it. I have done my due diligence, however, and am now starting to pick up the threads of my life again. I think the incense does do good-it helps me relax, and I need to do that and recover the sense of my place being “home”. I had my housekeeper do a super thorough clean afterwards as I did not feel good about having had a team of burglars in here. Ugh. On the plus side it was a pro job-nothing was damaged.

            • Steve said,

              February 28, 2010 at 5:37 pm

              Sorry to hear about the robbery, Maharani. I had a robbery last summer, so I empathize. Sounds like you are handling it well and have a good perspective on it. Glad you’re finding respite with incense – it is remarkably therapeutic!

              • janet said,

                February 28, 2010 at 6:00 pm

                Esteban! Long time no….whatever!

                • Steve said,

                  February 28, 2010 at 7:39 pm

                  Still here! Just a busy few weeks 😀

              • Maharani said,

                February 28, 2010 at 11:48 pm

                It is indeed! Enjoying Shroff Paneer as I write.

                • Hamid said,

                  March 1, 2010 at 1:36 am

                  Good thoughts to you Maharani.

                  • Maharani said,

                    March 1, 2010 at 8:26 am

                    Thanks, Hamid. Your good wishes are very welcome and appreciated!

    • Mike said,

      March 1, 2010 at 8:50 am

      Speedy recoveries Maharani, very sorry to hear of your loss.

      • Maharani said,

        March 1, 2010 at 8:14 pm

        THanks so much for all your good wishes!

    • Terry M said,

      March 3, 2010 at 9:12 pm

      Maharani, I can relate to your feelings as I too was “violated” a few years back. Like you, the thieves left my plentiful incense collection untouched. They just didn’t know where to look (thanking my lucky stars) but they did relieve me of most of my more expensive personal belongings. I now have a security system, for what it’s worth and a “big” cat. Sorry to hear you experienced such a terrible ordeal. It took me many months (and rolls of incense) to get over the trauma. Wishing you the best. TM

      • Maharani said,

        March 3, 2010 at 9:19 pm

        Yes, I can relate-I lost every movable possession that could be quickly sold….. The list goes on and on and is very painful to review. I wonder why they didnt just bring a moving van. I like you have done my due diligence and am looking forward to getting back to normal. Indeed, checking this page was a significant step in that direction. Thank Heaven for fine incense!

  2. Terry M said,

    February 26, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    Mike, Good list but am puzzled by the comment on Japan Incense having Sho Ran Ko in stock. They haven’t shown it for awhile now. I understand that Kyokyodo will not ship unil mid year or later. Any truth to this? Thanks. TM

    • Mike said,

      February 26, 2010 at 4:59 pm

      Hey Terry. Well I’d heard they got stock in quite recently but you’re right, it looks like it’s all gone again. Have no idea about when they’ll get it in again. The Kyukyodo situation, to say the least, is complicated…. not to mention my ability to know what’s in stock this week anywhere seems to be quite impaired :lol

      • Terry M said,

        February 26, 2010 at 5:51 pm

        Mike, Thanks for the info. Sorry about my spelling of Kyukyodo, I was startled to see I missed out. Oh well, better luck next time. Luckily I have two full rolls left, from the days when I had some money… I can understand the stock situation and really It’s not your job, so to speak, to know who has what. It’s really a hit and miss situation for us all. I do wish that Kyukyodo would stock the US market again like days past. Thanks again. TM

        • Mike said,

          March 1, 2010 at 8:52 am

          Me too Terry, it’s one of those complicated contractual situations almost too sensitive to discuss. Kyukyodo have a huge catalog too and we’ve only seen a fraction of it, so I hope it’s sorted out at some point…

  3. Hamid said,

    February 26, 2010 at 8:25 am

    My top two this month are;
    Vaisnavi Flora Natural incense by Sree Gajanana Perfumery Works.
    For lovers of the Pure Incense style, although this is definately a different maker.
    A big wallop of Halmaddi and other good quality oils. With an almost chocolatey creaminess.
    Sughanda Swarna from Aparanji.
    A HUGE incense. If it were a wine it would be a Barolo. If it were a curry it would be a Madras. It is similar to the excellent Sughandalaya by Shroff, but to my nose richer and more complex, and with a long long finish. ( sorry Ross this will stay in the sofa for weeks after one burning ). Its archetypically Indian.

    Both are from http://www.Matchless-Gifts.com

    and have offset my disappointment in receiving a new batch of Cintamani incense which has been a great favourite of mine, and finding that it has undergone a similar diminuation to the original Sai Baba Nag Champa. See more in my ” Your Incenses” review.

    • Mike said,

      February 26, 2010 at 5:02 pm

      Thanks for the heads up on the new finds, Hamid! Sorry to hear the Cintamanis went south as well, a situation all to common these days…

  4. Alex said,

    February 25, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    My current favorites would probably be Syukohkoku, Kai un Koh, Johin Bronze and Heian Koh. Despite not being on the hall of fame here, I find Syukohkoku to be a really interesting incense!

    • Mike said,

      February 26, 2010 at 8:31 am

      I’m gonna have to reevaluate Syukohkoku being on that list, it probably does indeed belong there. Kind of have the thing for Ogurayama aloeswood of late…

    • Janet said,

      February 26, 2010 at 12:24 pm

      Yep, give it a week or two, and the list will almost certainly have Syukohkoku and Kai un Koh on it….those are ones i burn a lot, too, I just kind of go in cycles!

      • Alex said,

        February 26, 2010 at 6:27 pm

        I find myself liking to burn the two of them in succession too… For some reason they really appeal to me as sort of paralleled opposites. Or, similarly structured on opposite ends of the spectrum.
        On second thought, what is making great sense inside my head is not translating too well into text, so I think I’ll just quit there!

        • janet said,

          February 26, 2010 at 7:07 pm

          No, actually, I completely understand what you mean!

  5. BenA said,

    February 25, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    I’ve been burning lots of Bayeido incenses (Kobunboku, Tokusen K., Kaden K., Byakuden K., and Kai un Koh) as well as some Tibetans (Lotus Ground, Mandala Trading Tibetan Monastery, Nado Poizokhang Grade A and Nado Poizokhang Ribo Sangchoe Red Box).

  6. Masha said,

    February 25, 2010 at 6:20 am

    I second Sho-Ran-Koh, and the Minoriens. They are amazing!

    • janet said,

      March 4, 2010 at 8:46 pm

      I’ve been burning a *ton* of the Minoriens the last couple of days, for whatever reason, their damp, woody intensity has really been hitting the spot – and the Minorien Frankincense is my favorite frank stick – I really appreciate the resinousness of the Tennendo, but because of the fruity top note, it isn’t as “all-purpose” as the Minorien is for me.

  7. Ross Urrere said,

    February 24, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    Nice listing Mike. The Gyokushodo have become one of my favs, and yes i too also tend to burn two at once. The scent from either one is so classic and, well..glorious 🙂
    I notice that there is a sort of similarity between the Tennendo Enkuu and some of the high end Yamada Matsu’s, which seem much stronger, but at the same time the Enkuu might be a bit more “approachable” . The Kunmeido Kyara Ten-Pyo is sublime, the only thing that might be along those lines of refinement, in this style, is Aioi no Matsu from Shunkodoh. It probably comes down to which box one has at the moment. although it would be nice to have both.
    Will be test driving the Shroff later tonight, thanks!

  8. janet said,

    February 24, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    For me, at least the last couple of weeks:
    Renzan, Tokusen Kobunboku, Kokonoe Koh, Chabana Aloeswood, Heian Koh, Go-Zan, Ranjatai, En-mei & Sei-fu, Honey Amber, Ganesh.
    The incenses I currently most wish I could have on this list, because I love them but can’t afford them!
    Umeshoin, anything Seijudo.

    Great list, Mike! Every one is an “I love” or “I could fall hard for if only…”

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