Bosen / Dakini, Herbal Meditation, Pythoncidere, Shangrila and Zambhala Incenses

Amazon-distributed and Taiwan-originated company Bosen has had a number of their aloeswood incenses reviewed by Ross here and here. The company also has a number of different blended incenses, several of which are considered to be Tibetan incenses by the company. Blend and ingredient-wise these are similar to Tibetan incenses in many ways but the sticks’ unique densities and high levels of quality wood make them more like hybrids between the Tibetan style and Southeast Asian sandalwood and aloeswood sticks and as such are fairly original and certainly a lot higher quality than all but the most deluxe Chinese exported Tibetan blends. I’ll be breaking up the eight current blends into two groups, the five here that have unusual or Buddhism-related names and, later, three (Blessing, Refining and Purifying) that are basically verbs. The division is somewhat arbitrary however, as my experience is that there are similarities among all the incenses.

In fact the similarities among the incenses are worth discussing first as there is a a base that is roughly common to all of their Tibetan blends. The binder, Machilus Zuihensis Hayata Powder, appears to be 10% of each incense and is likely what gives each incense a slightly evergreen flavor. All of the incenses, except the Pythoncidere, have quantities of aloeswood and sandalwood in them, although in a couple of cases the aloeswood is called agalloch eaglewood, 15% each in the Shangrila and Zambhala blends. Aloeswood is surprisingly at its highest in the most inexpensive blend, the Herbal Meditation 20% and lowest at 10% in the Dakini. Except for the Pythoncidere again, white sandalwood varies from 10-15%. So as you can see there’s a good 40% or so of four of the incenses that are basically the same. All five of the incenses have a large, unidentified quantity of several Tibetan Dharma medicines and nectars (spelled amitas in Shangrila). From there each incense varies by note.

Dakini Incense is one of Bosen’s two “Top-Grade” incenses and contains small percentages of lubu, nard, safflower, and semen alpiniae katsumadai (I’m not asking either). It’s the densest and most complex of the five incenses here with a definite strain of spikenard in the mix and a very fruity, sweet smell as the top note. Like all of the incenses here, due to the above-mentioned commonalities, there’s a tangy mix of aloeswood, sandalwood and evergreen binder, but the large ingredients list gives the incense some latent heft to it that improves the incense with use. It’s not quite as immediate as the next two scents but definitely seems to be the most deluxe of the batch.

The company’s low end Herbal Meditation Incense is something of a revelation and is available in 11″ bulk thin sticks, 8″ thin sticks, and 8″ thicker sticks (an earlier search pulled up 18″ thin sticks and powder, but I didn’t find them this go around). The uncommon ingredients in this blend are a good 25% of zijin rattan and 25% of lysimachic foenum-graecum hance. It’s rare to find a company whose lowest end incense is one of their best, but I’ve found this incense to be extremely addictive. While not particularly resinous in quality, the aloeswood does come through and give it some character and the tangy herbal quality of the foenum-graecum balances out the sweetness nicely. The entirety has hints of apple tobacco and other herbal qualities along with the light evergreen touch. It’s extraordinarily pleasant and a great deal for the money, especially at its bulk price. However, it may be an even better incense in its thicker form, where the sweetness comes out a bit more and the impact becomes heavier. I’m not sure if this is because the ingredient to binder ratio is higher, but it’s certainly more aromatically redolent in this form.

Bosen’s Pythoncidere Incense is a virtual triumph of incense making and one of the finest blends you’ll ever try outside of the aloeswood and sandalwood worlds. The company says the “…formula contains heavier density of Phytocid, which will make you feel like in green shower when you use it.” I’m honestly not sure you can really create a better description than this, it’s what drew me in for the buy and I believe they absolutely succeeded with this blend, which starts with literally a 50% content of high-resin hinoki (cypress). The evergreen qualities are cranked up to a high without the harsh qualities usually brought with it and the green qualities verges verdant with an almost banana like quality in the mix as well as hops and a sweet candy-like note. It’s the kind of green almost approached in alpine-like incenses or even those green durbar variants in Indian incense, but none of those perfect the quality like this one does. It’s literally one of the best incenses you can buy for $10. I’m hoping Bosen add a bulk box for this one as soon as possible as I’m already rocketing through my first box.

Like Dakini, Shangrila Incense is labelled as top-grade Tibetan incense, although I don’t think it’s nearly as successful as the rest of the line. It’s distinguishing qualities are 15% safflower and 15% ganten khampa, but the overall aromatic flavor is one of woods and an almost candle/beeswax like overlay.  Like all the Bosen Tibetans it has a certain sweetness, but unlike the others it also has something of a drier touch to it. It’s possible there’s a learning curve at work here but initially I’m not as impressed with this one as I am with the other blends. Shangrila is also available in coils and powder, neither of which I’ve tried but it’s possible both formats might improve the quality due to different ingredient ratios.

Zambhala Incense is set apart by 15% karpura and 15% artemisia oligoarpa but is an intensely evergreen incense that resembles Pythoncidere without being nearly as successful. In this case it’s almost the most traditionally Tibetan of the line, resembling in some ways incenses like Dhoop Factory’s Alpine, but quite a bit more refined due to the aloeswood and sandalwood quantities. Given the price similarity to Pythoncidere, I wouldn’t recommend this one first but I’ve also noticed the subtleties of the aloeswood peeking through on this one, promising a learning curve that might make it more worthwhile than my initial impressions.

Beautiful work basically, and given that Amazon fulfills this companies products, you can easily add a $10-$20 box to any other small order to get free shipping out of it (which also means that most of their aloeswood and sandalwood products get automatic free shipping as well). It should also be mentioned that the packaging of these incenses is world class with thick, high quality cardboard boxes, some padding for no breakage and silica gel to keep the incense dry. It’s all around top work from a great company who clearly make high standard product and get good ratings from buyers as well. ORS recommended to say the least.

A few notes…

I’m having a bit of trouble finding the time of late to take incense notes, so things may be a bit slow for a little while on my end. But I did want to bring to attention a company Ross has talked about in the past, Bosen Incense. Ross has talked about the company’s various aloeswood scents, most of which I haven’t had a chance to sample, but I have checked out a few of the company’s Tibetan style incenses. Bosen is from Taiwan, so in a way the incenses in this style are kind of like hybrids between southeast Asian aloeswood or sandalwood sticks you tend to find in the US “generically” here and there and Tibetan blends, and in a way are something of an original incense style. I like all the ones I’ve tried but the two that really stand out to me are the Herbal Meditation Incense, which you can find in a few different sizes, and the Pythoncidere blend. The Herbal Meditation blend is one of the line’s most inexpensive scents but it has something of an aloeswood tang to it and a number of ingredients that made it instantly addictive to my nose, it’s really well done and you can get quite a hefty batch for a decent price. The Pythoncidere is very special, one of the greenest incenses imaginable. It has a very strong cypress and evergreen content to it with the green, resinous qualities enhanced to a considerable degree. It’s very fresh and unique, and I hope they eventually sell it in bigger boxes. Bosen is sold via Amazon fulfillment, which means that for the most part your items often ship with anything else you might order from them, meaning any $25 order or more gets free shipping. So keep these reviews in mind next time you’re hunting through the Amazon catalog, as Bosen should be better known…

Bosen Hoi-An Aloeswood and Kinam -from Ross

Bosen is a maker and distributor from Tiawan and has started bring their product into the US via Amazon.
A couple of weeks ago I reviewed their Chin-Zhou Aloeswood, which are sourced from Indonesia. Today we get into the Hoi-An or Vietnamese woods. Bosen’s ranking system can be somewhat confusing as all the names tend to communicate the idea of high quality, but which is what? It basically seems to start at Superior, then Reserved, into Top Grade and Finally Kinam or Kyara. Along the way we encounter High Grade, which I am told means entry level, and Premium, which is kind of a wild card signifying a high grade of scent that has not been classified yet. So yes it does get a little confusing, personally I tend to go by price tempered by amount and weight.
These sticks are blends, but not in the manner that we usually think of as a blend. They are composed of a blend of different grades of Aloewoods, balanced and mixed in different ratios of resin content, scent qualities and burn qualities. Sticks with too much resin will not burn very well, if at all. So, no, these are not “pure, single wood sticks but rather, I believe, a mix of different woods from a single region mixed together to create a unified product.
We start at the lower end with the Superior grade sticks (which come in a variety of lengths and coils). There is an excellent flavor of the sweeter style of Vietnamese Aloes here. An almost chocolate middle note come across at times. It is really nice, sweet and clean at the same time. There are no spices or perfumes to deal with here, just the straight up woods, It is very nice and to me a great deal and a great place to start. The price is very reasonable for the quality of the scent.
I am going to jump up to the Kinam (Kyara) which is the top of the line at the moment. It is really superb. Rich, potent, complex and all the other descriptors you want to throw in. There is also a major learning curve here, a lot going on many levels. Not something to be rushed but excellent for reflection. Again it is the straight up wood. I say this because most of us, at these levels, are used to the scent qualities of Shoyeido or Shunkodo where the spices, oils and musk’s play an important roll, not to mention that they are what got here first and have set up the olfactory expectations.( My, but don’t we sound oh so worldly and scientific 🙂 ).
So the Kinam is also into pretty much  the same price league as the high end Shoyeido’s and given the Market cost of high grade woods today that just how it is. In incense high quality really does equate to high cost, depressing but true.
The Reserved and Top Grade fall somewhere between the two end points. They are both very good and each level up has enough of a difference to be unique. To me the line up is pretty much a progression of strength and character as you go up the ladder in cost.
Bosen has mentioned that they are working on samplers of some sort which would obviously make for an easier time of figuring out what works for you.
This would be a very good addition to anyone’s collection as a nice counter point to heavily spiced sticks, you might think of it as a nice neutral place to start out at.
I just noticed that they have added powdered Hoi-An into the line up. This means that you too can concoct your own blends and play junior Koh Master 🙂

Bosen Incense Chin-Zhou Aloes -from Ross

I find myself on a pretty frequent basis searching out new sources of incense via the ever deepening world of the Internet. Some months ago I discovered Bosen Incense on Amazon.com. They are based in Taiwan.
Compared to many of the Japanese companies Bosen has a pretty tight line up of two major groupings of Aloewoods and a line of Tibetan style sticks , coils and powders.
They were kind enough to send me samples for review of what’s available on their Amazon.com pages. Since I have yet to figure out the intricacies of Tibetan incense I sent those on to Mike. I did notice that they used quite a lot of Aloewood in those blends, more so then I have seen listed from other companies.
As for the Aloewoods, there are two subgroups, Chin-Zhou (Indian) and Hoi-An (Vietnamese)..
These are pure wood sticks, by which I mean there are no additions in the way of spices or herbs. Most of what we are used to burning are blends composed of some percentage of woods, spices, resins, herbs and perfumes. The Aloe sticks are a variety of different grades of Aloes with a very small touch of binder. The closest thing to this might be the incense from Scented Mountain, but they are using cultivated woods while Bosen are apparently using wild harvested.
Bosen also defines their line up by the quality ( which seems to be a composite of the amount of resin as well as the quality of the scent) of the wood. Sometimes this seems to get a little complicated.
So, this part of the review will be dealing with the Chin-Zhou sticks and powders.

Superior Chin-Zhou Aloeswood: Very smooth surface with a very dense feel to it, about an eighth to inch thick. Very long burning. The scent is a combination of dry woods with a touch of refined sweetness and, at time, a sort of peppery top note with possibly light chocolate like tones underneath.. Overall, this is a nice scent with a lot of different levels going on within the burn without the addition of spices, resins or E O’s that we are normally presented with. Bosen mentioned that there are no “pure incenses” in the world, everything is a blend of some kind, theirs being a blend of different grades of aloeswoods with different levels of resin content as opposed to woods and spices. I think this is a pretty good deal and a good place to start with these incenses.
Top Grade Chin-Zhou: Similar looking stick, a bit thinner in width. The scent is similar to the Superior Chin-Zhou, as you would expect, but there is a noticeably more spicy, peppery feel to it with the chocolate tones more underneath the spicy top notes. There are also some other scent groups at work here but as of yet I can’t really describe them other then they are pleasant. Again, there are a large number of levels going on here, a learning curve!
Given the large difference in price I think Superior is a pretty good deal and a good place to start with these incenses.

Chin_Zhou (Jinko) Powder: In this case Jinko means “water sinking” or resin heavy. This is a very finely ground powder with a clean Aloeswood scent, somewhere between the Superior and Top Grade above. It seems to work best on a makko trail. It would also work really well as a wood base for making your own incense at a relatively affordable price. This is not super strong, but it is a pretty good deal for the price.
Chin-Zhou Aloeswood Powder: This is their lowest level of wood however it still has a distinct Aloeswood scent to it when burned. Less then the Jinko but still there. Again, great as a base for building your own blends.
If you are looking for deep, heavy resin scents neither of these powders are it, nor do their prices reflect what those deep, heavy resin scented woods go for now days, which of course was what I was hoping for  : )

If you are interested in trying out Aloeswood sticks that are really built around the woods and not layered with all the extras you should consider these. Bosen has mentioned that they are putting together some samplers, which would make things much less of a gamble. Next week I will be presenting the Hoi-An (Vietnamese) series.