Tsenden Poe Zokhang are a Bhutani incense entity who Sensia have just introduced to the country along with a few other incenses I’ll discuss in a second installment. Tsenden’s incenses end up giving us further clues on just how different Bhutani incenses are compared to other Tibetan incense producing countries in the region. Like other Bhutanis there’s an almost plastic-like consistency to most of these incenses, like they have just a bit more tensile strength. We’re given a few ingredients in their incenses – agarwood, gentiana crassoloides, bibhitaka, haritaki, juniper and cypress – although I’d guess the agarwood content is higher in the pink and yellow rolls than in the obviously budget conscious assortment pack.
This Assortment Pack comes in two sizes, the large and the small, and unlike many Tibetan incenses, the five scents in each assortment use artificial coloring, separating the scents into blue, orange, tan, green and maroon scents. However the colors end up being kind of a nice touch as there’s no sense of the artificial in the actual scents themselves and they do tend to symbolize the type of incense scent. For instance, the blue colored stick is definitively watery, with a slightly fruity and sweet top note on top of what seems to be your average juniper wood and binding base. In fact it’s almost like a Japanese floral in some ways and seems distinctly different than the other four colors. The rest all seem to have a sort of “generic” Bhutani spice mix along with the woods, so if you’re familiar with incenses from Nado Poizokhang you’ll have a general idea of what to expect here, although these do tend to be at the low end of the quality axis, relatively speaking (meaning a generic Bhutani is almost always likely to compare favorably to a generic Nepali). The orange blend is very hot and definitely firey with some citrus hints (perhaps resins here) that end up evoking sandalwood, all top notes that sit on the usual spice and juniper wood base. The tan blend is the lightest and perhaps the “vanilla” of the group in that there doesn’t seem to be much added to the spice and wood mix, giving it a very airy feel. The green blend is very similar except with some added notes I found difficult to parse with the sample, it’s tempting to think there were the usual green suspects here (such as patchouli or evergreens) evoking earthiness but that’s not exactly what I was picking up, it came off more as another slight variation, if a very pleasant one. Perhaps the maroon colored stick was my pick of the five as it had the strongest top notes with obvious cherry/berry notes and what was almost like an herbal tea note in the mix. It’s the one of the five that hints at the more premium offerings from Tsenden.
Both the Pink Roll and the Yellow Roll incenses definitively move the style to a different ratio of quality spice to wood base and in fact seem to evoke the same sort of grading curve you see with Nado (or even Mindroling), with what I’d guess is the Grade B with the Pink Roll and the Grade A with the Yellow if it weren’t for the fact both are priced identically. That is both are quite similar incenses, but the pink roll seems to have the telltale juniper/berry content at a higher level. The type of spice mix, at which we can only guess at with the ingredients list, found in the assorted incenses is at a much more intense ratio in both incenses and puts both in a similar category to the better Nado Poizokhang incenses. Where the red berry scent creates a very nice incense with the Pink Roll, the high level of fresh woodiness in the Yellow Roll is really a fine thing, as if one combined the original Red Crystal with a high grade Nado incense. Where the scents might be described as vague in the previous incenses, here the scent is fresh cut with a mix of wood and spices that evokes sandalwood after being cut, sweet and crystalline. The combination of these woody characteristics and the intense spice base makes this an extremely pleasant incense and it’s particularly impressive that you can get this sort of quality at such a low price, given how high the Nado range goes. Given that the Pink Roll is a pretty great buy at $3.50, it definitely makes the Yellow Roll a superb deal.
Finally, even though I’m mostly eyeing the pictures here, the Tsenden Zupoe appears to be the most premium incense in this bunch and where you can find common notes in all the preceding incenses this one’s quite a bit different. For one thing, the base is different providing a skinnier stick with less tensile strength. This is a much swankier, herbal mix that hints at some possible asafoetida content, but fortunately it’s not too much and if I’d guess at where the agarwood fit in in this group, it’s likely the strongest in this scent. Unlike the other incenses I could easily see this in a group of Nepalis as the familiar spice content is mostly covered up by the tangier herbal notes. With this scent I had run out of samples before I could really do the scent justice, which should tell you that this is probably the most complex of the incenses here. And there is a strength of scent here that hints at a high quality ingredient to base ratio.
If you’re a bit stretched in paying in the high teens for the top Nado Poizokhang grades, I’d definitely recommend giving the Pink and Yellow rolls a try and it should be said that the Assortment is a LOT of incense for very little money without one ending up feeling like you just ended up with a bunch of cheap juniperwood sticks. And better yet the next post in the Bhutani realm will feature three very solid Tibetan aromas, one in particular I found extremely impressive, so look for that group in the next week or two.