Sera Monastery Incense

Sera Monastery Incense is noted as containing 25 ingredients, including laxangia tsaoko, saffron, sandalwood and clove. From a quick look on the internets the former ingredient is basically Chinese black cardamom, and I believe it’s something you can pick up in the foreground with all the other ingredients. The clove seems pretty mellow for a spice you can normally pick up right away but that saffron tang definitely seems there right in front, in fact this reminds me of some Indian saffron sandalwood sticks. In fact the incense this most reminds me of is the long deleted Saffron Medicinal Incense from Medicine King, it has that incense’s heavy woodiness mixed in with denser ingredients with a sort of corn chip note in the middle (it’s also a little mesquite-like). So all in all it’s definitely a familiar traditional blend that doesn’t, perhaps, pop up as often as some of the others. I will note that the woodiness of this one is beyond just the sandalwood and moves a bit into campfire levels of bitterness, so it could be too strong for some; however, I think the other ingredients are richer and full bodied enough to make it worth checking out anyway, certainly if you miss the Medicine King incenses like I do.

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Gangri Thökar Nunnery / Snow Mountain Gathers Incense

So I was just talking about the similarity of certain nunnery incenses and how a few of them have an almost amber-ish/balsamic quality to them when one comes up that isn’t quite like that at all. In fact I had to read the fine print at incense-traditions.ca to realize Snow Mountain Gathers Incense was a nunnery-sourced incense, and it sure is a fine one. And hey how wonderful it is to get a rather large ingredients list to look at: black myrobalan, white sandalwood, red sandalwood, clove, nutmeg, saffron, alpiniae katsumadai seed, fructus amomi and herb of tabasheer. I had to look up what half that stuff is, but some of the less seen ingredients seem to impart a number of really interesting new notes for this nose, herbal qualities that mix the fresh and familiar with some neat differences. One of the things I love about these deep Tibetan picks is the aromatic variation and newness, the hope that the monks and nuns are bringing forth some ancient recipe in all of its wonderful, healing glory. And honestly this is one that will keep your sensory apparati busy, it’s rich, full bodied, has both friendly and funkier notes weaving a dance together, and it has that quintessential freshness that is the hallmark of all the best Tibetans. Make no mistake, if the more dangerous Tibetan sticks aren’t to your style, this one may be a bit challenging, but for me it’s just the right amount of balance of sour/dense to high altitude/invigorating and it has a bit of brown sugar spice and sweetness on top that gives you so many places to sense the interactions. Another Hart-curated wonder scent.

Qinghai Jiumei Tibetan Medicine Pharmaceutical Co. / Jiumei Tibetan Incense

So here’s one of those “double roll” packages of Tibetan incense, filed at incense-traditions.ca under their therapeutic and relaxation category. It’s described as “an excellent therapeutic incense containing a lovely blend of fragrant plants such as eaglewood, sandalwood and nutmeg.” First of all, like why don’t we just get rid of agarwood and aloeswood and start calling it eaglewood? Isn’t that a much cooler name? Diversions aside though, finding this wood in relaxing or healing incenses from Tibet seems to be a very common sort of thing. The nutmeg addition, though, seems quite a bit more in front than it usually does and in many ways sort of makes this incense. It doesn’t quite add that same sort of spice note you’d find when cinnamon and clove are more forward in the incense but you can still sense the nutmeg quite clearly as something that tops the mix of the two woods and gives it its own aromatic nudge. And just like most Tibetan incenses the use of a sort of musk on top of the scent is present here as well and somewhat titled to a slightly animalic presence. So yes, this is indeed quite the nice scent and like so many goodies from incense-traditions, you never get the impression that Jiumei Tibetan Incense is anything but a dense and quality scent. And it’s a little bit different in that the eaglewood base doesn’t lean this in an evergreen direction so much, so its addition to your collection will likely expand its diversity.

Sangdanli Temple Nunnery Incense

We talk a lot about monastery incenses at ORS, but there aren’t quite as many nunnery incenses so to speak, but the ratio of really good nunnery incenses tends to be a lot higher simply because nearly all the ones I’ve had the pleasure of trying are usually quite rich and really good, even if I can probably count them all on one hand. Sangdanli Temple Nunnery Incense is one of incense-traditions most recent new finds (or well it was when I originally bought it, but it took me a lot longer to bring it up for review) and it’s a really nice blend, well worth picking up for lovers of deep Tibetan picks.

This is a very dank and intense blend that lands somewhere between the older Samye Monastery blend, before it got a bit lighter and more evergreen, and the smaller Gang-zi Mani Nunnery Incense sticks. This is something I think internally of as red and likely shares some aspects in common with other more brick reddish Tibetan sticks. The ingredients description includes “a blend of white and red sandalwood, clove and 10 other ingredients.” There is no small musk hit on these sticks, but they also have that sort of amber-ish, clay-like middle that I really find enjoyable in Tibetan incenses, there’s no feeling that this is based on filler wood. This base gives it a certain balsamic aroma to it that tends to subsume the woodiest of notes. So that it is supposed to have white and red sandalwood in it is something you might have to be told, as the blend seems to cover up most of the notes associated with those woods, except, perhaps, the element of the aroma specific to the red wood where it’s a bit sweeter in a different way. It has a lovely polish to it overall and the more you burn it, the more you will notice the varying notes of its constituency. A definite keeper (and it was out of stock when I finished writing this and am hoping a restock is coming soon!) and undoubtedly a classic of the nunnery style.

Mike’s Top Ten Incenses and Lines of 2021

So this is my first top 10 since ORS restarted and rather than doing a straight ten incenses, which would have been difficult in such a busy review year, I wanted this to be a mix of lines, companies and incenses that truly enchanted me in the last year and gave me the aromatic experiences I was hoping for. As such it isn’t really possible to throw in a photo with everything on this list (some of these companies and lines would fill a screen on their own), so all of the links will go to either reviews that will have specific photos or to the company categories which will be sorted for multiple reviews (with photos). If you’re interested in purchasing any of these either follow the links to the reviews/category searches or use the Reviews Index to find more specific lists from each particular outfit where you will also be able to find links to the sources. Oh and I should mention that Stephen will also be posting a top 10 soon as well! Please feel free to use the comments section here to post your own favorites for the year. Thank you to everyone I have talked to and collaborated with in 2021 and recently, new friends, people who pitched in samples from their own generosity, all who contributed incenses for reviews, everyone who took the time to provide their own reviews and comments of incenses this year, etc etc. Special thanks to new ORS staff writer and good friend Stephen as well! All of this goes to helping ORS become a better resource for the incense fan and you are all very much appreciated.

  1. Wara Monastery Incense. My number one incense of 2021 was literally a runaway. Honestly if I was to do an all-time incense list it would still be hard pressed to beat. I discovered this incense at incensetraditions.ca in 2021 and I am something like 4 sticks away from my fifth roll of this utterly mystifying and unique blend. I burn it nearly every night and it’s almost like an addiction now, I go up to the bedroom to read a bit before I settle down and nearly always light a stick. I am one of those people who are somewhat skeptical about the effects of incenses beyond smelling good, but this one is so vastly under my skin that I do indeed wonder if there’s some sort of secret Tibetan drug in the mix that screams “buuuurn me!!! BUUUUURN MEEEE” every time I sit down. I have been able to listen to it roll after roll and see each one changes slightly, I remember on my third roll wondering if it might have taken a bit of a dive only for the next one to come roaring back. What can I say about it? It’s just Wara really, I don’t even know if it has a subclass except that it has a resinous quality that is somewhat analogous to aloeswoods along with a mix of a million other things that created a wonderful tanginess and spiciness that I find endless fascinating and yes soothing as well. It is a bit of dangerous blend and it may not be to everyone’s tastes but there may be something in the impossibility of classifying it that makes me come back to it constantly.
  2. The Kourindo line. Japan Incense is still the marvelous and extraordinary #1 importer of Japanese incense into the US and one of their latest “gets” is this 11-flavor line of Kourindo’s incenses. In my opinion this line is gorgeous from top to bottom and as of a couple of days ago I finally gave myself the holiday treat of the KourindaiKyara, which may be the finest of kyara incenses along with Baieido’s Kyara Kokoh and not including the Nippon Kodos that noone can afford. I have been having this ongoing conversation with Josh Matthews on this particular line because where in other companies and lines one might immediately find out which ones you like the best, this is a very difficult line to choose from simply because they’re all fantastic. I might start with either of the two middle-high incenses, the Kodaikourin and Jinkourin, because they are startlingly complex in a way that stays at about the same level until you hit the kyara. But then there’s the Jyakourin Musk which is really like no other incense in any other line and one might also want to travel into the rather impressive low end before bouncing back to the near top and going for the spicy, square cut of the Saikourin. They’re all a bit thicker than the normal Japanese style, which seems to give them a little more power, which is always a good thing in my book. In the end, like me, you may want them all.
  3. Absolute Bliss/White Lotus Oudh Saffron. Corey of Absolute Bliss whipped out this variant of their Oudh Saffron incense when I least expected it and I was utterly bewitched by whatever is making up the floral component of it. It started this train in my mind of what happens when you “floralize” a woody stick. There’s something about the mix of this that adds a lot of complementary subnotes, no less this sort of minty vibe that threads its way through the middle like its sewing everything together. It is probably one of the most deluxe Indian sticks currently available at the time and it might be one of the best charcoal-based incenses I’ve ever sampled. As I implied with Wara, my main reasoning for inclusion on this chart is simply just how much I reach for a stick because I need this scent right now.
  4. Absolute Bliss/Natural Beauty. My brother Stephen spoke very highly of this one for quite a while before I got to try it, but in Corey’s first batch back the supplies of this were highly limited, so it wasn’t until his second that I got to stock up fully on this utterly wonderful scent. For one thing, I think this second batch might have used a bit more halmaddi than the first because it struck me as a bit softer. But even with that sweet middle what you come to this one for is the mix of woods that front an almost perfect cedarwood note. It is literally one of the best incenses on the market now, and if you like cedarwood in any way I strongly urge you to check it out. Like everything I discuss here it’s a “reach for it” classic. At any time it could move up a spot or two on this list.
  5. Temple of Incense/Absolute Sandalwood and so many others. While the British importer Temple of Incense opened their doors during ORS’s hibernation, we were not aware of their presence until reader Peter Bartlett alerted us. This sent ORS staff into a buying frenzy over culminating months to try everything in this gigantic stable of incenses (well over 50 I believe), which, in some ways feels like an expansion of the Happy Hari and Absolute Bliss imports. First of all, the Absolute Sandalwood absolutely took my breath away, being markedly the most accurate-to-scent sandalwood incense on the market at the moment, bringing back memories of the old days when it was not an endangered wood, meaning it was either duplicated rather well or someone came across old stores. But it wasn’t just this, but the three super thick stick glories of Shiv, Ganesha, and Shakti; the weird glories of the blue Electric Musk, and the gorgeous beauty of Tulsi among so many others that have made this company one of the best Indian incense importers in the world. And it doesn’t hurt that the service and great energy of the Aydee family make one feel very comfortable supporting such a fine outfit.
  6. Mermade Magickal Arts/Sweet Medicine and so many others. When ORS was in hibernation I often wonder what treasures I must have missed from Katlyn Breene and Mermade when my attention wasn’t turned their way. In a field where so many incense companies and creators come and go, vanishing into the mists of time, I can honestly say that I have been experiencing Mermade creations since some time in the late 90s and have experienced an overwhelming and bewildering array of incredible incenses with something like a 95%+ hit rate. Katlyn has never showed any signs of slowing down, not to mention continuously and steadily improving her sense of craft and prowess. She is now a mentor to so many other nascent incense creators and I am often just amazed at what her creative genius will dream up next. This year she not only found a cool shortcut to being able to increase and vary her kyphi incenses but she has also dipped into South American, Tibetan and other styles of incense, all bearing her creative stamp in all the best ways. Perhaps my favorite of the year and worth listing here because it has become one of her revolving staples, is the propolis and sweetgrass based Sweet Medicine, which is so lovely you might be able to replace candy with it.
  7. Espirit de la Nature/Mother’s – Ancient Winters Remembrance. Another wonderfully skilled magician of scent hails from Canada and often collaborates with Katlyn, selling some of her incenses through Mermade and many others through her own imprint Espirit de la Nature. It is one thing to find incense creators out there who create their own blends, another to find someone with as distinctive a creative stamp as the work of Bonnie (Be) Kerr. Incense from EdlN is not merely an experience of combinations but a presentation of the voices of botanics and fungi, with a quiet resolution encouraged by careful crafting and a number of ingredients that are not often common in incenses. I was first introduced a year or two back to Bonnie’s skill with larch resin, in an incense that had all the depth impact of a great agarwood stick, but this was only the first in a long series of amazing and bewitching scents that I eagerly grab when I have the opportunity (I will only add that at Mermade these fly off the shelves, so you need to get in early). I have two new ones sitting here that I haven’t even had the time to heat up yet but in the previous batch was the astonishing Mother’s incense which was an evergreen incense with a different slant to those you often find from Katlyn’s, all of which show Bonnie’s art as ever improving, becoming more impressive with further new creations. Oh and there was the incense cones, showing another wonderful innovation. I would guess like with Katlyn, Espirit de la Nature would be likely to be on every ORS top 10 from me going forward, she’s that good! Be sure to visit her own site and check in as she has all sorts of incenses I haven’t even been able to try yet, undoubtedly a veritable cornucopia of brilliance.
  8. Drigung Monastery / Drigung Fragrant Incense. – So if I was to have a potential follow up to my obsession with Wara Monastery incense it would probably be Drigung Fragrant Incense. This isn’t to say I haven’t tried and reviewed a cavalcade of great Tibetan incenses this year thanks to the wonderful incensetraditions.ca, but this is another in the “reach for it” category that I have tried restocking and storing as well. However, I am not sure of the viability of this stick moving forward, simply in that the sticks have apparently gotten a bit more fragile over the year and are not reaching North America in mostly one piece. So in terms of the availability of this I would definitely get in touch with Hart over at the store. But scent wise I think this a good example of the sort of vegetable imitating animal scent that seems to be the puzzle we often have over some Tibetans these days in that they have musk or civet sorts of tones while purportely not harming and of the animals in the production. I like this one’s overall sort of musk hit, it’s kind of like a tweak on Mindroling grade A incense in a direction I like more.
  9. Dimension 5 Line. I was pleased to watch Josh Matthews high end craft sticks start to reach a market this year. Josh has a creative urgency that combined with a deep aesthetic and understanding of fine woods and oils have begun several lines of incenses that actually DO use fine woods, ouds and other ingredients (rather than including these ingredients in descriptions and leaving us to guess over the provenance). While this undoubtedly puts a higher cost on the sticks, it is commensurate with the prices also put on the ingredients and so in some ways if it’s not something of a first, at least it is a first in terms of having them generally available (rather than being part of an operation that tends to be something of a rush to place an order in a small time frame like a few other really good small companies use as a model). I also have to say that I have learned an incredible amount about fine materials from Josh, which I’m sure will be trickling into my own reviewing as time goes on, and I have enjoyed our ongoing conversations. But I do think Josh and Dimension 5 are well worth keeping an eye on as time moves forward because as with Katlyn and Bonnie, he already has a fine sense of aesthetics that is only likely to keep improving with experience. If you want to try something that is remiscent of Japanese incenses but often just as high end or more, be sure to check his work out. Right now it’s hard to even pitch one as they’re all at the same consistent level and each new one I try is a marvel.
  10. Kida Jinseido/Ikuhokoh. The problem with doing a top 10 of a year is sometimes the front end gets away from you and I was actually confusing Kida Jinseido when trying to find a Kikijudo incense to put on here when I realized I had missed a biggie on my list that I haven’t burned in a little while simply since it’s out of rotation but nearly went through a large roll of it early in the year. This is something of an analog to Shunkohdo’s great Ranjatai a sort of mid to high end aloeswood blend with a lot of fine materials. If I had done this list halfway through the year it could have been a lot higher up the list.

Here are a number of runners up, all of these were mostly new incenses I discovered and really enjoyed or old favorites that are still part of a heavier rotation. Please use the above-linked Reviews Index if you need to find any of these if and until when I find the time to link em up: Kikijudo/Kouboku Ginmi/Sandalwood India; Absolute Bliss – Floating Lotus Flower, Forbidden Fruit, Bholenath, Bengali Jungle Flora; Happy Hari – Oud Masala, Niyama Sutra; Pure Incense – Connoisseur Opium, Connoisseur Blue Lotus & Musk; Baieido – Kyara Kokoh; Kunmeido – Asuka; Kyukyodo – Fuyu No Yoru; Nippon Kodo – Kyara Heian; Seikado – Kyara Koh Hien; Shunkohdo – Kyara Houzan; Tennendo – Propolis; Yamadamatsu – Shuju series, Hojo “Kyara Firebird” line, Kumoyi, Ouju; Aba Prefecture – Agarwood Heart of Shambhala, Gang-Zi Nunnery Incense.

Tibetan Medicine Company of Traditional Tibet College (Tibetan Medical College) / Holy Land, Holy Land Grade 2

The Tibetan Medical College and the Holy Land incense are some of the first Tibetans I tried that were actually from Tibet. Up until this point, the “Tibetan” incense I bought at places like Whole Foods or similar were not from Tibet, but from the Tibetans who fled Tibet during the illegal Chinese Annexation (which happened around the same time as the illegal annexation of Hawaii, which I always found amusing when I saw well-meaning white people with their “Free Tibet” bumper stickers not realizing Hawaii is the same thing, a kingdom where a bigger power deposed the leader and annexed the nation. But enough about the politics of that region, just putting a bit out there for people who still hold a candle for “Free Tibet” can actually bring that sentiment home since we have our own annexed and exploited kingdom.)

As my first foray into real Tibetans, around seven years ago, the only place to get them was Essence of the Ages (now out of business), where reviews from ORS were posted gushing about how awesome these are.

Well, as someone who has kept this in stock constantly and moved from Essence of the Ages to Incense-Traditions back in 2015, I have tracked the quality of this and Tibetan Medical College seems to be fairly stable. I have heard from other reviews of these that people complain about changes to the recipe, but I haven’t actually sensed this. I still had a couple sticks from a 2015 Holy Land purchase that I could compare these to, and other than the older stick being a little softer and muted due to age (and little specks of white that I imagine are mold), it is the same incense.

Starting with Holy Land, this comes in a small little yellow and green box covered in Tibetan script with only the contact information in Roman characters. This is where it started for me, these bamboo-free reddish-brown sticks are thinner than average for Tibetans, and when lit, produce a wonderful medicinal funk. I have heard “barnyard” used to describe the salty, musky scent coming off it but this is not an average barnyard because, to me, the smell of animal waste isn’t a part of this scent. As someone who has spent plenty of time in a “barnyard” setting, I do not detect any of those scents. I think the “barnyard” term comes from people who have never been to a farm because what I get here is more of an animal musk muted and diluted down to “a comfortable animal smell” sort of like how your cat’s bed smells after a few weeks of the cat laying in it, or a dog house after a dog has been in it for a day. With all the talk of animal lets not forget there are some great herbs and woods in here that balance out the musk and turn it into this bewitching scent, of which it is hard to pick out the individual smells because my guess is one of the steps in making this is to macerate the ingredients for a year or two so they all blend.

Additionally, I think that Holy Land has always been very “present” for me, in that whenever I put this scent on in my office, it’s easier for me to stay present and in the moment as if the very scent grounds me into the present. For the 6-7 years I have been burning this, this has been one of my favorites, as long as I keep it in stock it is in high rotation and tends to get busted out in the mornings and evenings as it has that type of ‘framing the day’ vibe to it.

Holy Land Grade 2 is a big surprise. First, I generally tend to think that if something is listed as ‘2’ it is not as good as ‘1’, but in this case, we are given a much longer, thicker stick. These longer sticks are actually muskier and stronger and basically smell like the same recipe just with more intensity because the stick is thicker and longer.

Doing a close side by side, I feel like my initial take on Holy Land 2 was simplistic, there are some differences and if I had to guess, this is made for temple burning for a specific ritual that takes the time it takes for this to burn because it does seem like this tries to fill a lot more space with smell than the grade 1 and the length seems quite specific. I feel like this has a bit more of a salty presence that might mean that there is more sandalwood or similar ingredients, but otherwise, this is really like an extended remix of Holy Land grade 1.

Tanak Thupten Ling Monastery / Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3, Grade 4, Grade 5

Any time I see a new (more accurately, new to me or ORS) monastery or incense company with grades on their incenses, it’s unlikely that I’m going to like all of them. First of all you have to take a look at the pricing, while not forgetting that sometimes stick length and even thickness can play a part in cost. Honestly for the most part, price decreases down grades tend to be fairly gradual. Mindroling is a good example of a graduated sort of scale and Nado Poizokhang used to have something like 6 grades that were available, although that seems no longer the case. Grades don’t always mean an indication of decreasing quality as the numbers rise, but they often do. So you tend to expect a #1 is just simply going to be a better incense than #5, not to mention more pricey.

None of this is really the case in this wonderful line of Tanak Thupten Ling Monastery incenses, or at least as the grades go down you’re not left thinking the lower incenses are worth skipping. Where I often dip into a sampler and then only buy a roll or two that I like, I went with the #1 and #3 first and then over time decided to get the rest. It doesn’t hurt that four of the five come in really beautifully designed cardboard rolls. Once again we must tip a hat to the great incense-traditions.ca for continuing to expose us to the many fine treasures of Tibet.

These are all wonderful, classy, complex and unique incenses that you come to expect from the area. The ingredients list in all of them are white sandalwood, wormwood, saffron, nutmeg, cloves and cypress;, although, you should note right away that the incenses vary a lot more than just what this list is telling you. Grade 1 is unquestionably the line’s treasure. Where later sticks get longer, Grade 1 is a modest sized stick popping with aromatic complexity. It’s literally beautiful and arresting from the first light and immediately popped up into my top 10 Tibetan incenses, it’s just that good. Repetitive burning has not changed my mind on this. Every ingredient in that list can be found here, popping with high resolution and sitting right next to each other, it’s got fine woods, great tanginess, that sense of herbal wildness you get from the wormwood and so much more. It has an aromatic intensity that even a lot of other monastery incenses don’t have. Just now I noticed some almost like spice rack sort of side note, peppery and piquant, which I hadn’t even noticed in the first five or six sticks. I love to use the word kaleidoscope when it comes to incenses like this that are so resolute and intricate, you still notice new things about them as you go. Incredible incense, extremely highly recommended.

Grade 2 changes quite dramatically and it’s funny of the five grades here this is the one I’ve found hardest to get used to. It brings out the more dangerous qualities of the wormwood a bit more so that it runs close to, say, some of the Dzongsar monastery incenses. It goes for a much drier profile than the Grade 1 and seems to not be quite as complex, although if you concentrate on it a bit you do still notice that the ingredient resolution is still pretty high. It feels like a lot of the spice content is a lot more dialed back so that the overall profile ends up being a lot more herbal, in fact there’s something of a grassiness or hay-like scent in that would seem a lot more barnyard if it wasn’t just completely missing any musk. Had I just experienced this incense as a sample on its own, I might have foregone a roll, but in the grade scheme of the entire Tanak Thupten Ling line, it’s actually kind of fascinating the way it fits in and contrasts with the other grades. And as you get used to it you realize that the overall dryness and herbal content hides a bit of the depth that experience will bring out with use. This is not what I call a Western friendly incense overall, but nor is it cheap or low quality. Perhaps its defining strength is that like with the Grade 1 it has a definite wood contour in the middle. But make no mistake this one has a learning curve.

Grade 3 is an incense that actually reminds me a little of my extreme favorite monastery incense Wara. I’m actually starting to feel like I go through an entire package of Wara between every mention of it and the desire to sing its praises threatens to take over sometimes, even from this review. Part of the similarity is there is some crossover with Wara with whatever makes up this sort of almost tarry blackened resin-like element in both incenses. Grade 3 veers away from some of the deeper, more complex and almost undefinable characteristics in Wara but increases some similar, more woody and evergreen elements that serve more as side notes in the Wara. The wormwood is much more subsumed in this incense, much more of a side note, and the cypress and spices are more obvious than they were in the Grade 2. So despite the same ingredients list, you’re talking about a third, completely different incense in this range. Naturally I liked this a lot and notice that it’s the one TTL incense that’s out of stock as I write this. Anyway some other notes in this are a bit of clay, peat, and juniper and in the end has some level of a fresher forest-y note somewhere in the middle that gives it some character. It’s wonderful stuff and the second one here I would recommend unequivocally. Not sure there are a lot of Grade 3s this good and there’s a bonus in that from this grade on, the sticks get a bit longer.

Grade 4 is maybe the first one in the line that starts to feel like there’s some level of ingredient shift as well as some level of similarity to one of the higher incense grades, but it’s still a remarkably strong incense. It’s fairly akin to the Grade 3 in that sort of dark, somewhat resin-heavy feel, but there feels to me less wood and a bit more heavy an emphasis on the spices. There’s a net tangy sort of thing that often shows up somewhere in the clove, nutmeg and cinnamon territory and it’s a level of spice that you really don’t get in the first three grades. In fact, if you step away and come back you can feel the wormwood a bit more, although not as crackly and herbal on top like it is in a higher resolution, more just like a bit of the Tibetan funk. I like the way this blend tends to merge with Grade 3’s darker profile. I will say that my expectations on this had me thinking I’d get tired of it, but the stick did the absolute opposite and continued to surprise me with reuse. Honestly at about $15 it’s quite decently priced and really doesn’t have the same sort of quality drops that, say, Mindroling does when it reaches its Grade 4.

The price of Grade 5 drops quite a bit to $12. But imagine simply if you did not know this was a grade 5 and was just evaluating it as a new Tibetan incense at this price. I think you would find it remarkably good. What is interesting about it is unlike the previous four grades, this incense seems to be more of that salty sort of blend you find in Holy Land and numerous other Tibetan classics except the herbal quality of the wormwood weaves its way in that blend which makes it a little unique. I think a lot of the more heavier wood aspects you find in the previous two grades are dialed back for this blend. And it actually feels like the muskier qualities are more active than in the previous four as well. So I would definitely just completely throw out the grading system at this point because this is really as good as any of the previous incenses or better, except the Grade 1, which is in a class of its own. Honestly in a lot of ways its like getting a slight variation on a big long stick roll of the Holy Land grade 2 except with a valid alteration in personality. One thing I really liked about this one on reuse was just how complex it is, how arresting the burn is. There’s no feeling at all along the TTL line that cheap wood filler is being used to replace quality at all. Its the capstone to an absolutely terrific, fascinating monastery line – a bravo to incense-traditions.ca for finding more new and interesting scents for us to try.

Baigu Temple / Medicine Buddha Backflow Cones

The Baigu Temple Medicine Buddha Backflow Cones come in a nice little stylish pouch. Unlike the last two cones I covered (Ba’er Qude and Ganden), these are not red but a tan color and have a very different profile. The cones have the same listed ingredients as the stick incense: lavender, wormwood and sandalwood. So I think one can assume that the idea is to have two formats of the same incense, the biggest difference is that these make the waterfalls in the neat little backflow burners. However to my nose the cone format does change things around a bit. The wormwood isn’t really as present in this format and the sandalwood is a lot more intense, which may say something about how the base of the incense has been altered to support the cone format. I wrote that the Baigu stick has a bit of a funky note, but you really don’t find it in the cone. I’m not sure how much the whole backflow cone trend is really a western thing because when I search for these types of cones on, say, Amazon, they flare up a bunch of warning signs for me. But if it is and the monasteries are just reacting to this trend then making a friendlier blend for the cone seems like it’s probably a smart idea. It’s a bit of a simpler incense, has some level of spice to it that I don’t remember so much from the stick, and if you mix all that in with the sandalwood (and other wood) base with light herbal touches from the wormwood and lavender, you’ve got yourself a pleasant cone here. You might even want to start with this one before the stick at least if you’re trying to get your toes wet, although normally I still find this format to be generally weaker than a stick. They burn quick and they’re rough towards the end, where a stick would still be lit for another 20-30 minutes.

Zurkhar Herbal Incense

Zurkhar Herbal Incense includes “37 types of herbal and therapeutic ingredients which include red and white sandalwoods, saffron and nutmeg.” So basically a fairly in the pocket Tibetan for sure. It’s interesting because the most central scent I notice isn’t really any of these things, it’s really the concentration of the other woods in the blend, probably the juniper, cedar and mild evergreen qualities. Around these I notice the sandalwoods a bit more and then outside of this the spices. Strangely the saffron doesn’t seem quite as heavy or noticeable as it usually is in incenses that list it. So although this is the mild and woody incense it’s advertised as, it’s also a little bit on the campfire side, just not harsh enough to make that a pejorative. I will say though that this is different to the salty-tangy Tun-Da blends and the more evergreen Aba Prefecture incenses, it’s much closer to Nepali incenses except the commonly imported Nepalis will not wow you with distinct and quality incense notes like this one will. I find Zurkhar mostly fascinating because it’s a bit of a chameleon and has a few other notes it likes to surprise you with. This one’s a bit of a work of art, I’m not sure it’s herbal in the sense I usually think of it, but it’s certainly quite pleasant. And under $10 it’s nicely priced too.

Tun-Da Village / N-M Jewel of Ancient Incense

I previously covered Tun-Da Village’s Master Incense, so we can assume the N-M Jewel of Ancient Incense is essentially their #2 blend. At $7 a roll, it’s almost impossible to knock a Tibetan incense of even, what, standard quality, but this may be a touch better than that. On the gift box page, we’re given clove and spices as the only ingredients, although they’re probably used in a moderate amount and not over the top like say the Kathok Monastery’s King of Incense. Anyway there’s no question this is a pleasant blend and maybe not a bad idea as a Tibetan starter incense as it’s super friendly, super affordable and not inclusive of any of the more dangerous notes you might find in some other Tibetan incenses. It’s got a bit of the mild corn chip sort of scent mixed in with the spices and a bit of tanginess and herbal quality too. There’s even some intriguing mild floral in the mix in there somewhere. It has surprisingly good definition for its price and a touch of woodiness to wrap it all up. Most of all it’s more art in balance than wowing you with any particular aspect of its profile. Monastery incenses is often the first link I go to at incense-traditions.ca, but honestly the village incenses are solid across the board. And the next Tibetan installment will include the last one on that page!

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