Shambala Incense

Not sure who dreamed Shambala Incense up, but this is a very vibrant Nepali-style Tibetan with a high ratio of good quality ingredients to base. There seems to be some juniper berry content as well as sandalwood, which puts this in very traditional red stick territory, however the good ingredients give this some interesting subnotes including one foresty and another slightly resinous. For this style, this isn’t a bad place to start at all, it’s very smooth and comes in two sizes.


Mystic Temple / Agarwood, Cedarwood, Chandan Champa, Frankincense, Patchouli Champa (Discontinued)

The first time I tried Mystic Temple Cedarwood was just after purchasing some at a store of Haight Ashbury in the 90s. At the time this line was by far the best incense I’d ever gotten to try and I spent months doing my best to stock up on all the great scents they had. But like all great incense companies, the change in ingredients meant that all the recipes slowly drifted and changed until a great deal of the Mystic Temple line is more on the same level as, say, the Nitiraj Aromatherapy incenses. Of course Mystic Temple’s line is much larger so there are still plenty of really great incenses to check out, but I’m always hesitant in reviewing them because I feel like the recipes could have changed since my batch. This sampling of five incenses really only relates to what I still have and haven’t reviewed yet.

Agarwood is a comparatively newer scent, and it’s so close in aroma to the Pure Incense Absolute Agarwood that one might assume the Mystic Temple is also Madhavadas family sourced. In fact it’s so exact, I’ll just refer you to that review. I’d only add the caveat that it might not be quite at the Absolute level (some of those faint and neat camphorish touches aren’t in this one), but it’s still quite close.

The Cedarwood of a decade or so ago was a green stick, the current version is brown. Where the old version had a bewitching, sweet and Himalayan cedarwood oil, much higher quality than any current cedarwood I could mention, this version is dull, more in the pencil wood direction, and rough, like it has a lot of cheap benzoin in it. In fact it’s almost more loban-like than cedar-like. It’s not unpleasant but if you want this style check out Pure-Incense in this case.

The Chandan Champa really surprised me upon revisiting it, my previous impression was that it was fairly generic. It has a superb sandalwood oil on top and it makes the incense. It had the crystally high end scent of old mountain wood on top of a basic champa aroma and it works nicely. Curious to see if this is the same as it has been a while since I bought this (and it’s aged really nicely, something I can say for several MT incenses). Anyway this is well worth investing in, in fact I can’t think of another sandalwood heavy champa with so true an oil. But beware, as times have changed.

Mystic Temple’s Frankincense is the standard Indian frankincense masala, also possibly Madhavadas sources. So this review is still close enough to be true. It has the usual cocoa/chocolate notes this type of masala usually exhibits and a frankincense that’s nice but not quite like the resin itself. Anyway this is virtually interchangeable with Triloka, the Pure Incense and others I’m not remembering at the moment.

The Patchouli Champa used to be a very distinctive champa but for some reason it also has been switched out with a lesser incense in the last decade or so. The scent used to have a really strong patchouli component with a slightly burned-like tinge to it. Here it seems missing or fading and it exhibits that almost crayon-like scent some synthetic champa incenses have. There even seems to be little in the way of patchouli in it at all, unless they were going for a lighter scent. Unfortunately there’s something off about this one now, the smoke seems astringent, as if synthetic elements are at work, and the aroma has little personality.

Nitiraj / Color Aromatherapy Nag Champas / Black, Blue, Green, Gold, Orange, Purple, Red

This line up of Nitirag nag champa incenses seems to be one of the few remaining sublines in their catalog. There are seven aromas, undoubtedly to match up with the chakras, and they’re all created to represent a color in scent (there are no artificial colors on the incenses themselves). The entire line is more or less saddled with a lack of distinction in the same way so much of the Shrinivas line is, lots of aromas that only change  things to slight degrees.

Nitiraj’s Black Nag Champa for meditation lists sandalwood, vanilla and floral oils, which unfortunately doesn’t tell you much. And why would it? Everything is slightly tweaked here from the generic Nag Champa scent, especially the spicy middle and floral top notes, all of which are just gently different. The variation is quite nice, not up to the Shroff and Dhuni quality you’re seeing these days, but not poor either. It actually reminds me a little of the base that is part of the Nikhil flavored champas.

The Blue Nag Champa is for relaxation and contains rose, jasmine and sandalwood, making this somewhat similar to the Shrinivas “Valley of the Roses” incense. Like that incense the floral oils have an almost chemical-like scent and there’s no hint of true rose and very little jasmine. Unfortunately most floral champas don’t work out too well due to the avoidance of expensive ingredients and this is little different. There’s too much of a furniture polish thing going on here.

The Green Nag Champa is about balance and includes citrus oils with garden flowers and sandalwood. It’s quite nice, sandalwood heavy, with the citrus and flowers mixing in nicely and giving the entire incense an uplifting feel. The citrus oils in particular enhance the sense of freshness, strangely, in a way the Blue totally failed to accomplish. And most importantly, everything feels real with no off notes.

Wisdom is the theme of the Gold Nag Champa and the incense includes amber, jasmine and sandalwood. This champa is nice and hevay in the amber department, which gives the whole champa scent a totally different feel. The amber champas found in other lines are similar in style, but the jasmine really pops nicely in the mix (although a better jasmine oil might have made this a classic). Definitely one of this line’s best incenses, no surprise it gets the gold spot.

The Orange Nag Champa aims to evoke happiness and includes sweet woods and spices. It’s another semi-sweet champa, not terribly far from the Green if it had no citrus oils. Because of the lack of flashy ingredients, this also is still within the more specific nag champa aroma. It’s gentle, which is nice, but it doesn’t really have much in the way of a personality. There are Mother’s incenses that do this kind of thing much better, let alone Shroff’s Little Woods.

The Purple Nag Champa has a prayer theme and includes forest herbs and flowers. Another extraordinarily foofy, sweet nag champa, this one is mildly evocative of the sweetness of Honey Dust or Vanilla. Like with some of the other incenses in this line, it lacks a certain personality, althought it does seem to capture its color in a way the others don’t so much. Then again it doesn’t strike me as foresty in any way. Not much more to say, it reminds me of a forgettable Shrinivas offering.

Finally we have energy in the way of the Red Nag Champa which features exotic oils and sweet tropical fruits. At least in Red’s case we have a bit of vigor, probably due to the fruit oil mix (memories of Ajaro or Aastha from the Satya line come up here). But overall, we have the same issues, slightly weak and multiple ingredients combining for mild and unsuggestive aromas. This has sort of a champa mixed with a mild fruitiness that has little definition. It’s not unpleasant, but this just pales next to better incense.

There’s one more Nitiraj line, Masterpiece, although I believe this line may be on the way to deletion. But better than all of these, at least slightly, is Nitiraj’s gigantic Atmosphere brand which as a whole is a little more deluxe than the actual Nitiraj lines. Again, it’s worth keeping in mind that even when I’m positive about the incenses above, this is in no way to indicate these incenses are on the same level as the Mother’s champas, Shroff, Dhuni, Happy Hari etc.

Incense companies and spam

This message is to Moksh Agarbatties and other companies who continue to try and spam unrelated threads. You would possibly find it more successful to spread the word on your incenses by going to the About page to learn how to send samples for review. I won’t pass through messages from companies if you haven’t tried to contact me or other ORS writers first and even if you have this type of spamming isn’t acceptable here. Thanks.

A few admin notes

Reviews have been a little thin of late, I’m afraid I have a lot of balls up in the air at the moment. This is sort of an unusual situation, because I have notes written up for a couple dozen reviews but I’ve not been able to get the conditions needed to get them typed up. What this means is that until I get these typed up, I won’t be looking at requests for reviews outside of what I get sent samples of. If things seem so slow that you want to try your hand at reviewing incenses, contact me at the e-mail on the About page and we’ll discuss.

I do want to also mention that I become more and more pleased with the latest batch of Shroff semi-dry masalas (the loner dry, Holy, is worth skipping). I still don’t know if I could even remotely describe most of them as they all have very subtle and individual personalities, but I think this is the first time I’ve been excited about a batch rather than individual incenses. I think part of this is they seem very high quality, while I don’t think there’s real musk in these, whatever they’re using is about as close to the real thing as I’ve tried. It’s really a cool line.

Halmaddi available

Andrew at Equinox Aromatics has managed to source and bring into the US real Halmaddi.  You can check it out at the link above, It is a brown grey rather sticky substance that needs to be stored in water, so working with it will be “interesting”. You can expect to see incenses using it coming out fairly soon. At least in my case, and I am pretty sure in a number of others, they will be built around natural ingredients. The only problem with this is the cost factor of  of the essential oils and absolutes now days 🙂

OK, back to the laboratory..oh no, the musk ox is loose again!


New Shroff thread

There’s 10 new Shroff incenses in at Essence of Ages and I’ve finally got my hands on them. I’ve tried three so far and I’d have to say based on these three that this batch is likely to be mostly nag champa variants, in fact a lot of what I’m smelling reminds me of Shrinivas in their better days. I’ve always wondered if there was halmaddi in Shroff incenses, with these it doesn’t seem like there’s any question. The issue, as was often the case with Shrinivas, is that distinctiveness tends to suffer a little bit and none of the three I tried really popped out at me. The three I tried were Yatra (good), Pride (decent) and Yogi Bouquet (best of the three). I don’t think I could describe any of them all that well yet. I’ll post further impressions in comments as I check them out and hope you all do as well…

August Top Ten 2011

Minorien  FU-IN® Kyara Ryugen: This is Minorien’s top of the line(at least here in the US)  Kyara blend. If you are familiar with the companies style then you will see that this is the end result of ever increasing refinement. The balance of all the differing elements and the way they have been mixed is truly remarkable. Not to be missed and you can pick up a small box for around $40.00.

Keigado East Temple (Ansoku): Sandalwood with a spice note that is also somewhat (a little) perfume like. This is a very pleasant and usable “everyday” incense. I find myself giving away a lot of this just to show people that you can get good Japanese incense and not blow away your bank account.

Kyukyodo Akikaze : No one does this style like Kyukyodo. There are notes that are floral married up with perfumes and all this rides across a quality Aloeswood base. One of the masterpieces of the incense maker’s art. It’s available from Kohshi by special order. Not inexpensive, but worth it.

Kunmeido Shoryu Koh (Rising Dragon): A great Aloeswood mixed with a wonderful “green” note, which seems (to me at least) to be this companies signature style. This one is much more forward in all these elements but also smoother than their Reiryo koh blend and costs much less than their upper tier blends. A nice balance point.

Seijudo Shiragiku White Chrysanthemum: One of the great deals in incense, with a distinctive “high end” style that mimics the much more expensive real Kyara sticks that this company also produces. It’s rich, powerful and you would swear, loaded with Kyara and musk. This is not the case but it is a great introduction to that world. This is a great treat for one’s self.

Shoyeido Muromachi: This has seemingly gone though some changes over the years but is still great incense and also a pretty unique scent. Nice, almost caramel note which is mixed into the woods. I use the coils, which seem to me to have a slightly woodsier note going for them then the sticks.

Nu Essence ABRA MELIN: These are small tins packed with a lot of scent. This blend has a strong rose note along with frankincense and other resins. There is a wonderful interplay between all the different ingredients and the scent can change depending on the length of time on the heater. Very nice to scent a room and a little goes a long way. I have encluded the makers link as it’s a very informative site.

Mermade Arts Pan’s Earth: Deep resin scent mixed in with the woods and the addition of Patchouli and Vetivert, which adds a lot more depth to the mix. There is also a slight edge to this incense, which reflects the idea of Pan to me. Pan’s Earth is always a winner but I think this batch is one of the best.

Deep Earth Premium-2011: These incense balls or nuggets have been aged for quite awhile which adds complexity and depth to the scent. They are very resinous with wood notes as well as a subtle blending of spices. There is a slightly sweet side to the whole thing and it is best used in an electric heater at a low setting.  This is a good choice for reflection and meditation.

Baieido Kokonoe Koh: I find this to be a really good and classic Baieido style stick. It has a great combination of Aloesood, Sandalwood and spices and is also very reasonably priced. This would make a nice gift for someone who is not into the sweet or floral scented incense’s. This is one of my “go to” or must have sticks.

Awaji-Baikundo Jihi – Amacha kou: One of the best amber scents around and it also has some serious Boral camphor along for the ride. It’s quite distinctive and very good. I use it a lot late at night. The scent lasts a long time and also works well for scenting clothing.

– Ross