In preparing this write up, it hadn’t quite sunk in that often long stick versions of incenses have different ingredient formulations, as we all learned recently with the long stick Holy Land incense. Zongkar Choede Monastery, whose incense is sold via Essence of the Ages, offers “regular” Zongchoe in four different lengths, as well as what looks like a long stick (similarly packaged to Tashi Lhunpo’s Local incense with red cellophane). Both incenses are described as having over 20 ingredients, so the assumption made is that the Zongchoe long is just a longer version of the “regular” incense.
However while this assumption could be incorrect, Zongchoe incense is such a standard Tibetan incense, that it could be a while before I run out of this “style” and want to check out a new variant. Zongchoe is what I’m coming to think of as the Tibetan “berry” style, a deep red stick that combines woods, herbs, probably a large proportion of juniper and a touch of spice to create a very friendly incense with tones of cherry, strawberry, and red florals. Incenses like this are quite prevalent, a quick scan of my data turns up both Drepul Loseling incenses, the high to mid grade Nado Poizokhangs, Mindroling Grade 2, certain Nub Gon and Stupa incenses, and almost the entire Tashi Lhunpo catalog where even the sticks without the red coloring have a similar scent. Zongkar itself is one of the better variants in this style due to the quality ingredients and a bit of bolstering to the herbal middle of the scent. It’s also very affordable, especially compared to the higher end Tibetan sticks, so it’s not a bad place to start to check out this very pleasant incense style, especially with some very affordable small boxes to start out with.
Zongkar Choede’s Kalachakra is quite a bit more special. Unlike the central Zongchoe incenses, Kalachakra is an earthy, tangy incense with a lot of late summer sort of aroma’s from ripened fruit to the soil of a rich harvest. Amidst such density are hints of olives, clay, flowers, hops and raisins, surrounding a central sweetness and a slight cookie spice to it. I noticed some similarities to the Kaqyudpa Monastery Blue Sky in terms of that raisin or even prune like background scent. Like a lot of good Tibetan incenses, Kalachakra has just a touch of an edge to it, hinting at wilder and “less friendly to Western noses” herbs. If it has anything in common with Zongchoe incense, it’s the high quality of ingredients.
Although it’s taking me a while as I survey various Tibetans, I’m finding there to be a difference between various companies in terms of lower end incenses. That is, there are some very standard and affordable Tibetan incenses, most of them heavy with inexpensive woods, that seem to have a drier burn that intimates that some of the ingredients have lost a bit of their aroma and energy. Zongkar Choede incenses are in that other group, still very affordable, but having a bit of punch and vibrancy that bespeaks of high quality control and freshness. It’s not a bad monastery to check out for something affordable and enjoyable.