Ap Sonam Tashi/Bhutan Jewel Incense: The Lost Fragrance of the Mountain Gods

I wanted to talk about Bhutanese incense for a bit. While of course there’s some overlap with Tibetan incenses due to the monasteries, Bhutanese incense commonly falls into what are essentially pink, red or slightly purple sticks that are all created largely similarly. Most stick incenses from Bhutan fall in this category and I would guess Nado incenses are probably the brand most people are familiar with. I don’t tend to see a huge variation in this theme. These sticks are created for a bit more durability than you see in many Tibetan sticks. They’re much harder to break, have a higher tensile strength, and tend to thickness. They’re also very blended in the sense that individual components are much harder to pick out from the overall scent. To my nose Bhutanese incenses tend to be a bit higher in resinous content than most Tibetan sticks, frankincense in particular seems to be a dominant note. These sticks can not only be fruity but they’re a bit berry like, likely from the juniper content which often tends to be the incense’s top ingredient. There’s certainly a lot of wood, herbs and spices in them but my general feeling is the ingredient list tends to be large enough to mix into a more homogenous whole. The difference between variant Bhutanese sticks then tends to be how deep the aroma is, whether it’s a sort of general theme or whether the more variant notes pop through a little more.

To that end, “The Lost Fragrance of the Mountain Gods” seems to be a pretty solid entry into this field and one that appears to be aimed at the English market. So in this case we can find out the incense also contains giwang (bezoar) (this appears to be something of a medicinal/herbal mix), clove, musk, nutmeg and saffron as well, most of which are also quite common in all Tibetan and Bhutanese incenses. In fact it has been impressed upon me quite frequently of late how much of a player saffron tends to be in these blends, it often seems to be what imparts a floral note to the top end which mixes nicely with the musk note. This incense is probably not quite as resinous as other Bhutanese, but I personally prefer that as it lets the woodiness out a bit. Overall, this is not a bad place to start overall if you want a good example of the style.

The Mother’s India Fragrances / Oudh Nagchampa, Palo Santo Nagchampa, Sage Nagchampa + Herbal Sampler (Part 2 of 2)

Please be sure to read Part 1 of this review as this is really a continuation of that review and that context is somewhat relateable to how I continue below. I will also note again here that all incenses in this range can be found at Mere Cie Deux.

The issue with calling something an Oudh Nagchampa is different from a lot of other aromatics because oudh, of course, is an agarwood-based scent and oudhs can be stratospherically expensive, so one must lower one’s expectations for an incense that is only $3 for 12 sticks. We have certainly also had our expectations set by the Absolute Bliss/Happy Hari and Temple of Incense lines with sticks like Oud Masala and so forth that are still quite affordable while delivering very satisfying incenses with legitimate and surprisingly powerful oudh notes (although these are essentially 2-3 times as expensive if not more so). And so for me, I try to look at something like this new nag champa in the sense that does it live up to the name and if it doesn’t is it a good incense on its own? In terms of the former issue the oudh note isn’t the sort of rocketship it is in the previously mentioned lines, it does not sit about the champa base and dominate, it’s a much more subsumed and subtle scent. In fact it took me a bit less incense fatigue and a second stick to notice that it is actually in there as part of the mix.

So anyway, oudh expense to champa mix aside, how does it work out? Well the champa base comes out quite a bit in this, there’s a real sense of the gummy and halmaddi sweet. Most champa bases tend to be at least mildly spicy, if only from the sandalwood, so the oudh actually fits pretty comfortably next to it. For a note you often expect to be loud it ends up complimenting what is surprisingly one of the mellower incenses in this current batch. Its an odd one for me because it feels like the overall diffused aroma seems a bit more generic than when you get in there close and notice that it’s actually a pretty well balanced incense. There’s a bit of spice and tanginess to it overall that the incense gets from the oudh but overall the agarwood notes here aren’t as strong as you’ll find in a Happy Hari, Temple of Incense or Pure Incense scent.

The next two aromas, sort of like the Neem Nagchampa, strike me as pretty strange and experimental for a nag champa format as both palo santo and sage aren’t aromatics I think would match up well with a sweeter halmaddi sort of masala. The Palo Santo Nagchampa may then be the first of its ilk and it’s a very interesting match indeed. For one thing, the palo santo itself is quite good quality and very reminiscent of the finer wood itself, so it’s off to a good start on that front. The base seems to have some of the more chocolate and confectionary qualities of the Sweet Frankincense and Guna Nagchampa, although it’s certainly not quite as decadent as either. But it seems modified appropriately in order to actually make a palo santo nag champa and balance the Mother’s format against what is a very identifiable and unique woody aroma. Now you will either know or not know if palo santo is to your taste, but its surge in interest among lovers of Native and South American culture know that the aroma has made a significant dent in the new age markets with its popularity. I might caution one to try the wood out first rather than dive in here, but honestly the palo santo note here is completely legit and it is hard to imagine Mother’s could have done a better job with this one.

Sage, on the other hand, is a strange beast in that sage wrapped for smudging (or used in cooking) smells a lot different to my nose than oil distillations and then either one’s application to a masala can also end up varying in a whole lot of directions. Check out Stephen’s reviews of the Temple of Incense Desert Sage or White Sage for examples of variance. I also had a Designs By Deekay White Sage review up at one point that demonstrated its more smudge-like, resin-based approach. Japan Incense has a Minorien-sourced Sage stick. All of these really differ a lot. The Sage Nagchampa also does. There is certainly some level of sage like herb in this and maybe oil as well but it felt like the creators dialed it down a bit to mix with the champa base, because, let’s face it, you’d have to. It’s an interesting creative choice because unlike the palo santo where the wood tends to have spicier qualities that might roughly fit in a cinnamon, clove or copal category, sage is going to move more in a direction like the Neem Nag Champa except where that one is green and bitter, this has a sort of general cooking herb sort of scent to it, rather than feeling specfically sage. The Sage Nagchampa also has a very similar base to the Oudh Nagchampa in terms of having a bit of gumminess to it. The issue with a stick like this overall is that so much compromise has gone into balancing two almost opposing formats that even though the balance is successful, it also feels like maybe it’s created something a bit too generic and maybe not as reminiscent of sage or a champa in the end. I know of the seven incenses I’ve just looked at this might be the one that’s the muddiest and hardest to define. But at the same time, one must see it as a unique and interesting experiment for sure.

I was also sent what amounts two a two stick by three fragrance package of Mother’s new Herbal Incense range. I should probably mention another difference in the overall line in that many of Mother’s aromas now have mini stick options which is an even more inexpensive way to try some of their many incenses. Anyway the two mini sticks each here might come close to one regular stick so I’ll just give my initial impressions on these. Well I’m going to try to. I just realized that in order to get the wee packages out of the strange cardboard package you also have to loosen them from their moorings so I now have three incenses where I’m going to also play guess the incense (I’m on the second stick of each)! So here we go.

While nearly every incense in this new line seems to specifically be one note and so close that both cinnamon and clove are broken down into two different types, the masala mix does sort of alter the profile, so these aren’t the same sorts of aromas that you’d find in a charcoal. So the Rosemary actually kind of works a little like the sage does in the Nagchampa above. That is, this doesn’t really smell much like the kind of rosemary used in cooking lamb (for instance), it has a sweeter more distilled oil like scent instead. The masala seems to have some woodiness and sweetness in it to also change the profile to some extent. It hasn’t lost the spice qualities of the herb really, but it feels like its presented more like a floral than an herbal sort of incense. Overall it’s not going to be like most expect.

I actually had trouble telling which of the two sticks left was Clove Bud or Cinnamon Bark because they are so sweetened up that any clear note is kind of obscured. My best guess (in addition to finishing the second mini sticks) was based on the pictures at the site where the Cinnamon Bark shows the darker of the two sticks, but honestly it could have gone either way. The darker stick has a sort of Madhavadas family like base with a lot of vanilla in the mix and the spice kind of plays around the outside. It’s not at all like cinnamon candy you will often find in charcoal sticks (like the brash Fred Soll versions) but a lot more delicate. Once the aroma builds up, the cinnamon does as well, and I would guess there was no use of oils in this and only the bark. But to me the base seems a bit distracting.

Strangely the Clove Bud is even sweeter, almost confectionary like, in fact it reminds me a little of some Japanese moderns in a way. There isn’t really a vanilla-like base , but once again I am struck by how little this smells like the clove you would normally think of, which may very well be because the aromatics are distilled from the fresh buds rather than the dried ones ground for spice? I’m guessing mind you because this is very far away from what I normally associate with clove, a note that is fairly common in a lot of the Tibetan incenses I’ve been reviewing. Anyway I don’t see much more in the way of description to clue in a bit more on these (and Mother’s are actually pretty good with the info thankfully), but they’re an intriguing trio of incenses in how little they tend to resemble what you expect. A different take is OK for me, but I didn’t really have the inches to go into these to maybe do them more justice.

Chimi Poe Jorkhang / Guru Chan Dreen Poejor, Na Gi Ma Bjor

Here’s a couple of Bhutanese incenses from the same creator that are both red/purple style with perhaps a slight shading difference. These are both solid representations of this classic style, somewhat picture perfect in fact. There are few (or no) ingredients listed on the package or at the incense-traditions.ca site, but I think the question here depends on whether you are familiar with this style of incense as the range of them isn’t terribly vast. So I’m going to link a couple that do have ingredients list as a pointer, not because I really have any idea what’s in these two but because the style is so similar, it’s likely there is crossover. Take a look at Lost Fragrance of the Mountain Gods or Gelephu as pointers.

Guru Chan Dreen Poejer seems quite friendly and sweet. I’d liken that sweetness to the mix of sandalwoods, juniper and maybe a bit of resin, but to me the quality overall is kind of red berry like and it’s the sort of Bhutanese incense that I think is likely to be friendly to most Westerners. Unlike Nepali incenses you never get too harsh of a wood quality, that is it’s not campfire-like at all, and there’s a sort of soft puffiness to it almost like what a confectionary would smell like if it was made out of woods and spices. And while some Bhutanese red sticks might have some more dangerous ingredients as subnotes, this one seems to be missing them. Like most red stick Bhutanese incenses the spices do not dominate but play around the edges a little, complimenting the sweetness with a bit of cinnamon and clove. To recapitulate this entire style is to really say that nearly any red stick is a good entry into this Bhutanese style, and Guru Chan Dreen Poejar might be one of the most friendly to familiarize yourself with. But if you’ve tried a few, you might reconsider needing more unless you’re a real fan of the style.

Na Gi Ma Bjor isn’t a radical departure from Guru Chan Dreen Poejor but it’s not quite as sweet and it’s a bit more tangy. We’re given a couple more clues as to what’s going on with this, with Na Gi (a medicinal seed) and white sandalwood (unlikely to be shocking) and these new elements give this one some personality that makes it a bit different from other red sticks. However, unless you’re really paying attention to it, this one isn’t terrible distinguishable from the Guru Chan Dreen Poejor and is mostly just a slightly more original variation on the red stick formula. Even though it’s a bit less sweet, it’s really no less accessible. I might just add that if you’re familiar with the style, have surveyed the more tan-stick Jaju incenses and want something a bit different, this might very well fit the deal. But overall once you’ve dug into several Bhutanese incenses the one thing you notice is that they tend to fit into some tight ranges and are very similar.

Drizang Kuenchap/Lhawang Driden Incense

So just in case you haven’t, I want to refer you this review from a few days ago as it sets a bit of context for Bhutanese incense and the red/purple style that tends to be common from this country. I do so also because Lost Fragrance of the Mountain Gods lists some ingredients but Drizang Kuenchap’s Lhawang Driden incense merely tells you there’s at least 30 different ingredients in it and you’re more or less left to guess what they are. However, given that this incense is in the same style, I think you can draw some analogs from other ingredient lists.

However when it comes to this style, and while I haven’t tried them all by any means, I think this one is probably my reigning favorite. It is a very deep incense, unquestionably very heavy in high quality juniper content with a stamp of depth only comparable to the finest of Tibetan incenses. There’s nothing just surface level to this, it has musk and spice in quantities that leave quite a lasting aromatic impression on your burning environment. It has a level of high altitude freshness that many Tibetan incenses aspire to without reaching this sort of outdoorsy, elevated feel to it. It has subnotes and more complimentary aspects that incenses of this style can miss sometimes, almost like this is a prototype to those. I would guess this has a lot of the same ingredients as Lost Fragrance: saffron, clove, nutmeg, rhododendron, sandalwood and frankincense.

The real strength of Tibetan incenses to my mind and nose is that they are evocative of high altitudes, evergreen trees, camping fires and so forth. They are not usually refined incenses in the manner of Japanese sticks nor are they dependent on perfumes like Indian incenses. As a result, a lot of what is marketed in the United States often tends to be made from cheap cedarwood or juniper and is priced accordingly. Deeper Tibetan incenses result from recipes that account for the more offputting aspects of materials and manage to highlight the aspects we love about these evocations. There is something of a romance from the Western perspective of monasteries high in the mountains, deep meditation with the scent of nature permeating one’s space. And as result at least for myself they scratch a particular itch that other styles of incense don’t and if they are done well, I can becoming quickly addicted to what they offer. Lhawang Driden may not have quite succeeded in doing the same thing on the Bhutanese front as Holy Land or Wara Monastery has done for Tibetan incenses, but it is perhaps as close as I’ve gotten and does so at a nicely affordable rate.

[I was surprised to find out that I had actually reviewed this incense back in 2010 via the Reviews Index on the left!]

Incense Reviews Index

This page is the master index for Olfactory Rescue Service Reviews. This is roughly up to date for all the important reviews and articles through 12/1/2021. Incenses are usually listed in the order in which they were reviewed unless the catalogs get long. These would be listed alphabetically and noted as such. Also, although a work in progress, anything in italic font is either an obsolete review or discontinued incense.

BHUTAN

Ap Sonam Tashi/Bhutan Jewel Incense

Bhutan Jewel Incense of Bhutan A Traders

Boudha Tibetan Incense

Chimi Poe Jorkhang

Drezang Kuenchap

Kuengacholing Peozokhang 
Lhundup
Lopen Tandin Dorji Poizo Khang
Mentsi Khang
Nado Poizokhang

Shri Lhoman Ngagyur Nyingma Buddhist Charitable Society of Bhutan

Tsenden Poe Zhokang

Tsheringma

CANADA

Esprit de la Nature (Canadian incense artist with uncommon skill who also works through Mermade in the USA)

CHINA

Huitong

Sanbodhi

INDIA

Absolute Bliss (importer, nonbranded incenses)

Anand

BIC

Damodhar & Co.

Designs By Deekay (Reviews removed due to the use of incense names created by a different company).

  • Soul Sticks / King Champa, Sweet Earth, White Sage, Wild Wood (2021)
  • Soul Sticks / Shaman’s Magic, Black Ice, Dragon’s Breath, Dragon’s Blood (2021)
  • Soul Sticks / Go Away Evil, Fairies Dust, Dark Angel, Guardian Angel (2021)
  • Soul Sticks / Aura Cleansing, Good Vibes, Sunpati (Quiet Mind), 7 Chakras (2021)
  • Soul Sticks / Tibetan Monastery, Buddha’s Bliss, Kundalini Yoga, Harmala Hamsa (2021)
  • Soul Sticks / Werewolf, Vampire’s Orchard, Dracula’s Blood, Good Health (2021)

Dhuni (Unfortunately Dhuni, possibly one of the greatest importers of Indian incense, no longer exists. The line has been discontinued due to bad faith on the exporter’s part. They are severely missed.)

El Incenses and Fragrances

Ganesha (Ganesha is currently not in operation, but looking to return.)

Goloka (Long running Indian company still in business)

Happy Hari (Imported via Absolute Bliss)

Incense from India (Long running American importer, still in business)

Incense Works (This line of incense is still available through Incense Warehouse and has barely changed in years)

Janak Perfumery Works

Kala Perfumery Works

Krishna Store

Maroma

The Mother’s India Fragrances (With the exception of the most recent reviews, recipes and the general style may have changed since they original releases. It looks like all of the aromas are still sold though. We hope to confirm where some of the other incenses are at at some point.]

myInsens (Quickly discontinued as a line.)

Mysore Sugandhi

Mystic Temple (This incense line is still imported through matchlessgifts.com. I haven’t checked the quality in a while (especially from a 2021 perspective), but I credit their incenses in large part for getting me into the hobby in the first place.)

N. Ranga Rao & Sons

Nikhil (This entire line has been discontinued.)

Nitiraj (Indian incense company that still appears to be running)

Padmini

Parekh Perfumery Works

Prabhuji’s Gifts (previously Ramakrishnanda) (One of the better Indian incense importers supplying quality and affordable incenses.)

Primo (Venerable US importer of Madhavadas family incenses who closed up shop December 2020. All their incenses are discontinued.)

Pure-Incense (Britain-based importer of Madhavadas family incenses. Pure Incense offer a dizzying array of incenses from the budget to the truly connoisseur. Please keep in mind that reviews prior to 2021 may only be a general guide to the aromas as quality and consistency changes depending on the makeup of the essential oils being used. Reviews of much more recent connoisseur incenses are forthcoming.)

Purelands

Puspa Perfumery Products

R-Expo

Raj Laxmi

Sarathi Perfumery Works (The Sri Govinda line, at least, has been discontinued)

Scent of Samadhi

Shah Agarbatti

Shantimalai

Shrinivas Sugandhalaya (Most incenses reviewed here were likely made in Mumbai by Nagarj Setty LLP. My plan is to eventually update and review the Bangalore and Mumbai operations separately. I will keep the rest of these as historical records. I can not confirm if the reviews of most if not all of these are still current, as Satya recipes have drastically changed over time.)

Shroff Channabasappa (This acts as a historical record of Shroff Channabasappa imports in the US via Essence of the Ages from 2009-2013. The recipes for many of the incenses changed dramatically in the few years after these reviews were written and very few of these incenses can be purchased anymore as described in these reviews.)

Song of India

Sree Yadalam Dhoop Industries

Surya Trading

Temple of Incense

Triloka (Still active mainstream US importer for Indian incense. Most of the line is fair now.)

Vijayshree Fragrance

JAPAN

Awaji Koh-Shi

DSC00830 (3)Baieido (One of Japan’s premiere incense companies, specializes in woods and is prized by connoisseurs. Incenses listed in alphabetical order.)

Baikundo (also Awaji-Baikundo)

Daihatsu (Modern Japanese company that specializes in more perfume-enhanced incenses and newer, less traditional scents)

Les Encens du Monde (also Florisens) (French importer of various Japanese brands, many of which can be found via their home companies)

DSC00832 (2)Gyokushodo (Venerable Japanese company who use perfumes and oils in their incenses but still largely lean traditional)

Japan Incense (Minorien-produced incense line for Japan Incense. )

Keigado

DSC00807 (2)Kida Jinseido

Kikijudo

Kogyokudo

Kokando

Kourindo

Kousaido

Koyasan Daishido

DSC00842 (2)Kunjudo (Old Japanese company that leans to the modern. Imports much of its line through Florisens/Encens du Monde.)

DSC00799 (2)Kunmeido (Excellent Japanese company with a small but wide range of traditional, modern and high end incenses. Listed alphabetically.)

DSC00789 (2)Kyukyodo (One of Japan’s oldest and most venerable companies. Most of the line was not imported here until Japan Incense started carrying them some years back. One of the largest catalogs in Japanese incense.)

DSC00784 (2)Minorien (see also Japan Incense) (One of Mike’s favorite incense companies with some of the best woody Japanese incenses in existence)

Nihon Senko Seizo

Nippon Kodo (Possibly the most famous Japanese incense company that markets its products all over the world and is found more commonly than any other brand. Well known for having a large range of product and tending to perfumed and modern scents. Incenses have been alphabetized here for ease of location and Sampler Notes are done so likewise at the very end.)

Okuno Semeido

Sanjusangendo

Saraike Kunbutsudo

Scents of Japan

DSC00847 (2)Seijudo

Seikado

Seikundo

Shochikudo (Koho)

Shorindo

DSC00817 (2)Shoyeido (One of the largest Japanese incense companies with one of the biggest presences in the US. Has a wide range of products from high end to low end and traditional to modern. Reviews have been listed alphabetically for ease of location.)

DSC00838 (2)Shunkohdo (Excellent Japanese incense company that leans to the traditional. Some of the best wood incenses on the market).

Tahodo

Taikado Koho

DSC00821 (2)Tennendo (Solid Japanese company that tends to be traditional but can do so either from the woods side or the perfume and oil side.)

Yamadamatsu (Possibly the finest Japanese incense company for aloeswood and sandalwood appreciators. A gigantic range of amazing products, including kyaras, incenses based on a Rikkoku set and several amazing affordable incenses and coils. One of Mike’s recommended incense companies.)

Unknown

KOREA

Sam-Sung

NEPAL

Boudha Tibetan Incense

Dhoop Factory (Possibly the finest Nepalese Tibetan-style incense company, but a bit hard to find now.)

The Direct Help Foundation

Doma

Gurung Int’l

Himalayan Herbs Centre

Khachoe Ghaklil Ling Nunnery

Kuenzang Chodtin

Lucky Incense Co.

Mandala Art & Incense

Mandala Trading (Two strong and mainstream Tibetan style incenses)

Natural Arogya Dhoop Incense

Shechen

Tengboche

Thrangu Tara Abbey

Tibetan Yak

Stupa Incense Industry

Shambala Incense

Yog-Sadhana

Pilgrim, Heritage

Aajudyo Dhupayan Rope Incense

Pure Frank Incense, Pure Aromatic Jasmine, Pure Aromatic Pine, Pure Aromatic Vetivert

PERU

Runcato

SAUDI ARABIA

Al Haramain

SINGAPORE

Kyarazen (Revered independent operator of high class, gourmet incenses)

TAIWAN

Bosen (Taiwan based company that creates many levels of aloeswoods, a couple sandalwoowds and what are like hybrids of Tibetan and Japanese style incenses, all of which lean to the traditional. Their incenses are available through Amazon.)

Zambala

TIBET AUTONOMOUS REGION

TIBET/INDIA

Dhundup Wangyal

Drepung Loseling

Kaqyupda Monastery/Drikung Charitable Society

Lama Chodpa

Menri Monastery

Men-Tsee-Khang

Tashi Lhunpo Monastery

Zongkar Choede

TIBET/TAIWAN

Zambala

UAE

Swiss Arabian

UNITED STATES

Ancient Forest

Dimension 5

Fred Soll (Iconic creator of a pinon pine based incense with oils that are often uncommonly amazing. Natural ingredients, so the incenses have varied through the years, but they’re an American mainstay in incense and one of the country’s finest institutions.)

Gonesh (Charcoal based garbage, avoid)

Holy Transfiguration Monastery (Resin Blends)

Incienso de Santa Fe (Fascinating shop of little brick sized incenses made almost entirely from local woods).

Kunhla Incense

DSC00466 (2)Mermade Magickal Arts (Most Mermade incenses are limited editions, so most of these are long gone. However, you can still get a heater and incenses like Deep Earth, Kyphi, Dark Goddess, Wild Wood, and some others often show up in new vintages, so incenses with same names are likely to be the sane in spirit. But this is also a historical record of a wonderful company.)

Nu Essence (one of the original creators of resin and herb based incenses for charcoal or heaters and esoterically minded)

The Rising Phoenix Perfumery

The Scented Djinn

Ross Urrere Aromatics (Amazing incenses made by our dearly departed ORS collaborator and friend. We are hoping to see these recipes and others passed on)

*Incenses marked by an asterix on this page are not currently imported to the US.

PERFUME

Mystery of Musk (Perfumes)
Intro
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Mandy Aftel..The Room of Many Bottles Full of Good Smells
Fifth Anniversary of the Natural Perfumers Guild

Ouds

Oud – An Introuduction
Oud: Regional Profiling
On the Boardwalk

INTERVIEWS

Interview with Anna Pach/Masahiko Kikuya from Kikuya Seishindo and Kohgen

TOPICAL/MISCELLANEOUS ARTICLES

Synthetics vs. Organics
Everything’s Coming Up Roses – A Valentine’s Day Tribute to the Flower of Love
Musk Scented Incenses – Japan
Air Sponge – The Odor Absorber
Tis the Season for some Frankincense Frenzy and a little bit of Myrrh Madness…
Create Something Beautiful
Incense on the Tree of Life (off site)
Some new books on ambergris and incense.
A Whiff of Japan
Burning Basics for Beginners
Maluku: Wood from the “Island of the Kings”
INDONESIAN SMÖRGÅSBORD +1
Rokok / Sintren Frankincense Cigarettes

MONTHLY TOP 10/TOPICAL BEST OF YEAR AND OTHER LISTS

POLLS

How Much Do You Spend?

Incense Works / Rare Essence Incense Collection / Frankincense Deluxe, Lavender Fields, Moon Goddess, Patchouli Supreme, Rose Absolute, White Lotus

Incense Works is an incense company in Salt Lake City that has a banner “celebrating 50 years in the world of fragrance,” but strangely if you look at any of the individual incenses sold on the site there doesn’t appear to be a shopping cart system anymore, nor any indication of whether it still survives. Rare Essence is also sold via Sensia and Incense Warehouse (I’m including Sensia links, but if any are unavailable I’d check Incense Warehouse or even start there if you’re inclined, both have always been reliable), so perhaps Incense Works has gone purely distributor. Way back in 2008, I reviewed four of Incense Works’ own Rare Essence Incense Collection here. Before I reopened ORS earlier this year, I made a couple orders to grab some Indian sticks and managed to get most of these again, including some of the ones I previously reviewed and I honestly notice no substantial differences from what I remember last, except for one in this bunch. Even when I first started with the Incense Works incenses I felt that they had some reminiscence to incenses I liked in other lines, although even by 2008 any semblance to the old school composition was gone and what you end up here is something like a Bangalore masala lineage a la Satya but maybe slightly higher quality. This has always made me feel there is a Satya factory or something similar that contracts with US companies to create incenses that are a little higher quality than they offer in the usual boxes. When I wasn’t sure what was left on the market, these still felt like old standbys, maybe not the best Indian incense you can buy but certainly not unpleasant (I actually might start with the incenses in the first review over these). I only include a picture of the boxes because quite frankly if you’ve seen one Bangalore provenance masala you’ve practically seen them all except for some thickness or shading changes.

As an example of an incense that reminds me of the old days, Frankincense Deluxe is really the only remaining incense I know of on the market that resembles a stick that used to be called something like Frankincense Champa or Golden Frankincense back in the earlier Mystic Temple and Incense from India lines. Those had a sort of crystalline, resinous but somewhat peppery top aroma on the old halmaddi base and of course this is just a more modern shifted version of that stick, because it feels from touch that it’s still a heavily dusted charcoal or masala hybrid. As always the bases these days aren’t quite like they used to be, but this is aromatically way different from frankincense sticks in any other line. There’s about the same amount of real frankincense as any of these others, and while it may not be as true to the resin as Happy Hari’s King of Frankincense, I like it more because it’s also trying to be a bit of what passes for a champa these days and it doesn’t have the King’s more bitter tendencies. This aroma used to be a great incense and isn’t maybe quite that good anymore, but I still find the general aroma to be enough to my liking for this kind of style. And there’s enough for me to enjoy the nostalgia of it too.

Having the superb Temple of Incense Lavender Supreme on my mind lately, it’s going to be fairly unlikely to find one that beats it for a great lavender scent. I’m not sure if Rare Essence Lavender Fields is going for the same profile, because again it feels like its really going for a more lavender-fronted, champa-like scent. In comparison to the Lavender Supreme this doesn’t seem like it has as authentic a lavender scent, although saying that it’s possible this box is old enough to have lost some of the oil on top. Overall it feels less lavender themed and more of a muddier floral blend that is fairly typical of modern Bangalore-provenance champa-cum-charcoals, at least on top. In the middle there seems to still be a lot of spicier qualities you don’t often find matched with lavender that makes it slightly more intriguing. At least in terms of its lack of definition it’s not super unpleasant (it has a slight off note on it that’s mostly buried) and has a bit of tanginess I like, it’s just not really doing what it says on the box too much. It’s one of those sticks that makes me wonder if it would be more balanced in a halmaddi base.

Moon Goddess appears to be the only incense in the line that doesn’t really list a note of any kind. Given the sort of haziness of blends at this price point it’s actually fairly difficult to describe because like the Lavender Supreme this is sort of a mix of floral oils and spicy qualities. It feels a bit softer to the touch and more masala-like, and has some powdery and perhaps jasmine-like qualities to it. There’s the usual underlying woodiness to it as well, the usual bit of sandalwood sticks like this come with and overall it’s actually quite pleasant and you do feel on some level there’s an attempt to give this a bit of a nighttime feel to it. However, it has virtually no resolution when it comes to ingredients and I’d guess there is some use of synthetics in the perfumes. Overall this is one of those “decent enough” sticks in that the positives and negatives sort of balance themselves out.

I’m not sure if I’m misremembering this, but I seem to remember that the Patchouli Supreme used to be fairly old school and resembled sticks that were called Patchouli Champas except it wasn’t as sweet as this current stick. Once again I am wondering if there’s some old stock where the note has faded off the stick as this barely smells at all like patchouli to me, although it may be there in the background a bit (it’s more noticeable if you walk out and back in the room). It’s a reminder that expectations can often be the guiding hand at evaluation because if this was named something else I might think differently about it, but as a patchouli it’s just working in a completely opposite and muddier direction. There’s something a bit cloyingly sweet about the overall aroma that I’m not even sure would work on its own if it had a different name. Only a bit mind you as this isn’t entirely unpleasant, but again, it’s a good example of an incense that maybe doesn’t know what it wants to be.

It’s something of a truism that a $4 box of a rose incense is either going to attempt to imitate a rose and fail miserably or blend some minor rose note into a floral backdrop and if lucky come up with a pleasant incense. Rose Absolute probably leans a bit more to this latter option and relies on the base with its sweetness and bit of spice to come up with something approaching a fruitier rose. If you’re willing to spend a few dollars more and go for a Temple of Incense of Absolute Bliss/Happy Hari incense I’d just say stop reading and do that. But for a $4 box this isn’t a bad incense, but even for that there are still some edges that feel cloying or overly perfumed, just not overwhelmingly so.

Finally there’s the White Lotus which has a lot of the same issues the Rose Absolute does in terms of having very little in the way of an identifiable floral note. Like if you were to compare it to the AB White Lotus Oudh Saffron you just wouldn’t notice it had anything in common. Again, you do wonder if maybe the incense is just old and has lost its oils, but even so you’d still notice some stamp here. Instead what’s most notable is the masala base with the vanilla and sandalwood feautured most prominently. Now this doesn’t have any of the overly perfumed issues that the Rose Absolute does but where I can’t really notice a lot in the way that’s unattractive, I can’t think of much to say to promote it. In this sense it’s not unlike a lot of Satya incenses except without the fairly common off notes.

Anyway it’s hard to tell if this is just a line at the end of its stretch, given that you can still find these fairly easily still. But it feels like they largely rise or fall on the strengths of their top perfume and many of these feel a bit faint.

Old, Unknown Incense Brand

Hello! Today I’m going to be reviewing a box of three scents that were gifted to me by a friend a few years ago. These are very old from what I can tell and I would guess that they are from anywhere between the 1990’s to perhaps the 1960’s.

The box itself is made of glued pawlonia in a segmented construction, and has a spot color printed label applied to the top, Labelling the set “Yume no Kaori”/ Scent of Dreams. What I assume to be the manufacturer is printed alongside as

“神氣爽快
一性彌天”
Or Shinkei Soukai Issei Yaten, If I am reading it correctly.
It states it contains 3 fragrances, rose, lily, and violet.

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Inside, There is a roughly finished, unglazed ceramic incense stand in the shape of a leaf in the top compartment, wrapped in some kind of wax paper. Below it are three short clear plastic boxes with the images of each respective flower the scent is supposed to represent. Unfortunately, I believe as these sticks are so old, many of the aromatic compounds they originally had have dried out and been lost, as they all 3 seem to have a homogenous smell at this point in time, at least from what I can tell.

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My notes on each of the three are below:

Yume no Kaori Lily – Stick smells of talcum powder, with a hint of amber. aroma of caramelizing frankincense, musk, bit of amber, hint of floral but way in the back. just a bit powdery but not cloying or harsh.
Yume no Kaori Rose – Stick smells of talcum powder, with a hint of amber. same as Lily, but less of the floral and getting a hint of mildew every now and then.
Yume no Kaori Violet – Stick smells of talcum powder, with a hint of amber, a bit stronger than the other 2. Aroma same as lily.

20210518-082548

Shroff Channabasappa / Soft (Semi-Dry) Masalas / Apsara, Exotic Petals, Little Woods (new version), Orange Blossom, Pride, Raja Yoga, Silver Bouquet, Suganda Mantri, Tapasya, Yatra, Yogi Bouquet

Shroff Channabasappa Part 1
Shroff Channabasappa Part 2
Shroff Channabasappa Part 3
Shroff Channabasappa Part 4
Shroff Channabasappa Part 5
Shroff Channabasappa Part 6
Shroff Channabasappa Part 7
Shroff Channabasappa Part 8
Shroff Channabasappa Part 9
Shroff Channabasappa Part 10
Shroff Channabasappa Part 11
Shroff Channabasappa Part 12
Shroff Channabasappa Part 13
Shroff Channabasappa Part 14
Shroff Channabasappa Part 15
Shroff Channabasappa Part 16
Shroff Channabasappa Part 17

I’ve been wanting to write about this group of incenses for a really, really long time now, in fact it should be a measure of my appreciation for them that I’ve restocked every single one once. If there can be one string that ties all of these incenses together is that they’re (almost) all very sublime in terms of their mixtures of notes, the kind of quality that’s like a lure or siren’s song. When I first started to use them, I found it fairly difficult to get a really good impression that I could turn into words and then before I knew it they had sucked me in and I fairly rocketed through all of my initial packages before I could even put words down on paper. So then I ended up restocking them again a few months ago and was a bit more careful and methodical with them. By then there was a new blend called Silver Blossom and some of the original soft masalas were starting to change in recipe. One of these is here, the new version of Shroff’s classic Little Woods.

While Shroff don’t tag these as wet masalas, it’s kind of difficult to really tell what the difference is between the two categories, except, perhaps, that the wets are a bit stronger in terms of perfume content. There’s perfume in these as well but they are much quieter in terms of how much the scent comes out of the boxes when you open them. Think of Darshan or Saffron and how potent they are, these are something of a step down from those. But most of this group is also different than the original group that Little Woods came in, and what they tend to smell like on the burn is quite a bit different from what they smell like in the box. But in all of these incenses’ cases, the more you get to burn them, the more you come to love them and some of these I’d find difficult to do without, especially with all the changes and bad news on the market at the moment. With Dhuni closing up shop, Shroff are now the predominant incense in the Indian export field and the reason why they are is part to do with the subtlety and quality of the last couple of groups.

Apsara lists balsam, jasmine and musk as part of its ingredient list and you’ll see musk pop up at least a couple more times in this group. In particular this is a really crystally perfume musk that really works well with these incenses. With Apsara it’s married to a really sublime and gorgeous floral champa scent with a terrific spicy finish. It’s somewhat reminiscent of pink or even royal amber incenses at times and the mix of what seems like cinnamon (but is probably partially the balsam) and the champa base is perfectly done. As such, it is fleetingly similar to some of the better Japanese florals with a high quality perfume scent at heart. Gentle and seductive, like nearly incense in this liine, this has a subtle quality that always keeps me coming back to it.

With lavender, sandal, and palmarosa in the description, Exotic Petals is a mix of lemon and citrus with a floral and fruity type of center. This is the type of scent I always find reminiscent of air freshener or furniture polish, it’s bright, intense and almost impossible not to get the huge palmarosa hit in front. But don’t let comparisons to these household products scare you off, this is much more well done than a synthetic fragrance, and it has a unique atmosphere that is well worth checking out, particularly for those into “desert flower” type mixes. It has a bit of sandalwood in the mix that grounds it nicely and it has a really cleansing vibe that is good for lifting the atmosphere of your burning area. In fact this one seems quite perfect for summer.

Little Woods has been reviewed here before and has shown up in previous monthly top tens for me, I’ve always stood behind it as one of the best incenses India has to offer. So I was a little tentative to realize that the group it came in has rumored to have changed in scent. The new version is definitely different but the good news in this case is that it’s at least as good as the old version. When I originally reviewed this, I found it slightly reminiscent of the incense known as Woods that started out brilliant and then really took a dive with the recipe changes. However, I’d say the new version might even be closer to that original classic and this seems to be less perfumed in some ways and more evergreen or resinous in scent. As a result it doesn’t feel like we’ve lost another old favorite so much as gained a new one (even if the perfumed version was brilliant). Little Woods is still an evergreen and evocative wonder.

Orange Blossom lists orange and ylang as ingredients. Like an orange cream soda or popsicle, this fruity-citrus champa is one of the best and most unique of its type. It’s not only that it gets its scent right (too many bad memories of off orangey incenses makes me hesitant to approach these), but it does so and manages to be subtle as well. The blossom part, if you will, is nicely defined and gives the scent a lot of sunshine, it’s still distinctively gummy and balsamic at the same time with a touch of the powdery. The combination of elements makes this one perfect overall, but do note these are thicker sticks than the rest of the line and thus the stick count will be a little lower.

Pride sticks out of this group quite a bit by moving away from obvious floral scents and using sandal, aloes and musk as its ingredients. It’s probably the driest in the bunch, stick and scentwise and reminds me a little of Shoyeido’s Haku-Un, a woody blend with a nice touch of aloeswood in the mix. It’s quite different for a champa or soft masala, with peppery hot notes mixed in with the woody/spicy blend. At the risk of repetition, it has a great balance like all of this line. The whole scent has a spicy richness that makes this an earthy classic and could easily be used as a temple incense. Don’t expect this to have any sort of whopping Japanese style aloeswood note in it, but you can tell the ingredient is part of the mix nonetheless.

Raj Yoga is an earthy champa of a different type, and lists rosemary, olibanum and oakmoss among its ingredients. It’s very close to what I’d call a patchouli champa variant with a green, herbaceous character (the oakmoss I’m sure) that is reminiscent of vetivert as well. The middle seems sandalwood heavy and there’s a touch of spice/floral to give it some individual character. It’s all extraordinarily fresh and original, and a great example of why these are all such impressive hybrids, incenses that only work because all the moving parts are in their right places. It’s tough to pick a favorite in this group, but for sure this would be in the running.

Silver Bouquet is one of Shroff’s very recent blends and is a really excellent entry that reminds me of the older champa days. It’s not so much that it reminds me of one scent in particular as it evokes a combination of older notes in a newer blend. Hints of Maharaja or Incense from India’s Silver Temple, a touch of Lotus, a bit of Incense from India’s African Violet fill the mix as well as a bit of nuttiness and a thread of spice permeate. It hits the kind of sultry end you want with a “silver,” with the perfume revealing some cool subtleties through the burn. Amazing, like a quality spiced tea.

When I restocked Suganda Mantri, it was the one incense in the group I bought two boxes of. It’s one of this line’s brilliant pieces of art, a rich, sultry Eastern perfume in champa form. The scent is quite woody (musk and sandalwood are listed) and the subtleties are many and difficult to list. There’s a bit of chocolate, some earthiness, some sensuous florals, especially rose. It has a depth to it all the best Indian masalas have, where the plurality of ingredients come together in all sorts of sublime ways. It may be the best of several examples of why this batch of Shroffs is so good. Perhaps a bit similar to desert flower blends but if so the most superior version of that scent on record.

If there’s one incense in this group that I might have slipped a little bit with, it’s the musk, sandalwood and amber blend Tapasya. It’s a bracing, fruity blend with the usual sandal, orange peel and spices, in fact this could be considered something of an alternate version of the old Maharaj scent. The main issue with it is that either the bamboo stick or part of the aroma cuts through with a slightly rough woody scent that gives it some bitterness. It gives an abrasive note to the scent that prevents it from working properly. Like Pride, it’s quite dry, but not in a good way. In fact as I took notes down on this I went through several sticks just to try and capture why it wasn’t working as well for me anymore and mostly it just doesn’t pop like the rest of them.

Yatra, a mix of jasmine, sandal and musk, is an excellent blend of fruity and floral with a really powerful and crystally musk presence, this is really what this line does well, balancing several ingredients in an unusual and clever fusion. The wood and champa base sits in the middle and they seem to ground both the jasmine and musk so that both are distinct in the bouquet. Sometimes jasmine can be overwhelming, but like with Apsara it is placed rather perfectly in the scent. Very nicely done, fresh with a touch of evergreen in the mix.

Finally we have Yogi Bouquet which lists citrus, musk and balsam. Like Yatra, it has a distinct and noticeable musky quality, although where it’s more crystalline and perfume-like in Yatra, it shows up a bit more sultry here, meshing perfectly with the balsam. The citrus is nicely mixed in and doesn’t kill the incense like it often can when the essential oils are over accentuated. There’s a bit of sawdust in the mix as well and it’s perhaps a touch rough, but the combination makes it quite worthwhile.

This article more or less catches up with the Shroff line to date, although after trying the new Little Woods, I’m curious to revisit some of the other incenses in the group that have probably changed. I tried Pearl again but it’s close enough to the old version to be redundant and reports elsewhere on the site evince that Jungle Prince might not be up to the standards it used to have. Another big change is that Shroffs are now being packaged in 50g packages, which seem a good balance between not having enough and having too much. Let us know in the comments section what your current favorites are in this thread and if you’ve noticed any changes, any observations will be highly worthwhile to our readers.

Incense from India / Deja Vu (Discontinued), Maharaja, Fantasy, Vision

Almost every time I tackle a line’s series of durbar/champa style incenses I’m always afraid I’ll start ranting on about the lack of halmaddi in them and how much they’ve changed in a decade, while at the same time I often realize that not ALL of them had a lot of halmaddi in the first place, and that my nose has changed quite a bit in a decade as well. Add all this up with the dearth of information we tend to get on incenses due to the language barriers and you’re often wondering what is fact and where rumours and myth get started (I’m always hoping not here). A company like Incense Guru which produces Incense from India, possibly the largest line of Indian incense in the Western World, undoubtedly procures all these incenses from various sources under their label so it’s difficult to know what the original sources are (although that they break them up into particular styles has always been greatly helpful). [NOTE 10/7/21: Just a note that these reviews may be obsolete as recipes have change drastically in Indian incense over the years and we have not been able to confirm where Incense Guru is on these scents. However, they all do still seem to be available and I have added direct links to the specific scents.]

I do know, however, when I started buying incenses from this company well over a decade ago, just on a visual basis I can tell they’re different now. Many of the earlier incenses, particularly Maharaja, were definitely more hygroscopic then and pulled apart with quite a bit of wetness, now the incense is as dry as a masala. On the other hand I’m not so sure about Fantasy and the others, I feel like I’m tackling older memories here. But I introduce all of this because this “history” has a large influence on me; I’ve known these incenses for a long time and sense some sort of degeneration in their effectiveness, which means I’ll have a different perspective than anyone coming to these scents anew.

Deja Vu is a powdery and undescribably distinct modern durbar type, both sweet and dry in a way that makes you notice one element and then the other and back again. It’s light, dry and airy in a way that makes you wonder if halmaddi was every involved. It’s also a cousin to Incense from India’s very popular Snow Apricot scent (which from memory was never particularly hygroscopic) in that Deja Vu could also be considered a fruity incense. Unfortunately, in the end, it’s a lot like Shrinivas champas in that so many of them are perfume heavy and don’t have aggressive enough personalities to be particularly memorable. I mean if I was to burn a stick of this today, by tomorrow I’d have mostly forgotten a lot about it except in generalities. Pleasant yes, but ultimately generic, in fact even the company’s description doesn’t go farther than calling this a “stronger Nag Champa type fragrance.”

Maharaja (Mystic Temple has this style as Maharaj) used to be one of the style’s stone classics when it was made with gooey halmaddi, in fact in remembering the incenses that really put me on the road with it all, the original Maharaj was definitely one of them. But the problem with the incenses in this style has always been that even though they’re all remotely in the same aromatic area, they differ just enough with every purchase. And so very quickly, even a year from my first stick Maharaj/a had lost its hold on me. And today even if the sort of anise and spice mix still keeps the modern version roughly similar to what I originally loved, it’s now very dry and the spice cookie/spiced tea like scent that use to merge perfectly with the honey and halmaddi now just seems kind of unbalanced. So in a way this is kind of a perfect example of how memory interferes, as I highly doubt anyone coming fresh to this might not like it.

And speaking of old favorites, Fantasy was another, definitely solidly in my Incense from India top 10 in the old days. But where I have memory of Maharaja transmuting like a chameleon, with Fantasy I remember the early batches and then this one. I do remember it being a bit softer in the old days than it is now, and the bouquet of it does seem drier now, but it’s a lot closer in scent than some other drastic recipe changes. It’s roughly in the same style as the Deja Vu, except it’s scent is much more in the slightly floral, herbal and especially) spice direction with hints of saffron and sandalwood in the mix. And thus unlike Deja Vu I can usually get a mnemonic picture of Fantasy’s aroma in my head. While I do enjoy it now, it seems sort of mediocre compared to the Shroff, Pure Incense and Mother’s fragrances we’re seeing now.

Vision perhaps due to them all being part of the same review, reminds me a bit of a mix of Deja Vu and Fantasy (it probably is partially because these are all relatively skinny champa sticks). There’s more patchouli in this and something of ammoniac smell I’m starting to notice in some Indian incenses, but ultimately it’s still that sort of sandalwood, vanilla and sweet oil sort of scents that most champas are like these days when they’re not deluxe. Ultimately it’s hard to break down the elements more than this as so much of the scent is derived from a fleeting perfume scent. Perhaps the fact that I don’t have as much of a memory of the original incense makes it hard to dig up further impressions, but like Deja Vu this is another one of those generic champas that have lost their ability to force impressions.

So this is sort of an unusual quartet in that ten years ago I might have picked at least half of these out as examples of the best champas available, however now, I’m starting to feel these, some of the Mystic Temples, so much of the Shrinivas and Nitiraj lines are all sort of in the same boat, pleasant undoubtedly but not up the best of what’s available out there.

Mystery of Musk, The Reviews Pt. 2: Musk Nouveau and Sensual Embrace

There is still time to get into the drawing for “Cravings”. Leave a comment here.

Musk Nouveau from Providence Perfume Co, to me, nails the idea of a musky, deep and intense perfume. I am a big fan of Aged Patchouli and Aloeswoods/Oud’s and this one uses both to good effect.  The light note of coffee supplies an almost caffeine driven high to the low notes and the restrained use of Champaca and Jasmine( which could get overblown very easily) are done with skill, as well as an very inspired touch. This also has a Sherry top note with Pepper. The Sherry is a nice opener for mids and base notes, To my nose the Pepper gets a little lost. This mixture has some staying power as well as some decent sillage (not overbearing but if it’s on ones wrist you get to experience hints of it as you go about your day), and it seemed to last for around five hours on me. As it is going through its dry down it really reminds me of some of the better incenses from companies like Kyukyodo(woods & florals), Tennendo (resins and spices) and Shunkohdo ( serious musk). This one really works for me, plus it goes through many changes, which is always a selling point for me. In incense I would call this a long learning curve, something to be devoutly studied for  understanding.

Sensual Embrace from JoAnne Bassett has a very classic scent to me. The top notes come in with a light citrus burst that fades into a mellow floral( a lot of different florals, to be sure). Down in the dry out stage there is a sort of Sandalwood/Ambery base that holds the whole creation together. I do notice that this perfume actually starts to have a stronger scent about five to ten minutes after applying it. I wanted the middle notes to last longer, which was annoying as I found them very nice. The Amber and Sandalwood finish also blend into a musky  note.

Kewdra from Anya’s Garden is a true exotic, born of a dream somewhere between ancient India and A Thousand and One Night’s. It is potent, sexy, demanding, and sexy. It has great sillage (which to me means around 2-3 feet ) The combination of exotic floral notes mixed with a very out front musk are a stunning combination. Really, this one is an instant trip to far away places, where anything, mostly involving sex, could happen. : )

Perhaps not for the timid or faint of heart, although a spray of this might invest one with courage or at least passion(really not all that different). Great stuff. For an incense that is along these lines one could look at the Pure-Incense line or, perhaps, Mother’s India Fragrances Champa Blends.

Be sure to check out the other blogs involved in this, it’s quite fun to read the different impressions.

I Smell Therefore I Am – Abigail Levin
Perfume Shrine – Elena Vosnaki
The Non Blonde – Gaia Fishler
Indie Perfumes – Lucy Raubertas
Bitter Grace Notes – Maria Browning
CaFleureBon – Michelyn Camen
Olfactarama – Pat Borow
First Nerve – Avery Gilbert
Olfactory Rescue Service – Ross Urrere
Grain de Musc – Denyse Beaulieu

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