Mystic Temple / Agarwood, Cedarwood, Chandan Champa, Frankincense, Patchouli Champa

The first time I tried Mystic Temple Cedarwood was just after purchasing some at a store of Haight Ashbury in the 90s. At the time this line was by far the best incense I’d ever gotten to try and I spent months doing my best to stock up on all the great scents they had. But like all great incense companies, the change in ingredients meant that all the recipes slowly drifted and changed until a great deal of the Mystic Temple line is more on the same level as, say, the Nitiraj Aromatherapy incenses. Of course Mystic Temple’s line is much larger so there are still plenty of really great incenses to check out, but I’m always hesitant in reviewing them because I feel like the recipes could have changed since my batch. This sampling of five incenses really only relates to what I still have and haven’t reviewed yet.

Agarwood is a comparatively newer scent, and it’s so close in aroma to the Pure Incense Absolute Agarwood that one might assume the Mystic Temple is also Madhavadas family sourced. In fact it’s so exact, I’ll just refer you to that review. I’d only add the caveat that it might not be quite at the Absolute level (some of those faint and neat camphorish touches aren’t in this one), but it’s still quite close.

The Cedarwood of a decade or so ago was a green stick, the current version is brown. Where the old version had a bewitching, sweet and Himalayan cedarwood oil, much higher quality than any current cedarwood I could mention, this version is dull, more in the pencil wood direction, and rough, like it has a lot of cheap benzoin in it. In fact it’s almost more loban-like than cedar-like. It’s not unpleasant but if you want this style check out Pure-Incense in this case.

The Chandan Champa really surprised me upon revisiting it, my previous impression was that it was fairly generic. It has a superb sandalwood oil on top and it makes the incense. It had the crystally high end scent of old mountain wood on top of a basic champa aroma and it works nicely. Curious to see if this is the same as it has been a while since I bought this (and it’s aged really nicely, something I can say for several MT incenses). Anyway this is well worth investing in, in fact I can’t think of another sandalwood heavy champa with so true an oil. But beware, as times have changed.

Mystic Temple’s Frankincense is the standard Indian frankincense masala, also possibly Madhavadas sources. So this review is still close enough to be true. It has the usual cocoa/chocolate notes this type of masala usually exhibits and a frankincense that’s nice but not quite like the resin itself. Anyway this is virtually interchangeable with Triloka, the Pure Incense and others I’m not remembering at the moment.

The Patchouli Champa used to be a very distinctive champa but for some reason it also has been switched out with a lesser incense in the last decade or so. The scent used to have a really strong patchouli component with a slightly burned-like tinge to it. Here it seems missing or fading and it exhibits that almost crayon-like scent some synthetic champa incenses have. There even seems to be little in the way of patchouli in it at all, unless they were going for a lighter scent. Unfortunately there’s something off about this one now, the smoke seems astringent, as if synthetic elements are at work, and the aroma has little personality.

Mystic Temple / Red Tara (Red Dragon Durbar), Green Tara (Dragon Temple Blend), Kali Champa (Durgar Rose), Tigerwood (Dragon’s Blood)

In terms of big incense moments for me, that is those points in history where I can actually point back to and say my current interest in incense is partially because of, my first encounter with Mystic Temple incense in the late 90s was one of the biggest. This was not only the era when halmaddi was used in abundance, but one in which the oils and perfumes often seemed to be richer. There was a little store maybe a block or two down from the Haight Ashbury intersection in San Francisco which I stumbled upon that had a number of their incenses in stock, so I bought as much as I could and started to realize just how superb Indian incense could be.

But it wasn’t just Satya Sai Baba’s blends that took a hit over the next decade, the same thing happened to Mystic Temples incenses. As halmaddi started to disappear the company’s recipes started to change, certain blends would come and go and just a few would disappear forever (I’m still forlorn over a Mystic Temple stick called Ascendance which must have only lasted in their catalog for a couple of years). And where Mystic Temple’s blends used to be close to the pinnacle of Indian incense, we’re now in an era where Shroff, Mother’s and Pure Incense have taken over the spot. And now I’m left having to describe scents with the memories of better days hanging over.

The four scents in questions here are all incenses with coloring. All but the Green Tara are red in color, all but the Tigerwood are durbars of a sort (in at least they’re modern day champa or flora type incenses). The first two in this batch are thick enough to be considered floras and are obviously related given they’re both “taras” and they both use the word “dragon” in the description. I do remember the Green Tara from my early experiences a decade ago, but Red Tara I believe to be a bit more recent.

In days past this Tara style was particularly deluxe, an incense so variant on the Sai Flora formula that its similarities mostly exist on the thickness of stick. But where Sai Flora has a complex bouquet that’s partially a result from how huge the aroma is, Red Tara‘s is a lot more simple as if it’s missing something in the middle. It’s similar to most red colored champa variants with fruity tops and spicy bases and in this case the overall aroma isn’t terribly far from the Madhavadas Magnolia (found in both Pure Incense and Primo lines). But I also get quite a bit of strawberry and that strange note that always reminds me of a fresh box of crayons. Overall it’s definitely a nice scent but like a lot of modern durbar styles where the base has changed, there’s a harsh note that becomes an irritant over the burn, an element exacerbated by the high smoke content. And I probably should note when I first tried a small packet of this I liked it enough to buy in bulk, but I haven’t been particularly impressed by the bulk package version, as if even in the last 5-6 years it may have had a recipe change.

The thing I remember most about the “Green Tara” version of this stick (I think it commonly goes as Dragon Temple Blend), was that even though it had a very alluring aroma, I could never keep any of the sticks lit, as if the contents were too dense. This problem isn’t apparent in the newer versions but then neither is the alluring aroma. In the end this actually ends up being fairly similar to the Red Tara, with a similar “crayons” subnote, although the changes are obviously that this is has some green notes and is a little less subdued and quite a bit hotter. In the old days these green notes had hints of wintergreen and kind of a deluxe perfume mix, the newer version seems by comparison like a more generic green note somewhere along the lines of an evergreen/mint mix. Like the Red Tara, it’ s a very smoky incense and thus problematic in the same ways like being a bit on the harsh side and strong without having much of an assertive personality. It’s still intriguing in its own way, but I’d definitely stick to getting a single packet (and I should mention that it’s inexpensive enough where an experiment would be justified).

Kali Champa is a red colored champa stick that is a variant on several incenses across both the Mystic Temple and Incense from India spectrum that feature a mix of champa elements and rose/floral, cherry and/or strawberry hints in the mix. Even in the halmaddi days I never thought this type of mix was particularly exciting but at least then the sweet honey in the base gave it some breadth that the modern version is missing. But unlike the previous two  incenses, there’s no particularly harshness here leaving this scent sort of generically friendly and thus likely to be pleasant to most who prefer floral and fruity notes. In fact the cherry tartness right on top is probably the scent’s most pleasing aspect, even if it essentially fails as a rose stick overall (and even then only due to the “subtitle”).

The Tigerwood is definitely the odd scent out in this batch, included here more as a sort of convenience. This is a masala incense that I’d probably categorize more in the poorer category. The dominant characteristics seem to be a combination of dragon’s blood resin and sandalwood (or more likely cheaper woods), but it’s largely drowned out by a strange floral perfume in the mix which seems to compromise the dragon’s blood scent, leaving the mix rather unbalanced. Overall it leaves one with a sort of bitter or sour type of scent that I didn’t find particularly pleasant although I should add a caveat that dragon’s blood isn’t really one of my favorite resins, so if you’re more inclined to it you might like this better than I.

Again, this is a rather small subsection of a very large incense catalog, so I consider this an ongoing series whose completion may rest upon any particular future enthusiam. I will admit that in this groups there aren’t really any winners or losers so much, the line does have some impressive scents that you can read about by clicking on the Mystic Temple category somewhere on the left.

Mystic Temple / Green Floral Champa, Maharaj, Precious Forest, Sacred Woods

Previous Mystic Temple reviews on ORS:

Golden Champa, Transcendence, Vanilla Amber Champa, Frankincense

This group of Mystic Temple scents contains two “classics” and two relatively new scents. I use the word classics in quotes because one of these two is an incense that I believe has lost its luster over the years; however, it’s still a decent incense, just not up to the fine standards of the other three here. All four of these sticks can be classified as durbars in the newer sense in that none seem to have large amounts of halmaddi in them, although three out of four could possibly be some of the better durbars in the modern age. In these latter cases it’s likely the perfume/oil art at work that makes them so successful.

Fortunately, in the case of Green Floral Champa, we’re speaking of an incense that manages to be roughly the same as it was ten years ago. It’s always been one of the thinner champas and probably never had much halmaddi to begin with, quite the contrary if it had there might have been a little more conflict. Green Floral Champa is basically one of the most distinctive durbars on the market. It combines evergreen-like notes with a huge wallop of camphor along with some very subtle and even barely tangible floral notes into an incense that is extremely potent and perhaps an acquired taste or at least one for occasional use. Those not into strong camphor notes could easily pass up on it, but for me it’s quite fantastic, penetrating and sharp, and unlike any other incense I own. And unlike many high end durbars where $1.50-$2 will only get you a few sticks, you can usually find about 15 in a similar package of this one. I’m actually a bit surprised I lived without it for so long.

Maharaj is basically one of those incenses that makes you wonder if your impressions are based on some sort of nostalgic memory impression you’ll never match or if it just isn’t the incense you remember. When I first bought a package of this when these incenses were a lot wetter, this was one of my favorites, it had a certain oil tone that leaned in the spicy, almost licorice like direction, but even back then it seemed to quickly lose much of that note. Now, even though it’s still something of  a spicy champa derivative, it’s a lot more typical, just a little bit better than a dozen or so hard to pin Shrinivas incenses.  Nowadays it’s a bit gummy and somewhat featureless or thin in the middle. It’s also a pretty common style, both Surya and Incense from India have slight variations on the theme.

Precious Forest is one of Mystic Temple’s more recent entries, although by that I mean it’s been around a few years. This is a real treat that ought to appeal to those who like their Indian sandalwood oil dark and rich. It’s quite similar to the White Frankincense incense I reviewed in the last Mystic Temple installment, a very thick, deluxe stick with a rich base and oil. While there are a lot of elements at play in this one, the stick is defined by the previously mentioned deep sandalwood contour, the similarity to the White Frankincense is that both are rich in their respective ingredients. It’s definitely an expensive durbar overall, but one I’ll eventually have to stock in larger quantities as it’s really one of India’s more impressive wood first incenses.

Sacred Woods is really no less impressive, although in this case I don’t get a woody vibe from it so much, rather it’s more akin to green, forest or celtic themed resin blends. As such it’s similar but superior to the Shrinivas Patchouli Forest blend, moving much more to the very fresh, slightly evergreen but mostly citrus-like realms of good frankincense and gums like mastic or even some copals. It’s topped off by a hard to place floral note that just perfects the perfume. Again, like Precious Forest, this is one of those packages where you only get a few thick sticks so it’s a good one to sample and then stock in bulk if you like it to reduce the cost per stick.

I wish I could recommend Maharaj, but certainly the other three are all among the more superior durbar or champa styles from India, in fact I found myself even more impressed by the latter two when pulling them out for review, the creators really pitched them perfectly. Champas may not be what they used to be but there are certainly a number of them as satisfying as ever.

Mystic Temple / Golden Champa, Transcendence, Vanilla Amber Champa, White Frankincense

Today I’m going to talk about a few of my long-time favorite incenses, four scents that were basically my standards before I entered the wide world of Japanese and Tibetan incenses. In bringing them out again after what’s been probably at least a year, I was reminded why I loved them so much (and still do, now that some space and time has reminded me of why). All four, with one possible exception, are masterpieces of the durbar style, including one that’s something of a classic style, one that noone outside of Mystic Temple has ever really duplicated, one that’s the finest version of the style and an unusual stick that seems to be something of an Omani/Indian crossover. All of these incenses can be found under the company’s Red Label imprint as well as in bulk (except Golden Champa, which may be elsewhere in the site’s confusing set up).

It should be noted that Mystic Temple incenses are notable for occasional changes to scent. Like many of Shrinivas Sughandalaya products, it might be said that there’s been something of a quality shift over the years. For instance, in one of the first orders I made from this company, probably ten years ago, I fell in love with their Maharaja blend, only for subsequent orders to evince a new and somewhat inferior recipe (Reservoir of Pleasure is also a vastly different incense from what I originally bought). My main reason for mentioning this is that the incenses I am using for this review were purchased as long as 2-3 years ago. The good news is that none of them have appeared to have lost much in the way of scent, smelling as good as I remember, but this is a caveat that the recipes might be different now.

Mystic Temple’s Golden Champa is the company’s variant on the classic Sai Flora style. Sai Flora and all of its variants could be the largest, thickest durbars available anywhere. On average the sticks are twice as thick and appropriately golden, with an aromatic perfume and punch that’s so strong one barely needs to light the stick. It’s a scent I’ve found that tends to divide people. On 2 or 3 occasions over the years, guests and friends have made the comment that it has something of a manure scent to it, which could be the byproduct of having such a large concentration of florals in one place. Now, don’t let that turn you off by any means, such earthy notes are veritably buried by the potent perfume in place that mixes just about everything under the sun. There’s something of a golden (or even bronze or copper) vibe to the scent that contours what must be a huge list of ingredients that range from the sandalwood mixes in most durbars to cinnamon, clove and a multiple of florals. While I might give the Sai Flora contest gold medal to the Shanthi version at Incense Guru, or at least I would have when I had some many years ago, Mystic Temple’s comes in at the silver by a hair. In general these versions will tend to be less dry and quite a bit fresher than the general Sai Flora style in the red package. Overall this incense packs a wallop and is only for those who can handle profuse smoke.

Transcendence is a bit more difficult to describe, it doesn’t appear to have any analog I know of among other companies. It’s a scent I’m fairly familiar with as I often walk by women who wear a similar perfume, which makes me wonder if there’s a tie-in I’m missing. Over the years I’d probably have this in the top 10 of all time best durbars as it presents an even richer and sweet/spicy version of the classic Nag Champa. There’s a lot of sweetness and confectionary qualities to this incense, with a sugar/spice cookie scent mixed in and a bit of muskiness to the background. Like most of the big durbars, this has a great deal of perfume oil to it, but it’s one I’ve always loved and generally is met with very positively by guests, as it’s also one of the friendliest durbars available. Very rich and potent.

Vanilla Amber Champa is one of Mystic Temple’s triumphs. Since I tried this incense, I’ve seen similar incenses pop up elsewhere implying it’s something of a standard scent. Blue Pearl (Vanilla Champa) and Incense from India (Vanilla Sunrise) both have similar incenses and in all cases, this is a scent that reaches the high end of the durbar range (which isn’t terribly different from the other end of the range). Vanilla Amber Champa might be one of the most potent incenses available. I’ve burned a stick only to smell it as late as 24 hours later; there’s something about the aromatic combination that is uncommonly long lasting. Overall the incense delivers what it says on the package, it’s a durbar with very strong amber and vanilla perfumes, the latter more in front and the former bolstering the middle. The difference between this version and the others is that this one has a very sleek smoothness to it. The halmaddi middle to the champa isn’t quite as sweet as they usually are, which gives the overall scent a very pleasing dryness. It’s a really great, essential durbar overall, one of a few I’d immediately recommend to the Nag Champa fan interested in stretching out.

White Frankincense is a particularly unusual incense. The company has managed to mix me up quite a bit with their frankincense incenses. When I first tried samplers from this company (when the incense was housed in paper sleeves), the champa sampler had an aroma called Frankincense Champa in it, which was the perfect blend of durbar and resin. However even then the company didn’t seem to sell it separately, so I ended up finding something similar with Incense from India’s Golden Frankincense. Later, I was happy to see Mystic Temple had added it to their list, only to get a package to find out it was indistinguishable from their Amber Champa (whether this was a mistake in the order or an actual product change, I’ll never know). However at virtually the same time, they released the White Frankincense, which while being a bit different in style, scratched virtually the same itch. White Frankincense appears to use very good quality Omani frankincense, mixed into a base I’d hesitate (for a split second) to call a durbar, as it’s quite a bit darker colored than most champas. Lit, the stick is a powerful blend of sweet gum and a strong and potent frankincense that ranges from citrus (the resin) to peppery (the wood powder). Overall it’s such an excellent stick that it’s surpassed the previously mentioned Frankincense Champas, likely due to the high quality of frankincense used.

All four of these incenses are among the most powerful durbars available, emitting a smoke powerful enough to probably overwhelm anyone who isn’t incense friendly. They’ll scent any space for a period of time outlasting the actual burn itself, due to the intensity and power of the perfumes on display here. All four are also very friendly, lacking off notes from bad perfumes, while still remaining inexpensive enough to be affordable for most budgets. As I revisit so many old Indian durbars, these four still strike me among the best the style has to offer.