It’ll probably seem a little strange to lead off a Rare Essence (scroll down about a third of the way) review by talking about Shroff Channabasappa, but as the Indian incense company on my mind of late, it’s been making me think quite a bit more about incense composition. One of the ongoing incense topics is the use of perfumes and oils in incense, a use very common in Indian incenses, who, despite starting with a lot of other natural woods and herbs, often dip these sticks in oils. The result with durbars is often extremely fragrant, the aromas often leaking through inner wraps and cardboard packages (I often use durbar as an analog of champa and vice versa, the style of incense with a highly aromatic base of gums, woods and resins whose final result is still a little wet and gummy).
The question I have in mind, however, isn’t so much whether oils or used or not, but whether these oils are natural and essential oil based, rather than synthetic. And this is an issue that seems very obscure in the Indian incense market that seems to have started when the venerable Shrinivas Sugandhalaya blue box Nag Champa replaced some of their natural ingredients with synthetic analogs. Apparently this happened over five years ago and while I can’t admit to noticing the change with my own nose explicitly, it was around this time that my love for Indian durbars, particularly of the Shrinivas Sugandhalaya make, started taking a nose dive. I remember going into stores to pick up packages only to wonder what happened to the aroma I used to love. The biggest hit for me was Super Hit, possibly the company’s most popular incense after the Nag Champa, which I initially loved until I suspected something was wrong and (probably) incorrectly blamed it on stick age.
Adding as extra contrast was the Ramakrishnanda line. I first encountered these walking into a local new age store and seeing a new display, that is, after I’d already started getting the aroma half way to the incense section. Ramakrishnanda seems to present a series of durbars, apparently naturally based from the oils to the materials, and the quality seemed quite apparent, with the sort of subtleties and complexities only found with natural ingredients. At the time, the only durbars I was regularly using were the Incense Works Rare Essence series which I had been using so often, I was starting to get tired of them and Ramakrishnanda compared favorably.
Fast forward to now and I’ve been sampling the Shroff Channabasappa line, which is not only reminding me of my previous Ramakrishnanda experience, but perhaps surpassing it. As I start to discuss the Rare Essence line, I’ll be drawing parallels to other companies with virtually the same incense in a different package, with Shroff, every incense is not only totally different in aroma, but it reminds me of the aromatics I remember from my youth, the ineffable hints that have survived via memory. Mystic Temple, Incense from India, Shrinivas and Rare Essence all have aromas that cross over with over 90% similarity. One often wonders if a particular Indian incense company markets their brand to different companies in the US. Read the rest of this entry »