September Top 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kunjudo / Tokusen Karin Select

Kunjudo’s Karin is a wonderful incense in our Japanese Hall of Fame.  If you search for a review of Karin here on ORS, it’s possible you may experience some confusion, as the French incense distributor Essence du Monde has an incense line called Karin (confusion #1!) that includes an incense called “Forest of Flowers”, which is actually Kunjudo’s Karin (confusion #2!).  As a final confusion (#3!), I’ve heard that subsequent samples of Karin and Forest of Flowers may not so closely resemble one another, though whether this is a true delineation between the two incenses or just inevitable differences over time from batch to batch is anybody’s guess!  Well, with all that clear now  😉 , let’s revisit Kunjudo’s Karin and its more deluxe sibling, Karin Select (aka Tokusen Karin).  For simplicity, I’ll refer to the original Karin as “Regular” and the new Karin Select as “Select” for the rest of this review.

Mike summed Regular up best in his earlier (Essence du Monde categorized) review: “…an affordable and fantastic blend of sandalwood, Daphne wood, and cinnamon that hits a number of different buttons. It has hints of amber even without the ingredient listed as well as wood, spice and floral and it manages to spin out different combinations of these elements like an echo of expensive aloeswoods. It’s fresh, vibrant, wonderfully spicy and addictive…”  I would add that there are even hints of talcum powder, which may be a trick of the amber and florals playing off one another.  Clearly a multi-dimensional scent.

Kunjudo introduced Select in December of 2009, and this recent addition has already gained a number of supporters here on ORS.  As compared to Regular’s orangey-brown sticks, Select’s are more pink.  While it’s clear these are sibling scents, Select comes across as smoother and more refined.  This is a result of the top note – that intoxicating amber/floral combination – being higher grade in Select.  My conjecture would be that by upping the quality of spice and oils, and perhaps some reformulation towards the sweet, the scent remains multi-dimensional but the presentation comes across more unified, with the “ridges” between individual components less obvious.  This top note is more sultry in Select, with the Regular’s having more of a punch to it (I won’t go so far as to say Regular’s top note is harsh in comparison, but it is certainly less rounded.)  Friend of ORS, Janet, had an insightful comment on this difference – “…the roles of various components are reversed, with the slightly pungent herbs taking a back seat to the sweetness…”  It’s unknown if the quality of the sandalwood in the base has changed, but with Select’s smoother top, its contribution to the whole is more evident and enjoyable.  Think Regular Karin and Kyukyodo’s Yumemachi combined.

Ironically, I’ve heard a few comments that Select is more spicy.  A possible theory is that with that smoother, sweeter floral top, there is more open space for the cinnamon to shine through.

We’re fortunate to have two fabulous takes on Karin from Kunjudo, and certainly either is a worthy, even required, addition to a well-rounded Japanese incense collection.  You can’t go wrong with either, but with the bargain pricing of Karin, and the negligible price increase for the Select version, it’s an easy decision to upgrade and the recommended way to go.

Highly recommended to those new to Japanese incense looking to survey different styles, wood lovers who have hesitated approaching florals, and the connoisseur looking for a good palate cleanser or additional entry in a daily incense lineup.

May Top 10

May’s Top 10 includes 3 blends that work great on an electric burner.  If you don’t have one, this one works well and is popular with many of the folks on ORS.  It gets HOT, so start it low and slowly increase the temp over a period of time as needed.  The selections below do quite well at “10” on mine…

 Ocean of Night – if you didn’t already know, ORS’ own Ross is a gifted incense crafter and OoN is all the proof you’ll ever need.  It is an all natural blend of a dozen-plus elements including frankincense, sandalwood, oak moss and other secret woods, resins, herbs and spices, all pulverized together into a black sand consistency and aged for a minimum of two months.  No oils are added.  And as we would expect from Ross, he has obtained the finest source possible for each of his ingredients, regardless of cost!  The result is a deep, rich, velvety blend in both appearance and aroma.  I don’t have the “nose” or familiarity to dissect this complex concoction yet, though I do recognize the frankincense resin and a top note of what is likely the oak moss (thanks for that insight, Mike!)  I’ve found this luxurious black sand does best gently heated on my electric burner, letting the blend slowly warm to release its essence (hitting it too hard with the heat can induce the fine granules to scorch and turn harsh).  As further testament to the quality of ingredients (and Ross’ blend) OoN is also compelling just sitting unheated in its bottle – I could certainly see this as a unisex perfume.  If you appreciate fine hand-crafted blends like we have from Mermade Magickal, then OoN should be on your list.  Now Ross doesn’t have cases of OoN sitting about – I believe he thoughtfully prepares the occasional batch as he finds the time and ingredients – so it might not be an immediate acquisition for you.  But I bet if you ask him reeeeaaaaal nice… 😀

 It’s no secret here that I generally turn the ol’ evil eye to rose incense, but Bukhoor Marwah has changed that.  Anne, our resident rose incense and bukhoor master, sent me a sample of this unpromising-looking blend (think quarter-sized discs of black, tarry and tacky ground “coal”) and a moment of warming on the electric burner soon had my room filled with a lush, warm perfume of rose and other resins.  It’s a venerable and comforting scent, and while I don’t see it as a daily go-to incense, I can see having cravings for this – perhaps a good chilly day burn or summer-evening-screendoors-open kinda thing.

 Dream Snake is an energizing blend from Mermade Magickal that I’ve enjoyed for some time.  It has the unique property of not requiring a heater or charcoal – just light a mound of it and it will burn.  Now, I have tried this and frankly it just smelled like scorched ingredients to me, but, gently warmed on the electric burner, it reveals all of its wonderful aromas.  I see there may be a new formulation (my bottle is over a year old) so perhaps the new blend does better being “lit on fire” versus a gentle warming.  It hasn’t improved my trance dancing or oracle abilities as promised, though – perhaps you’ll have better luck!  😀

 In Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, the Wonka factory is a metaphor for Tennendo.  And the illusive Golden Ticket represents Kuukai.  Charlie spent his last dime to get it, and you should too!  It even made my Top 10 in January.

 My father was from Winston-Salem, NC, home of R.J. Reynolds (the cigarette manufacturer).  On childhood visits, I remember there was a sweetness in the air there from the tobacco leaves curing in the warehouses – a wonderful summertime aroma.  Snow Lion (bottom of page) conjures that memory with its mild, rich sweetness.  If you are unsure where to begin your Tibetan addiction, I recommend SL as a good beginner’s stick – no particular strong notes and nothing unfamiliar or off-putting to modern noses.  Light it in a forgotten corner and let the fragrance slowly drift to you.  And how cool is the wood box it comes in?!

♦ Baieido’s Kobunboku is a wonderful plum flower incense that has been a favorite here for a long time, appearing frequently in Top 10 lists and the Hall of Fame.  I, however, didn’t get to it until recently.  I’m already a big fan and have been burning a lot of it recently.  It’s inexpensive, too, so really hard to beat as a daily incense.

 Kunjudo’s Tokusen (Special) Karin was introduced only a few months ago and takes the “regular” Karin’s sandalwood, cinnamon and floral and further refines it.  If you liked the original, then the upgrade costs very little more and is a much smoother experience.  You may purchase it here.  We don’t have a formal review yet on ORS, though it did cause some buzz earlier this year in our Review Your Incenses area (scroll down to the comments from April 9-12, 2010 between Janet, Pinjie and myself.)  Warning:  it’s been known to cause random outbursts of dancing for joy 😀

Here you can read the review and my (and others’) comments on Minorien Aloeswood.  This recent addition to my collection has quickly risen to the upper ranks of personal favorites.  Perhaps more pricey than the typical daily incense, I seem to have to burn it constantly anyway.  And hey, it is cheaper than the Fuin Kyara Ryugen, so I tell myself I’m actually saving money 😀

I have been a long-time Tennendo Frankincense person, but recently decided to try Minorien Frankincense based on the many positive comments here. Its darker, pungent, resinous character is a great contrast to Tennendo’s light and melon-like one and I find that I enjoy it just as much as the latter. It’s nice to have options…

  Haru No Kaori from Shunkodo is the floral incense to try if you don’t typically like florals.  A fantastic blend of wood keeps the sweetness in check and is a regular recommendation by me for those new to Japanese incense.

– Steve

Incense Storage

Since incense storage questions come up so often here at ORS, we’ve added a new page on the left side-bar called “Incense Storage” that contains some of the wisdom shared here over the years.  Check it out!

How much do you spend?

I thought it might be fun and insightful for us to try some polls here at ORS.  If we get a good response, I’ll look at posting a new poll every so often.

Our first poll is going to show us how much we’re spending on incense.  I have a feeling we’re in for some surprises!  Have fun  😀


January Top 10

January is drawing to a close and it’s time for this month’s Top 10!   If you were to drop by my office at the ORS Studios™ (I am the first door on the left past the ORS lab), you would likely encounter one of these fine scents wafting from my open door:

 Sho Ran Koh from Kyukyodo has long been my go-to scent for guests.  After some time away from it, I recently rediscovered it, rekindling the love affair.  While we hear of aloeswood frequently, this is an example of the incense actually smelling like aloe – that smooth rich scent in good unscented body lotions.  Throw in wondrous spices and you have the elegant and sublime Sho Ran Koh.  It’s cheaper than you think – you are just forced to buy a very large quantity at once, which will last you a good, long time.  At only about a buck per 10.5″ (!) stick, you’ll see this is a cheaper incense to burn than, say, the next incense on our list:

Nippon Kodo’s Bamboo Leaf is an entry in their Yume-no-Yume line and, if I didn’t know better, would assume was rather a part of Shoyeido’s Incense Road line.  The marketing and packaging of these 2 lines seems quite similar (and trendy) and you pay for that.  Bamboo Leaf can be had for about $6 for a pack, which includes beautiful graphics and a plastic tray which securely and individually holds each of the 12 sticks.  But with sticks only 3.25″ long, this burn is more expensive per inch than Sho Ran Koh (!), yet another (unfortunate) similarity with the Incense Road line.  Price not withstanding, Bamboo Leaf is an indulgent treat and if you are a fan of Shoyeido’s Incense Road Nan-Zan, then just imagine replacing Nan-Zan’s frankincense with green tea, keeping all the sweet underlying richness, and you have Bamboo Leaf.  On the menu of Japanese incense, you’ll find this one under desserts!

 Pearl from Shroff has been arresting my attention of late. The champa brings something familiar and comfortable, yet with a perfume intertwined and pulsing that is new and always captivating to me. A prime example of why Shroff gets the hype they do around here.  Extra cool point – the packaging seems to have a typo, with the incense being called “Peral” – an ominous sounding and entirely offbase A.K.A. if ever there was one.

 If you love sandalwood, then do yourself a favor and pick up a roll of Yumemachi by Kyukyodo.  Everything these folks do is superlative and reasonably priced and Yumemachi is no exception.  Super smooth slightly citrus sandalwood! You’ll be burning handfuls of this stuff before long 😀

 Reiryo-Koh from Kunmeido was part of my very first order of Japanese incense and has been a sentimental favorite ever since.  It’s one of a handful of incenses that just nail the sweet spot – great spicy aroma with a low price that allows you to freely enjoy.  I pack Reiryo-Koh with me whenever I travel and I burn it in my car overnight to scent it, no kidding!

Koh En from Baieido is a classic. While certainly a luxury pleasure, sometimes you just have to allow yourself a few guilt-free sessions and enjoy.  It’s a nice companion while reading, writing or otherwise sedately reposing – when your senses are quiet and aware and the many subtle layers of scent can roll by under your appreciative contemplation.

 Shoyeido’s Seifu is the slightly more premium of Shoyeido’s two Premium Daily Incenses. The darkly colored stick manages to approximate the deep watery-ness found in high-grade aloeswoods (Tennendo’s Enkuu comes to mind here) at a fraction of the price. A great incense to try if you’re new to Japanese incense or if you’re looking to start exploring finer (and more expensive) Japanese offerings.

 There is a tantalizing combination of powdery sweetness (almost talc-like) and woody spiciness to Tennendo’s Kuukai that is intoxicating. Your nose keeps jumping between the two, trying to latch on to one scent just as the other pulls your attention away.  To be safe, you better just pick up the 10-roll box on this one  😀

 If you are a Tibetan-style fan, you owe it to yourself to try Nado Poizokhang Grade A.  It is in the same vein as Tibetan Monastery Incense and equally as good.  I actually have cravings for this one from time to time.  I wrote comments recently on NP Grade A – rather than repeat myself, just take a look at the link here to the review & comments.

 If they’re good enough for the Dalai Lama, then you should certainly enjoy Bo-rim sticks from Korea (I still am unclear who the manufacturer is – ChuiWoon HyangDang or Sam-sung?)  A dry, bitter-yet-smooth stick that evokes both burnt toast and burning leaves, I find the aroma both arresting, focusing and calming.  I see Frank Lloyd Wright working on a new design at his drafting table with this burning in the background.  If you haven’t tried a Korean incense, this is the top notch way to go.  If I had it to do over again, I would take all the $ I spent on Bosen and other Korean incenses and just buy more Bo-rim!

Hope you enjoyed this month’s Top 10, and while I’m at it, a reminder:  Have you subscribed to our RSS Feeds yet?  Make sure you never miss a thing at ORS and have all new Entries and Comments delivered right to you!

– Steve