Kyarazen’s Artisinal Incense: Enko, Old Sage and Zen Moon

Kyarazen has spent the last two months creating a trio of luxury incenses. Each embodies a unique character and personality and creates a different mood and atmosphere. That an artist can compose olfactory poetry, using nature’s raw materials, is truly amazing and inspirational! Thank you, Kyarazen, for sharing your painstakingly crafted reflections. I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to try them.

ENKO

Kyarazen’s Enko is a larger than life scent- one that unabashedly fills a room with its hypnotic presence. It immediately reminds me of the interior of a traditional Chinese medicine shop where the mysterious scents of roots, barks, herbs and fungus, seashells and mineral extracts, and animal and insect components, are compounded into remedies that have been used for over 2000 years.

Enko has a rustic vigor that settles on my shoulders and burrows into my clothes with confident persistence. It is primarily a bitter scent, whose liveliness and energy are enhanced by warm herbs (turmeric, spikenard), woods (sandalwood), spices (pepper?) and salty mineral notes (shells).

Rather than unfolding note by note, the elements fuse to create a very dynamic and dense scent. This combination of vibrant buoyancy and weighty substance is unexpected and intriguing. I find myself inhaling it’s unfamiliar, medicinal aroma more and more deeply, and feeling invigorated by its penetrating presence.

To me it is very much an earth toned scent- russets, ochers and ambers; the scent of rugged escarpments and expansive plains. Although it is a quintessentially Chinese scent, Copeland’s Fanfare For the Common Man celebrates the same strength and openness that Enko, more humbly but not any less passionately, encapsulates.

OLD SAGE

Old Sage is an exceptional sandalwood incense that continues to perfume the air with the sweet scent of Santalum album long after it has finished burning.

Held breaths of silence punctuate this milky, opalescent fragrance that wraps its user in a haze of tranquility and mellowness. The fragrance is so intoxicating that I long for its reappearance during those vacant, scentless intervals.

Old Sage is more restrained than Kogado’s Hoshinohayashi, and its creamy notes are tempered with a hint of dry bitterness and salty mineral odorants. Inhaling the smoke has a strong physical effect: lured into a complacent daze, I’m happy to drift away, my chin nodding to my chest, my shoulders limp, my mind a puddle of blurred and melting images. Perhaps this smooth, undulating incense has already become an addiction? If so, it is one I willingly and wholly embrace.

Mutton jade; an anniversary pearl; a carnelian snuff bottle with sloped shoulders. Massenet’s “Meditation” from Thais. Golden mercury.

ZEN MOON

Zen Moon is delicately transparent. It is luminous, ethereal and elegant yet it radiates dignity and calm. The scent drifts in and out of my consciousness, dry and aloofly bitter, a cool, crescent moon sickling crystal waters. Intermittent surges of resinous sweetness, wavy lines of lactones and wisps of earthy herbs add complexity, dimension and depth to the scent, but the composition is, above all, a reverent homage to the stately and austere woody scent of agarwood.

Unlike Enko, a sustained note that never vacillates, Zen Moon is a fugue, its shadows and overtones embellished adornments of Aquilaria’s meandering melody.

Silver solitudes, a wooden box embossed with almost forgotten memories, the permanence of impermanence, Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor.

Kyarazen wrote “What I had wanted to achieve with Zen Moon is to create a special space, a hollow, omnipresent clear quietness, and the incense presenting itself in that background, weaving through the air, allowing the perceiver to experience wafts of scent like the clouds that drift slowly past the full moon in stainless light.“

He has certainly succeeded.

For more information about these incenses please see:

http://www.kyarazen.com/making-incense-sticks/

Incienso de Santa Fe / Seven Scent Sampler (by Nancy)

Incienso de Santa Fe is a company that is in love with wood; they have been making single note wood incenses since 1964. All of their offerings come from trees that are native to America and, in the spirit of conservation, are made from only dead or fallen trees. They have seven varieties: alder, cedar, fir, hickory, juniper, mesquite, and pinon. Incienso does not make sticks or cones, but pressed bricks. These require special burners to keep them upright so that they will burn correctly. The Seven Scent Sampler includes one of these holders plus 7 bricks of each variety, plenty enough to get a good idea of what each different wood smells like. If you’re looking for something a little more artistic, Incienso also offers a line of really cute hand made terra cotta burners, modeled to look like adobe houses, teepees, log cabins, kivas, and the like.

Since these are single-note incenses, it is very difficult to describe what they smell like to someone who has never been exposed to these woods. You may be familiar with alder, mesquite, and hickory because all of these are used to smoke meats. Like pinon, balsam fir and juniper are evergreen so they have a noticeable pine-like aroma. Perhaps you’ve smelled a cedar chest? This wood’s essential oils are a natural insect repellant, making it perfect for the storage of organic fibers like wool and cotton. These incenses are all very, well, woody. (What can I say?) They are distinct from each other, but only in subtle ways. Mesquite a bit more resinous, pinon a bit more sweet, for example. All are very nice and scent your space like you’ve got a big stack of logs burning in the fireplace. Cozy indeed!

Aromatic woods are a major ingredient in all quality incenses and, at under $10, this sampler gives you an affordable opportunity to experience some of these woods as individuals. However, even though all of the 7 different woods are quite nice, the tendency in the end is that they begin to blend together. Also, even with the special burners, it is difficult to ignite the bricks so that they burn well. They are a little brittle and seem to flake apart or separate while burning, sometimes leaving half of the incense brick burned down and the other untouched. Still, it’s hard to criticize Incienso for these technical details when their incense smells so good! After all, one of the best aromatic experience in the world is a good campfire, and these incenses evoke this quite well. What could compare to the smell of giant chunks of wood burned out in the fresh air? Surely this must be the original incense experience!