Happy New Year (including Gokula and notes on Mermade Magickal Arts)!

I just posted the last two articles for my Gokula series today as Gokula is running a 20% off sale through 1/8, so I figured if you hadn’t checked the line out yet now is a perfect time! There are some definite goodies in their gigantic line and there’s actually a whole back half I didn’t review that are Mahavadhas sourced, so if you come across any of those that are good, do let us know in one of the Gokula post threads! Anyway, this takes us nearly to the end of the reviews stored up from last year, there may be a couple more to trickle in. More on this in a sec…

As I’ve been taking it easy over the holidays, I haven’t had too much of a chance to review or evaluate anything, but I did want to mention a few more Mermade Magickal Arts goodies. These aren’t intense reviews as I basically love all Mermade incenses which definitely all deserve deeper dives, but Katlyn tends to always be really busy during the holiday season and releases quite a few new vintages and I wanted to get in my thoughts before they’re gone. It was really nice to see Baccy Claus again, it’s at least the second vintage but I would guess the batch I had previously was before we started ORS up again. This one seems an improvement, never a surprise with Katlyn’s work, almost as if the middle had been brought up to match that peppery herbal note that makes this a scent unique in her catalog (think a mix of tobacco and herbal with the greener evergreen notes cradling this top scent). This one even has some unique elements in the mix with a touch of Amanita and Sativa, I’ve had the pleasure of an incense or two in the long past where Kat will mix something like this in and the results are always special and a bit different from the normal catalog. So certainly this is one to add to your cart right away.

Also checked out was her latest vintage of the Classic Kyphi, as I have long stated on these pages the Mermade kyphis are always well worth checking out, although I have been really unable to plumb the depths of this one quite yet. It’s really impossible to evaluate something this complex after just a sitting, but this will certainly be out right next to the heater over the next month. Some of the most recent kyphis strike me almost like drier wines compared to the sweeter ones, if you need an overall take. Forest Honey seems like a new experimental merging of two of her lines (say Sweet Medicine and Wild Wood for example) and is quite a bit different from Kat’s usual green holiday mix and a welcome variation. As always you get that great balance that allows you to experience both sides of the scent. But once again, I still need to dig out the time to really sit with it. Similarly with the Jasmine Dreams. I spend a lot of time both reviewing and evaluating and largely getting really fatigued by jasmine incenses over the last year, so it was great to get back to one that really highlights how good it can be. Perhaps part of the reason is this has a lot of green frankincense and repeat customers generally know how high quality this frankincense can be from Mermade. But this has a real nice peach note (resin seems to help bring this out) that you can often get out of the better jasmines and it seems like a perfect match with the better frankincense. So overall and as usual, it’s impossible not to recommend all these new treats, not to mention that it looks like Mermade has several Esprit de la Nature goodies in as well which always go really fast. I haven’t tried any of these but they’re always great as well. I would bet Bonnie probably has more at her site!

So with that said while there are probably a few more reviews in the wing to go, we’re reaching the end of the current “season.” This year is unique particularly in that there’s also very little in the current queue to review as well. I think we’ve debating internally that there are things like Satya incenses that I’ve sort of had on the table, but with less time to really review things of late it can be difficult to force yourself to take a look at incenses better worth avoiding. There’s a Review Information link at the top left if you’d like us to review your incenses, just let us know. Happy New Year everyone!

Advertisement

Gokula Incense / Flora Fluxo, Floral Bouquet, Gold Sandal, Jasmine & Lotus, Jasmine & Nag Champa, Lotus & Kewra

Agarwood & Musk, Agar Sandal, Aloeswood & Jasmine, Amber & Frankincense, Celestial Fruits, Chocolate & Vanilla

This is the second of four in a series of Gokula Incense reviews, please see the first installment for an introduction to the company.

My general impression of flora/fluxo incenses is they usually come with an orange dipped stick (either full or just the end). And Gokula’s variant (one of them really) is actually called Flora Fluxo. I have reviewed or burned so many of these types of incenses in the last couple months that they probably feel more redundant to me than they actually are, but if you’re not familiar with the style then usually the standard version (kind of like how blue box Nag Champa is – or maybe used to be – the standard for those incenses) is the red package Sai Flora and it’s a reasonable baseline although it is heavily perfumed and often stronger than those I have reviewed lately. Gokula’s version is somewhat muted and not quite as bright and brassy as Sai Flora. Most floras and fluxos have earthier levels in them but they’re usually much more buried than they are here, which tends to give me an August, almost Dionysian vibe like prunes or grapes. I am not sure the balance maybe quite works for me on this stick, but I would not take that as gospel because most are just minor tweaks from one to the other and if you like the style, you’re likely going to search for the one that works for you. This is certainly a reasonable quality take.

Floral Bouquet actually does what it says it’s going to do and presents a floral mix that’s very pink and sweet. It’s a bit of a masala although still fairly firm but it’s worth noting because it doesn’t feel like it’s battling charcoal but is more of a blend with a bit of woodiness. I’ve gone on record many times the pitfalls of presenting general florals, but this one has no bitterness or off notes and it’s probably friendly enough to be kind even to incense muggles. It actually reminds me a little of some of the old Dhuni incenses, perhaps in a more manageable form than that, but approaching that kind of pleasantness (I keep being reminded by the sadly lamented Dhuni Frangipani for some reason). It feels like it has something like pink Valentine’s candy at heart, but the structure of it seems to balance it out in a good way.

Gold Sandal seems to be a cousin to the Agar Sandal we reviewed last time, but like a lot of midline Indian sandalwood incenses, they really don’t smell a lot like sandalwood. There is some inherent woodiness to the incense but there are bitter/sour off notes as well as some really strangely placed fruity notes like peach or apricot in the middle. One wonders if this was an attempt to build a sandalwood out of a different set of ingredients. The Agar Sandal actually felt a bit closer to me in getting to that note or at least it ended up being more genuinely woody than this one. Certainly, the overall bouquet of the Agar Sandal is much more coherent, so I’d suggested starting there before heading to this one.

Even though I am going in alphabetical order, the next three incenses share quite a few of the same ingredients and operate very closely in style. The Jasmine and Lotus (and according to the description juhi, kewra and parijata) is an interesting blend for sure in that you’d expect that to be tilted way over into jasmine when the noticeable lead aroma seems to be something similar to the blue lotus that’s part of the Madhavadas catalog. It’s a very pretty, powdery sort of scent where if you can imagine it, the jasmine kind of faintly provides a background color to give a bit of complexity to the lotus scent. And honestly I think that is where jasmine is at its best. So after introducing some incenses Gokula imports that may be wobbly, this is one that I think has a rather distinct sort of mix I haven’t turned up in other catalogs and that is indeed what one often looks for in an incense.

And better yet, the Jasmine & Nag Champa may be one of Gokula’s best. While I’m not sure either aroma is dead on, they are both close and the juhi and lotus they meld with work well together. Whatever one has in mind for a mix like this, it’s going to be a bit different than you expect. While the champa perfume isn’t the classic style you get on something like the AB or TOI Gold Nagchampa, it does have a much more powdery bottom to it that evinces maybe a bit of halmaddi in the masala. The top note is very pretty and while you can kind of sense jasmine in there somewhere it’s not unlike the previous incense where it seems to mostly come out in some aspects of the bouquet as part of a merger. And overall, it leans over into pink florals a bit.

Finally the Lotus & Kewra is a very interesting experiment. This stick is a lightly dusted charcoal, but even moving back from a more masala like approach this still seems to have the same sort of warm and gentle powdery qualities of the last two incenses, which I like very much. The charcoal does spike a little through it as is always the case with floral charcoals but the perfume mix is quite nice nonetheless with what seems like either a balsamic or vanilla like quality in the middle. And yes there is even a distinct kewra note through the middle! Screwpine is definitely an aroma I’d like to see more often as it’s such a distinct and different scent to anything else. While the lotus isn’t quite as distinct as it is in the incense above where it’s paired with jasmine, and this may be because of the kewra, the resulting merge is certainly worth it. The incense description also describes the blend “in a sandalwood base with swirling notes of champa and marigold.” The powdery quality is certainly champa-esque and the marigold can be faintly ascertained but to my nose I don’t get any sandalwood and nor would I think you’d need to. Whatever the case this is definitely a Gokula winner.

Gokula Incense / Agarwood & Musk, Agar Sandal, Aloeswood & Jasmine, Amber & Frankincense, Celestial Fruits, Chocolate & Vanilla

With the assistance of a reader, I made a 24-incense order of Gokula incense earlier in the year, basically all of the ones I was informed were not sourced by the Madhavadas family as these often overlap with other companies like Pure Incense. So these are divided into four reviews of six incenses each. My order arrived somewhere in the middle of several early orders to Vedic Vaani which largely eclipsed my entire incense year and while I went through all of the Gokulas, it felt like a good idea to sample and then let them rest a bit and come back to them with a fresh nose. With some exceptions in either direction, Gokula import a lot of decent scents and I might generally rate this half of the line as being on par with some of the Prabhuji’s Gifts incenses. All of these came in 20g packages although I do believe 250g bundles are also available. In my experience Gokula scents are either dusted charcoals almost entirely made from oil mixes or a step into masalas with occasional incenses being a bit softer to the touch.

So up front we’ll start with a trio of aloeswood/agarwood incenses. The Agar Sandal is definitely a masala and one way I can tell is that my package of it showed a number of places on sticks where parts of the masala had crumbled off (you can probably see in the photo) and even if the stick is relatively hard it definitely feels there is a noticeable amount of halmaddi in this. So in a way this is something like a cousin to Absolute Bliss’ King of Sandal in that it’s a bit of a “sandalwood champa” type. The agarwood doesn’t feel like it’s particularly woody or perhaps even the real thing, but whatever they are using does modify the aroma away from it just being sandalwood heavy on its own. I have noticed a lot of incenses like this in the Rare Essence or Prabhuji’s Gifts catalogs and this is basically on par with those, but perhaps not quite up to the resolution or balance of King of Sandal. There’s a feeling that at this level a lot of the aromatic functions of an incense tend to blur together to its detriment. But don’t get me wrong, this is still a pleasant burn, but unless you’re new to Indian incense it won’t be much of a surprise.

On the fresh Agarwood & Musk stick you really do get something of an idea of what the musk is supposed to be like here. And in the burn, it’s in there somewhere. But like the previous incense, there probably isn’t any actual agarwood in this, rather it feels like a mix of things meant to approximate it. So the overall aroma is almost like a collection of notes in between both of these things with the musk pulling the other elements over in its direction. It’s a reasonably pleasant scent overall but lacks a bit of distinctiveness, although I do like that this isn’t a sweet musk. For a charcoal it has some surprisingly masala-like characteristics and it reminds me a little of the Parrot Green Durbar that Shroff used to carry 10 or 15 years ago. The issue in the end is that the description isn’t quite what you get, but it for sure isn’t anything like what a Madhavadas incense would be with the same description. But it reminds me too much of what is missing from better incenses, which may not be an issue for everybody but it pushed it out from being a keeper.

I will admit that I am at a place in incense life where jasmine incenses are getting on my nerves, no matter how good they are, so I may not be the best judge of Aloeswood & Jasmine. Unlike the previous two incenses I don’t smell a lot of anything that might fall under the aloeswood category here but there does appear to be a reasonable jasmine perfume here in the sense that it’s that sort of weird mix of floral and peaches. This incense verges slightly in both bitter or astringent sort of areas which may be part and parcel of having jasmine in it because even some of the better Absolute Bliss, Temple of Incense or Vedic Vaani variations tend to still have these aspects (for example the deluxe “tube” Vedic Vaani Jasmine Sambac incense is one of the few premium tubes they do I don’t really like much). But it’s also possible some of this is where the “aloeswood” comes out. My opinion has often been that even in the best cases some of these florals either don’t work out or just as likely I’m not naturally fond of them. So definitely a YMMV sort of thing.

Amber & Frankincense is a recipe somewhat similar to Samadhi Sutra in the Happy Hari line. In Indian incenses, particularly those that are more akin to champas and have a little halmaddi, frankincense often sort of appears in a more peppery-spicy sort of form often with like a touch of licorice and these remind me a bit of frankincense champas and more of an old school recipe like Maharaj. It’s the green dipped tip that often identifies the formula as well. The amber, of course, gives it a bit of balsamic heft and an overall richness, so it’s a nice merging. This is really as good of a place to start with the formula as any, but if you’re familiar with a lot of Indian incense it’s likely you will know this one already.

With Celestial Fruits I’m largely out at the name. It’s the sort of incense that tends to inspire mini rants from me on why fruits are usually not a good idea in incense and this is even more so when it is a fruit salad sort of scent like this one. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not unpleasant but it’s definitely way too generic. The lightly dusted charcoal sticks gives it away and it’s essentially what I’d call a fruity floral in that I would guess the bouquet is probably a combination of elements all used to approximate fruitiness that is akin to something like one of those canned fruit cocktails by Dole or something. It’s soft, powdery, inoffensive and ultimately dull. And even though it’s supposedly in a sandalwood base I don’t sense much in the way of that.

Chocolate & Vanilla runs similar risks to the Celestial Fruits but incenses that cover coffee or chocolate are usually a bit more on point. However this is a bit softer of a masala which implies there’s a bit of halmaddi in the mix. I’ve tried a Vedic Vaani or two that had a similar profile to this and even though this doesn’t explicitly say so there’s a bit of coffee in this mix as well. The masala like elements of the stick do tend to help when it comes to moving this a bit farther away from a purely charcoal stick and for sure there are some elements of the burn that feel more traditional. But I would not go into this thinking you’re going to really get much in the way of an actual chocolate and/or vanilla scent. But it is kind of intriguing as a scent, there’s some level of woodiness (identified as sandalwood but more generic to my nose) along with something that roughly plays along the chocolate to vanillla to coconut axis. I actually enjoy a stick like this here and there but it’s the kind of scent I find fatiguing with overuse. It’s still quite a ways away from the kind of smell you get from baking or melting chocolate or so forth.

Holy Smoke / Bloom, Cardamom, Dammar, Free Spirit, Nag Champa

Holy Smoke is the name of a domestic incense creator that can be found on both Etsy and its own website. The company states, “All our ingredients are natural and directly from nature. We try to source the best ingredients to produce the finest products. Our incense sticks are hand-rolled using honey, gum resin, botanicals and pure essential oils. Each stick will burn for an hour or more.” This in particular got my attention because even some of the best Indian incenses (and Holy Smoke sticks are Indian-style for sure) out there can be completely charcoal based which has never really been one of my favorite bases for a scent. And one must admit Holy Smoke present their incenses in a very attractive way at their sales sites. So I was very interested in checking out some of their scents.

First of all I was a bit disappointed in that the incenses I received did not have the bright colors that the presentations on line hinted at. This is of course not a deal breaker for a scent, but it IS part of what had me scrambling for a purchase. The incenses do vary a bit in color but one must come to the impression that the lighting may be bringing out what you see a bit more than the reality and in fact if you look at my own pictures in this review, the flash is definitely helping some on that account. In my experience a lot of Indian sticks that use colors may not impart any scent variations through the colors themselves but there is often something psychological about using them and I once raided the Vedic Vaani catalog trying to find the brightly colored ones and this often led to some of their better incenses. So be sure to temper one’s expectations from the pictures.

So that lovely purple color on the Bloom picture at the Holy Smoke website I don’t really see at all in the actual incense, it turned out to be much redder. This is described as a mix of rose, musk and patchouli, but what you immediately notice is just the overall blast of scent coming from the stick, it’s literally drenched in perfume oils. In fact I did not mind at all letting these sit for a while hoping to temper the power of them a little and even in doing so they still strike me as strong and powerful, perhaps even too much. So it’s probably worth setting one’s expectations that a stick like this at an hour burn and this powerful is likely something you don’t want as close to your space. The other issue, which not all of the sticks have, is that the combination of the oils being used often reminds me of air freshener type scents rather than any of the specific ingredients. As we know getting a legitimate rose oil from an essential is virtually impossible at this price range, but the overall floral scent does seem to be largely drowning out whatever is being used as the musk and patchouli. You can certainly sense both in the mix at some level but the combination still adds up in a way that reminds me if your levels on your CD are too high.

The Cardamom is very different to the Bloom. It was actually nice to see this rarely represented spice in an incense and the overall levels turned down a bit. Cardamom is a fairly unique spice but tends to appear as drier in incense which matches a bit better with the honey and resin base. But it does appear that there is more in play than the just the spice (as well as the question of how much of the spice is the actual spice and how much is in the oil). I wondered a bit about some of the natural resin in the midst of it coming through as it seemed somewhat basic quality, perhaps a touch gravelly, but it wasn’t ultimately problematic with the top note. There is some level of a floral feel to this as well as if the base or additional ingredients contribute quite a bit to the overall aroma. It’s an interesting and fairly unique aroma overall, very different to the others I sampled from the catalog. But once again, the sheer strength of the overall stick feels like it gets a bit overwhelming during the burn, something that might be mitigated by burning half sticks.

Part of the issue with incenses whose essential oil mixes are this loud is they tend to resemble household products and that’s the main issue with Dammar, an incense with a resin whose lemon-like tendencies push the overall aroma into furniture polish territory. The thing is, where in the Cardamom I could detect some level of actual resin burning here, the lemon characteristics supposedly coming from this resin all seem to be on the oil level. The issue is that it feels a bit chemical on some level in the sense where fruitiness in an air freshener or cleaning product ends up being too cloying. This also runs into having a bit of a bitter edge to it. Unfortunately, it has probably been a while since I tried the actual resin to see how close it is but it seems like here there’s much more going on than just the resin. I don’t mean to doubt the creators claim that these are all natural but sometimes the mixes can still perhaps not work quite as well.

Free Spirit is a blend of Nag Champa, Lotus, Jasmine and Ylang Ylang. One thing that originally struck me about this mix and the plain Nag Champa (below) is that it seems like the company may use a Satya-sourced Nag Champa oil or something very similar as it has an extremely familiar scent to it. The difference in base, then, is made more obvious by contrasting it with this oil which does make you notice the honey and resins a bit more. This is a bit of a drier mix but it still feels a bit crowded with florals and one starts to come to the conclusion that not unlike Madhavadas sourced incenses, the base of these tends to be aromatic enough to be part of every aroma in a way that makes them all somewhat similar. There’s a fruity sort of scent that seems common to all of these incenses that tends to mute all of the specific named notes. And so the mix ends up being quite a bit different from any one scent and in a largely generic sort of way.

Nag Champa on its own is a lot more familiar, and maybe here you can mostly sense what this base is all about as it’s easier to mentally isolate that one note. What it probably does the most is show what this sort of oil smells like outside of the usual halmaddi and sandalwood mix, that is, it’s quite a bit different without those notes and with what is the unique Holy Smoke honey and resin mix. But like the Cardamom, not having the extra oils is a bit more pleasant to my nose. But overall this doesn’t really smell all that much like a traditional Nag Champa so much as the use of that scent in this format.

Overall, with all of these incenses getting some idea of whether you like their base is going to be key where you fall with any of their aromas. But even if you like the base, the predominance of certain oil mixes is very likely to overwhelm if you are not careful. So I might recommend checking one of their samplers first, if available.

Kunjudo (Awaji Island) / HA-KO / Paper Incense / No. 1 Spicy Jasmine, No. 2 Agarwood, No. 4 Sandalwood

Japan Incense sent over these three beautifully designed paper incense leaves to review. Honestly as soon as I looked at their delicate construction, I had some hesitance in even wanting to burn them, the art and aesthetics seem so perfect (I love the delicate notches and details on the leaves). Second, I am getting to be of the age that if I’m burning incense and something else happens, like I get a call from work or there’s some sort of minor crisis to resolve at my place, etc., I can immediately forget what I am burning and come back with it depleted. I only had one chance at these really, so I needed to be ready. It’s one thing when you lose a daily stick, no worries, but man when that happens and it’s a kyara or something, it can be highly disappointing to be distracted. So, gulp, I took photos and wrote all of this before even lit a tip. Keep in mind as well that I am not sure if this qualifies as a “sampler notes” but since they all appear to be part of a five leaf set, one does not really have the luxury to try more than one without spending a lot of money. To me this feels like something of an aesthetic or artistic treat but at a bit over $5 a leaf it is obviously luxury priced. And it was paper so I was like how fast are these gonna go up? Also, I believe these usually come with a felt mat to burn them on. I didn’t have one so used a bed of ash. It must be said that you want to keep your eye on these when they burn as even the slightest draft can move the leaf from incense to fire hazard.

So I went in order and started with the No. 1 Spicy Jasmine. My first reaction was both that it burned a little slower than I expected (it still goes pretty fast) and that the aroma was definitely modern. As the leaf widens it gets a bit more smoky as well, unsurprisingly. But overall the paper they used is obviously formulated to not have much in the way of off notes (although after burning all three you can definitely get the “paper note” as well). Now I’m not sure I got much of an actual jasmine note out of this, although it certainly had some mild spiciness around the edges, but it’s still interestingly floral in a sort of wet way, a scent I might associate more with a perfume than an incense. In fact without the binder of a stick, it’s almost a bit purer this way. Overall the scent actually reminded me a bit more of something like peaches, but it did have a few subnotes in the mix which made it interesting. It’s hard to say with one leaf if this is something I would burn a lot more of if I had multiple leaves but it was an interesting experience. And I would think this could appeal to a more modern audience.

The No. 2 Aloeswood is probably a bit more over to my personal tastes and while this obviously isn’t wood burning, the creators have gone some way into making something reminiscent of an aloeswood scent, a perfume that is modern but maybe reminiscent of something like the Xiang Do aloeswood. It is still essentially a perfume on paper. Perhaps in this sense, having a leaf burning with a woodier scent is a bit more on point, almost autumnal in a way. I found this one particularly cooling in a way I wouldn’t have expected. Almost moody in its profile.

The No. 4 Sandalwood is perhaps a bit closer to the scent you know and love than the previous two although it feels like it’s mixed in with some perfume aspects, but in a way I thought was quite complementary with the wood itself. It is almost like the intent was to bring the spicier aspects of the sandalwood to the fore and like the Aloeswood, I found this to be somewhat autumnal. I liked the somewhat fruity aspects mixed in as well, I though these were a lovely touch. it’s almost like there’s a strong touch of apricot in the mix.

So overall one must think of these as an aesthetic experience, with scents derived from quality perfumes rather than the usual incense experience. Obviously these are not incenses you are likely to use every day, but would be something for special occasions or a nice aesthetic touch to plans. It’s like you actually want to watch the pretty leaf burn rather than leaving it alone for the scent. So anyway much thanks to Japan Incense for the opportunity to experience this novel form of incense, I found it quite fascinating and certainly the leaves are beautiful indeed.

Mermade Magickal Arts / Goddess Temple – Katlyn’s Kyphi #2, Moon

There’s a virtual history of Mermade kyphis being reviewed at ORS going back to 2011 (and a much longer tradition of Mermade making them) if you take a look at our Reviews Index. The Egyptian Temple incenses known as Kyphi are not only some of the world’s most famous historical blends but they are some of the most involved, complex and fascinating as well. One of the things I find most fascinating about them is that in the right hands a kyphi incense can be both simple and complex, creating a composite aroma out of a large ingredients list. The amount of preparation that goes into one of these incenses can be daunting and based on Katlyn’s words at the incense link, she has devised a new way of blending Kyphis to save both time and energy, which will allow the incense to be made more available. Anyone who has tried a Mermade kyphi knows this is a very good thing indeed.

Reviewing a kyphi may not be as difficult as making one, but it’s a scent that is kind of hard to pin down. I’ve always used something like a fine wine or whiskey because the overall bouquet of a kyphi can be so rich and multi-faceted, usually with a distinct sense of age. It rarely feels like something you can just pick the elements out of, it’s more like the elements come together into something new. There are definitely similarities from one kyphi to another (usually for me it’s whatever the raisins and honey do, if they’re in there). However, I think this vintage, Goddess Temple – Katlyn’s Kyphi #2, is a bit different than previous years. It feels like this is more resin heavy overall. The ingredients listed are frankincense (Hougary, Black Sacra, and Honey), Yemeni myrrh, Pinon pine, labdanum, Chios mastic, Saigon cinnamon, Turkish galbanum, and styrax liquidambar, all dusted with agarwood powder. It’s interesting because this feels more like a modern reformulation of a kyphi, one I wouldn’t be quite as sure of if we weren’t in safe hands with a creator who has spun out years of brilliant kyphi vintages, not a one I didn’t love. While it does feel somewhat different from previous Mermade kyphis, and I’m assuming the #2 is marking the occasion, the feeling that this is still in the style with a lot of depth and creativity is still in place. The notes tend to loom larger than the listed mix with quite a bit of interesting floral activity and heavy spice content that becomes even more noticeable as the incense melts on a heater. I’m not sure if there are raisins or anything like that in the incense, but that sort of defining kyphi note is still in the mix somehow, it’s a scent that reminds me of anything from plums to prunes to raisins. I very much like the idea that this is now an “all year around” kyphi as if you’re a fan of loose incenses kyphi is really one of the first incense types I would recommend. So it is a very cool thing indeed that the availability of this has widened. It is still complex, releases all sorts of subnotes along the timeline of the heat, sings with really quality ingredients, and still has that lovely feeling of fine spirits about it.

Katlyn has done a lot of what I would call lunar blends as well (Temple of the Moon, Mermade Moon, Moon Goddess, and Luna all come to mind). These have what I would call western magical correspondences about them, which means they tend to have some up front jasmine notes. Mermade has done a lot of fine work with jasmine and you may not be surprised that Moon is another solid entry of the type. For this blend she has used Tamil heartwood sandalwood and Jasmine Grandiflorum in a base of Yemeni myrrh, kua, black frankincense, and rare okoume resin, with some Chios mastic drops mixed in. The sandal and jasmine mix is really what is out in front on this one, although it’s perhaps not quite as overtly floral as previous lunar Mermades, and I would guess the okoume resin is giving the entire scent an intriguing subnote, a little bit of a slight gravel that I might liken to some copals and that helps the scent not to get too safe. So overall it’s a bit of a different direction for a lunar, a bit more fruity floral overall with some intriguing wood and resin subnotes to top it off. But I think in the end you will want to visit it for the sandalwood and jasmine mix.

Oh and before I close, there’s great news on the “restock” front in that Sweet Medicine is back in stock. I know I’m incredibly happy to see this beautiful honey and sweetgrass scent become a mainstay, it is one of my favorites in a great line up of goodies, so be absolutely sure to pop off and grab some.

Prabhuji’s Gifts / Chakra Series / Muladhara, Svadhisthana, Manipura, Anahata, Vishuddha, Ajna, Sahasrara

The Western tendency to create correspondences with Eastern spiritual systems seems largely a side effect of systems like the Golden Dawn where everything from colors to astrology signs to elements to Hebrew letters to tarot cards were lined up with one another to link things up and create one sort of universal spiritual system. This has long permeated new age culture and you can see it here in this seven incense chakra line where all the packages have different colors and so forth and the scents have been created to match up with each chakra, as if working with chakras was a simple as burning incenses and holding the right crystal. But hey, marketing right? (There’s a new Facebook ad equating using their groups as a method for transcendence that is currently annoying me, but I digress.) For sure the packages are quite nice on these, and if we can reference the many gems of the Ramakrishnanda incense line (scroll a bit down after this review), then I was hoping there would be treasures to be found in these as well, as Prabhuji’s Gifts has created a lot of memorable and inexpensive incenses that have become favorites of mine. They have such a wide variety of scents and lines now that there should nearly be something for everyone. So anyway let’s start from the root chakra and bring the energy up, or at least see if these smell good.

The Muladhara Chakra incense lists sandalwood, khus, patchouli and clove. This looks to be of Bangalore pedigree with a heavily dusted, somewhat hybridized masala with charcoal, very similar to what you’ll find with Satya incenses. However, like most of the Prabhuji Gifts line the perfumes tend to be better. I think the idea here is that earthier herbs like patchouli and khus are meant to be grounding, but the mix of all four of these ingredients really tends to blend those types of earthier elements out. You end up with a sort of budget quality woodiness from the sandalwood with a bit of a cooling vibe, not at all what I’d expect from the “cover.” As the incense burns you realize it’s going for a sort of mild stabilizing effect and that you do get the clove and patchouli as milder notes in the background and so overall this is pleasant if not quite exciting. But that may very well be the point.

Svadhisthana Chakra is all about the sacral (aka tummy) chakra. It has a similar style to the Muladhara, but is perhaps a bit softer. The list here is vanilla, rose and vetiver. I’m always a bit skeptical of incenses with rose notes at this sort of inexpensive price range and the one here seems a bit odd in the mix. The company also tags this chakra with the water element where something like jasmine seems a better fit and it’s kind of odd to see something like vetivert here as well. So it’s a bit of an odd duck. Like most of these incenses there’s also an inherent woodiness to it that isn’t listed and you can certainly smell the vanilla, although it leans a bit to the less sweet. I can’t really identify anything too unpleasant or odd about the notes, but the mix of them doesn’t sit particularly comfortably for me. It ends up being close to a lot of incenses you find at this range where the perfumes didn’t quite make it.

So, up to the solar plexus level with the Manipura Chakra, this time with a more simple blend of lavender and sandalwood. The consistency here brings it back more in line with the Muladhara. The simplicity makes this a much more satisfying incense. It’s interesting after sampling the lavenders in the Happy Hari/Temple of Incense axis to sample this as the sandalwood presence gives this a much different feel that those, perhaps less obviously lavender but still soft and pleasant enough to not be offputting like in the Lavender Fields variant. It’s more that it just sort of moves the sandalwood over into a more pleasantly general floral range. So it ends up being probably the best incense in this line. But again I find this interesting on a correspondence level because lavender more often tends to be thought of as air element here and because of that it doesn’t feel like it matches with the fire correspondence listed in the back. For fire you’d likely want something spicier like cinnamon in the mix.

Anahata Chakra at least keeps the rose (and maybe geranium) associations of the heart chakra in place, although it does so with patchouli as the first note listed. It reminds me a little of the Temple of Incense Om Masala, although perhaps not quite as deluxe. For listing a couple of big floral notes, it feels like they’re dialed back in comparison to the earthy and spicy notes and there’s some level of halmaddi to it as well. But the price difference between this and the Om Masala is probably a bit telling in that this has less definition, especially in the perfume area, it is pleasant but in a somewhat muddier way. It’s the kind of incense that would have had a bit more presence in the “halmaddi era” but without the full recipe, it leaves it feeling pleasant but a bit generic.

The “oriental woods and amber” of Vishuddha Chakra create an incense not terribly different from the other sandalwood prominent incenses in this series. It’s quite dry with very little in the way of sweetness and doesn’t have as strong of an amber note as you’d like. Without any real definition of what woods are included, it actually matches the profile fairly well and doesn’t seem as sandalwood-heavy as the others, but this pushes it into a somewhat generic and somewhat personality-less area. I like that it’s a bit different and the cooling feel of it does seem to fit the color scheme here but again, this falls a bit more into the way Satya incenses can be kind of hazy in terms of what scent they’re trying to reach. It’s perhaps that feeling that this is reaching for levels of expense it couldn’t possibly reach at its price.

It’s hard to get enthusiastic about the jasmine and tulasi that matches up with the Ajna Chakra. Ideally when you’re moving up into rarified spheres you’d like the quality to bump up quite a bit, but after the Absolute Bliss/Temple of Incense Vintage Jasmine/Jasmine Blossom, this one falls quite flat. Whatever is going into this mix frankly isn’t cutting it and the perfume is off in a way that’s distinctly unpleasant. It could be that this is old stock and it has faded some but I’m not sure I’d risk another go with what’s left. This stick is more like something you’d expect out of Satya, either factory. And honestly I’ve tried one of Satya’s jasmines (I think it was the Bangalore “Jasmine”) that’s actually more defined than this one, so maybe part of the issue is the Tulasi? Hard to tell for sure, but simply nope.

And finally we get to the crown chakra with the Sahasrara Chakra and the lotus blossom that often signifies the mandala here. But just like with the previous incense, I’ve had Queen of Lotus/Lotus Flower, Floating Lotus Flower/Shiv and of course the devastating White Lotus Oudh Saffron out frequently of late, so I perhaps was not in the economy section when I sat down to review this. Fortunately it’s a bit nicer on its own than the Ajna, and there’s at least some level of attempt to get the floral notes right, but it’s not the same class, not by a long shot. It does have a bit of sweetness as a masala hybrid that helps it a bit, but it also verges a bit sour sometimes. Overall it’s really worth paying a few more bucks for something closer to the real deal, this is something I’d say is nearly always true when it comes to florals.

Now keep in mind as I close this that there are a few incenses in the Ramakrishnanda line I still like a lot, although one of their finest seemed to have been discontinued for a different recipe. But these days I’m fairly sensitive when I pick up a new line that doesn’t seem to be quite as up to the standard I remembered in terms of wondering if the original catalog might have shifted as well. While I might have put the Ramakrishnanda line ahead of say the Designs By Deekay line by a hair with some overlap, I’d put most of the chakra line a bit lower and maybe a step ahead of the Satays in most cases. We’re talking about the same sort of masala-charcoal hybrid style in the Satya family here, but for sure I’d stick to the Ramakrishnandas first. However, it’s worth checking out some of the enthusiastic reviews of these incenses at the specific incense’s web page, to get some different perspectives. After all at $3.38 a package there’s not a lot of risk here.

Temple of Incense / Lavender Supreme, Lotus Flower, Myrrh, Orange Blossom & Lemongrass

Temple of Incense Part 10
Temple of Incense Part 12
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

In my fifth Temple of Incense installment, we are looking at more florals with one resin stick. The quality here is so high that it’s hard to say that I don’t like something because even if the scent isn’t my favorite, I can tell that all of these are best in class.

Starting with Lavender Supreme. Part of me wanted to include this in my last review to have a Lavender vs Lavender challenge but the issue is that unlike Amber/Amber Supreme, this is the clear winner. Like in the story with the tortoise and the hare only the hare never took a nap and just smoked the tortoise THEN took a nap. This Lavender Supreme is a handmade masala made mostly of charcoal with a brown powder finish. For a 20% price hike, you get at least 75% more quality.

The scent here isn’t bothered by the ‘burning hair’ scent and instead there is a pleasant wood underneath the floral, salty enough to make it’s presence known. On top of it is at least three different kinds of lavender. There is a lavender absolute that actually makes it smell like you’re cutting fresh lavender. There is a lavender oil that is giving a huge middle presence like you’d get from annointing your pillow with lavender essential oil. There is something like spike lavender or similar giving it a bitter, green edge, that I associate with the varietal. (The oil of spike lavender to me has always smelled like someone crossed lavender with juniper.)

Overall, I’d suggest this over Lavender Fields unless you’re either pinching pennies or are a fan of the dipped incense style. Lavender Supreme is also sold as Vedic Lavender at Absolute Bliss.

Lotus Flower is an extruded dark charcoal-rich agarbatti on a bamboo stick finished with a fine tan powder. This is also sold as Happy Hari’s Queen of Lotus. This is a soft, sweet powdery entry for lotus, with a front that really has that soft lotus note with only a few hints at other things, the box mentioned jasmine and florals but I don’t quite get jasmine in here as much as I get the lotus, a sweet vanilla scent and then more lotus with a tiny hint of something like maybe sandalwood to ground it and give it a bit of saltiness. This is almost the same scent as ‘Floating Lotus‘ or ‘Shiv‘, which is the larger sized thick incense with lotus as it’s central scent.

If you’re familiar with King of Myrrh, you’ll know that Myrrh is the same stick. This is an extruded resin agarbatti with no powder finish. This is a very sweet interpretation of myrrh, very fruity, like they found a locality of myrrh that is sweeter than opopanax. If you like the sweet sorts of myrrh, this is going to be a favorite for you. This is a slow burning, sweet, grounding stick. The box mentions there is a ‘balsamic’ smell but I’m going to say it’s more like the extra sweet flavored balsamic. In fact, I kind of wish there was a balsamic vinegar that tastes like this smells. There is a touch of something, maybe just the myrrh that grounds it and brings a little bit of gravitas at the bottom of the scent. This has been one of my favorites, even before I met ToI as King of Myrrh was a high rotation incense for me.

Wrapping up this quartet with Orange Blossom & Lemongrass, a handmade charcoal masala finished with a tan powder on a natural bamboo stick, we have a scent that is strange and different. Strange in that it doesn’t mention musk, but there is a musky interplay between the two headline ingredients. You can smell the lemongrass, it’s a bitter, acrid, herbal scent that represents more the cooked scent of lemongrass rather than lemongrass growing fresh. And the Orange Blossom is timid and shy, but when you catch a glimpse of it, it’s a decent if maybe musky interpretation of a very delicate flower that is currently scenting my driveway since the neighbor’s orange tree is in bloom.

Overall this comes across as a very fresh scent, but as it builds up in a space it does get a little bit soapy, but stepping back and sniffing from afar, it goes back to the more fresh scent. I do like how there feels like a hint of musk in there someplace. While I don’t find myself really enjoying the scent profile, I know this stick will find it’s home with people who do enjoy lemongrass, as I can tell that this is still a quality crafted stick.

Temple of Incense / Jasmine Blossom, Kerala Flower, Lakshmi, Lavender Fields

Temple of Incense Part 9
Temple of Incense Part 11
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

Without actual planning, this next block ended up being mostly florals. Historically, florals tend to be problematic for me because I expect when offered a smell and told ‘this is lily of the valley’, I expect it to smell like the lilies of the valley I had growing in the back of my home. And when I get handed a smell called ‘lily of the valley’ and it smells like feet bathed in crappy perfume, I shake my head and move on. Most florals don’t tend to smell like the flower it’s named after and that ends up being my primary complaint.

Most florals in Japanese and Indian incense fall into the category of shake my head and move on because many of the people involved in crafting go and find a great essential oil or absolute and throw it into their incense and think they’re done. The problem is that some of the absolutes and oils can show up differently when they combust, and in many cases, they smell like the ‘cooked’ version of the flower, as if someone were taking the fresh flowers and stewing them for a jelly.

Our first entry is Jasmine Blossom, a handmade charcoal heavy agarbatti finished with a brown powder. This box and stick smell of fresh jasmine without lighting it and that alone is quite pleasant. Absolute Bliss sells the same stick as ‘Vintage Jasmine‘, with the same bamboo and same masala and very similar scent. The jasmine here, once lit, transforms a little bit from the scent of the unlit stick, to something much bigger. There is a saltiness in here that makes it feel like a touch of sandalwood oil might have been added, and then the reveal that there must be at least 2-3 jasmine sources in this stick. One of the notes remains in the fresh category, one of the notes turns a bit towards the ‘cooked’ category, and a third smells like a different kind of jasmine like Night Jasmine but without the bottom note that comes as the bloom starts to fade.

This is definitely a stick for jasmine lovers. As someone who dislikes floral, this still makes it into my rotations because it is far more pleasant and never crosses into the cloying range that so many florals can do. This is a work of art, a masterpiece of blending in the floral world.

Kerala Flower is a yellow-green bamboo stick with an extruded agarbatti that appears to have a powdered finish. The agarbatti appears to have charcoal but doesn’t looks as black as others, so there might be more fragrant material than oils making this. For those of you who are familiar with Happy Hari’s Samadhi Sutra, this is the same stick with lime green stems and scent profile. One of the things about my newness with Indian incense is that there are smells that I don’t know what the real world equivalent is, and Kerala Flower is definitely one of these. I’ve smelled this smell before but only in Indian Incense. If I had to describe what I’m smelling it would be something along the lines of ‘lemon/lime baby powder’ because there is a definitely scent that reminds me a bit of ‘Sprite’ but also a scent that reminds me of a typical Johnson and Johnson Baby Powder. I believe I encounter this scent in multiple incenses I love, like Niyama Sutra/Dancing Sufi.

Looking up the ‘Keralian Lily’ I find that this isn’t a particular species of flower but rather a place where lilies grow in abundance. Instead I found different websites showing pictures of festivals where the water is filled with colorful lilies so I’m wondering if this incense is trying to conjure that. Either way, as far as this goes, it has a sweet, bitter, playful floral note that I enjoy and I was hoping that this ‘Kerala’ was the name of the scent but alas, I’m still wondering what the ingredients are that make this scent.

For Lakshmi, if you have a princess, or a fairy, or even a fairy princess in your life, then this incense is for you. Adorned with glitter, this extruded resin stick seems to be dark with charcoal and resins in the masala. I will say that since I started using this incense, I am finding glitter in places I least expect it. A friend of mine said ‘It’s impossible to be in a bad mood when you have glitter on your face’ and I think that can apply to this incense.

As it is burning, it seems more to me that this is a charcoal stick with oils rather than any resins as the box suggests, but this is mostly due to the ash appearing to be more like ash from a charcoal stick than a wood stick. The scent is soft and floral in the baby powder range, again, as this has a very dry top note that might very well be amber or a floral similar to amber. Since the ingredients include ‘perfume’ this very well could be the perfume I’m smelling. The website has a mention of the perfume but the box does not. The citrus mentioned is both in the front and in the finish, as if this perfume covers its middle note. Most of the time it sort of blends into the perfume but enough interplay is there to allow you to detect it if you start looking for it. The glitter makes this special, and the scent is lovely, combined you have a stick that, while gimmicky, is probably one you’d like to have in your collection.

Just the box of Lavender Fields smells lovely. Opening it up, the smells of fresh, concentrated lavender wafts out. This is an extruded charcoal blank soaked in a scented solution to create the stick. Lavender can come in many different forms, and in this case, I get the cooked scent first, followed by the essential oil version, with a scent at the tail end of it that is a little acrid, something I associate with the dipropylene glycol (DPG) that is used to make the essential oils thinner. I associate it with the kind of perm-and-burning hair you get in a hair salon that does perms. As dipped incense is probably my least favorite of the styles of incense, I just want to say that this still manages to be an okay stick. If you’re a lavender lover or you love the dipped style, then check this out.

Kyukyodo / Azusa, Gyokurankoh (revisits), Ichiyamatsu, Kun Shi Koh

Like the other two big houses of Baieido and Shoyeido, Kyukyodo seems to have been hit pretty hard over the years from reformulations. The biggest and perhaps most drastic instance of this is the changes to their great Sho-Ran-Koh, changes that I still have yet to get over as it was one of my favorites incenses. It’s almost as if I don’t want it to change, as if I’m almost resisting admitting to myself that the wonderful depth and complexity of that incense are just no longer apparent in newer stock. But it’s not just Sho-Ran-Koh, but both Azusa and Gyokurankoh have also changed.

Azusa is perhaps the one least hit the hardest in that the reformulation still manages to try and reach a very similar scent. Azusa quite simply has always been one of Kyukyodo’s most remarkable incenses and over the years it has gone from the thin long-stick box to a packaging in paper boxes that matches it up with the half dozen or so sandalwood and aloeswood mixes that tend to have colored labels, with Azusa inheriting a lime green. I’m not a huge fan of a lot of Japanese floral incenses but this was always one of the best, a mix of wonderful jasmine-fronted perfume based in a sandalwood stick. It managed to be beautiful, feminine and not at all harsh, which always tended to push it somewhere into a sandalwood price range. Now I’m not sure exactly how to describe the reformulation, I just noticed that when I went from my last sticks of an old long stick box to the new incense it seemed qualitatively different in a way that I believe wasn’t exactly just because the newer stock was a bit fresher. The old stick had a more obviously powdery quality that the reformulation is missing, perhaps because the sandalwood base is a bit more obvious in the newer version. Even the perfume itself has changed in some way I’m not entirely sure how to describe. I burned a stick during the same day I evaluated the Absolute Bliss Vintage Jasmine and would say that the while the Azusa does have some jasmine tendencies, I would guess they’re more the lead note in a general floral bouquet rather than being the only one. In the end, I still think this is a good incense, perhaps not as refined or perfect as it used to be, but there hasn’t been a seismic shift.

Gyoku Ran Koh, on the other hand, was definitely a major change. The sandalwood stocks that use to make up one of the finest Japanese sandalwood sticks on the market are clearly different. The last time I had a box I felt this stick had one of the most well-defined old mountain sandalwood notes you could buy, with a really distinct and finely crafted middle resin note that was actually fairly rare in Japanese sandalwoods (although I will note in rereading my old review that it was probably something I started to notice later). But the scent has changed much more in the direction of the sorts of every day sandalwood scents that are generally priced much lower than this. It’s certainly one of the better variations if you were to count that range but the price doesn’t really justify it anymore. It has essentially moved behind the limited edition and now deleted (for at least a second time) Yumemachi. But this just goes to demonstrate that aloeswood losses aren’t the only issue in Japanese incense, unfortunately.

Moving to a couple never reviewed incenses, there is the sandalwood Ichiyamatsu. Years ago we posted a Kyukyodo catalog and someone had described this as a pine incense similar to Matsukaze, which seems about right. It’s not terribly far from Shunkohdo’s Matsuba Pine in that there’s something of an inexpensive wood base with a bit of sandalwood mixed in, while the pine scent on top seems like it’s probably from resins or oils rather than any wood. For my tastes I tend to prefer pinon resin a bit more than this sort of pine scent which strikes me as maybe a bit more perfumed than dense. But it does fit with the sort of elegant, restrained nature of both Japanese incense in general and Kyukyodo more specifically. One thing I always tend to notice about Kyukyodo in general is that no matter where in the line you look it always feels like an incense specific in some way to the brand, a stamp of the house’s creators I’m sure. In the end the question is whether a mark up on an incense like this is really worth what it is essentially an incense that’s more in a daily range scent wise. Matsuba Pine as a comparison is much less expensive, but it’s also maybe not quite as refined as this one. But Ichiyamatsu is undoubtedly pleasant.

Like Gyoku Ran Koh, Kun Shi Koh is a pawlownia boxed long stick Kyukyodo incense. I’ve always been a bit fascinated as to why Kyukyodo packages things the way they do as their aloeswood incenses tend to start in really gigantic pawlonias that take up way too much space before moving down the line into boxes this size and then into the cardboard boxes. There seems to me to be some sort of qualitative overlap between the long stick wooden boxes and some of the upper end cardboards I’m not sure I understand as both styles of packaging have incenses that I might consider sandalwood-aloeswood mixes like this one. The aloeswood in this is fairly light, just enough to really give a bit of spice and flavor to the overall green sandalwood base. This definitely does have what I’d call the Kyukyodo sophistication and elegance, and in some ways this is something of a lower level mirror to the Musashino kyara. And one thing I want to note here is where that sandalwood note is now missing in the Gyoku Ran Koh, well it actually seems to still be in this stick to some level. It reminds me a little of how the old Shoyeido Go-Un used to balance all three wood notes in such a way that none were subsumed. Overall this is an almost definitive Kyukyodo stick, it balances both woods and some level of gentle oil or perfume mix in a way that really allows a level of complexity to play out on in the burn. I will only note that one might get the most enjoyment out of it, burning it either on its own or as a contrast to completely different incenses.

« Older entries