Kathok Monastery / King of Incense

I covered Kathok Monastery’s flagship incense not too long ago, only to find out most recently that the monastery has a second blend called King of Incense. It seems a virtual certainty that any incense line claiming monarchy might be good, but is unlikely to be the one and true king, so once again we might want to push out expectations aside for this one. However, if we do we do run the possibility of smashing them. King of Incense actually has a fairly similar profile to the Nepali incense by Mandala Trading called Tibetan Monastery Incense. I’m not even sure I would have noticed this had my impressions of the latter not been so much more recent, but the ingredients list of black and white sandalwoods, saffron, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, show a pretty heavy lean in the spice category which is largely what makes the Mandala Trading incense pop in the same way. The saffron pushes this one into slightly tangier and more pungent territory (I suspect there’s a touch of wormwood in here too), but overall this is an incense, like the flagship, that is also reminiscent of other Nepali blends at heart (although Kathok Monastery does not really appear to be any closer to Nepal than most Tibetan monasteries). It’s certainly a well balanced blend in the end and it actually has some level of presence of the sandalwood that many a Tibetan even with sandalwood in the list doesn’t have, in fact one wonders if the appellation is down to this being so prominent. Overall this is a pretty friendly incense, in fact one I might recommend as an introduction to more pungent blends, as its only a step in that direction, which the heavy spices tend to reign in. And of course this has the real trick of most monastery incenses, your appreciation of it grows with continued use. By the time I had finished the first draft of this review, this incense was opening up in ways I didn’t expect at all. The spice profile in particular is really lovely, at times almost like it sits on something sweet and yet the tangy richness really gives it something wonderful to play off of. Anyway if you’re like me and used to love the Mandala Trading incense and maybe feel like it’s not what it used to be, switching to this could be just the solution.


Kathok Monastery Formula Incense

Kathok Monastery Formula Incense is strange in that it reminds me both of much cheaper Nepali incenses you find imported to the US as well as more mid-level monasteries. If you check on the reviews at that link, you’ll find a few positive reviews that might be read in comparison/contrast to what I have to say. I’m not super sure this one works for me exactly. It definitely has a bit of summer harvest sort of scent to it that I believe probably comes from a lot of Himalayan flora native to the area. There’s a bit of burnt leaves to this part of the aroma and some campfire tones. It has a great deal of wood to it which is partially why it seems somewhat Nepali and maybe enough to give it a note that I either don’t like much or haven’t got used to. There’s some juniper and/or cedar to the mix and like most Tibetans a light touch of musk as well. So in many ways this is kind of a down-home Tibetan stick. I’m not sure I would have caught the clay notes myself without reading those reviews but once I tuned in it was less like earthy wet clay like I think of with patchouli or vetivert but more like the clay scent you get from pottery. It also has a kind of strange note like raisins and prunes in the mix which again sort of bolsters my summery impression of it. Also, it has just a slight amount of funk to be reminiscent of another monastery in the Nyingma tradition, Dzongsar. Anyway I’m glad this incense does have its appreciators and I think they’re well worth reading on to get some breadth on this incense. This very well could be a just not my thing rather than a fair incense, because really that’s quite a few notes from one stick – it certainly has the complexity and activity to it to make it worth checking out.