Tennendo / Propolis

So while I believe Ross wrote about this incense in an article or top 10 list somewhere else on the site and I also mentioned it in my 14 One of a Kind Japanese Incenses article from February, I wanted to get an official review up, simply because I really, really like this incense. Information on what propolis is is best explained both at Japan Incense’s Tennendo Propolis page and this Wikipedia article. So rather than paraphrasing any of that here, I would recommend reading these articles as it’s a really fascinating substance. After sampling Tennendo’s incense, it just made me wonder why it’s not more commonly incorporated as an incense ingredient, like Mermade did with Sweet Medicine. It’s not that it’s just highly pleasant, but it has a depth that really does sort of support the idea that kyara users tend to enjoy it. The Tennendo sticks are short and pack a punch. Just sitting here and multi-tasking I had to light 3 in order to finalize this review. But just like with any unique incense there’s not a lot I can say about it unless you know the scent. It reminds me a bit of deeper ambers in one way, it’s also a bit candy like in another, and the resin nature is unmistakable. And one thing I really like about it is that it’s so different that if you burn it in contrast with other incenses, it strikes me as providing a bit of a break, refreshing your palate not only with itself but for the next incense you sample. Overall, it’s a bit of an outlay, but you get a ton of sticks with a box, so it’s likely to last you a good long while.

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Tennendo / Hana no Byakudan

For my tastes, I find the range of sandalwood incenses in Japanese incenses to be much narrower than the range in aloeswood incenses. Even company to company the aromas can be very similar. Now there are low end daily incenses with inexpensive sandalwoods, but I’m speaking more of the range where Mysore sandalwood comes into play, a finer level of wood. The issue for me is I can find even the slightest of tweaks to separate one I like from one I don’t. I’m not sure these distinctions may be quite so fussy for other readers. Sandalwood can be kind of buttery at times, sometimes it’s just not particularly distinctive. Sometimes it has a citrus note, other times it can have what I have often called a “crystalline” (perhaps resinous) quality to it which I often feel is showing up the best the wood has to offer. And there are sandalwoods that often smell like they’re fresh off of someone’s saw, which is another quality I enjoy. But on the other hand give me a high-end Indian absolute or essential oil and I might rocket to the moon (I’m looking at you Temple of Incense).

Tennendo’s new (or newly imported) Hana no Byakudan is packaged in the kind of pawlonia boxes that tend toward premium scents and at $24 for 55 or more sticks, I think it’s safe to say this is more upper-end sandalwood. It has almost all of the notes I mentioned earlier, although the crystalline qualities aren’t always present as if you get them when the burn hits a finer pocket of wood. But overall when I burn this incense I definitely get a good definition sandalwood in mind. It’s not adulterated too much, nor has it lost the personality that good sandalwoods have and I found the more I used it for this review, the more I liked it. But it’s close to missing this sweet spot in a way that I think Japanese sandalwoods of old weren’t as likely to do. For instance, one of my favorite sandalwood incenses ever, Kyukyodo’s Gyokurankoh is a great example of an incense that went from one of my favorite sandalwoods to one in the middle. And of course there’s the recent news of Baieido discontinuing their very premium Byakudan Kokoh. It feels that just like aloeswood, some level of the really good stuff has been disappearing in no small way. And I think this Tennendo is kind of in that middle spot. It’s very nice and I love its fresh atmosphere, no question. Special? Maybe right on the cusp. Just another shift in availability I would guess. But I can’t imagine if you’re a big sandalwood fan you will have too much issue with this.

Tennendo / Keryu Aloeswood

So the appearance of new incenses with aromas that strongly remind me of some of the better cultivated aloeswood sticks seem to have been popping up of late. I want to say “seem to” because let’s face it, I’m just going off of completely limited information and what my nose is picking up. I’m also going on the idea that these certain scent profiles are showing up in incenses that are wildly expensive compared to what we normally see in aloeswoods of similar quality. I brought this up in my recent review of Shoyeido’s Myo-kaku and also mentioned in that review Shunkohdo’s Vietnam, Zaarai / Tỉnh Gia Lai Aloeswood and Vietnam, Kanhoa / ỉnh Khánh Hò Aloeswood. There may be one or two others I am forgetting, but it’s also not a surprise these are all new lines. But let me repeat to be clear, it is not confirmed from my end that any of these incenses are using cultivated aloeswood. I’m just guessing. What I can say is the scent profiles are different.

I am trying to be careful with the issue because I suspect that this is a trend we will be seeing more of. We have all heard the rumors of aloeswood shortages and so forth and we also know some of our favorite recipes are changing and we’re losing a bit of the depth we usually sense in some sticks. There is unquestionably still a gap between cultivated aloeswood and wild aloeswood. Honestly every time I try something new that appears to have cultivated wood, it’s a little better and for sure it’s getting to the point where the incenses are nice. But Tennendo Keryu and the two Shunkohdo’s above may be more reminiscent of the sorts of aloeswoods you might get from Bosen rather than a high end Japanese company, but they’re also a lot more expensive per stick than all but Bosen’s highest end aloeswood sticks (and you also have to account for the fact that Bosen sticks are much thicker and heavier by weight).

Tennendo’s Keryu is actually quite gorgeous. Whether the wood comes from it been shored up a bit probably with musk and some other ingredients, it is a bit sweet and very aloeswoody and an enjoyable incense. It’s also very different from much of Tennendo’s familiar incenses, whether it’s their perfumed incenses or their Karafune line. The more I burn it the more I really like it. But I’m still getting my head around the idea that it’s over $2 a 5.3 inch stick. However this may be the new normal. The thing is, like cultivated aloeswoods or Bosen sticks, there’s still a bit of a hard edge to the aroma that is usually smoothed out a bit in most high end aloeswoods. And while it is provisionally similar to the Shunkohdos above, you’re still getting a better deal than those. So really overall something like this is going to be a question for your budget. If you’re an aloeswood appreciator, I’m sure you’re going to want to try this to see if it’s up your alley, particularly if you are maybe a fan of wood Yamadamatsus or so forth. If you’re more new to the wood then I’d suggest getting familiar with a number of other aloeswoods first.

14 One of a Kind Japanese Incenses

This article was an idea to have a Top 10 of what I consider one of a kind Japanese incenses in the sense that the 9 incenses and one line (of 5 incenses) would all be scents I consider unique. I thought of this burning selection #2 today. This list is in absolutely no hierarchical order, I just went through and thought of incenses that are so singularly their own that there’s really no other incenses like them, no match in their own line or in other company’s lines. So it features both affordable and highly priced wonders. I didn’t really have time to go through and link to previous reviews to them at least yet (and not all of these have reviews, so there is a first time showing or two), but you can use the search engine to the left to find my years-old impressions of them and in certain cases I give my thoughts here of what I think of them now. Do you know any one of a kind Japanese incenses that aren’t on the list? Please feel free to share them in the comments and discuss!

  1. Kyukyodo/Sho-Ran-Koh (Laughing Orchid) While I largely wanted to avoid a great deal of aloeswood incenses, where either in line or out of line you can usually find something similar in style, I find Sho-Ran-Koh utterly unique in its mix between oils and woods. Like most Japanese incenses I think it has probably taken a minor hit from what it smelled like ten years ago, it’s either my nose or the blend isn’t quite as complicated anymore. But I do think it still really fits the Laughing Orchid name in that the scent has an incredible amount of movement in it and almost playful and joyful quality to it. There’s aloeswood certainly, but the creators of this incense have a completely unique mix of other ingredients on top that made this a one of a kind, there is no incense in its line or any other that quite capture what it does. Even the more premium Kyukyodos I believe are not quite as excellent as this one. It is truly one of the treasures of traditional incense, a prime expression of Japanese art.
    https://www.japanincense.com/ky-0005.html
  2. Kunjudo/Hogetsu What used to be Incense du Monde and then became Florisens I believe still markets this incense as Guiding Light, but the mark up as it sails around the world is quite substantial. I was pleased when Japan Incense began to import this on its own and for a $20 spot which makes it an excellent deal. This is described as a mix of woods and while there’s probably a bit of aloeswood in it, there’s really not enough to make this an aloeswood incense per se, but the blend of woods and oils here gives off an utterly unique, salty and tangy incense that has been a favorite of mine since I first tried it. The fact that it’s not really an aloeswood or a sandalwood incense and yet still remains high quality is very rare in Japanese incense and there’s absolutely nothing else that smells like this that I know of. And I nearly ran out of my Guiding Light box as I discovered it was imported so I can now happily stock this one deep.
    https://www.japanincense.com/kj-0032.html
  3. Tennendo/Propolis – This is a very special incense. It is a modern short-stick sort of deal and you have to spend into the mid 20s but you get a large amount of sticks with a scent that is unlike anything else in incense (I certainly can’t think of any other propolis stick incenses). It’s essentially the resin that bees bring back to build their hives and as such the properties of the wood resins change into a remarkable and rich scent that actually kind of hints at other wood resins while not being close enough to be duplicative. So it’s modern, deep and intense all at once and the aroma is powerful and fills the room really quickly.
    https://www.japanincense.com/tn-0035.html
  4. Shoyeido/Horin (the original line). While I’m technically cheating here given that the newest incense in this line, Shira-kawa, is essentially a variant of Hori-kawa, the five incenses, both stick and coil, in Shoyeido’s original Horin line are remarkable in that they start with vanilla and spice/amber blends but notably tackle a few rare modern aloeswoods of which there are really no other analogs in the field of incense. When I first started restocking, most of these were actually at the top of the list for me. You will find that through Amazon marketplace a lot of these are actually priced cheaper than the Shoyeido going price as well. I’m not sure what my favorite of the five are but I often feel it’s either Hori-kawa because I love the cinnamon in the mix or Muro-machi because it as a very nice caramel-aloeswood blend I’m not sure you can find anywhere else.
    https://www.shoyeido.com/category/horin-incense-coils
  5. Minorien/Kyara Ryugen – Unless you’re looking at one of the really high end purer kyara woods like Baieido Kyara Kokoh, for me Ryugen is the singular and most impressive kyara blend ever made and one of my all time favorite incenses. I don’t think I can match my original review of it, so I’ll point you there. Most kyaras are amazing enough to have very complex personalities but often that complexity actually creates similarities, where in this case there’s an oil mix with the woods that just gives off this unique mystical nightshade sort of ambiance that has as much vibe as good taste.
    https://www.japanincense.com/mn-0020.html
  6. Shoyeido/Premium/Nan-Kun I was glad this incense survived the recent cuts as it’s the one incense where spikenard is a really powerful presence, something you don’t see as much anywhere else. It’s also, of course, a pretty expensive and premium aloeswood incense at the same time, but rather than going for the hoary antique side of things the woodiness presents a balancing act with sweetness in an analogous way to the great Kunmeido Asuka stick while ending up in a completely different area. I actually like this one in tandem with Ga-Ho, as for years I’ve always rotated them in sequence due to how different there are, but it also ends up reminding me that this is really the rarer of the two sticks.
    https://www.shoyeido.com/category/southern-wind
  7. Shoyeido/Xiang-Di/Forest Popular incense companies Shoyeido and Nippon Kodo churn out modern sticks almost as fast as you can keep up with them and many of them are so geared to specific scents that they can often just be aromatically monochromatic and at worse bitter or synthetic smelling. This little gem has always been a favorite to me as its crystal freshness doesn’t have any off notes and captures the fresh feel of a walk through an evergreen forest with a candy touch. It’s no secret I love green incenses whether it’s the Kunmeido’s or Mermade Magical Arts but this presents the scent in a completely different venue and actually succeeds for its build.
    https://www.shoyeido.com/product/xiang-do-forest/xiang-do-incense
  8. Minorien/Kagiku (Chrysanthemum)  I’m not a huge floral fan so my eyes tend to zoom by them in catalogs and it probably zoomed right by this one at some point without noticing that it’s also an aloeswood incense. Also something of a modern scent due to the short, thicker stick, the combination of floral and wood here is something I’ve seen before (probably, I can’t think of any off hand) but certainly not as a Chrysanthemun scent. A sample of this one won me over almost instantly.
    https://www.japanincense.com/mn-0060.html
  9. Kyukyodo/Azusa  Another Kyukyodo gem and perhaps the world’s greatest floral or at least jasmine. Powdery, sweet, not bitter in the slightest with a distinctly pretty scent, I have kept this in stock since I first purchased it. However, I do miss the slim long stick boxes.
    https://www.japanincense.com/ky-0053.html
  10. Japan Incense/Theology/Eucalyptus You can tell by the box and the little inserts inside that this is a Minorien incense marketed for the USA’s finest source of Japanese incense, Japan Incense. Many incenses like this are likely targeted for people who visit off the streets and gravitate to more familiar scents and as everyone in California knows eucalyptus trees are ubiquitous in a way that incenses of that scent really aren’t. I was surprised by this one in a way I wasn’t quite by the Myrrh and Sage in the same line, but still I’m always impressed by Minorien and how brilliant they are, I think maybe four of my favorite incenses are made by this company. This has a nicely polished Eucalptus sense with a bit of richness to it that I was surprised to find and now that it’s in rotation, it’s actually easy to see how different it is from anything else I own.
    https://www.japanincense.com/ji-0002.html

Tennendo: Kneaded Incense Making Kit

You can now order the incense making kit at Japan Incense. For about the same(or slightly better) price as I got mine for in Japan! This is a great deal and a good way to discover a wonderful and smokeless(assuming you do not turn the heater up too high) incense form. Plus it is fun, which is a big plus 🙂 It has about eighteen ingredients, each double bagged. They compose what are the basic core materials for kneaded incense. Of course you could also use this for cones or incense trails. You could also restock at least some of the materials at a Chinese Traditional Medicine shop and Kotaro also mentioned that he “thinks” he can get additional replacement materials from Tennendo itself. Apparently Tennendo is one of the better ingredients suppliers in japan and many other incense companies use them. Which makes sense when you sample their incense, which all seem to use very good materials.You could also add materials from any other countries incense tradition into the mix, labdanum comes to mind.

I made my second set of incense balls last night and am now letting them cure for a couple of weeks. Let you all know the results. -Ross

April 2012 Top Ten

1. Dhuni Frangapani: Maybe one of the best flora’s around. It smells a lot more like the real flower then, say, as essential oil. It is also not cloying or overly sweet. A remarkable incense and well worth the price (actually it is dirt cheap compared to most Japanese scents, I am clueless as to how they manage to do this).

2. Dhuni Citronella: I really like the somewhat sharp top note in this one; it is unlike anything else I am familiar with in incense. The floral notes that follow behind are also very nice and like the Frangapani not cloying. A very nicely balanced scent.

3.Tennendo Enkuu: One of the last words in a dry scented incense. Very elegant and austere as well as a great mediation tool. Lots of Vietnamese Aloeswood make this unique and a real winner.

4. Kyukodo Murasakino: This comes in a truly beautiful wooden presentation case, inside of which is a scroll shaped tube covered in dark silk. The sticks are a deep shade of green and have a wonderful aloeswood base upon which a stunning, somewhat indescribable floralish/spice/perfume set of notes ride. I cannot think of any other maker that does this as well as Kyukodo. This is a real show stopper and is also a very classical “Old Japan” scent offering. They seem to have pulled out all the stops on this one, the word “flawless” comes to mind.

5. Kyukodo Seigetsu: A beautiful Japanese floral based on aloeswood. More overtly floral then Murasakino but less sweet then Azusa. Somewhat like Jasmine but with notes of Honeysuckle and some other white flowers. Like some of the offerings from Kyukodo there is a very slight under tone of charcoal (at least to my nose) but in this case the overall floral is so beautiful that it just does not matter.

6. Mermade Hougary Light Green Superior Frankincense: If you like Frankincense you should get this. It has been hard to get really top quality green Hougary and I am glad that Katlyn has found a source. This has a really clear citrus note riding across the resin backround that is pretty unbeatable. A winner.

7.Baieido Byakudan Kobunboku: One of the all time incense deals and still going strong. Given the recent price increases in sandalwood I was a little worried but having used this for the last ten days or so and compared it to an older box it still rocks. I tend to judge most other sandalwoods by this one. It has a very well done and classic set of spice notes (cinnamon, clove, camphor and lord only knows what else) that add to the blend.

8. Minorien Granulated Aloeswood Blend: A great loose aloeswood blend for the electric heater or coals. Very spicy with a big dose of Japanese/Chinese herbs mixed in at a very reasonable price. Somewhat dry in nature without all the overt green notes that can tend to be in these blends.

9. Yamada Matsu Firebird Select (Houjoukoh Gokuhin): There is a wonderful dry, aloeswood set of notes here on top of which clove, borneo camphor and a host of other notes are riding. The wood really makes this loose mix, which reflects the price. I have found my hand reaching for this a lot since I got it from Kohshi in San Francisco.

10. Baieido Kai un Koh: Because sometimes you just need an incense that can run with the big dogs 🙂 Very deep, thick, strong, multi layered, strong and with an amazing balancing act between dry and spicy, not to mention strong. Not for all occasions but just the thing for some moments. There are a lot of reasons that this has been in so many Top Ten’s at ORS, all of them viable.

 


Top Ten November 2011

1. Akikaze from Kyukyodo: This is part of what I think of as the “The Heavy Hitters in Wood Boxes” from Kyukyodo. You can get an idea about them at this page in our blog. With luck I will get a review of them out in a week or two. This one is a reasonable price (for what one is getting) with a really beautiful perfume note on top of the woods and a light musk back note. You can check with Kohshi/Japan Incense for availability. I think Kyukyodo does this type of style (perfumed floral’s mixed with quality wood) really well and it very hard to beat here.

2. Kyara Seiran from Seijudo: This is number two in Seijudo’s high end line up, based mostly on price point, not scent. I think it is a little less strong and more likable then the Kyara Enju while still being heavily laced with a very strong set of wood notes and spices with musk undertones. If you are in the market for a Kyara blend this is a great one. I find myself liking it more in the cooler months; it is also very relaxing and quite nice in the evening. It is right up there at the pinnacle of this style and not to be missed; it also comes in a number of different sizes and price points.

3. Byakudan Kokoh from Baieido: This is one of the very best of the “straight up” Sandalwoods, in other words, no perfumes and minimal spices or herbs. It is pretty dry in scent but very true to Sandalwood’s nature. Great for reflection or the post work chilling. Baieido really does the woods oh so well, it is hard to go wrong with them and this is a real winner in a old Japan incense style.

4. Enkuu from Tennendo: You can check in the blog for the notes on this one, it has always been a favorite here at ORS and with good reason. It is very much on the dry side of the scent spectrum, it is also has a very clean (not pine or camphor) set of notes to it combined with a very unique and clear wood base of Aloeswood.

5. Cracked Earth from Aluwwah:  Aluwwah is a Canadian Oud  oil and wood seller as well as an incense maker. He has a number of styles of real, hand made Bakhoors at his site. They use real ingredients and quality woods and oils. This one has a nice resinous note mixed with some woods and ambers. It is somewhat lighter in scent then the Bakhoors that I have tried before, which I like as it tends to allow me to check out the different aspects of the mix. There was also a mix called Deer’s Breath that was a huge floral/musk/oud master piece. It’s out of stock but I hear tell that a successor called Lamb’s Breath is in the works.

6.Deep Earth 2011 from Mermade Incense: For the incense heater or coals, but for sure made to be slowly heated up. Stunning deep resin notes wrapped around woods and herbs, I think the name pretty much says it all. Perfect for Fall into Winter.

7. Evergreen Forest Incense from Mermade Incense: This is, again, for an incense heater, you could also try Sacred Grove if you wanted something along the lines of a cone. Either produce a wonderful “in the forest” scent that freshens up the atmosphere and generates a wonderfully clean and very green scent. Very much a Winter forest scent and just a wonderful treat for the senses.

8. Jihi – Amacha kou from Awaji-Baikundo: Very strong and beautiful amber note with borneal camphor added as well as Hydrangea Tea. I think this is one of the most beautiful amber’s on the market, no matter what country you are from. It is a very clean and warm offering that really livens up a space and would also be great to scent ones clothing with. Very long lasting scent.

9. Meena Supreme from  Happy Hari: Easily one of the very best of the Indian incenses and in general this company looks to be a real winner all around. I have not gotten to try the newer releases yet but you can see Mike’s notes within the blog. This has all the deep floral’s along with the woods and spices. There is also enough separation between the notes to make it really interesting. It is pretty strong; you might not want to start here if you are going to be going through a number of different sticks at one setting.

10. Genmyo from Yamada Matsu: These are in the kneaded style or incense balls. These happen to have Kyara and Aloeswoods plus a spice and oil (I think) blended together for a more modern take on this style. There a sort of amber and caramel mix that rides across the woods. There are three different blends from YM that Kohshi has at their retail outlet in San Francisco. The Aloeswood blend has this same set of notes but the amber/caramel notes are stronger and the woods more backed off. It sort of depends on the day as to which I like more.

Top Ten, July 2011

I put these together based on what I have been most drawn to during the month, which tends to change to some degree as we progress through the year. I am really liking the incenses made by the smaller makers more and more. They can make small batches and take some chances that the larger companies will not. So you can find some really interesting offerings from them, plus many of them use “non-traditional” mixes or materials that produce some real winners. I am hoping to produce a listing of the “niche” or smaller makers, if you know of any that are not mentioned here at ORS, please let us know.

Baieido’s Kyara Kokoh: I actually hide the box of this from myself, so it will last longer 🙂

On a lot of different levels this is incense as art; it is also a masterpiece of its kind. You can see our reviews on it within the blog. It really is amazing. If you get the chance, just go for it. It is not going to get any cheaper. I do wonder why Baieido does not offer a sampler.

Tennendo”s Tensei: This is a really nice and also reasonably priced aloeswood blend. It is nicely balanced with a distinctive overall scent that somehow goes from a little spicy to smooth from moment to moment. I have been burning this a lot lately because, yes, it’s a great deal and also a wonderful backround scent in a room that can set up a nice focused environment.

Kyukyodo’s  Mukusa no Takimono: This is a set of five different mini sticks that mimic the scent of the classic five  kneaded incenses. They are distinctive, rich and very good. There is also some pretty serious Aloeswoods in these. Many people use them for the tea ceremony. I have heard that Kyukyodo is not making this set anymore and I do not see it in the current catalog, which means that this will be quite a limited time offering. Think of it as a real treat.

Kyukyodo’s Akikaze: This comes in a large wooden box, nestled inside is a stunning silk wrapped tube, done up like a scroll. This is sort of along the lines of Sho Ran Koh, but it is a lot more refined with the wood notes riding across the perfumes and a subtle musk note mixed in. Kyukyodo produces what are probably the best perfumed incenses going. There never seem to be any of the synthetic notes that most others have, which is most likely one of the reasons that they have a great reputation and are not inexpensive, but they are also worth it. Japan Incense might have a box or two of this and the Mukusa no Takimono above. But they go fast.

Kunmeido Reiryo koh (Aloeswood): The Aloeswood blend is a completely different animal from the Sandalwood take on this. It is a very rich woody scent with the distinctive greenish notes of fenugreek mixed in. There is a nice balance between the different layers going on and is great for meditation, it’s also nice to use at bedtime. A real winner at a good price.

Kunmeido Kyara Tenpyo or Asuka: These two are the Reiryo Koh style taken to the height of complexity and nuance. There is a real art in the mix of woods and spices and herbs that compose these two sticks.. The Kyara Tenpyo pulls out all the stops and every stick reveals new aspects, the Asuka is very similar, it might come down to personal preference and how much you like this style, not to mention your bank account J

Baieido’s Kokonoe koh (Jinkoya Sakubei Series): This is a very dry and rich Sandalwood blend done in a style from the eighteenth century. It is very different from any other sandalwood I can think of and is a nice change of pace. It has a lot of presence and at the same time can really set the mood. It is great for meditation or quite moments.

Mermade’s Sanctuary Loose Blend:  Hougary Frankincense and white Sage make for a wonderful Spring/Summer mix. It’s clean and does a great job of cleaning out a space on so many levels. A one ounce jar that can last for a while with all the best ingredients.

Fred Soll’s Amber Honey:  Fred Solls makes some great incense at a great price. I really like his Amber Honey; it has a wonderful balance to it where all the notes are in harmony with each other. It’s also not too sweet or cloying. It is one of the very few incenses anywhere to use ambergris. I noticed that Solls has cut his line back somewhat because of the halmaddi shortage, which in one way is kind of reassuring, he is holding true to a high quality standard. We can only hope that a new source makes it to his doors soon. He really is so very good at blending.

Blue Star Incense’s Lavender:  These are very inexpensive and they rock! The Lavender scent is beautiful, fresh, very much like breathing in a large gathering of fresh lavender flowers. The sticks are thick (think Tibetan) and really you don’t need to use an entire one (however, don’t let me hold you back). Also the Rose is very nice to. Good, real floral note incense, that uses real essential oils, is not easy to make; nor is it inexpensive to produce. William does an amazing job, don’t miss these.

I notce in my internet searches that both Aloeswood and Sandalwood(in Japan) prices just went up somewhere between 20% to at least 30%. This, coupled with the decline of the dollar, means that incense prices are going to be going up, real soon. Sooo,  if there is something that you have been eyeballing for awhile you might want to go for it now, before the prices gets way worse or, heavens forbid we get formula changes to offset materials availability. That is the other thing going on, the woods are getting harder to source which also drives the prices up.

April 2011 Top Ten

Tennendo: Enkuu: Dry, austere and intriguing. The perfect meditation scent (well, for some of us). A long time favorite here and with good reason. This is not a simple scent, there are a great many levels to it; it can become a fascinating study listening to it.

Baieido: Kun Sho: This is Cambodian Aloeswood with the subtle addition of a supporting caste of a few other traditional Japanese incense materials. The whole idea here is to showcase the Aloeswood and of all the incense makers I think Baieido does this the best. I reach for this box quite a lot.

Yamada Matsu: Hyofu: This incense relies on a very good grade of Aloeswood, probably Vietnamese, to produce this sort of ultra light floral/clean note (which might be Jasmine) that mixes in with the woods and produces a scent that is very hard to describe and also very intriguing. It has an interesting property of cutting through other scents even though it really is a seemingly light scent. Great for meditation or as something to subtly scent a room. This one also takes a long time to even start to figure out  🙂

Kyukyodo: Kinbato: A very nice Aloeswoods base with some sandalwood added in over which rides a beautiful floral with hints of spice. I find this to be a real favorite of mine the more I pull it out. Kyukyodo is shaping up to be the masters at these types of Japanese floral/perfume scented incense. It probably does not hurt that many of these recipes apparently come from the Japanese Imperial Court and its past  incense masters.

Dhuni: Khus:  I burn this in small amounts as I find it strong. That being said I also really like the somewhat greenish and uplifting qualities it has. There are a lot of the Indians that are simply too much for me but this one works quite well. Great stuff and not to be missed. I figure Dhuni (who seems fairly new) is already one of the best around and look forward to new releases. I would really like to see them go for a big woods line.

Minorien  Kanzeon: This is very different from the standard Minorien’s we have had in the past, you can check out my review on this and Daijyoukoh for all the tasting notes, but in general I find this a very refreshing and clean scent, just the thing for Spring time.

Minorien: Granulated Kyara or Sandalwood: These are in a granulated or loose style and while they work well on an electric heater they really cut loose on a makko trail. The Kyara is somewhat reminiscent of their Kyara stick incense, but it is also much more potent and “in your face”. Very deep, almost musty at times, not used lightly! The sandalwood is altogether different with a wonderful sandalwood scent combined with camphor and spices; it’s an upbeat scent that is very fresh and spicy. Available at Japan Incense/Kohshi

These next three are all from small makers; most of them are limited editions or small batch runs. They all use the best of completely natural materials. These are the real deal in hand made aromatic art and every one of them is a treasure.

Mermade: Incense Kisses: These emit a wonderful coco/chocolate scent for all you foodies, very different from anything else I have tried, anywhere. Don’t miss these; they are really fun and something of a real show stopper. You might also try Spring Sutra, which uses a very special Attar(something like 50 different ingredients distilled into in just this). Got a feeling this is very limited. A stunning romance floral.

Nathaniel Musselman: High Temple: Nathaniel does quite a lot of research and goes to great lengths to source the materials for his blends; most of them are also very labor intensive. This one is great on a heater with a great, rich resin scent. It really does justice to the name as it’s very easy to picture something along these lines in ancient temples in Egypt and surrounding areas. It has a very clean and open feel to it. I find that using it on a heater or charcoal, letting it simmer and coming back into the room after about ten to fifteen minutes is a wonderful experience.

Parfume Phyto:  Rose Neriko: Neriko are incense balls made to be gently heated, not burned. When done correctly they will last at least an hour, with enough scent left in them to use again. These are a sort of East meets West scent, using traditional Japanese incense materials and techniques with the addition of assorted forms of rose added. They are delicate, gentle and at the same time come with quite a lot of depth. Not overpowering but they do get the point across. Plus they are smokeless and totally hand made from first class ingredients.

February 2011 Top Ten

This is, more or less, what I have been using this last month. It is winter so I find I turn towards some of the heavier scents. I also just got around to ordering some of the new Indian incenses that have come on the market but it was a late order so they didn’t make this list.

Onkun Koh by Kunmeido: I have had this for awhile; it got buried and then resurfaced recently. It has a deep, somewhat bitter, yet also smooth scent to it with a touch of green notes. There are lots of Chinese herbs and spices floating across a nice woody base. It’s not very expensive, lasts quite awhile and delivers a pretty well balanced ride.

Tokusen Syukohkoku by Baieido: Subtle, complex and a long learning curve make this a great incense. It also happens to use some of the best Aloeswood around. This is something that could easily be overwhelmed if not burned first. There are an infinite number of layers within  this blend, I consider it one of Baieido’s best.

Ranjatai by Shunkohdo: Deep musk mixed with a superb Aloeswood, this is one of my all time favorites, it is also(considering what you are getting) a very good deal. The bundle should last quite awhile, even with “excessive use”. It has made a lot of Top Tens for a good reason.

Sarasoju by Shunkohdo: This is a very good straight up sandalwood, with a minimum of additives. It delivers a very nice Sandalwood scent that is neither sweet,  wet or dry, just, you know, Sandalwood. Great stuff from a very traditional maker.

Kyara Seiran by Seijudo: On a Japanese site that I have seen, this is appears to have both green and purple Kyara plus musk, how can you not like it? But really it’s just stunning; it is also quit strong and potent with a huge amount of depth and complexity. It has all the interesting Kyara notes that twist and turn between bitter and sweet with the musk and spice notes somehow interwoven throughout the mix. I notice that Essence of the Ages has sampler sets from this company.

Tensei by Tennendo: This is another that I rediscovered. Tennendo makes some of the best incense around and this is one of their Aloeswoods blends. It smooth with a nice touch of herbs across a good grade of woods. It is not sweet nor is it bitter, yet at different times it just brushes those notes. Elegant.

Kyara Coils by Yamada Matsu: These are available from Kohshi and they are stunning. If you are similar with Shoyeido’s Tenpyo, they are along the same lines but this is much, much more. I am pretty sure these are using wood instead of perfumes/oils to achieve the scent, it is very deep, smooth and full of that Kyara scent that also has a touch of musk. Not inexpensive, but worth it.

EverGreen Forest & Sacred Grove by Mermade: These two are the deep evergreen, cedar and aromatic woods duo. They are the perfect scents if one has been indoors for too long. These are some of the greenest scents I know of and I use them a lot. They have both been reviewed and talked about here and are simply great. Katlyn goes to great lenths to use the best materials around and it show.

Dragons Blood by Blue Star Incense: Blue Star Incense makes some really nice blends at an incredible price, especially given that he is using natural ingredients plus real essential oils. This one uses a good helping of Dragons Blood resin to produce a very grounded and soothing scent with a nicely done woody base. It’s relaxing, smells great and does a great job of scenting a room at a insanely low price. He also puts samples in with orders. A winner.

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