Great article on agarwoods by geographic region

Owner of Agar Aura, Taha Syed, just posted a very informative article on the unique scents and burning characteristics of agarwood as they relate to the locality from which the wood was harvested. The article can be found here:

http://www.agaraura.com/wood.html

June 2011 Top Ten Indian Ouds

When I first started smelling oud I didn’t understand how anyone could enjoy Indian oils. I don’t mind the smell of barnyards, but it certainly wasn’t something I wanted to put on my skin.

Over the last few years my taste has expanded and become more eclectic. The strong scents of leather and clean hay, even fecal smells that I first found offensive, now engage me. Their unabashedly primal fortitude speaks to an urge deep inside me- a part of me that is more lusty, uninhibited and free. There’s no way I’d wear these more animalic Indian ouds in public, but when I’m alone they stimulate and excite me and make me feel strong and secure.

My favorite Indian Ouds that fall under the “barnyard” category are:

Oriscent’s Oud Mostafa

*Uns Fine Crafts Assam Ultimate

*Oriscent’s Oud Sulaiman

One day I came across an Indian oud that I really liked, precisely because it did NOT have that barnyard element.  It was much more dignified and composed than the powerful ouds above. Since then I’ve acquired other Hindi oils that can be easily worn in public without fear of embarrassment. My favorite ouds in the “statesman” category are:

Al Qurashi’s Kalakassi

Oriscent’s Oud Nuh

Agar Aura’s Purana

*Tajal Bakshi’s 32 years old Hindi

Then there are some ouds that fall in between these 2 categories.  They are distinctly Indian but their animalic side is balanced by other notes  that either modify or overshadow the “barnyard” aspects.  In this category are:

Oudhasi’s Assam Flora (aptly named, although it’s not “floral” in the traditional sense)

Oudhasi’s Assam 15 (a sweet ethereal vapor tames the leather)

Areej Al Ammerat’s Hindi Manipouri (lots of thick,  juicy plums in this one)

I don’t think my collection would be complete without having at least one oil from each category. But if I could leave you with one thought, it is to please give “Hindi” ouds a chance. It may take time, but I’d be very surprised if there isn’t at least one Indian oil for every oud lover out there.

Please note: The oils with the * are no longer available. My next top 10 will only include oils that are currently for sale.

May 2011 Top Ten

This month has been an interesting olfactory adventure (of a sort) as I have had a head cold, sinus something, etc for the last three weeks. So smoke did not work all that well for much of the month. So I pulled out my assortment of trusty incense heaters, resins, wood chips, essential oils and absolutes plus assorted loose incense mixtures and cut loose. The sticks that are listed were towards the start of the month.

Kyukyodo Sho ran Koh: One of the great deals in incense, not inexpensive, but worth the cost. It’s a huge bundle and the scent is wonderful. It’s made many a Top Ten with good reason. To a degree it reminds me of some of the really good Indian incense where the floral notes, resins and perfume all combine and compliment the (in this case) aloeswood.  Kyukyodo are tough to get now days, check with Japan Incense/Kohshi for whats in stock. There might be a new shipment coming in soon, with…new stuff!…quick, prepare the credit card for damage control 🙂

Baieido Koh Shi Boku: I am almost out of my bundle of this and I just noticed that the price has gone up, reflecting the major price increases that the incense makers are having to pay to get the raw materials, plus the yen to dollar ratio. Regardless of all that I really love this, it has loads of subtle nuances of scent going on, all aimed at highlighting the shear beauty of the wood.

Daihatsu Sandalwood Chip: Probably the best sandalwood you can get in the US. Sometimes you can also find it in what is called “leaf cut” or very thing slabs. On the heater the scent is a that wonderful creamy sandalwood with an almost cinnamon top note. Not to be missed, but you will get spoiled.

Shunkohdo Houshou: This aloeswood blend has a great, light chocolate top note to it, which, in combination with the woods is a wonderful and very elegant mix, not to mention, olfactory treat. It’s also at a pretty good price, at around $20 for a roll.

Yamada Matsu Sandalwood: Kohshi has these (unless I wiped them out). They are essentially pure or almost pure, sandalwood in short, thick, sticks. They are amazing! They come in a small wood box and would make a very nice present. If you crave sandalwood, without all the extras, check these out.

Minorien Sandalwood Loose Blend: A very nice loose blend, good for the heater or straight onto a coal. The sandalwood stands out and the spice mix that rounds out the blend has some great notes to add.

Mermade Magickal Incense Amulets: These are small cake like disks, with a design pressed into them. They are woody with a very “Eastern/Oriental” somewhat sweet note that rides across the top. There is a very comfortable feel to these, just the thing for late nights. They are made with very high quality ingredients, as is the case with all of Mermades offering.

Mermade Magickal Hougary Superior Frankincense: Frankincense is one of those scents that work for me almost always. These are a very good grade with that subtle citrus scent that only shows up in the best Frankincense. Unless you need to buy kilos this is a great way to go.

Sensory Essence ROSE DAMASCENA – Organic: I used a lot of this during the last few weeks. I would gently heat it on my Aroma Stone heater, put a drop or two onto some sandalwood chips on the incense heater (instant Attar !) or go whole hog and dab a drop on my nose, because I am a card carrying member of  The Excessive Aromatic Users! This is the best Rose Otto I have found so far (Thanks Marian). Rose Otto is pricy but it packs a punch and this one is beyond beautiful. She also carries a White Rose that is also glorious.

Shroff Channabasappa Little Woods: I ended up putting this one on the heater as the smoke was a bit much. It is different but then again it’s like getting two incenses in the same stick. I plane on trying this with many of the Indian incenses I have. I think the floral’s maybe a bit restrained on the heater, which for me is OK as the resins/wood come out more.

Fifth Anniversary of the Natural Perfumers Guild

So today marks the fifth anniversary of the Natural Perfumers Guild, which is a good start. It has come a ways, gone through changes and looks to be in it for the long haul. You can find a list of the different blogs and bloggers at the bottom of this post that are writing something for this event (plus, I think, there are a few other places that will mention something about it).

I have always been attracted to the scented side of things. Making things out of different woods in my Dads shop at home was great because of the smells of the different woods.  The subtle difference in scents between different raw clays and glazes when making pottery added a whole other dimension to ceramics. Hiking, camping, waking up in the mornings in the mountains and taking that first deep breath in at first light were very special moments. The sense of smell adds a huge, but at the same time, very subtle boost to ones sense of the world around them. It’s also so often overlooked.

When using incense it took me awhile to understand that the ones I gravitated to were generally those which used natural ingredients. There is just something that “smells” different to me between those built with woods, resins, herbs, spices and real oils and those that are not. Not that it’s not possible to make odd/bad smelling incenses or perfumes with naturals (as some of my own experiments are examples of 🙂   But for my nose, generally, the naturals just work better.  The incense has lead to perfumes and classes with Mandy Aftel, who has been a great source of inspiration and knowledge and an appreciation of the real Art of Perfumery.

I love to source out new scents and spend hours on the net looking into obscure leads on new places. I am always fascinated at how different the same plant can smell from each place. As I write I can see a box with at least ten different bottles of Rose in it. Each is different and special in its own way. So I find it funny to hear, “It has Rose in it”. Really?, from where? What year? How it distilled and what was the weather/soil/water like in the area where it was grown? Using natural materials can be very tricky, very demanding and an takes an overwhelming passion.

It isalso getting much more expensive  and difficult to obtain many of the key ingredients. The prices for ALoeswood and Sandalwoods have recently gone up around 20% to 30%, that assuming you can find them. The same holds true for most of the oils used in perfumery. Not to mention the many governmental restrictions being imposed or thought up. Its a great time to be into he naturals and at the same time it is a bit scary.

So, when you find them…enjoy!  -Ross

Ca Fleure Bon:   anya’s garden;   Blossoming Tree Bodycare:                             Being Led by the Nose:  Anu Essentials Blog:   Olfactory Rescue Service:               I’m Just Saying:   Providence Perfume :
Bellyflowers:   Ellenoire:    Aromatics International:   Olive and Oud:   Lord’s Jester Inc:   A Little Ol’Factory:     Perfume Journal:
Natural Perfumes:    The Western Cape Perfumery:
Aromatherapy Contessa:    Absolute Trygve:

Huitong / Cure Disease, Taizhen, Solemn, Golden Light, Plum Blossom, Sky Dragon, Yun Hui Incense Powder

While we do see a lot of incenses coming in from the Tibetan region within the political boundaries of China, Huitong is the first Chinese incense company we’ve been in contact with. In many ways Huitong might be considered the Chinese analog of Baieido in that all of their incenses seem to be made without the use of perfumes and oils, using only ecologically sound ingredients. What this means is that it’s been very difficult to do their incenses justice as to even pick up on their subtleties means you have to approach them like you do with Baieidos and “listen” to them.

This is essentially sort of a hybrid style, using extruded Japanese-like sticks to format what are essentially very Tibetan-like scents. So the most obvious comparison would be to Bosen’s Tibetan traditionals or even some of the Korean incenses, except as already mentioned that Huitong doesn’t use oils as Bosen does and the scents will be friendlier to Western noses than many of the Korean incenses. But one thing most of the scents have in common is they all have multiple ingredients and thus often don’t have the dominant sandalwood or aloeswood notes that tend to make categorizing Japanese incenses a little easier.

Cure Disease is described as a “kind of historic incense, which is mainly used for cure disease and health preserving. It was originated from Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.) and recorded in ancient books that burning this incense regularly could help to strengthen us both emotionally and physically.” The ingredients are listen as figwort root, spikenard, cypress seed, rhubarb, aloeswood, storax and clove.  As such, this type of mix reminds me a lot of some of the sweeter TDHF Tibetan ropes with a bit of fruitiness  in a much more refined format. Like with most mainland incenses, the aloeswood is quiet and mixed in but it works quite well to give the incense some heft. The results are quite pleasant, especially as the scent builds, almost like a mix of woods and grape.

Taizhen incense is the second of three Huitong incenses packaged in beautiful cardboard rolls. The incense “originated from Imperial Consort Yang of Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) Consort Yang known briefly by the Taoist nun name Taizhen, was one of the four beauties of ancient China, she was the beloved consort of Emperor Xuanzong for many years. According to legend, Consort Yang treasured this incense very much and named it by her own Taoist nun name. Taizhen Incense is made from various famous and precious Chinese traditional materials according to the ancient spice formula.” The ingredients listed are sandalwood, Chinese eaglewood (aloeswood), saffron, cloves, jave amonum fruit, saussurea involucrata, rue, cogongrass etc. In this case the sandalwood is noticeably up front in a sort of freshly cut wood way. The other ingredients sweeten this base scent up in the same way they do in wood powder heavy Tibetan ropes. The Chinese Eaglewood gives the aroma a bit of roundedness and the front has a fruitiness not dissimilar to the Cure Disease, In some ways it’s like a nice, smooth low wned aloeswood crossed with Tibetan-style spices.

Solemn Incense is one of the previous Buddhist incense. It was originated from Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) when Buddhism was popular in the society. According to legend, when burning this incense, all the gods will pray to Buddha all together. It is usually used for practice Buddhism or reading at the home.” Like the previous two incenses, this is packaged in a cardboard roll. It contains sandalwood, aloeswood, mastiche, galbanum, and saruma henryi among other ingredients. It’s a very light sandalwood and aloeswood blend, with a slight fruitiness akin to the Taizhen (one wonder if this roll series might have some thematic similarities). It’s quite pleasant, again largely due to the fresh wood powder scent at the center. It seems like the galbanum might give the scent the fruity subnote. Like all good meditation incenses, it also has a slight ineffable quality about it. Solemn may not be as rich as the previous two incenses but in a way it’s the most successful.

Golden Light moves the packaging format to boxes and presents another tradional Buddhist formula from the Tang Dynasty, its name originating from the Golden Light Sutra. The ingredients are given as sandalwood, frankincense, basil and cypress seed and the incense definitely smells like a variation on a combination of those first two ingredients. As such it’s not terribly far from, say, a less refined Kyukyodo Yumemachi as if it was done as a Tibetan stick. This puts the incense in the general catgeory of the “daily incense” in that the ingredients here have less luster than in the other sticks. For the most part this is a woodshop sort of scent and as such it is also similar to the Incienso de Santa Fe bricks.

I’m about 95% sure the next incense I’m reviewing is Huitong’s Plum Blossom. Although the box wasn’t clearly labelled, the graphics seem to match the story which goes like this. “Plum Blossom Incense was created by Princess Shouyang, the daughter of Emperor Wu in the Nan Dynasty’s Song Era. Princess Shouyang was a plum blossom lover, according to the legend, one day when she slept beneath a tree, a plum blossom fell on her forehead, leaving a floral imprint. With the imprint, she looked much more beautiful. Soon, all the ladies followed her to paste plum blossom shaped ornaments on their foreheads. It was then called Plum Blossom Makeup. Hence, Princess Shouyang was crowned Goddess of Plum Blossom and this incense was also name Plum Blossom incense.” Plum Blossom is a coil incense (the coils are the same shape and size as many mainland aloeswood coils) and is made from spikenard, aloeswood, radix angelicae dahuricae, cortex moutan, clove bark and sandalwood. It’s interesting to see spikenard listed first as I didn’t sense it taking up a lot of the scent. Instead you seem to have the mainland take on something like Baieido Kobunboku done Tibetan style. That is the incense itself is centrally woody but it supports a sort of light floral mix that creates the plum blossom aroma and does so without the off scents one would expect with inexpensive perfume. It’s not spectacular so much as understated and like all the Huitongs, nicely done given the boundaries.

“Sky Dragon is a kind of precious Chinese traditional incense. It was originated from Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) when Buddhism was popular in the society. According to traditional recipes, the incense requires several days of cellaring during production process.” Sky Dragon has a huge list of ingredients: rosewood heartwood, cloves, sandalwood, valeriana jatamansi, cogongrass, rue, frankincense, benzoin, ageratum, galangal root and cypress powder. The rosewood appears to be the central ingredient and the mix gives this stick a very different bent from the previous incenses which all have a substantive sandalwood component. It makes for a nice change, slightly anyway, because the rosewood doesn’t have quite the depth to carry it completely. Even the spices mixed in the other scents are missing here, leaving this one with a sort of campfire scent.

I didn’t receive any information with the last incense here, Yun Hui incense powder. This seems to be the deluxe item in the batch, as the powder has an intense richness that none of the sticks quite approach. Even fresh out of the box the spicy, fruity blend pops out of its small ceramic interior container. And maybe it starts with that container but it makes the whole incense reminiscent of Japanese kneaded incenses mixed in with the woody and powdery elements of Tibetan powders and ropes. This scent seems highest in good aloeswood content with subnotes of tea, caramel and butter on the heater. In order to get this review up in even a remotely reasonable time, I had to forego a sample of it on a charcoal burner but I may come back and add that. Needless to say, this is very good powder, reminiscent to some of the better Tibetan powders and I’m hoping to be able to get to know it better.

We’ll have some more Huitong incenses up for review somewhere down the line. Overall what reviewing these did for me, is really question the idea of what effects perfumes and oils have on an incense’s immediacy, because without them one’s work is a lot more difficult in trying to describe a scent as all of these, with perhaps the exception of the powder, are very quiet and gentle scents which will make you stretch to understand. Which is not at all a bad thing in my book. I’m actually overall very impressed with the sheer class and visual impression of Huitong. However, there’s one disclaimer and that these incenses aren’t easy to get at the moment, at least in the US and as I finish this up I realize I don’t have a URL. So I’m going to first direct you to Frankie’s blog where I assume one can leave a comment if you’re interested in purchasing, and I should be back in a few days with something a bit more direct.