Nikhil / Pineapple Champa, Strawberry Champa, Vanilla Champa

Apple Champa, Banana Champa, Cherry Champa
Coconut Champa, Musk Champa, Patchouli Champa

My opinion of these “flavored” champas has actually degenerated quite a bit, not only since I first tried them several years ago, but also since I started writing about them. If there’s anything obvious about the whole series it’s that in every case the same generic nag champa stick (which like every other company isn’t as good as it was a decade ago) is dipped into a fragrance oil, likely synthetic and inferior even in cases where one doesn’t have to pay great expense to get a good scent. Some of these scents have to be synthetic, particularly in the fruit category, as essential oils of many of these do not exist and have to be approximated. And you can often tell as one’s opinion might be fairly positive at first, but by the end of the stick the one dimensional nature of the scents starts to cloy and becomes bothersome. And in this trio’s case at least two of these are scents you can find elsewhere in much improved fashion. So these are definitely scents, especially when you consider your minimum order is 100g of each scent, you want to try first.

Pineapple Champa was actually quite superb in the days where the champa “punks” where high quality and made with halmaddi. The rich honey and vanilla like scent merged quite nicely with all of the fruit scents and there was a time when this scent, the Apple and the Banana were all favorites of mine (the Banana in particular smelled like Banana bread, a fabulous scent), despite the use of synthetic oils (which might have been better then as well). Even to this day burning a stick of the current version is fairly nostalgic for me. The Pineapple oil here is very stylized, more like pineapple candy or flavoring than the sharp and pungent scent of the fruit, mellower and almost distinctly synthetic. Perhaps that’s for the best in some ways, as you really don’t want the more citrus-like elements of the fruit to come out in a champa blend, but the result still lacks distinction. In fact had this been shunted into the Shrinivas line (ironically this has actually been the case – although these pictures did not originate at Essence and thus are not filed on the Shrinivas page) and given a different name it would probably fit in quite nicely in between some of the company’s 100g boxes.

Likewise the Strawberry Champa merges generic nag champa with fragrance oil and this one in particularly seems to burn surprisingly long. And this is unfortunate as the longer it does burn the more obvious the synthetic nature of the oil becomes until it starts to grate. It’s actually kind of easy to pick out as strawberry is so common as a scent and flavor addition to so many air fresheners and food products. And by comparison it also doesn’t hold up, both Blue Pearl’s version and especially Fred Soll’s (the latter a natural approximation of the scent) are much better, neither one holding the deep red coloring this one has.

Finally the very common Vanilla Champa scent. Particularly with amber this is a plentiful and excellent Indian durbar (Mystic Temple, Incense from India and Blue Pearl all do superior versions), unfortunately Nikhil’s is one of its lesser renderings. Like with the Coconut champa the off scents of the oil come through much more than the central scent, making it a very cloying stick in the end. For a scent like this you want your vanilla to be drier, particularly when a champa base is going to impart some vanilla anyway, here it’s overkill to the nth degree, distracting rather then being pleasurable.

Overall and despite the synthetic oils being used here, I do think much of the problem is the champa base being used in this whole series is rather dull, much closer to, say, Goloka than Bam. When halmaddi was more plentiful it added a depth to these that made up a lot for the oils, which now seem responsible in carrying most of the aroma. In every case I’d request samples before ordering a full batch of these as in nearly every case the sticks are quite thin, so you’re probably getting at least 100 sticks in every group and that may well be a lot more than you’d want.

And Happy Thanksgiving everyone, I’ll see you all next week!

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Nikhil / Coconut Champa, Musk Champa, Patchouli Champa

Apple Champa, Banana Champa, Cherry Champa

This is the second segment of three, covering Nikhil’s dipped Nag Champas, all of which are only available in large 100g batches, which cost approximately $7 each. While we’re not given much information at all on the ingredients involved in these incenses, I’d easily guess that the company takes their general Nag Champa incense and dips them liberally in oil, and probably synthetic oils in most cases.

The reasoning for this is that in some of the cases across the line, there are no natural oils for the particular scent, meaning they had to be created in some way, and while this can be done by mixing natural oils, there are some, two in this installment, that have the hallmarks of synthetic oils such as a lack of depth and only an approximation of the scent. Now I wouldn’t take that to mean they’re unpleasant, as they also lack one of the prime indicators of synthetic oils, they don’t seem to be, at least in normal use, headache inducing. The champa base also seems to be reasonably good, although having tried some of this line about eight years ago, I would add that they’re definitely not as good as they used to be, probably due to the usual halmaddi shortages.

Nikhil’s Coconut Champa is the first of the two that probably used a synthetic or approximate oil for the dipping. For one thing, the smell of fresh coconut has an appealing dryness that is often lost when used in lotions and oils, which seem to accentuate the scent’s closeness to vanilla. Using an oil and a champa strengthens this association twofold, the former resembling vanilla extract and the latter a common part of the base. The combination of the two evinces perhaps too strong an oil content in that later in the burn one notices oily and even citrus like aspects to the scent that while not terribly unpleasant unveil the incense as not being as authentic as one might like. The thing is, of course, there’s really no perfect version of such an incense to compare it too and quite frankly I’ve rarely seen coconut work in any incense and can’t think of one better than this. But I can’t wait for the day I try one that gets the scent of shredded coconut right.

The Musk Champa ends up with some similarities to the Coconut in that it has the same issues with the oil, it seems a little too strong overall with the same, possibly synthetic, extract or citrus-like issues later in the burn. Of course with anything musk related there is no particular standard of scent and indeed with this one, it’s the almost typical dusky, slightly spicy and sweet herbal musk tones that show up rather than anything powerful or memorable. Indeed I remember this one being much more successful in times past and I’d wager that part of the issue is the champa base doesn’t give it the depth it used to have. Blue Pearl’s version of the same scent is a much better example of how it can be done.

Patchouli Champa is the most successful incense of the three which is not particularly surprising when you add up the costs of natural patchouli oil, inexpensive with no real need to use synthetic oils. And sure enough the extract-like issues with the Coconut and Musk are totally absent here leaving a much drier and pleasant incense. Unfortunately, however, it also fails via comparison in that Patchouli durbars found in lines like Mystic Temple or Incense from India are far more successful, with the earthier and leafy tones giving the scent some definition. Here there’s only the lightest touch of the oil, more or less what you might pick up at a local Phish show, and it implies that if the oil isn’t synthetic it’s definitely not a premium oil like, say, Fred Soll uses. But at least it’s an affordable bulk incense.

Eventually up, the final trio which includes Pineapple, Strawberry and Vanilla..

Nikhil / Apple Champa, Banana Champa, Cherry Champa

This nine incense line (which I’ll be splitting into three parts over time) is a bit confusing as it’s made by a company in India (Nikhil) and distributed through both Essence of the Ages and Matchless Gifts. The pictures of these incenses imply they’re made by Shrinivas Sugandhalaya, but they’re not and there’s something of a story behind this I don’t really want to get into, but I was informed of the true company by Essence (the photographs appear to be artifacts so to speak). I will say, however, that if you were to smell these incenses, you could be easily led to believe they are made by Shrinivas as the base incenses smell very much like Shrinivas Nag Champa.

I originally tried these incenses a few years back and really fell in love with the Apple, Banana and Pineapple scents and they made a strong impression on me at the time. Like so many Indian incenses, however, the formulas have changed to some point and while I still like them, they seem a bit more synthetic and a little shallower than I remember. However in the case of the Apple and Banana I did like them enough to go for 100g packages even now. Anyway, for most of the incenses in this line, there’s not much to describe. A base Nag Champa is basically dipped in the corresponding perfume oil and I’d also guess there’s some coloring added in these cases. However I’d guess the difference between the old and new is less the perfumes and more the base, which, of course, used to be a lot richer.

Apple Champa has an oil that reflects more of the sour green apple tendencies than the red ones. It actually matches the sweeter champa base fairly well, the central incense keeping the apple perfume pretty mellow. In fact this mellowness reminds me at times more of the Goloka champa rather than the Shrinivas. Overall there’s something slightly too synthetic about the perfume, it just doesn’t quite go deep enough, but it’s not something you’ll notice for the most part and since there’s few other combos quite like this and overall it’s quite inexpensive in bulk, it’s one I want around for a diversion.

The original Banana Champa was quite brilliant. When it had more halmaddi, the vanilla sweetness made this incense smell like baking banana bread, a scent I found quite nostalgic and pleasant. Unfortunately the newer formula doesn’t hit those notes and now it’s more like nag champa with banana oil added, still quite nice but not special. Part of it is that the banana oil is a bit too faint to cut through the base, the other part, like with the apple, is the synthetic nature of the oil, it’s just not deep enough to work with an inferior base. But again, there’s something about the way banana matches with champa I like and it’s another one I had no trouble wanting to stock.

The Cherry Champa, however, isn’t really one I liked a lot in either version, in fact I don’t notice much of a change in the base. I do notice a change in the perfume oil, though, but unfortunately in neither case does it really smell like what I think of as cherries. In the newer formula, the oil is very floral, with hints of roses and other blossoms. It’s akin to a lot of other red color champas in both Mystic Temple and Incense from India lines, mellow, bright and powdery. But overall it’s kind of a vapid, dull scent, I’d as soon stick with Japanese cherry blossom incenses than deal with this one.

Also in this line are Coconut, Musk, Patchouli, Pineapple, Strawberry, and Vanilla Champas, all of which I’ll overview in the next few months, although to be fair there are few surprises to be had across the line. Take Nag Champa, dip in the corresponding oil and you pretty much know what you’re getting.