September Top 10

September is here, bringing with it both the Fall Equinox (Sept. 23) and the Funk Equinox (Do you remember…the 21st night of September ?)

Ahem…without further ado, here’s the September Top 10:

Superior Hougary/Hojary Frankincense resin – slightly astringent and citrusy, these frank resins have been merrily melting on my electric burner for weeks (I start at 20 on my Supreme Incense burner).  This ebay merchant was mentioned to me by Ross, and the transaction was super smooth.  Make sure you look for “superior grade”.  Consider buying a couple of pounds or more if you need to justify the shipping cost from Oman.  The DHL shipping envelope they arrived in smelled so good I nearly wore it as a hat.

Baieido’s Kaden Kobunboku – the entire Kobunboku lineup is superb and affordable making it tough (and probably unnecessary) to single any one out.  But this spicy entry has been grabbing my attention lately.  Kaden doesn’t retain the plum tones of the regular Kobunboku and could be described as a thin-stick version of Baieido’s also excellent Kai Un Koh.  (Kaden presents just a bit darker and richer than Byakudan Kobunboku, which was almost tied for the Top 10 this month.)

 Shoyeido’s Enmei (aka Circle) is a sandalwood, clove & cinnamon blend from their “Selects” line.  It’s also considered one of Shoyeido’s two (with Seifu – Fresh Breeze) premium daily incenses.  And like it’s sibling, Enmei manages to evoke hints of more deluxe aloeswoods despite a lack of them in the mix.  A big leap aromatically from Shoyeido’s regular Daily line and worth the upgrade.

 Muro-machi (aka City of Culture) is another offering from Shoyeido, part of its Horin line.  Rich caramel laced with wafts of aloeswood, this is an indulgent aroma.  The short (about 3″) stick burns for 20 minutes or so and is perfect to drift off to sleep by.  I hear the coil version of this (and any of the Horin line) is even more deluxe, though I haven’t tried it yet myself.

Ikaruga, from Kyukyodo, is a sharp and sweet blend of sandalwood, frankincense and oils.  The frank component is quite like Tennendo’s frankincense – bright and fruity.  The remaining ingredients add a strong ‘green’ note that makes for a rich and satisfying whole.  A Hall-of-Famer that takes a bit of effort to lay your hands on these days, but well worth the difficulty.

Holy Land – this Tibetan offering from Tibetan Medical College is finally back in stock at Essence of the Ages.  It is the finest Tibetan incense I’ve encountered, with a rich, musky hit that is beyond intoxicating.  It never fails to send electrifying waves of deja vu through me.

Guiding Light – speaking of deja vu (deja vu about deja vu?), this incense from Les Encens du Monde also triggers all sorts of time travel and nostalgic ripples for me.  It makes one of those rare first impressions that surpasses “very nice” and immediately has you thinking about buying a larger supply.  There are numerous oils, woods and spices at work here and somewhere within this rich, dense floral/wood/perfumed collage I have commented on a distinct musk note that absolutely evokes TMC’s Holy Land (does anyone else notice this?)

Jungle Prince – It’s hard to go wrong with anything from Shroff.  I’ve burned this one a few times lately – with the shadows getting longer and a coolness returning to the evening breeze, it’s only natural to reach for incense with a bit more weight and punch.  A nag champa wearing cologne…

Heian Koh – is one of a couple of green aloeswood offerings from Kunmeido.   It was one of my earliest purchases and has remained stocked ever since.  A Hall-Of-Famer and a must-have for green fanatics.  (BTW – Asuka, Kunmeido’s other green stick, is oh-so similar but packaged in larger lots so its entry fee is considerably more.  If you break them down to $/inch, Heian Koh and Asuka are actually both around $.20).

After a 2006 trip to Peru, I was briefly interested in all-things-Peruvian and discovered Palo Santo Wood Chips (see bottom of page).  These homogeneous, rice-sized chips may be burned on a makko trail or charcoal, but the electric burner is the tool of choice for eliminating smoke, eliminating any harshness from burning, and fully releasing their bouquet (I start at about 30 on my Supreme Incense burner).  Palo Santo is a truly unique scent that is both warm and energizing.  It has a wonderful and pervasive sweetness with the slightest hint of cedar in the top and an effervescent spearmint-like middle.  If you are looking for something new and different to try on your burner, Palo Santo is a refreshing change of pace.  It’s very inexpensive and a perfect companion for the arrival of autumn!

Shroff Channabasappa / Jaji, Kasturi, Kewada, Lilac, Lily 1938, Monica, Night Rose

This batch of Shroff Channabasappa‘s Masala Base incenses, which happens to be in a completely different style to the others in the same grouping, is particularly problematic from a review standpoint. All are different florals in a style that isn’t quite pure charcoal given they all have various flecks of other materials in them, but are definitely pretty close given the scents seem to be almost entirely oil based. Second, a couple of these florals are given in their regional name which makes them particularly difficult to research, so I have to admit crossing my fingers a little and hoping I got the general aromas correct.

This type of incense is among the most intense out there and despite that many of these are gentle florals, they all burn pretty loud like most charcoals, although the slightly hybrid like nature means they’re a little more restrained than most. They’re very difficult to discuss because the name is pretty indicative of the scent you’re going to get, it’s almost as if you could just indicate the original flower and say this is a charcoal and perfume based version of that scent. But with that said there really is some nice definition on these and while there are definitely times I have trouble with charcoals (sometimes even with the company’s high enders), I’ve found these to be quite good when the mood hits.

Jaji is an incense of a specific class of jasmine flowers, in this case possibly Jasminium Grandiflorium, and while this is sometimes called Jaji, the scent will still be familiar to most as a jasmine incense. Like all jasmine incenses, they’re often overkill in a charcoal format, so one should probably use this stick in larger rooms where the scent can dissipate to the sweltery, exotic floral aroma one may be familiar with. When the scent is light, the scent is lilting and very pretty. It’s difficult with my nose to say if this departs radically from any other general jasmine incenses, as it’s always been my experience that jasmine incenses can be wildly different (even check out the other jasmine incenses in the Shroff line for an example of this), but it’s quite possible this will still end up being new enough for those who love this type of scent.

Kasturi is a word used in some area of India to refer to musk and in particular it tends to be part of the species names of several aromatic plants in the turmeric family, often used in incense as an herbal musk. Certainly this is the sort of aroma you get with Shroff’s Kasturi stick, a sweet and dry musk scent that seems to capture the scent quite nicely. In fact I’d suggest this wouldn’t be a bad incense to consider an almost ground zero herbal musk oil scent. As a musk this is basically the least floral incense of these seven, but don’t take that to mean there aren’t floral-like elements in the bouquet as this actually fits quite nicely with the others.

Kewada is yet another English transliteration of a name for screwpine which you’ll see as Kewda, Kewra and Pandanus elsewhere. This is a scent widely used in Indian incenses, such as in many of the Mother’s Nagchampas I recently reviewed. The reason why is it has an unusual rose-like scent to it, along with its foresty lower notes, so I can imagine it’s an effective and relatively inexpensive way to create rose-like subscents in incense. Here I would suspect you’re mostly getting the real deal, so there’s also notes of mint, fruitiness (like raisins perhaps), and molasses in the mix. The results sort of put this on the fence in terms of its floral nature, and given the girth of the entire bouquet it’s quite loud on the charcoal stick.

Kewada is quite difficult to describe in a way, but when you get to an incense like Lilac it’s very hard to do anything but call the Lilac a Lilac as that’s what you’re getting on this stick. I’d put the scent among the softest and most feminine of floral aromas, a gentle and distinct perfume that evokes pink and white for me, very pretty and not terribly intricate, but on the other hand it’s not a floral one will mistake for a rose or jasmine incense. I’ve found that this incense has matured quite a bit since I first bought it and I’m surprised that the charcoal hasn’t quite overwhelmed the oils here, but make no mistake the base plays a part here.

The Lily 1938 scent is also quite distinctive from other florals and it comes off as a wilder, more fecund sort of perfume. Perhaps due to the order in which I sampled these, I saw some similarities to both the Kewada and the Lilac as well it having a musky middle. Perhaps its almost sickly-sweet characteristics make it a bit tough to bear in a charcoal format, or at least I don’t always find a stick to my taste, but at the same time I’m still fairly convinced they’re getting the scent close to correct. But this is another I’d probably suggest applying to a larger room as there’s no doubt the scent here is very perfumey.

I couldn’t find a lot on Monica as the commonality of the name and place (Santa Monica) make searching a bit problematic for any sort of taxonomic connection. Incense-wise it’s a very fruity floral, although the fruitiness comes out more in the way it would in an alcohol drink or wine. And it’s an incredibly sweet scent which manages to actually make the overall scent a bit less floral than you might imagine, in fact I’d say this might fall just ahead of Kasturi on that scale. It’s perhaps closest to the Lilac in its beauty and it might even be just a bit more accessible.

Night Rose is the last of this group and obviously not your common rose scent, even if they share some characteristics. For one thing the oils here are very intense, even cloying. I’ve personally got to have a rose pretty close to the real thing to enjoy it and having not personally experienced the true night blooming rose this appears to be portraying, my only comparison is the usual and it’s just not a very gentle scent due to the combination of loud perfume and charcoal base.

The next group, which also falls under this Masala Base category, seem to be completely different incenses that remind me far more of the original and larger dry masala group. For the seven in this review, you’ll want to be sure you’re at least tolerant of charcoal incenses before sampling as these can be very loud and overwhelming at times. However, to my surprise I’ve also come to appreciate them more, if not for helping to vary up the usual floral scents.

Holy Land & Nectar back in stock

Essence of the Ages has the classic Tibetan Medical College scents back in stock (I think this is at least the second restock since they started selling these scents – they go fast), as well as the new range of Mother’s champas and a whole new range of Direct Help Foundation scents with new boxes.

Tengboche / Ceremony, Offering

Nepalese monastery Tengboche creates three incenses that come in the customary small and long sticks forms. Based on samples of two of them, the incense seems to be safely ensconced in the upper quality level of Nepalese incenses with aromas that are robust and not scuppered by the use of too many generic woods. That is, both of these have assertive personalities.

I’m particularly fond of the Ceremony incense, which takes the usual berry wood combination found in many Nepalese lines, lowers the smoke quantity to gentle while still retaining a very pleasant scent full of evergreen woods, a general berry scent and hints of tobacco-like herbs. The key here is the balance, none of these elements get in the way of the others, which helps to keep the incense interesting along the burn. In fact when thinking of a berry Nepali incense this one’s now actually pretty close to the top of the list, although it’s probably entirely because of the herbal notes.

Offering is completely different and a bit less accessible with a tangy, herbal blend with some strong coffee notes in the mix. While the specific scent is perhaps not quite to my taste as I’m not unusually fond of coffee incenses, it’s no less undiluted than the Ceremony and thus certainly worthy of attention if you feel differently. This also has one specific ingredient mentioned (other than the generic woods and flowers description), saffron water, although the incense didn’t strike me as having any particular saffron like subscent. And I should say for as much as I notice the coffee scent, there’s also something of a Lipton-ish iced tea one in the mix as well.

In the end it all depends on just how high your Nepalese stick count might be as the Ceremony covers a solid version of a familiar scent and the Offering an unusual blend that may or not appeal, but if you’re new to the style of incense this appears to be a solid brand.