Temple of Incense / Tulsi, Desert Sage, Dragon’s Blood, Frankincense

Temple of Incense Part 7
Temple of Incense Part 9
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

While the plan was to go in alphabetical order, the fine ladies at Temple of Incense decided to send me two samples and they said they are coming to the website soon so this is a sneak preview of Tulsi and then we go back to the alphabetical crawl through the ToI catalog.

Tulsi arrives as a thick extruded agarbatti that looks to be a mixture of charcoal and aromatics, finished with a brown powder. It lights up into a warm, mildly sweet scent that is dominated by tulsi. My caveat to talking about this is most of my tulsi olfactory experience comes from the tea, which steeping in boiling water is different than extracting the oil and combusting it. What I get here is something that comes across as warm and fresh, with a herbal note that almost pushes into the lavender/fabric softener range. The soft sweetness could be a touch of halmaddi or similar binder/sweetener.

As I mentioned, being relatively new to Indian Incense, I don’t have the experience to talk about the stuff from 10 or 20 years ago and compare, but one thing that I can do is mention that in the 100s of sticks I’ve sniffed that have mentioned tulsi as an ingredient, none of them were as pleasant as this one, in fact, until this stick, I had started to think that tulsi was a note to avoid in incense, as I was starting to associate it with a Ivory Soap type of smell. But none of that is here. What I like so much is how fresh this is and how it seems to freshen a room and brighten it.

Speaking of cleansing, Desert Sage is one of the entries from ToI that follows on the tails of the likes of ‘Big Cleanse’ in that many of the ingredients are used as space cleansing for intentional work. They list eucalyptus, sage, mint, rosewood, cedar and pine on the box. Coming out of the box, unlit, the scent is like a sage bundle. But when you light it, you get more of the other ingredients in a shifting interplay that sometimes combines into a minty, cool, refreshing sort of scent and other times you just get a whiff of cedar or eucalyptus.

You can tell they are using high quality oils both because it smells great as it burns but also because it lit up like a torch soaked in gasoline. There are moments when the pine shines through it all, and others where the cool mint can be felt, but mostly this is good for anyone who likes ANY of these scents because they are all rather in the same ‘school’, they all come across cool, clean and refreshing. I’m going to mention that initially, when I got all the samples and had 1 of everything, this was the first stick I didn’t like. Now that I bought a box of it, I can tell the first one was contaminated by nearby samples because of how much more this smells like the ingredients and not like a bar of soap.

Dragon’s Blood is an extruded agarbatti with a red powder finish that stains the bamboo stick. Absolute Bliss sells this same stick as ‘Red Blood Dragon‘. This is a very fruity and sweet interpretation of the resin, and the stick format is similar to the other resin sticks in this lineup; like Amber, Myrrh, Frankincense, all have similar extruded resin-agarbatti though this one is a bit thinner. The masala is charcoal heavy because it is very black under the red powder.

This is almost like having a cherry soda or similar kind of treat. I would call it a ‘nose dessert’ because of how sweet it is. The nice thing is that it has a lot of class. Some sweet types of incense get too cloying, but this is one of those things that reminds of one of my weird friends who asked if I’d ever had microwaved Kool-Aid. This is what the microwave smelled like after we boiled a few cups of ‘berry’ Kool-Aid. It was delicious, by the way, hot Kool-Aid. I’m fairly sure that this incense will titillate anyone who loves sweet but also needs a bit of class, like choosing Tiramisu over a Snickers Bar.

Frankincense opens up with a nice serrata/frefreana citrus note. This is a thick extruded agarbatti with a soft coating of powder and it burns a bit slower than average. If you’re familiar with Happy Hari’s King of Frankincense, this is the same stick coming from the same maker, even the bamboo core is the same color and size.

One of the things as I was getting introduced to Indian style incense is that many times if frankincense appeared in the name it was never available in the scent. Even the high end Pure Incense Connoisseur Frankincense doesn’t actually smell like frankincense. But this one does. There isn’t actually much else competing with the scent other than maybe something salty that I can occasionally detect as possibly one of the binders. This is easily one of my favorite frankincense sticks, if you like the Tennendo Frankincense, you will most likely like this and it burns for an hour or so, too!

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Seikado / Jinkoh Daikohboku

Seikado’s Jinkoh Daikohboku is something of a cousin to the Hitori-Shizuka incenses I covered some weeks ago. It is one of those sort of cherry-sweet aloeswoods that’s sort of akin to the long deleted Kyukyodo Shiun, Tennendo Renzan or Nippon Kodo Zuiun. These are not aloeswoods meant to profile the more bitter, woody or resinous elements of the wood, but to use that wood as a bit of a contrast to the more polished, sweet elements of the overall blend. This is a very nice example of it, for me a lot more successful in style to the Hitori-Shizukas while being one hell of a lot cheaper. In fact there is a small box at $8 for 60 sticks that is an extremely good buy for the money. I would imagine this is meant as something of an every day kind of jinkoh stick that is sweet and friendly, so it doesn’t have the usual aloeswood learning curve. For me this is the kind of style I may not primarily go for but occasionally like to mix in for contrast. If you’re familiar with one of the other incenses I named in the style then this is probably somewhat redundant, but given Shiun has been discontinued this could be the finest example of it available now.

Absolute Bliss / White Lotus Oudh Saffron, Bengali Jungle Flora, Forbidden Fruit, Devansh

The following four Absolute Bliss imported incenses are four of their absolute finest and in this case there are no match ups that I know of in the Temple of Incense line. After Corey sent me samples of these I almost immediately ordered more stock, and while these certainly aren’t the end of the great ones, every single incense more or less grabbed me in just a few inhalings.

I wrote about the regular Oudh Saffron in my last installment, so you might consider the White Lotus Oudh Saffron to be something of a more deluxe variant of it. It presents a magical act where I’d assume a White Lotus absolute has been mixed in with the formula which not only adds some level of floral to the other scent but the way it interacts with the oudh and saffron itself is truly remarkable. In fact you can smell some of this on the fresh sticks, the way it brings out a sort of mintiness out of the oudh was an instant winner for me but only the crown of what is going on. Like the regular it appears to be a lightly dusted charcoal stick, but I think where often other oudh mixed charcoals often bring out the base a bit, the really intense floral makes it go in the opposite direction and it is truly arresting. Make no mistake that this is something of the capstone of perhaps all of the Absolute Bliss imports that originate from the creators of the Happy Hari line. In fact I’m not even quite sure how much is left of this current batch, but I’d certainly write Corey about it if you’re interested. Certainly fans of the regular Oudh Saffron and the Happy Hari Oudh Masala will want to check it out. It’s really a stunning, complex aroma that will have you pinging between the floral oil and the oudh and saffron mix and marveling at how so many complex ingredients can interact in so many fine ways. I still reach for sticks of this and keep the package close at hand.

Let’s be honest, a name like Bengali Jungle Flora is the kind of incense name that made me get into everything in the first place, it just has that ring of something special and exotic. Long time readers might remember the old Shroff Channabasappa Jungle Prince incense from so long ago, well this is not just reminiscent in name alone. However where I pointed out that the Jungle Prince was woody, that’s not quite so true here, it might be more that the floral oils are (or were) shared across the incenses. The Jungle Flora stick feels a bit softer than the usual HH charcoals and so I’m not sure if there’s some halmaddi in the mix here, but for sure this has that sweeter sort of floral mix that tends to be closer in family to champa or even champa flower or lotus incenses. There is even some deeper level of spice or something behind all the florals, which just helps to give it some depth and richness. A beautiful incense indeed and fairly unique to the rest of the AB/HH/ToI catalog.

Forbidden Fruit is an incense that reminds me a lot of the old Maharaj/Maharaja blends that Mystic Temple and Incense from India used to carry during the days when incenses like this were halmaddi-rich. However while those had a green-tipped bamboo stick, this one is orange. This aroma is really a combination of sweet and spicy qualities and so it’s not in the more polished style of fruit incenses like ToI Fruits of the Forest or Arabian Attar. But it really has that sort of exotic and rich spice mix that seems a lot rarer today but used to be more common. In fact I even remember certain Satya blends used to be more like this (one memory popping up is incenses like Aastha, Ajaro etc). Incenses like this were always highlights of my Indian collection and this one is really no different, it felt like a winner as soon as I lit one. Describing it more fully is somewhat difficult as it seems to be a combination of all sorts of different elements as well as floral oils that aren’t as common in more familiar incenses. But this is unquestionably one of my new favorites in the AB catalog.

And finally there is Devansh, the fourth of what are all very fine incenses. Devansh is one of the most sophisticated and complex incenses in the AB arsenal. It seems almost facile to call it a floral incense even though it obviously has rose and, perhaps, other floral oils on the top, but there is a richness to the base scent that is often missing in purely floral-themed incenses. This feels like it certainly has a bit of sandalwood in the mix and it nods in the direction of flora incenses without really having their overall profile. Think of it this way, if it was a flora it would perhaps be the finest of the class. So in a way it’s almost like you want to get out of the way that this is something like the Queen of Roses and think of it more a stick where the top note is the lead for something quite a bit richer in the middle. I might add that this reminds me a little of the ToI Amber Supreme in the middle. It is a tremendously gorgeous work of incense art.

Please note again that you can find all of these incenses at Absolute Bliss. However, I’ve been informed that none of the incenses reviewed here will be put up at the website, so I would use the contact page to contact Corey Topel for prices, shipping time and availability. But let me underline here that all four of these incenses are absolutely amazing and among the most highly recommended in either the AB or HH catalog. They are well worth hopping on while stocks last.

Drizang Kuenchap/Lhawang Driden Jaju Incense

You might only realize this is a different incense from the “regular” Drizang Kuenchap/Lhawang Driden from the fact that the label on the Drizang Kuenchap/Lhawang Driden Jaju is yellow rather than white and the incense is tan rather red, which you just barely might be able to see at the tail end of the package if it was unopened. The label itself looks close to identical from a rough going over. In many ways this tan-colored Bhutanese stick is something of a secondary style to the usual red/purple stick and tends to be less of a berry-like affair and nicely woody. In fact you can see “jaju” incenses pop up elsewhere like in the Nado line. I’ve discussed that scent of freshly cut wood that you often smell after a saw has been used in a workshop before. The jaju seems to have that aroma as a centerpiece, while the rest of the aroma is crafted around it in a way that does make it something of a cousin to the usual Bhutanese style. This crafting softens what would be the natural harshness of some cut wood by adding a nice bit of spice to the mix, but most importantly that cherry-berry redness that you usually smell in the red stick is virtually gone, even if some of the same elements remain in both incenses. It feels like the sandalwood is a lot more noticeable in the stick, but at the same time, jajus don’t seem to really vary all that much in price – it’s actually cheaper than the flagship. Perhaps the largest takeaway is that it’s mostly the base of the incense that seems to differ. Overall this is certainly a Bhutanese style worth familiarizing yourself, particularly if you’re already familiar with the usual blend. And this brand seems to be a particularly strong and definitive example of it, so it’s not a bad place to start.

Temple of Incense / Amber, Amber Supreme, Benzoin Absolute, Big Cleanse

Temple of Incense Part 6
Temple of Incense Part 8
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

I am a relative beginner in the world of Indian incense. While in my incense journey, Indian style incense was the first I encountered, it was during that time period in 2013-2015 that, for the most part, Indian style incense was mostly overly bombastic with shrill single notes that chased me out of the room or had me putting it out hastily. Smells like burning hair and cheap cologne would have made many of my descriptions back then.

So recently, I encountered Happy Hari for the first time, years after the founder died. This opened a door and I quickly began searching for more, almost coinciding with Mike reopening ORS. Learning about Temple of Incense sent me in a scramble. My first order was for one of everything. I have not been let down by this exciting journey and I decided to share the reviews in alphabetical order, leaving out the ones that Mike has already reviewed.

Our first stop is with Amber. As someone who first encountered King of Amber, this is exactly the same. For those who don’t know King of Amber, this is an extruded resin stick. It has a thickness and a heaviness to it that makes it stand out from most other masala sticks(other than other resin sticks like it). It also takes a while to light, showing that there is more resin than oil to make this stick.

I’d love to call this ‘Amber Absolute’ or ‘exemplar’ of the amber scent but it is more like ‘Egyptian Amber’ in that it comes across more like the soft Egyptian Musk type of smell you can get in attars and even in multiple brands of incense sticks. However, I don’t want you to imagine the cheap and artificial smell that can come from those $5 perfume bottles. Rather, this is more that they took actual resins and oils to create this from natural sources, and the result is this amazing, bewitching, soothing scent that everyone in the family comments on when I burn it.

The best thing about this compared to so many other incenses with ‘amber’ in their name on the market, this never crosses the line into cloying. It maintains a atmosphere of mystery with the soft amber scent. Since amber is common in so many western perfume blends, my nose always picks up amber in many Indian incenses as ‘perfume’ yet here it remains solidly like I expect honey amber resin to smell, with that touch of something else that grounds it a little bit, perhaps labdanum or similar, and it adds that mystery and musky type of note that keeps this from getting too sweet.

Next is Amber Supreme. Instead of being a thick, extruded resin stick, this is a handmade masala finished with a light brown dust. The name makes me imagine that this is going to be stronger, faster, better than Amber, but supreme can mean other things, like restraint, discipline and regimen. In this case, this is a much more muted version of the amber smell, it is less sweet and has a little more of the ‘baby powder’ note of amber in it, but again, none of this is the artificial amber or perfume amber. This doesn’t cross into cloying, or sweet, it remains subtle and restrained, which is two words I rarely trot out in a review of anything Indian style. I also want to a address how different the sweetness is between the two. Amber has a sweetness like honey and this one has a sweetness more like confectioners sugar, which helps support the more bitter aspects of it’s scent.

I would suggest Amber Supreme for anyone who finds Amber to be too strong for their tastes, this also lacks less additional ingredients so it is more like ‘pure amber’ or ‘amber absolute’ than the previous entry. Definitely do not burn this on the tail of Amber because you will barely notice it.

Similar to Amber, Benzoin Absolute is a thick resin extruded onto a bamboo core. As someone who has loved Meena Supreme in the past, my initial hit off this was ‘Oh, so ToI renamed Meena Supreme to Benzoin Absolute’. But that lasted for just a moment as I realized this lacked the other perfumes and finishes of Meena Supreme and instead has a scent profile that would represent maybe 50% of the Meena scent.

What you get here is what I call the ‘Indian’ interpretation of benzoin, as this doesn’t come across as the burnt marshmallow note I associate with the plain benzoin, so either the locality or the processing is different here and this benzoin is less sweet and has a few more metallic and maybe even confectionery notes, like a bitter marzipan.

Big Cleanse is a thick charcoal stick with oils and maybe a bit of resin. The website sells it as a smudging stick and I think it might be good for exactly that sort of thing. It has a very herbal smell, reminding me of the German bitter teas like 7×7, and because of that, I like how this smells, though many who I have burned this with have commented on how they don’t like the bitter and acrid notes coming off it.

If the three sweet incenses reviewed here are yin, this has enough yang bitterness to balance all of them at once. While the purpose of this blog isn’t to wander as far into the spiritual nature of incense, this is clearly more for intention and cleansing than for sitting and pleasantly enjoying. However, I’m also someone who has spent years drinking bitter Chinese teas and similar kinds of things from Europe and so I don’t mind a little bit of bitter here and there, especially if you consider some of these sweeter incenses like Amber dessert.

Admin Note

Just a quick note to mention I have updated this review on two Mandala Trading incenses to make it applicable to current stock.

Kyukyodo / Sho Ran Koh (Laughing Orchid)

When I was just starting to write reviews of incense in my incense journal, this was one of the very early incenses that I wrote about and loved, but also noted that I needed more experience to try to understand this scent better.

In the six years following my initial encounter with Sho Ran Koh (link to Mike’s 2007 review) which influenced my initial purchase), I learned a great deal about incense by listening to multiple styles and writing about them, but also reading about them. My favorite research was visiting websites and buying books. A while ago, I was able to get into conversation with two scholars who had translated a Tang Dynasty document on incense creation.

In this document, they discussed how to create several incenses and give recipes. One of which is ‘Smiling Plum/Orchid’, a recipe that when altered just slightly can either represent an orchid or a plum blossom. Having explored the recipes as it was created and then as it was toyed with by the artists who go by ‘Dr Incense‘ and ‘Kyara Zen‘, I feel like that was just the education and experience I needed to better understand this and talk about it.

First of all, I understand that this stick has gone through several alterations over the years as material becomes harder to procure. This review is for the current stick in production and available at Japan Incense. I am reviewing the 10″ version currently for sale at Japan Incense as I purchased this only a couple weeks before writing this.

Before lighting, the package and stick have a fenugreek/curry smell to it. It is a soft tan stick, perfectly round and straight. Upon lighting up this stick, I’m immediately hit with a complex of spices like cinnamon, clove, borneol. Aloeswood comes right behind it, this being a bitter type like a Kalimantan. There is a sweet note but I think it comes more from the cinnamon and spices than the aloeswood, but instead it supports the aloeswood so the bitterness doesn’t bring me down, but instead grounds me.

There is definitely something like ‘reiryo koh’ in small amounts because there is a ‘curry’ or ‘maple syrup’ kind of note that keeps showing up but it’s minor and in the scenery and not in the foreground.

To wrap this review up, I wanted to discuss what I learned about this from sniffing the recipes prepared by KyaraZen and Dr Incense as well as comparing the last of my box of original Sho Ran Koh that I bought back in 2014 to try to understand both what has changed over the years and if Kyukyodo has stuck to the original recipe or made it their own.

First of all, the “original”, while muted by age, seems to have more pronounced sweet and bitter notes as well as being maybe a bit smoother. If anything, I think the difference is that there is either some oil or perfume added to the more recent one that seems to give it more ‘clarity’, or it could just be the ingredients being fresher.

Dr Incense’s Smiling Orchid – This seems to be muskier, heavier, but still has the recipe. I know Dr Incense processes his aloeswood and that makes it a little less bitter so there is a sweeter wood note in his but it does show how the recipe maintains similarities. This also seems to have some extra… grounding or earthy depth to it that makes me feel like this is made to meditate.

Kyarazen’s Smiling Orchid – Saltier. The aloeswood in here has a much saltier quality, like a Manaban. I am not sure if he included sandalwood in this but if so, that might also help give it this salty note. This is a very large and playful note that has all the wood and spice seemingly in step behind it. If anything, I feel like the small batch allows for a sort of artistry to be created that you don’t get when you’re producing 100,000 sticks at a time. It feels that while the scents are all connected, you get these ‘solos’ where something comes to the forefront for a moment before fading back into the chorus.

I also want to iterate that as artists, they don’t maintain a stable stock of anything, and they both drop their incenses once a month and in the first few hours the good stuff can be snapped up. Because of this kind of feeding frenzy, I am not exactly recommending this unless you’re eager to engage in the kind of ‘Black Friday’ shopping anxiety. I grew weary of this after a few months and hope that they might start a subscription-based plan instead of a feeding frenzy approach. Dr Incense drops their incense at 8pm Singapore time on the last Saturday of the month. His shop is in the link above. KyaraZen is a little more fickle, but if you follow this site, they carry his stuff and will usually send out a newsletter about it. Lastly, Yi-Xin Craft Incense drops their incense once a month and occasionally features Sho Ran Koh type recipes. He is a student of KyaraZen.

Conclusion – if you can find it, get a small batch version of this if you like Sho Ran Koh. If you’ve never tried Sho Ran Koh, try it, see if you like it before pursuing the more expensive versions. As Mike said in his talk about it, it is unique and harder to compare to other Japanese incenses.

Nehnang Monastery / Nehnang No. 2 Tibetan Incense

I’m sort of scratching my head right now trying to remember what my impressions were for the two other Nehnang Monastery incenses. This amounted to something like a No. 1 but also a Vegetarian No. 1 where there doesn’t seem to be a Vegetarian No. 2 listed, so I may have sort of mixed up in my head the two number 1s (although I have noted that I did have sample of the Vegetarian). But for sure the Nehnang No. 2 is in the same tradition of salty, woody, musky, bag-of-pistachios scented Tibetan incenses like the Holy Lands, Dirapuk Monastery Tibetan Incense, Ga’re Therapeutic Incense etc. It reminded me that any of these usually tend to be a bit more woody or slightly evergreen than the Holy Lands, which have always felt a bit more streamlined to me, perhaps due to whatever is making up the hue of the sticks.

The problem with reviewing a stick like this after saying the same things for similar incenses is that it’s fairly difficult to describe what is different about them, Even the ingredients list: “…contains more than 30 ingredients, incl. white, red and purple sandalwoods, cinnamon, borneol and clove” is pretty much about what you’d expect. Perhaps one difference I might notice is that because this has a more powerful spice and musk presence, occasionally you will feel the combined weight of the two show up in quite an impressive way that I don’t think I’ve quite seen in any of these other named incenses. While it’s pitched in about the same place as the Ga’re or TPN Nectar, it’s a bit more basic than the latter, without the more floral notes (which would likely be more subsumed in this sort of mix anyway). Like all of these incenses they’re all in about the same price range. There really are a lot of very, very good monastery incenses. Anyway I sent for the “regular” No. 1 and will get to that one at a separate time, because this is quite good for anything you might call a No. 2.

Temple of Incense / Sufiaana, Arabian Attar, Banaras Sandal, Delhi Nights

Temple of Incense Part 5
Temple of Incense Part 7
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

I wanted to pause for a second and comment a bit on the overall Temple of Incense line and how it kind of relates to my understanding and I’ll thank Stephen here for some internal conversations on this very subject. I’ve talked quite a bit about how in the 90s masala recipes changes drastically in style, particularly the move away from halmaddi in incenses. The thing I probably didn’t notice as much is that some of these incenses moved into different masala styles, but there seems to have been a greater move towards charcoal bases, more than I probably expected. Charcoals often have dusting that tend to hide the color and some charcoals are actually hybrids with masalas themselves so it’s a little bit of a guessing game with what is what but you can usually tell by how firm the sticks are. So I feel to some extent the old language I was using has maybe not kept up so well with some of these changes. Part of it is that I think some of the charcoals or hybrids do a fairly good job now of mimicking incenses that were previously in a more masala or even champa/halmaddi style in the past. Bengal Beauty was one I was thinking of burning it last night, that it still attempts to go for what is overall a very sweet scent, because those lavender tipped sticks in the past actually did have halmaddi of a sort. But I wanted to mention all of this because 1) the Temple of Incense line actually seems to be largely charcoal or hybrid, but 2) their charcoals are usually so good that it’s easy to overlook that they are. So I’ll also add that the difference between what we cover here is that I try to avoid dipped charcoal sticks, and not as much charcoal sticks that are created differently or hybridized. After all even a Madhvadas line like Pure incense uses some charcoal in their sticks and it’s not uncommon in Japanese incenses either.

So Sufiaana for example, like Bengal Beauty, is a good example of a charcoal or hybrid with a lot of dusting and a very sweet aromatic profile, a scent that used to be fairly common in the halmaddi era. It is described as having a light sandalwood base, with musk and big floral top notes. This is another one of those incenses that reminds me vaguely of an incense that used to be in the Incense from India line (might have been something like musk sandalwood or some such). You can tell from the £14 price on the box that this incense lies more towards the top end of the range. Sufiaana has a lot of its own personality. The sandalwood and musk make up a great deal of the bouquet but the “big floral top notes” could also be just as easily described as fruity. It’s not even terribly different from some of the top floral oils we talked about in the El line in that you get such a mix of different floral perfumes that picking out or describing anything too specific isn’t really possible. But there’s no question Sufiaana is really beautiful and actually justifies the amount of movement in the profile, it really keeps you busy moving one’s attention from one note to another. And a lot of that is that the sandalwood/musk and floral elements have a great deal of interplay in the scent. It’s something of a classic Indian scent overall and well worth trying.

And also somewhat coincidentally, the Arabian Attar is probably a perfect example of an actual masala hybrid, I’m sure charcoal is part of the overall incense blend but the clear choice here wasn’t to just go in the same direction that, say, the Himalayan Spikenard went in. I’d classify this one as existing in the same sort of aromatic area as Perky Pandit and Fruits of the Forest, in fact all you’re really told is its a combination of “oriental perfume” and a fruity note. All of these fruitier blends share a sense of judicious mildness and this one actually seems to fall along the lines of say apple and pear as opposed to berries, tropical or citrus. It’s actually a little reminiscent of the old Juicy Fruit chewing gum in some ways, particularly in how it ends up seeming fairly generic as an aroma. I’m not sure what my expectations were with Arabian Attar but this isn’t how I generally think about them, which may speak more to my inexperience than anything else. But there’s certainly nothing really woody about this incense.

Banaras Sandalwood is the second of three sandalwoods to discuss. As I said with the Extreme, the Temple of Incense sandalwoods are very good indeed and thankfully the Banaras is in a more affordable price range than the Extreme, while not losing too much of what makes that such a great sandalwood. While the note in the Extreme that really makes it special is somewhat reduced here there’s still enough hints of it that make sure this doesn’t fall into more generic categories. Also, unlike the Extreme and the regular charcoal, this is dusted with enough wood that it imparts a bit of a different quality to it. Anyway I find this very enjoyable and certainly well worth checking out especially if the Extreme isn’t in your price range. This is the real deal, brash, in your face and super redolent with sandal oil. Oh and apparently there’s a bit of lemon in here too, something that is not an uncommon addition to a sandalwood as it compliments certain qualities.

Finally, with more of a mix of specific elements there is Delhi Nights. This one has notes of bergamot, citrus, amber and tonka bean, a combination that instantly reminds me of some of the Designs by Deekay blends. Strangely it even has something of what I might call a celery note, which may be due the combination with what smells like a healthy bit of wood as well. And circling around to where I started with this article, this is another example of a stick, one that may be a charcoal or hybrid, that has enough of the vanilla (somewhere between the tonka and amber I bet) and lightness to be redolent of champas in some way even if this is much too dry to have halmaddi anywhere near it. I really do like the resolution on this stick because it plays in ways that you don’t expect at all from the notes. For me the citrus elements are so dampened they barely show up like you’d expect. It’s a very fascinating incense indeed.

I’m pleased to say that I will be handing off the rest of the Temple of Incense series to Stephen starting with the next installment, so stay tuned as there is a lot more coming!

Koyasan Daishido / Koya Reiko, Tokusen Byakudan Sandalwood Koya Reiko, Gokujo Byakudan Mysore Sandalwood Koya Reiko (notes)

Koyasan Daishido appears to be a smaller Japanese incense company that sells incense for use in Shingon Buddhism, although a few of their incenses including palo santo sticks and a zukoh (body incense) seem to assume they’re reaching a little beyond their traditional line in their marketing. Their line up is small and I would guess the three of these incenses could be considered temple or daily incenses. As far as I know, they do not market aloeswood incenses and so much of their line is affordable, although many of their boxes are fairly bulky at even the smallest sizes. These three incenses seem to be part of a line called Koya Reiko, with a regular brand and two different levels of sandalwood incenses. Pictured are the bottom two in this line, although I did receive samples of the Gokujo Byakudan Mysore stick as well. There appears to also be a fourth incense in the line called Renge Koya Reiko, although I have not tried this yet.

The regular Koya Reiko does not list any ingredients, at least at the Japan Incense site or in English on the box, so this will be a bit of a guessing game. Koyasan Daishido does market some other incenses sourced from woods other than sandalwood, so there is likely to be a mix in this base, although none really pop out as individuals during the burn except, perhaps for the sandalwood itself. Some inexpensive Japanese sticks sometimes have a bit of an amber like base aroma to them and sometimes they go more in a spicier Reiryo Koh direction. Koya Reiko may be a bit of both adding a touch of floral to the mix. Overall this is closer to say, the two baseline Kunjudo Karin incenses, although it’s not quite as oiled up as the regular or as candy-like as the Tokusen but it’s still roughly in the ballpark. I don’t detect any real off notes either, it’s soft and genuinely pleasant, if not, perhaps, remarkable. But it is a fair pitch for the price range.

There is some level of the regular stick in the Tokusen Byakudan Sandalwood Koya Reiko, but the amber base is mostly gone in favor of the obvious sandalwood replacement. It creates a drier and less sweet stick but at this level the sandalwood isn’t terribly deep as you might imagine. There’s certainly enough of it that you do know it’s sandalwood and it does actually touch on some areas that are specific to the wood (there’s a level of resin here it’s just not the premium stuff), but it does feel like there are other elements in the stick designed to draw attention to it to some extent. It is probably well worth noticing as well that only the Gokujuo version of this lists Mysore sandalwood, so we can assume that the sources here are anywhere else. But overall this is actually a nice stick. It goes in some directions that remind me of some of Yamadamatu’s lower end blends, although this doesn’t get too sweet. It’s never sharp or bitter, and there’s enough going in it that reviewing something like my fourth or fifth stick of it so far had me leaping a bit to resdescribe it. It also looks to be the same price as the regular while perhaps being the more interesting of the two incenses. Anyway it’s a very nicely done daily.

Somewhere along the line I did end up with a sample of Gokujo Byakudan Mysore Sandalwood Koya Reiko, although I think if I had been paying attention a bit more I would have gone with the box of this over the Tokusen, but so it goes. It’s basically the same packaging but a green box. But it should be worth noting that per stick this is actually double the price of the Tokusen which is probably a decent indication of how much rarer Mysore Sandalwood is starting to get. But the question is, does it make a difference? Well in many ways this comparison is actually a very good one in terms of experiencing why the Mysore wood is so prized. Everything about it is deeper in every way and the resinous qualities take this to a level commensurate with its price level. You stop thinking about how the recipe shifts in order to accommodate cheaper wood because the good wood speaks for itself. To be fair this doesn’t mean this is completely missing other sources, but it’s definitely been crafted so that the good stuff pops. In the end I might need a full box to see how much, as this is a very attractive sandalwood.

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