Bosen / Hoi-An Aloeswood, Refining

So I had meant to sweep up these Bosen scents. I think for the most part ORS has covered many of this Taiwan-based line’s incenses through the years but occasionally they have added a new (ish) one like the Hoi-An Aloeswood, which is basically an ambergris-infused aloeswood and one we hadn’t reviewed.

This one’s a real treat from my perspective and the company appears to have matched the ambergris with a decent level aloeswood so you can equally experience the notes of the wood as well as the salty goodness of ambergris (also be sure not to close the link after the first sentence.) This stick of course reminds me of Ross and his “souked” agarwood, which this certain resembles in many ways. Anyway this is simply a match made in heaven, where some of Bosen’s lower end aloeswoods on their own can be average, the mix with ambergris just gives you a whole host of notes to experience during a burn. It’s honestly near the top of my favorite Bosens.

Refining Incense was probably left out of reviews all those years ago by accident as my check on Amazon shows I’ve ordered it twice. This is one I mentally classify with their more Tibetan-style incenses like in this group. Refining Incense is a mix of agarwood, white sandalwood, styrax, ghanten khampa, several Tibetan Dharma medicines and nectars, and binder. However, it really seems to be the styrax resin that stands out, and at 35% it is more than double the amount of any other ingredients. So the overall incense has a very strong and distinct resinous note with the agarwood, sandalwood and ghanten khampa (a Tibetan wormwood) making up much of the incense’s back notes. Most Bosen Tibetans have some sort of fruity-resin like mix that distinguishes them from the usual Tibetan incenses, not to mention the tensile strength of these sticks is certainly stronger. In many ways this actually reminds me a little of the Pythoncidere, although it seems to have some floral and other aspects that incense doesn’t have. But Bosen always made these to smell fresh, high altitude and distinctive and they’re all really enjoyable, there are none of the cheap wood aspects you get in lower tier Nepali/Tibetan incenses in Bosen products.

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Bosen / Ambon Aloeswood, Blessing Incense, Old Sandalwood

So here’s a trio of Bosen goodies that we haven’t previously reviewed. As stated in a previous Admin Notes, I’ve gone back and confirmed some of the old recipes and surveyed what needs to be looked at anew or again. There is probably another incense or few that we might want to take a look at like the Ambergris Hoin-an Aloeswood that is fairly new, so there’s more to come. But overall we have a lot of respect for the high quality of the Bosen shop and the fact they’re easily accessible through their shop on Amazon in the US.

Another (relatively) new Bosen offering is their Ambon Aloeswood. While it only says so in the fine print, Ambon Aloeswood is really part of the Chin-Zhou aloeswood series featuring Indonesian aloeswood, and this wood is specifically from Kota Ambon in Indonesia. Bosen claim this is basically 92% wood and includes a touch of “jinko agarwood.” We’ve covered the Chin-Zhou series in the past and it’s something I might like to tackle again given how much agarwood changes in profile over the years, but for now we’ll just take this Ambon on its own. This box goes for about $23 so it’s probably somewhere in the lower to middle quality wise, but in Bosen’s line it usually means it’s still pretty good. It has a nice a bit of sweetness to it and it’s not too bitter and it still feels wild rather than cultivated (or if it’s the latter they’re getting better at it). Honestly I felt that this was actually a bit better than even some of the old Baieido Indonesian aloeswood-sourced sticks so it feels like reasonable quality wood to me. It has a fairly mid resin punch and while it isn’t the complex wood you’ll find at higher Chin-Zhou price ranges, it’s still a very pleasant stick.

Blessing is the last of the Tibetan blends that we hadn’t covered yet (it seems to currently only available as coils, but I’d check back if you want to wait for sticks as Bosen often replenish unavailable stock). It’s somewhat notable in having a bit more of an amber heft to it than the others. It’s made from 10% agalloch eaglewood (aloeswood/agarwood), 5% white sandalwood, 20% nard (spikenard), 20% moly (not sure if this is wild rue or something else), 10% acronychia pedunculata, 20% lysimachia (this may be somewhat equivalent to “reiryo-koh), 2% asarum (wild ginger), 3% several Tibetan Dharma medicine and nectars and 10% Machilus zuilensis Hayata powder (which I believe is the binder). The spikenard is very obvious in this one, sweet and herbal all at once, it seems to have a similar presence that the cypress does in Pythoncidere. It’s interesting that given the different ingredients list, including several you don’t often see in incense, that it’s still fairly similar to some of the other Tibetan incenses in the Bosen line and still manages to have some evergreen qualities that don’t come from the usual sources. But as I mentioned earlier it has a bit of amber-like thickness that gives it its own aromatic qualities and this is a richness that makes this a very pleasant incense indeed. Honestly if I hadn’t seen the ingredients list I would have thought there was plenty of cypress, amber and resin in this one as well, so it’s quite remarkable. Definitely recommended and one of the first I’d start with among their Tibetan style incenses.

The front of the Old Sandalwood box says “Centuries Weathered” which seemed really promising to me. The stick is 90% sandalwood but it only says Indian, so there’s no confirmation on whether this is Mysore (unlikely), but they do seem to be going for older, more quality tree wood nonetheless. It’s certainly got enough of a price hike to match with it, so I really wanted to see if they’d do a good job with a sandalwood note, not to mention giving myself a little bit of a variation from the usual Japanese and Indian sticks. This actually does have a fairly pure sandalwood note to it, its provenance is maybe not the finest trees but for sure the wood here is quality enough to not feel like you’re being fleeced. It has a freshly sawn wood vibe which I tend to like a lot, some actual definition as being sandalwood and not other wood mixed with it and it’s fresh and vibrant. The only thing missing, and it’s something you only get with the highest grades, is that more crystalline level of wood resin, but even a bit of that peaks through. Very enjoyable, fairly priced, and while it leans closer to Japanese than Indian, the thickness of the stick gives it more power.

Admin Notes

Site updates still happen. My general plan on these things is to make notes on older reviews when I have new stock on something and can confirm (or not) if an incense has remained the same. I have:

  • Updated many incenses from the Bosen company. This includes four of the five on this page and some clean up on the others. Bosen has remained surprisingly consistent in the years since we first reviewed them. I do have an upcoming review on a few we missed and hope eventually to go back in and redo the aloeswoods, as if anything has changed it’s likely to be those. But at least the Tibetan-styled incenses seem to remain largely the same recipes.
  • Updated the Kyukyodo reviews. Kyukyodo are one of the Japanese companies that I believe to be hit the hardest due to materials changes. Sho Ran Koh has been addressed here. Azusa and Gyokurankoh, along with a couple of new reviews, have been addressed here. Noted that Shiun and Yumemachi have been discontinued, including the latter’s most recent limited edition (there is a Shiun in the Ho-Un gift set, but it is a completely different incense). Have noted on some reviews that many of them were written prior to Japan Incense carrying the line, so it is not always clear if certain incenses have been discontinued; however, when at all possible links to Japan Incense have put in place.
  • Updated the Minorien line. While the high end incenses have seemed to be remarkably stable, there is a plan to revisit the Fu-in woods as the profiles have changed drastically on the aloeswood and perhaps less so on the kyara. Also a plan to eventually redo the Kyara Chokoh review, in order to include the long stick variation if possible. Our original review was a bit early stage and feel this one is special enough to need an in depth review. But all of the reviews have had links fixed to Japan Incense and any necessary cosmetic edits and changes.
  • Updated the Shunkohdo line. Noted that the sandalwood incense Yae No Hana has been discontinued. Tried in most places to standardize the English spelling to Shunkohdo. While pronunciation-wise it’s the same, Koh is a generally used word for incense so I try to update all spellings so that this clear, if only due to preference. Updated links to Japan Incense. Confirmations that Ranjatai and Yoshino No Haru (short stick) remain virtually the same.

On Bosen Incense

Howdy everyone! This is John, I am sad to hear of Ross’s passing, but glad to hear that Mike is opening the ORS up again. I am going to try to begin writing reviews again, and as you may or may not know I personally try to review each incense in a way that expresses the scent in an easy to understand manner, to make it easier to the layman to decide if it sounds like something they may or may not like, as well as providing a “John Score” on a scale of 0 to 10 based on my own personal preference. As I personally stink at elocution, I am providing a brief summary of my recent foray into Bosens line-up of sticks below.
To begin with, Bosen is a company based out of taiwan, and tend towards the tibetan style of incense.
The naming of their product line is a bit odd, and I will attempt to clear it up as I understand it. It seems each line is broken down into categories of quality, in descending order:
“Top Grade”
“Reserved”
“Superior”
“Premium”
“High Grade”
Where Top Grade is the highest concentration of ingredients, with a thicker stick, and High Grade is the lowest concentration/thinner stick/more binder.
The notes I have taken on Bosens Lineup are below:

+7 Superior grade Hoi-An (Jinko) Aloeswood – Vietnamese agarwood, and buttered cinnamon toast, 50/50 split. very low smoke.
+5 Premium Vietnamese Hoi-An Aloeswood – Mostly Vietnamese aloeswood, slight cinnamon back. Stick has no scent.
+6 Superior Chin-zhou Aloeswood – sweet and salty agarwood. that’s it. Stick has no scent.
+5 Premium Ambon Aloeswood – Black pepper and agarwood
+0 Blessing Incense – VERY bitter and medicinal. No oud, no sandal, just pungent herbs.
+5 Refining Incense – Cedar, musty book, sticky sweet wood oil note, reminiscent of sawdust in a sawmill.
+3 Herbal Meditation Incense – Woodsy scent, sage and pine. possibly a small amount of sandalwood if any. Reminiscent of a campfire almost.
+4 Zambhala Incense – sage and pine base. IMO just a lager size stick of Herbal Meditation.
+4 Dakini – Herbal meditation but with a spikenard back added to it.
+5 Pythoncidere Incense – very woodsy, strong cedar sweetness, touch of sage, touch of spikenard, more balanced than dakini or herbal meditation.
+7 Shangrila Incense – Sweetness, slight base of pine and sage. Sandal, spikenard, herbs in a very pungent sweeter concentration.
+4 Tonga Sandalwood – Burning raw, dry sandalwood, with a hint of a bitter herb in there.
+5 Centuries Weathered Old Sandalwood – Stronger version of Tonga Sandalwood, with a hint of sweetness.
+7 Top grade Tibetan sandalwood – Burning sweet sandalwood, with a hint of herbs in the back. Stick almost reminds me of the scent of mysore sandalwood.

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. [8/31/21: Worth nothing here, I never did get around to the the later three, although for sure a Blessing review is forthcoming.]

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.

[Updated 8/31/2021 No discernable changes from this review. – Mike.] 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.

[Updated 8/31/2021. Reupped the thicker sticks and notice no discernable changes from this review. – Mike] 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.

[Updated 8/31/2021. No change in review except price. Incense remains the same, review still valid.] 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 $13. 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.

[Updated 9/2/2021. No real changes to review (added camphor), but as I stated at the end, you do warm to this one.] Zambhala Incenseis set apart by 15% karpura (camphor) 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 / Aloeswoods, Kinam

[8/31/21: Please note that while most of these aloeswoods still seem to be in release, these reviews are 12 years old and descriptions may not longer apply to new stock. – Mike.] Bosen is a maker and distributor from Taiwan and has started bring their product into the US via Amazon.

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed Bosen’s Chin-Zhou aloeswoods, 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 Shunkhodo 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 Aloeswood / Superior, Top Grade, Jinkoh Powder (Discontinued), Aloeswood Powder

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. [8/31/21: Please note that while most of these aloeswoods still seem to be in release, these reviews are 12 years old and descriptions may not longer apply to new stock. – Mike]

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 aloeswood sticks are a variety of different grades of aloeswood 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 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.

[8/31/21: This more top shelf powder looks to be discontinued or unavailable. – Mike] Chin-Zhou (Jinko/Water Sinking) 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 than 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. : ) [8/31/21: Looks like there’s a smaller package available here.]

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.