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.

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Incense Works / Rare Essence Incense Collection / Frankincense Deluxe, Lavender Fields, Moon Goddess, Patchouli Supreme, Rose Absolute, White Lotus

Incense Works is an incense company in Salt Lake City that has a banner “celebrating 50 years in the world of fragrance,” but strangely if you look at any of the individual incenses sold on the site there doesn’t appear to be a shopping cart system anymore, nor any indication of whether it still survives. Rare Essence is also sold via Sensia and Incense Warehouse (I’m including Sensia links, but if any are unavailable I’d check Incense Warehouse or even start there if you’re inclined, both have always been reliable), so perhaps Incense Works has gone purely distributor. Way back in 2008, I reviewed four of Incense Works’ own Rare Essence Incense Collection here. Before I reopened ORS earlier this year, I made a couple orders to grab some Indian sticks and managed to get most of these again, including some of the ones I previously reviewed and I honestly notice no substantial differences from what I remember last, except for one in this bunch. Even when I first started with the Incense Works incenses I felt that they had some reminiscence to incenses I liked in other lines, although even by 2008 any semblance to the old school composition was gone and what you end up here is something like a Bangalore masala lineage a la Satya but maybe slightly higher quality. This has always made me feel there is a Satya factory or something similar that contracts with US companies to create incenses that are a little higher quality than they offer in the usual boxes. When I wasn’t sure what was left on the market, these still felt like old standbys, maybe not the best Indian incense you can buy but certainly not unpleasant (I actually might start with the incenses in the first review over these). I only include a picture of the boxes because quite frankly if you’ve seen one Bangalore provenance masala you’ve practically seen them all except for some thickness or shading changes.

As an example of an incense that reminds me of the old days, Frankincense Deluxe is really the only remaining incense I know of on the market that resembles a stick that used to be called something like Frankincense Champa or Golden Frankincense back in the earlier Mystic Temple and Incense from India lines. Those had a sort of crystalline, resinous but somewhat peppery top aroma on the old halmaddi base and of course this is just a more modern shifted version of that stick, because it feels from touch that it’s still a heavily dusted charcoal or masala hybrid. As always the bases these days aren’t quite like they used to be, but this is aromatically way different from frankincense sticks in any other line. There’s about the same amount of real frankincense as any of these others, and while it may not be as true to the resin as Happy Hari’s King of Frankincense, I like it more because it’s also trying to be a bit of what passes for a champa these days and it doesn’t have the King’s more bitter tendencies. This aroma used to be a great incense and isn’t maybe quite that good anymore, but I still find the general aroma to be enough to my liking for this kind of style. And there’s enough for me to enjoy the nostalgia of it too.

Having the superb Temple of Incense Lavender Supreme on my mind lately, it’s going to be fairly unlikely to find one that beats it for a great lavender scent. I’m not sure if Rare Essence Lavender Fields is going for the same profile, because again it feels like its really going for a more lavender-fronted, champa-like scent. In comparison to the Lavender Supreme this doesn’t seem like it has as authentic a lavender scent, although saying that it’s possible this box is old enough to have lost some of the oil on top. Overall it feels less lavender themed and more of a muddier floral blend that is fairly typical of modern Bangalore-provenance champa-cum-charcoals, at least on top. In the middle there seems to still be a lot of spicier qualities you don’t often find matched with lavender that makes it slightly more intriguing. At least in terms of its lack of definition it’s not super unpleasant (it has a slight off note on it that’s mostly buried) and has a bit of tanginess I like, it’s just not really doing what it says on the box too much. It’s one of those sticks that makes me wonder if it would be more balanced in a halmaddi base.

Moon Goddess appears to be the only incense in the line that doesn’t really list a note of any kind. Given the sort of haziness of blends at this price point it’s actually fairly difficult to describe because like the Lavender Supreme this is sort of a mix of floral oils and spicy qualities. It feels a bit softer to the touch and more masala-like, and has some powdery and perhaps jasmine-like qualities to it. There’s the usual underlying woodiness to it as well, the usual bit of sandalwood sticks like this come with and overall it’s actually quite pleasant and you do feel on some level there’s an attempt to give this a bit of a nighttime feel to it. However, it has virtually no resolution when it comes to ingredients and I’d guess there is some use of synthetics in the perfumes. Overall this is one of those “decent enough” sticks in that the positives and negatives sort of balance themselves out.

I’m not sure if I’m misremembering this, but I seem to remember that the Patchouli Supreme used to be fairly old school and resembled sticks that were called Patchouli Champas except it wasn’t as sweet as this current stick. Once again I am wondering if there’s some old stock where the note has faded off the stick as this barely smells at all like patchouli to me, although it may be there in the background a bit (it’s more noticeable if you walk out and back in the room). It’s a reminder that expectations can often be the guiding hand at evaluation because if this was named something else I might think differently about it, but as a patchouli it’s just working in a completely opposite and muddier direction. There’s something a bit cloyingly sweet about the overall aroma that I’m not even sure would work on its own if it had a different name. Only a bit mind you as this isn’t entirely unpleasant, but again, it’s a good example of an incense that maybe doesn’t know what it wants to be.

It’s something of a truism that a $4 box of a rose incense is either going to attempt to imitate a rose and fail miserably or blend some minor rose note into a floral backdrop and if lucky come up with a pleasant incense. Rose Absolute probably leans a bit more to this latter option and relies on the base with its sweetness and bit of spice to come up with something approaching a fruitier rose. If you’re willing to spend a few dollars more and go for a Temple of Incense of Absolute Bliss/Happy Hari incense I’d just say stop reading and do that. But for a $4 box this isn’t a bad incense, but even for that there are still some edges that feel cloying or overly perfumed, just not overwhelmingly so.

Finally there’s the White Lotus which has a lot of the same issues the Rose Absolute does in terms of having very little in the way of an identifiable floral note. Like if you were to compare it to the AB White Lotus Oudh Saffron you just wouldn’t notice it had anything in common. Again, you do wonder if maybe the incense is just old and has lost its oils, but even so you’d still notice some stamp here. Instead what’s most notable is the masala base with the vanilla and sandalwood feautured most prominently. Now this doesn’t have any of the overly perfumed issues that the Rose Absolute does but where I can’t really notice a lot in the way that’s unattractive, I can’t think of much to say to promote it. In this sense it’s not unlike a lot of Satya incenses except without the fairly common off notes.

Anyway it’s hard to tell if this is just a line at the end of its stretch, given that you can still find these fairly easily still. But it feels like they largely rise or fall on the strengths of their top perfume and many of these feel a bit faint.

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 / Nag Champa Gold; Oudh Masala; Dhoop Cones / Absolute Sandalwood, Benzoin, Frankincense, Lavender, Oudh, Rose, Vetiver

Temple of Incense Part 13
Temple of Incense Part 14
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

Wrapping up the Temple of Incense reviews is everything else I managed to get that was in stock. After these reviews, the only things missing are the Palo Santo cones, and the Bakhoor aloeswood chips which I may review at a later date. Also, want to note that both Mike and I figured we had covered Nag Champa Gold but I’ll insert that here as we both didn’t manage to review the ToI version of this famous stick.

Starting with Nag Champa Gold, one of the flagships of the HH line is also a flagship here. This is essentially the same stick. For those unfamiliar, this is a very dry and astringent version of the famous nag champa scent. It has gold flakes/dust that comes from mica. I was told that this is actual waste from statuary production and since mica doesn’t tend to add anything to a scent it is purely aesthetic, like eating gold leaf. The stick itself is a yellowish bamboo core with a extruded charcoal-based masala dusted in tan and gold dust. The oil of the magnolia in this is exquisite and scents the stick before you light it. After lighting, the saltiness of the sandalwood and a touch of halmaddi/vanilla to give it some sweetness. My understanding is that if you used to like this stick a decade ago that it has a touch less halmaddi in it which makes it drier and more astringent. Overall, this is still one of the better Nag Champas on the market.

Absolute Sandalwood Dhoop Cone is an all black charcoal cone with oils added. This should not be confused with incense sticks of the same name because this is not similar in any way. This has some of the same oils I think go into Sandalwood Extreme, as this is a fairly good representation of Mysore sandalwood in all it’s salted butter notes. There is a touch of something sweet like maybe a hint of benzoin in here as well but it only seems to come out and play briefly before it gets coated in santalum smells.

Benzoin Prayer Dhoop Cone has a different format for cones, this is more like a thick cylinder that might be as big as 3-4 of the other sized cones. My biggest complaint on this is that they are harder to light without a graduated tip, but they give off a bigger smoke/smell and burn a lot longer. If you like the Benzoin Absolute stick that they make, this is a great continuation of that scent. This is a less sweet version of benzoin, while I’m still not an expert on the resin localities, this one doesn’t have the vanilla mashmallow scent and instead is something more like baking marzipan cookies and gunpowder. This is possibly my favorite of the cones I’ve reviewed in terms of scent.

Another in the cylinder format, Frankincense Prayer Dhoop Cone is different in that instead of being an all-charcoal base, this looks like pressed sawdust. This is a good representation of the boswellia sacra resin, it has a clean, citrusy scent that is a bit crisper and cleaner than the Frankincense stick they offer. Great for any application where you need 20 minutes of constant frankincense aroma, this is a room filler because of the thickness, and it has been a favorite in the family when I light one because everyone in the house smells it.

Lavender Dhoop Cone returns to the cone-shaped charcoal format and does a good job of bringing out a few different formats of lavender. Opening the jar, it smells like my favorite version of lavender oil, the one that captures a bit of the ‘green’ note like you’re in a field of lavender. When you light this, it becomes apparent that this oil is pretty much the only ingredient as you’re met with a mixture of both the fresh lavender and the more ‘warm’ lavender that I associate more like with soap and dryer sheets, the smell of relaxation. This really has a very clean feel to it and the marketing copy on the jar says it will ‘balance all seven chakras’ and I do enjoy how this seemed to have brightened the room a little bit.

Oudh Dhoop Cone is another cone-shaped charcoal formatted cone. Essentially, this is a cone version of the Oudh Masala, or at least, this is what my initial impression is upon lighting this black cone. It has a strong ‘cologne’ presence of oud here, where they are using distillation techniques that compress the scent into a much thinner profile without all the extra bells and whistles of the nearby plants and animals mixed into the scent. This is oud. Oud oud oud. As the cone has burned a bit, I can tell now that this is a bit different than the oudh masala, and it has a lighter, sweeter note than the Oudh, which is earthy and strong. Either way, I love how this scent is coming out and I definitely want a lot more of this.

Oudh Masala comes in a 60g Miron glass jar and is a powder meant for a electric burner or charcoal. I picked this up because of the name conjuring the HH reference and because I’m a huge fan of the stick. This is hard to describe, but if you’ve experienced Oudh and Himalayan Spikenard, this is like combining the best aspects of both of those and cranking up the intensity and the resiny goodness as loud as you can handle. In fact, if I put too much on at once, it gets overpowering because the oudh cologne scent is right there in the middle. If you enjoy powder incense format, this is so oily that you can actually just make a little pile and light it on fire. You won’t consume 100% of the powder but it burns most of the way by itself it’s so dense and resinous.

With Rose Prayer Dhoop Cone, we have another cylinder format, but like the Frankincense Dhoop Cone, this one isn’t made of charcoal, instead it looks like crushed rose petals and something like makko. Infused with what must be a mixture of oils, we get a fresh rose scent with a slightly sweet undertone like the roses are central to a bouquet that also includes something sweet like candied rose as well. Overall, this is a really good cone and the size of it means it burns a bit longer than the conical ones. This is good for people who really like the rose to smell fresher. That candied rose is under the central rose scent, which really is very good and reflected in the price point. It smells like rose petals and confectioners sugar. Really nice.

At Last, the Vetiver Dhoop Cone. Vetiver is always a wonderful scent when it is done right. My husband and I love vetiver essential oil and for many years used the oil as a perfume and received many compliments. This is a sweeter version of khus. This black cone seems to be charcoal with oils and I’m guessing they’re using all the best. There is a touch of what I detect as sandalwood in here, or maybe it’s just another note of vetiver I’m unfamiliar with because so rarely in incense do you get vetiver by itself for a conversation, most of the time it’s in a chorus.

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.

Absolute Bliss / Floating Lotus Flower, Oudh Saffron, Patchouli Khus, Red Blood Dragon, Vedic Lavender, Vintage Jasmine

Before I start to go through the large amount of treasures that Corey Topel has recently stocked at Absolute Bliss from the same Indian group that makes the Happy Hari line, I just wanted to make the note here that the use of Absolute Bliss in the subject headings at ORS is meant to indicate the importer of the following incenses rather than indicating that it is a branding and so I will not be adding this as a category. But other than this group of incense’s similarities to those in the Temple of Incense line, Absolute Bliss is the western point of origin. Also, there is no current plans to actually put these incenses up at the Absolute Bliss website so it is highly recommended and encouraged to contact Corey directly using the methods at his contact page. My experience is that you can find what you want and ask him for a Paypal invoice. I will also encourage those who are interested by saying that my experience is that many of these scents are at peak freshness and well worth trying as soon as you can.

This first group of incenses that Corey sent me samples of I wanted to get up first because I’m already aware of their matches with Temple of Incense lines. Please note that when I say this, the match ups are not 100%. Indian suppliers who use natural ingredients in their scents will also find fluctuations in those ingredients that are generally enough to cause some slight variation in batches. But I do want to note that these incenses are still similar enough that it’s likely customers in the US will find better prices with Absolute Bliss and avoid the shipping costs from the UK (as well as vice versa with Temple of Incense). And of course just as inversely true with Temple of Incense, there are some AB incenses here that are not in the Temple of Incense catalog, many of which we will get to in further installments. But these six are a match…

Floating Lotus Flower is more or less completely identical to Temple of Incense’s Shiv which I have previously raved about and recommend oh so highly, although it feels like the dusting on this one is more consistently applied, perhaps as if it was added when less dry (or maybe the dust gets shaken off a lot crossing the Atlantic). In fact you could almost compare the lotus in this description with the amber, patchouli, musk and rose listed in the Shiv review, as if, perhaps, that combination of ingredients tends to point the way at a lotus type of scent. And if you were to compare this to the Happy Hari Queen of Lotus or the TOI Lotus Flower then the similarities are pretty much immediate. But make no mistake, this rich, luxury thick stick is a big step up on that scent and about as good as it gets, well worth putting out the extra money for. Like all thick sticks, they’re easily put out to relight for a different session. It’s just tremendously beautiful with an almost amber-vanilla-frangipani sort of scent that is lovely, warm, and gentle. Truly one of my 2021 favorites in either version, the quality of this incense during the burn is consistently striking.

Oudh Saffron [9/16/21 – Upon revisit I thought the differences between the Wood Spice and Oudh Saffron to be much more different than I originally noted down here. So I rewrote. – Mike] is a somewhat similar incense to Temple of Incense’s Wood Spice although for my nose it felt like the oudh is much more noticeable in the AB stick, in fact it’s more comparable to both lines’ Oudh (Masala). The TOI stick also does not list saffron and nor did I really notice it as much, but it’s certainly very noticeable in the AB Oudh Saffron. I would also say that the TOI Himalayan Spikenard is also fairly close when it comes to this sort of family of incenses. They are basically lightly dusted charcoal sticks with a tremendously rich, woody and spicy oil. I will say that all of the incenses in this family are the types of scents where you may notice the charcoal base more, as if some of the more hardy ingredients compliment it. But on the other hand the ingredients are still truly impressive and this is a whole area where some of the best uses of aloeswood in Indian are apparent. After spending some time with the White Lotus Oudh Saffron, while that is an incense on its own level, it will also make you appreciate just how great this blend is on its own.

The AB Patchouli Khus (aka Green Patchouli) and ToI Patchouli Woods are nearly exact matches. Unlike the previous two scents, as of writing this I do not have a review up for the ToI Patchouli Woods, but suffice it to say this patchouli/khus mix is one of the driest, least sweet and almost herbally dank and green patchoulis you will find on the market. Where so many patchouli incenses are sweetened up for western noses or resemble the sorts of patchouli oils you used to be able to smell at Grateful Dead shows, the oils in this seem to portray the most earthy aspects of the oil, the vegetable and sort of clay mix of both of these herbs. As such, even if you’ve tried other patchoulis, this is very likely to be different from anything you own. I was almost startled when I first tried the Patchouli Woods because the initial hit is so unique and not super user friendly, but over time as I acclimated to the scent, I found it as interesting as any other patchouli I’ve tried and probably one of the most authentic. If you want to learn this scent, this is well worth checking out in either version.

AB’s Red Blood Dragon is an almost exact match to ToI’s Dragon’s Blood, the latter an incense that also has not been reviewed yet here yet. Both have that incredibly fruity, red dusting on charcoal aroma that seems to be a lot more stylized than what you might think of with the classic dragon’s blood resin. As a charcoal, the fruity aroma is quite a bit more intense than it is in some of ToI’s more gentle fruit scents, but at the same time this is probably what you would call a very user friendly scent even to those who may not be familiar with the usual arsenal of incense aromas. And perhaps not surprisingly there’s some level of spice content, for example cinnamon, that probably help to bolster the incense’s redder and firier qualities in order to help provide a bit more reason behind the name. It should be said that there really is no other incense quite like this unless you go into dipped incenses and those aren’t nearly as likely to have as pleasant of a perfume mix on the stick. And so if you’re looking to expand your collection’s range this is a good stick to have, but do keep in mind this is the kind of aroma that can get a bit cloying in too high quantities. It’s very much almost like a berry or fruit punch sort of aroma, not unlikely say opening a pack of powdered Kool Aid.

Vedic Lavender is a very close match with TOI’s Lavender Supreme. This is another one of those cases where you have a particular ingredient whose natural oil distillations can vary a little bit depending on the batch. Language can be a little difficult to capture the differences when the general style of an incense is more or less the same. But essentially the lavender oil mixes in both the Vedic and Supreme are very pleasant to my nose, certainly a step ahead of cheaper lavenders that often smell more like what you would get in bad, synthetic air fresheners (the low end TOI stick and cone both fall into this category). A decent lavender mix has a nice bit of complexity to it and is a little warmer and less sickly sweet, with some hints of the actual herb itself. I would guess, of course, that your affinity for a stick like this comes entirely from whether you like actual lavender itself, which I definitely do when it’s right. The Vedic I think actually probably leans a little bit more to reminding you its an oil than the TOI does, but both have a nice sort of freshness to them that really don’t have any off notes. Nonetheless it’s likely this may remind you a little of air freshener or cleaner products anyway since lavender is used so commonly in them.

And finally the Vintage Jasmine is super close to the TOI Jasmine Blossom, although I would descibe the AB as being a wee bit fruitier and the TOI being a little bit more dry flower in comparison. But other than that they are virtually the same stick and it would not surprise me if it’s just because the AB is a bit fresher. But I am finding myself increasingly enjoying this style of masala, it kind of feels a bit like a jasmine infused champa to some extent (no halmaddi though, just the sweetness in the oil mix) and it presents the floral in a beautiful way, one of the best I’ve experienced in a stick to be honest. Outside of the way Mermade weaves in jasmine into loose incenses, this is about as pleasant a jasmine experience as exists.

Temple of Incense / Himalayan Spikenard, Wood Spice, Bengal Beauty, Ganesha

Temple of Incense Part 1
Temple of Incense Part 3
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

So here’s the other half of my initial order, minus the samples, from Temple of Incense. I noticed there’s an “est. 2012” on the boxes which just made me wonder why news on these fantastic incenses took so long to spread. It does seem like there’s a substantial UK to India connection that really helps with the foundation to some strong companies there, so I’m sure there’s more hunting to do. Anyway in this round we have both charcoals and masalas (including a very familiar traditional) and another of the line’s baton size wonders that nearly makes me faint away due to the beauty of it.

Himalayan Spikenard acts as one of the high enders in the Temple of Incense catalog at nearly twice the price much of the range goes for. That’s because it’s not just a spikenard-fronted charcoal but because it has a something of a bakhoor-like oud scent in it as well as musk, oak moss and vetivert. The thing I really love about spikenard is you can experience it ranging from the sweeter notes found in Japanese incense or Greek monastery-styled incenses to musky, earthy aspects of it that feel a little wilder in the natural source. Here you have the full range of the spikenard note even though it’s essentially fronting a blended oil. It is a charcoal, so I do think the mix of these elements actually goes to highlight that in a way not everyone might like, but there’s nothing wrong with this mix of oils on their own, in fact it’s a bewitching blend with a bit of a erotic flair to it. And most importantly it has some aromatic elements I don’t think you will find in most incenses. It’s like having something familiar with a more exotic edge to it.

The Wood Spice is an intriguing (also charcoal, but not as obviously so as the Himalayan Spikenard) incense that reminds me of a couple different scents. The notes listed here are not specific, just flowers, woods and spices, and while I think the woods obviously take the central place, there seems to be a lot of other activity rotating around this center. It feels like it works on two levels, the woods blend on one hand and then some sort of tangy richness on the other with a powerful hit of spice that reminds me of anything from cardamom to clove or nutmeg. The spicy wood feels like it goes in a bit of an Oud Masala direction, but without the more expensive agarwood touches and with the heavier spice touches, the scent profile ends up being something like the old Maharaj or Maharaja blends of the original champa era, although to be fair I think this is more due to the oils than any sense of halmaddi at play. It just feels that there are dozens of ingredients and that the mix creates something that justifies the more general notes than being specific of just a few. The oil overall feels like it could work either as a perfume or cologne, depending on your definition or preference.

Bengal Beauty is one of the latest in the family of incenses that have a long history of lavender-ended goodness. My old favorite was the old Mystic Temple Honey Dust incense, which was a delectably sweet treat of honey and vanilla and I’ve seen it in the old Satya Natural and Happy Hari’s Yama Sutra and probably a few more lines I’ve forgotten about now. It may very well be the second most common traditional Indian masala next to Nag Champa itself, although it feels like this version may have shifted more to a charcoal or hybrid style than it used to be in the old days. And this is as good of a version that exists on the market currently. Part of that is the sweetness, another part is it’s a bit more balanced in a sandalwood direction and part of it is that its more obviously an amber as well (there are some similarities to ToI’s Amber Supreme as well). The other notes mentioned on the box are khus and rose and while I get the earthy notes of the former, the rose is far more subtle. It probably tends less to the sweet side than other versions, but that makes it a better balanced incense. This is a very friendly Indian masala and not a bad one to put on your starter list.

I don’t know what it is about these thick stick incenses like Ganesha, maybe it’s just that they feel like they’re frontloaded with a lot of halmaddi resin, but just like the Shiv this is a stone classic of a scent. The notes are lotus, lavender, eucalyptus and light florals, but the overall effect is like some modern candy fronted Japanese stick except in big stick form. It is super pink in color and in aroma in fact “Valentine’s Day candy champa” popped right in my mind as I wrote this in front of a burning stick. This is fairly well blended, sweet and feminine floral, you certainly get the lavender and eucalyptus notes in the mix but it’s so sweet that most of the rest of the floral notes just kind of converge into this big bouquet of hallelujah. It’s an incredible floral and because of the oils not quite as gentle as the Shiv is, but it’s no less impressive. I would love to see what a big batch of this looks like and smells like. More like this please!

Baigu Monastery / Baigu Temple Medicine Buddha Incense

I’ve talked about what I find maybe to be Tibet’s most dangerous incense in their regular Dzongsar incense. It is a fascinating blend for me, because to me it has the richness of incenses like Holy Land, Nectar or Wara but maybe a richness isn’t what you want with that kind of scent. In fact I’ve recently had samples and feel my review has largely held on it. It’s one of those sticks you wouldn’t recommend except to an intrepid explorer wanting to cover all angles of the range of scents you can get and in that case you really don’t want someone to miss it. What I’m missing is seeing someone try it in real time in all its funky glory. There is really no question about its alienness to the Western nose and I find that incredible fascinating.

Anyway I bring it up because that funky note, the one I’ve heard called sweaty socks but sometimes I think of it maybe as a kind of cheese – hell I’m not even sure what it really is (my best guess is there’s something like asafoetida in there) – isn’t something completely intolerable when it’s turned down some. And it is indeed turned down enough and mixed in with this Baigu Temple Medicine Buddha Incense to help assist a really deep, rich and complex Tibetan aroma. I’m always looking for something like the incenses I mentioned above. I’ve often really thought that while I have a ton of Japanese incenses on my favorite list there’s always a handful of Tibetans I utterly crave when I get into them and which I have gone through rolls of. I write this after a month of burning Wara every night. I literally can’t get enough of it and there’s no kyara price shame to stop me.

The only incenses listed in Baigu Temple Medicine Buddha incense are lavender, wormwood and sandalwood. For sure some of the funk is the wormwood, but not all of it, because from my experience it really only adds a dry part of the tang and not the more humid middle. And yeah although I may not have noticed it without reading it, the lavender is actually really obvious as part of a very herbal top note. While Baigu is a bit drier than some of the more richer incenses, I think it’s obvious how complex and involved the aroma is. It’s just that there’s some of it taken up by a bit of woodiness at base. So this is one well worthy of your attention. Yes there’s a bit of an outlay because it’s a double roll and so it may be worth asking for a sample or finding it in a variety sampler. But with where I’m at with it right now I’m really glad it is a double because I think this one could be something like a top 10 or 15 Tibetan incense because it does what all the best ones do, introduce you to something unfamiliar, fascinating and ultimately addictive.

Mermade Magickal Arts / Sanctuary, Pan’s Earth (2021) + Esprit de la Nature / Lavender Kyphi (via Mermade) (Discontinued)

Here’s another handful of Mermade offerings including one direct from Esprit de la Nature. One I almost missed and the other two newly arrived…

I bought Sanctuary a little while back so I’m not sure if what I’m reviewing here was the first or second batch as mentioned on the page. Katlyn lists the ingredients for this blend of sacred space as Copal Blanco, Copal Negro, Maydi and Sacra Frankincense, Breu Claro, Greek Sage, Palo Santo, Peru Balsam and Fir Balsam. So I think the one thing that this instantly brings to mind is the idea that this is something of a South American blend with a touch of the outside. Space clearing incenses often to tend to be resin heavy, so this checks the box, plus this has that sort of uplifting feel that copals frequently bring to incense especially when they’re high quality. Sanctuary is also a bit of gentle blend, much more so than resin mixes that are frankincense heavy, in fact the frankincenses here seem to have not so noticeable an impact on the overall bouquet. The Palo Santo is fairly obvious as it always is in a mix, and I very much like the way the balsams weave in here as well. Once again Katlyn’s skill at blending multiple ingredients and getting them all to face out in a noticeable way is quite apparent.

Be en Foret’s Lavender Kyphi (picture is just a sample container but cool enough to include – check out the final artwork at the link) is another one of her intriguing variations on the old Egyptian formula. Check out this amazing ingredient line up: “From the Garden: Salted lavender buds and Dominican Sage leaves from my garden, Spikenard root from the Himalayas, Violet leaf extract from France. Resins: Dark Frankincense, Tolu Balsam, Dark Benzoin, Labdanum, Kua Myrrh, Liquidambar, Peru Balsam. A dash of aged Ambergris in Sandalwood oil ● Bound with organic honey and raisins ● Rolled in Agarwood and Sandalwood powder.”

Gulp. That’s a whole lotta goodness there, as is common with labyrinthine Kyphi preparations. Be sets this at a very low temperature kind of melt so you really gotta get in there to experience how complex this is, but of course the lavender is in front just like the name implies. One thing I love about kyphis is there are multiple ingredients, multiple recipes, everyone does them differently, they’re aged and tend to have vintages even among single “authors” and so vary all over the place while still hitting these notes that remind me of the finest of wines or even ales. The second thing I notice off this incense is the honey and balsam scent, a lovely mix that also tends to highlight the spikenard which is a favorite of mine. I do tend to like my lavender as close to the plant as possible, so I appreciate that it’s the kyphi that tends to be sweet here, which is a really nice contrast. And yes this does have that almost thick, wonderful base of a kyphi, more noticeable as the heat progresses, which I always contribute to the raisins and the way they kind of infuse a bit of wine-like goodness to the mix. Anyway I hope you’re convinced on this one, Be has the kyphi juju down!

And if kyphis are a tradition going back to Egyptian times, Katlyn has made something of a vintage out of Pan’s Earth herself. This is one of Mermade’s perennial classics, an almost definitive pagan earth incense, a mix of divine resins with all sorts of herbal notes that furrow their roots deep into the soil. And like kyphi, repeated vintages of Pan’s Earth always seem to improve and get more deep and impressive, and honestly, this one’s even a bit of a quantum jump in how good it is, easily my favorite of all of the good scents under this name. So what’s in the 2021 version? Black frankincense; breu claro; copal negro; vetiver root; aged patchouli; agarwood chips, powder, and oud; Pan’s Earth Special Blend Oil; Arbor Vitae cedar tips; jatamansi; costus root; kua; and Yemeni myrrh. The first thing that always strikes me about Pan’s Earth, despite all of the high end ingredients is that patchouli and vetiver mix. That green, soil-rich earthiness is just right up my alley and has always been the feature that would draw out this god of satyrs (and to be fair jatamansi and spikenard also have a little of it). If you’re gonna talk about Pan you need something feral and dark, something that makes civilization vanish. However to my nose this is actually a bit more resinous than I remember previous vintages, and it almost feels like the aged depth of it actually highlights and provides a well-roundedness to the incense that reminds you that the mystery of Pan still remains and that matched with all that earth is the sense of the universal as well. Perhaps 100s of years from now, some future archaeologists and anthropologists will be trying to make sense of the complexity of Pan’s Earth. Because this great incense is now becoming a tradition like kyphi, where there’s so much to experience, a review may not be able to do it full justice. One subnote melts into another into another. Definitely don’t miss this!

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