The Olfactory Rescue Service Top 25 (Mike and Ross)

Today we introduce to you the Olfactory Rescue Service Top 25. However, unlike our usual top 10s and last year’s combined top 20, we thought we’d do something a little bit different and a little bit tricky. This year’s top 25 is something of a meta-list, in a way we want to capture the best of incense by looking at things from a larger perspective. So instead of having one incense per entry, we’re just going for broke: full companies, sublines, incenses, incense materials, incense supplementals – everything we could think of that would lead to a top tier incense experience. In fact we started at a top 20, expanded it to a 25 to make sure we got everything and ended up with a pretty good group.

Please keep in mind as always that our best of lists are something of a lark. For one thing I think both Ross and I probably find it somewhat difficult to truly tier these in order and so while maybe we like the stuff at the top a little more than at the bottom, maybe, there’s no particular rhyme or reasoning to the ordering and we consider everything on here to be superlative work, perhaps with a few individual idiosyncracies we won’t mention. As a whole though, I think this is a good look at what we consider the best incense related stuff on the US market today and we’ve pared it down only to include what is available here. As each entry often includes several incenses, we’ve left off links to reviews and sites, but just about everything on here has been reviewed previously and links to them can be found in our Reviews Index. So, after the cut, the ORS Top 25. Read the rest of this entry »


Purelands / Bhakti Yoga / Golden Champa, Purelands Flower, Rasa Leela, Saffron and Rose, Sandalwood, Shanti

[EDIT: Since writing this review, there have been several comments noting the decline in quality of Purelands’ Saffron & Rose. After comparing an old box to a new box of Rasa Leela, I’ve decided to put this warning on this review as the following refers to the line’s old formulas. Since at least two of these incenses have drastically changed for the worse, I can’t recommend any of them anymore – buyer beware.]

The Bhakti Yoga series of incenses from Purelands is a fairly unusual one when you consider just how many various and different styles there are just within six incenses. You can break these down in half by categorizing the Rasa Leela, Saffron Rose and Shanti as durbars, but all three are quite different with the Rasa Leela dark and luxurious, the Saffron Rose red, firey, spicy and floral, and the Shanti perhaps the most traditional of the three. For the other three you have one fairly traditional incense with the Purelands Flower, a traditional but uncommonly potent and different kind of Sandalwood, and a Golden Champa that might have fit neatly into the Pure Incense range.

Of course, what you can say about all these incenses is not only are they very affordable but they’re of an uncommonly high quality. In particular, the three durbars are reminiscent of the halmaddi rich variants far more common 10 years ago and in fact two of these incenses were like deja vu for me, one bringing back a scent I hadn’t seen sold in many years, and the other bringing back the most superb variant of what’s  a very common incense style. Like the incenses sold by Pure Incense, Shroff and Mother’s Fragrances, these are Indian incenses that improve with use, as you get used to the fine ingredients and their subtlties.

As previously mentioned, the Bhakti Yoga Golden Champa is quite similar to the Pure Incense absolute variant, both sparkle with what is likely some sort of perfume fixative and while both have slightly different directions for their aroma, they’re fairly hard to qualify as being champa incenses in a durbar style and are thus mostly describable by their perfume oils, which in both cases are floral, sweet, delicate and very exotic. Golden champas usually indicate the thickest sort of durbar incense as typified by Sai Flora, however the Bhakti Yoga variant is basically a high quality dry masala. Where the Sai Flora variant is almost overkill in its powerful and earthy scent, the Purelands version goes for an almost lotus-like and mellow variant, its loveliness floating on a friendly magnolia-like perfume that shimmers. The similarities between the Sai Flora and Bhakti Yoga style is what one might refer to as golden, it’s a sort of bright, slightly citrus but mostly sugary champa scent that is deeply resonant. In the Sai Flora direction in turns into an indole-heavy earthy resonance almost thick enough to bring tears to your eyes, in the Bhakti Yoga style it mostly balances out the oil and is judiciously used. Overall it’s a beautifully done variant and given its similarity to the Pure Incense version, its $3 a box price makes this the superior buy.

The Purelands Flower seems to be a variant a lot more common than I had originally thought being a very similar incense to the Mystic Temple Green Floral Champa. It’s a variant of a style I’ve seen referred to as Desert, Vrindavan (in the Krishna line) or Paradise Flower, but like the GFC, the Purelands version has a strain of camphor it in it. In fact where the GFC is perhaps drier with the camphor strain, the Bhakti Yoga Purelands Flower is almost slightly more menthol or eucalyptus-like and cooling which helps to give it its own personality. It’s undoubtedly a very green incense (and the only one of the six with this tendency) and also exhibits slight subtleties or mint and evergreen and like both it’s ultimately very fresh, but unlike both it’s not snappy or sharp.

The Rasa Leela durbar was a very welcome surprise to me. A decade ago or so, Mystic Temple sold an incense called Reservoir of Pleasure and in recent years the formula has changed to a completely different incense, leaving a slight hole where this scent is concerned. Fortunately the Rasa Leela brings back this dark and decadent scent that combines the durbar formula with honey, vanilla, raisins, chocolate and caramel all mixed into an unmistkably powerful and accessible incense with a late summer like feel to it. The stick itself is particularly thick and wet, speaking of what seems like an uncommonly high content of halmaddi in the mix for this incense age. A really gorgeous and classic incense this one.

My favorite in the group is the scintillating Saffron and Rose. If the Purelands Flower exhibits greener qualities and the Rasa Leela the dark and earthy shades of harvest and late summer, the Saffron Rose is firy red and full of heat, a spice content that burns off of a gorgeous central rose oil. The saffron content is perhaps exaggerated as the first ingredient in the incense name as there doesn’t appear to be any true saffron scent (not an uncommon when you think of what saffron is and how subtle a scent can be), instead the aromatics around the rose oil seem a bit spicy, and although the red makes you think of cinnamon, that’s not quite what the scent does. The combination, like it often is in red-colored durbars, leans a bit to the cherry side, but not enough to dominate, in fact the incense’s success lays largely on the fact that no matter what’s on top a distinct, beautiful rose tone is never lost in the burn. And as such it’s possibly the best red-toned durbar I’ve had the pleasure to try, not to mention being my favorite in a very strong group – I even ordered a second box not long after my first sample.

Well, what more can you really say about a Sandalwood incense other than in how the scent is carried, which in this case is definitely from the potent and distinct oils being used. They’re so strong in this incense that the top note has a very luxurious, almost liqueur-like strength to it. It’s perhaps fortunate with this much oil that the best tendencies of the sandalwood come out, that deep wood resin/crystal like scent you tend to find in heating the best wood, although that’s certainly mixed in with the more common buttery wood hints and the aforementioned, intense oil. It’s quite a fine sandalwood masala really even if its a mix of the wood’s qualities, particularly so for the price.

Shanti is the Bhakti Yoga version of a very common incense, the Satya Natural of Shrinivas, the Honey Dust of Incense of India, and the Vanilla of Mystic Temple, however this version is more reminiscent of the style’s older formulations and thus is at least slightly superior to these analogs. I truly get a nice amount of halmaddi in the mix bringing its sweet, vanilla-honey mix much more to the fore and restoring the richness the incense style had lost in these other variants. The style’s a very friendly and accessible incense with a mix of these vanilla qualities with slight touches of what I would think is myrrh given a Ramakrishnanda variant of the scent that includes that ingredient in the recipe list. It’s really a time-honored scent that needs little introduction and surely any exploring champa lover should take the time to buy a box. You can often tell this style from the lavender colored bamboo end, a quality shared by all these variants.

Overall Purelands is another recently imported incense that shows another Indian company restoring the country’s fine incense tradition with the type of products many of us remember from when we were younger. There really isn’t a poor incense in the bunch and when you consider you can get the whole series for $18, it’s really a must purchase. One only hopes the Bhakti Yoga line gets an expansion at some point as I’d like to see what they do with a number of other aromas if the ingredients are this fine.