Mermade Magickal Arts / Green Faerie

Oh here’s another one … five left at the point I posted this (and Kuan Shi Yin was gone by the end of the day I posted it, so…) Green Faerie, if I was to give it the most simple explanation, is something like an absinthe resin blend. I’ve always really enjoyed the aromatics of a nice absinthe (I don’t partake much of alcohol anymore) so it seems like a very natural and cool idea to transport this sort of almost liquorice-like bouquet to an incense format, especially by a creator who has gotten really good at creating oil blends that often have the depth and intensity of fine wines or spirits. First of all the resins, which is really quite a list: mastic dipped in fir balsam, green frankincense dipped in violet leaf absolute, and Hougary Oman Frankincense. This creates an incredible strong base that honestly lasts for hours and hours, I even left my heater on overnight and got wafts the next morning (it is also very sticky stuff and takes a bit of extra effort to extract from the tin). I really feel like that violet note cuts through nicely, but overall the sum parts of this really set up a nice background to give the more absinthe-particular herbal content a base to exude their strengths in. These are wormwood, tagetes lucida, davana and Egyptian mint. I love the way it feels like these herbs were carefully chosen to bring out that particular absinthe aroma, particularly with the anise/liquorice and minty notes. But that’s not all, there appears to be some jasmine, rhododendron and sandalwood as well, which gives the overall scent some slighter and more complex notes. Anyway I think you’ll know from the word absinthe if this is going to be along your lines. It’s of course quite a bit more than that and the equal or more to any spirit’s aromatics and like all Mermade brews an absolute winner.

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Minorien / Kougiku (Chrysanthemum), Hana Murasaki (Violet)

I don’t usually go deep enough into a company’s catalog to start experimenting with moderns and florals, but I’m a huge fan of the Minorien line and since it’s not a terrible large one, I wanted to see what they had left after all the wonderful aloeswoods, sandalwoods, kyaras and frankincense. It was a good move because I discovered another aloeswood-related incense with the Kougiku mini stick. I first introduced this in my 14 One of a Kind Japanese Incenses feature, but I wanted to memorialize it as an actual review as it’s a lovely and rare piece of incense art.

Kougiku (it’s also spelled Kagiku, but I’m sure both are fine from a transliteration point of view) comes in a little square box and yet like other Minoriens it is packaged with the paper covered trays. It’s just in this case they’re smaller and a bit more adorable as a result. Each little stick packs a glorious little wallop of a chrysanthemum-scented aloeswood, one of those rare convergences that even your family might be OK with. And of course it’s not a surprise from such a venerable company that the combination is pitched fairly perfectly, like a modern and a traditional coming to the table for a friendly handshake. It’s got a bit of a spicy middle, some caramel notes, and no lack of neat wood presence and so could easily also be the kind of floral an aloeswood appreciator is OK with. Honestly the only issue I have is it might be cool in a longer stick or coil form too. It comes and goes so fast, so it’s hard not to light up another one.

Minorien’s lil Hana Murasaki/Violet coils (these also come in sticks, although I have not compared them for differences) are another floral treat, although this time there are no woods outside of whatever base the oils sit on. This is straight along the line modern floral incense but very nicely done. Violet is another one of those flowers that can become indistinctive in the wrong hands and while this doesn’t come quite up to how amazing Shoyeido’s high end Floral World violet was before the deluxe version got deleted, it’s still a very worthy treat nonetheless and certainly one of the best violet incenses I can think of off hand. I am running the risk of going hey people this violet incense smells like …. violet, but at least in this case it really does and there aren’t a lot of harsh notes or floral bouquet dilutions to get in the way, which is a lot more common with cheaper fare. I don’t do a lot of florals but I am happy with this one as an occasional diversion.

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!

Mother’s India Fragrances / Nagchampa / Aravind, Chakra, Govinda, Pavitra, Radha, Rishi

The initial batch of five Mother’s India Fragrances proved to be a line popular enough to expand, with fourteen new incenses hitting the market about two years ago. The company has chosen to expand the line once again with not only these initial six incenses, but I believe there are also six more, although I have not received samples of these yet. Mother’s nagchampas in some ways are a style of their own, featuring halmaddi, sandalwood and additional ingredients in order to create scents that are unlike any other incenses on the market. For one thing, while these aren’t low smoke, they do tend to be a bit mellower than the incenses put out by Shroff and Dhuni and I know there have been times switching back to these sticks where I’ve found them a bit hard to pick up. So I tried to spend a bit of time with these in order to let them open up.

In essence you could almost call at least four out of these six sticks an expansion in the floral/rose direction. This is an interesting move by the company as I don’t think this niche had been quite as worked out yet in the  previous expansion. However, scents like these are usually considered more modern and less traditional and so I think a lot of these are likely to appeal outside the incense crowd and only those within that crowd who can deal with a lot of rose, geranium and jasmine scents are likely to go for most of these. And so I should probably state outright that geranium tends to get on my nerves quite a bit, so keep that in mind in cases where it pops up that this is a reflection of taste and not artisanship.

Aravind Nagchampa is something of a Lotus Nagchampa (Aravind means Lotus) and it combines jasmine, gardenia, rose and champa flower for the first of the florals here. This is the first of four that takes the Mother’s nagchampa center into a pink, “floral bouquet” direction, perhaps for the first time. All four of these incenses share a very delicate and light floral touch. Like a lot of incenses using low cost floral oils, the mix of oils tends to a bit of a generic quality, yet perhaps the surprise is that the overall stick comes off kind of dry and not drenched in perfume like you’d expect for this kind of style. In fact one thing to realize up front is it often takes a stick or two before the bouquet starts to unfold and in this case the results can occasionally be reminiscent of the actual flowers. In fact, this is actually reminiscent of some of the more affordable and better Japanese florals. As to whether this is reminiscent of other Lotus incenses, I’ll leave up to you, as they all tend to vary quite a bit.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in this first bunch is the Chakra Nagchampa which is one of two here that doesn’t go in the pink and floral direction. Well, you wouldn’t know it from the description, which lists fruits, spices, jasmine, tuberose, cyclamen and lily. Once again, this feels like a distinct move to a more modern and mainstream friendly type of incense and it’s reminiscent of one or two of the Nippon Kodo Yume no Yume blends in the way this combines florals and fruits with spice around the edges. Of course the cyclamen note is almost immediately evocative of NK’s Aqua, but seated in the Mothers’ halmaddi base, the results to my nose are a lot more successful. In fact without the spicyness this might not have worked too well, but instead we have something fascinating. This is possibly the first in this group I’d recommend without hesitation, especially as it’s quite unlike previous incenses in the line.

Govinda Nagchampa returns to the floral (sub)style with a mix of sweet champa flower, neroli, ylang ylang and sweet roses. During my first sticks it was instantly noticeable how similar this is in style to the Aravind, except in this case it feels like the halmaddi/sandalwood center seems to come out a bit more. Govinda isn’t quite as dry as Aravind and the overall scent is noticeably sweeter. But like Aravind this is a noticeably more floral and “flower mix” type of scent than previous installments in the line and so when you look at the overall expansion it makes sense to move in this direction, giving the brand quite a bit more breadth. Like the Pavitra, I found that this mix starts to take off with use and like most of the incenses in the line increased use makes you feel like the creators really sat down and made sure they got the balance right. So if you want to try one of the florals I’d either start with this one or the Pavitra, but be sure to try one before expanding to the others as they’re all variations on a theme.

Pavitra Nagchampa might have been the floral in this group I liked the most, if, perhaps, because I spent the most time with it. At this point in taking notes on these incenses you start to run out of descriptive qualities when the incenses still fall into a pink, rosy, “feminine,” floral bouquet category. Certainly they all vary in scent within these qualities, but how to describe this one is difficult because my initial take was that the the top was a bit too strong with the florals of jasmine, rose, neroli, ylang ylang and balsamic orris. But after a few sticks it started to hit me from outside that such a mix works really well with the champa base, perhaps here the balsamic orris is triggering the halmaddi to bring out some more foresty qualities. Anyway if I was to choose one of the floral bouquet champas here to start with it would be the Pavitra, if only because I think it underlines how clever some of these blends are.

Radha Nagchampa is more dry and robust as a floral and includes white rose and spicy geranium. Anything with geranium tends to lose me and this wasn’t much of an exception, but putting aside the personal preference, you’d have to discuss this one in terms of its rosyness. As such this is perhaps the least bouquet-like as a floral, but it moves in the type of floral direction that I tend to find a bit harsh. It does have the same sort of clever balance the rest of the incenses in the line does in terms of the oils matching up with the base, but as this was the fourth incense so close in style, I was started to really run out of ways to separate this from the rest. In the end I’d probably say start with Pavitra, if you really love it follow it up with Govinda.

It’s perhaps a tribute to how modern this latest batch is that Rishi Nagchampa is described as an incense children love, and sure enough this mix of red roses, fruity jasmine  and blue violets puts this square in the inoffensive and fruity berry category. Generally anything this reminiscent of stawberries or raspberries will tend to be fairly popular but as most incense lovers know, you can only approximate these kinds of scents and in doing so the results often come off a bit generic, sure you won’t offend anyone but the results won’t be particularly exciting either. As a result even though this strikes me as a natural incense, the mix of scents leaves this feel a bit synthetic or dull. It’s lightly reminiscent of the smell of a big vat of gumballs at a candy shop or berry candles. It actually is quite well done overall in that it’s a lot better than most incenses this style, but like most of this new expansion it feels tailor made for people with only a casual interest in incense.

Anyway I hope to follow this up eventually with the other six. It should be said that Mother’s has always been incredibly generous with what they send, in this batch I also got a set of essential oils and absolutes they appear to be selling. All of the ones I sampled seemed to be of good quality (I particularly enjoyed the various cinnamon and cassia oils) so if you’re an incense creator this could be well worth looking into. Overall despite that some of these incenses aren’t to my personal tastes, I think this is a pretty clever expansion with every single one of these not repeating the type of scents we’ve already seen. And if you’re a fan of roses and other florals there’s probably some new favorites waiting for you.

Shoyeido / Floral World / Gold (Pine, Violet, Jasmine) (Discontinued Line)

Shoyeido / Floral World / Echo
Shoyeido / Floral World / Royal
Shoyeido / Floral World / Star

It has been a while since we covered a Shoyeido incense and in that time I realized we’d never discussed the most inexpensive assortment of Floral World incenses. In the meantime it seems the company has discontinued either part of the line or the entire line (I couldn’t find a link to this one in the Shoyeido catalog, but Essence of the Ages seems to have stock still). so you’re left with what is a 60 stick box, 20 short sticks per aroma.

It’s probably helpful to look at the whole series in terms of its gradient. At the top end in the Star set you have some of the finest modern florals on the market. The ingredients used are extremely high quality and it gives a definition to the florals that is a really rare thing for any incense. This extreme definition is gone with the Royal set, but generally speaking you’re still getting very high quality florals with slightly more static aromas. With Echo you’re definitely a step down and getting close to more of what you see floral wise on the Japanese market. When you get down to Gold what you’re mostly smelling is the moden process involved in the work and the way that process makes the incenses sweet and friendly, however by the Gold they’re starting to lose a lot of individual personality.

For instance, I’m not sure Pine would even be something I’d get out of the set’s red stick, although this is not a suprise given the previous sets’ sandalwoods tend to the floral and not the traditional. This is sugary, sweet, loud and brash , unsurprisingly not bearing any of the subtlety of the higher ranges, while still being a friendly incense in its own right. At this level, however, I get subscents like berry candles and the side effects of the massive perfume hit these incenses are given. The incense in itself is actually not bad, but I think I get a bit of dissonance when I try to think of it as a pine incense.

The Violet is a little thin in the middle and it’s impossible not to think of how wonderful the higher end violet is in the Floral World series. It seems that some of the incenses in the entire series might use some resins to give it some middle, but whatever it is that causes that effect is missing here. Like the Pine, there isn’t so much a specific violet aroma as there is an approximation of it. Maybe in another company such lack of distinction would lead to a poor incense, but again this is certainly nice and friendly just not very specific.

The Jasmine feels like a fainter, less quality version of the Floral World royal jasmine, again the lack of distinction is what really sets these apart from the other incenses in the series. It’s puffy, sweet, overperfumed yet friendly and like the other incenses in the box, I can’t help but sense similarities to the Nippon Kodo Yume no Yume line in terms of what they’re trying to do.

Obviously this Floral World line is priced so that the more you pay the better the quality of incense and really it’s much easier to recommend the better ones even at those prices. These are nice, but it wouldn’t shock me if this really was deleted.

Sarathi Perfumery Works / Sri Govinda / Gopala, Keshava, Krishna, Madhava, Mukunda (Discontinued)

NOTE: This line has been discontinued

Sarathi Perfumery Works is responsible for Tulasi incense as well as this small, five incense Sri Govinda range. These five incenses all pair two different aromas in a champa style. While the link will take you to a page where you can purchase all five incenses, the incenses also come in larger boxes, although in my experience you’ll find each store varies in terms of what size and aromas they stock. Quality wise I’d say these are probably right above the Satya and Nitiraj ranges while still significantly below today’s premiums.

Gopala combines patchouli and vanilla, two ingredients fairly common in champa variants. In this case I’m far more reminded of Mystic Temple’s Vanilla Amber Champa than I am any patchouli champas, it’s almost as if the patchouli is something of a faint note in the incense. Overall the Gopala is quite dry as a result with the combination accentuating the sandalwood notes. It’s a bit one dimensional in the end but it does it nicely.

Keshava combines Rose and Geranium but as most incense veterans might guess, this is a lot more geranium than rose, although I’d even go as far to say that the geranium is actually kind of fuzzy, leaving the stick with a generic floral scent that doesn’t work particularly well with the sweet base. Overall it seems a bit too bitter or coarsely perfumed. It’s as if you’re burning two clashing incenses at once.

Sarathi’s Krishna mixes up honey and jasmine, two aromas that seem natural together, however like in the previous two incenses, one ingredient dominates and in this case it’s a jasmine scent somewhat reminiscent of Triloka’s. You can detect the honey but it sits below the jasmine as a subnote, probably as it marries with the base more. The combination doesn’t clash like the Keshava, but it’s not perfect, with a scent that strikes me as a little cloying due to a slight touch of soapiness.

Madhava is probably the most balanced of the three floral mixes in this group, combining violet and amber, which is a mix you don’t see very often if at all. At least in this case the oils don’t clash with the base like the Keshava did, and the violet sits on top of a gentle and sweet base. The amber merges into this, gently powdery and the combination gels, even if not in a particularly memorable way.

Mukunda definitely starts in the benzoin department with a decent quality scent (minus the rough and gravelly qualities associated with cheaper benzoin. The myrrh is difficult to pick out (an issue pretty common to myrrh incenses given how widely it can vary in scent) because it doesn’t have the individual qualities of good resin, but it does prevent this from being purely benzoin.In fact I detect a little more on the honey side in this one than I do with the Krishna.

I think in terms of whether you’d want any of these totally depends upon how deep you want your incense collection, as there’s a lot better and a lot worse. I think maybe these are a cut above Satya and Nitiraj because the base is better, in fact I often wondered going through these if some of the oils actually detracted from the base. But perhaps only the Madhava is memorable and even it’s not a perfect incense. The line has since been discontinued, but most of these incenses should still be locatable.

Tennendo / Hana Set / Rose, Lily, Lavender, Violet

To date we’ve managed to cover all of the available Tennendo incenses except for the Hana floral gift box set, an attractively designed and fairly massive set of four floral incenses which straddle both traditional and modern tendencies. Each scent is represented with well over 100 sticks in four slots that have an inner sleever and outer sleeve to keep all the incense snug no matter whether you store the set horizontally or vertically.

All four incenses seem to have a very similar in base in common and only vary by way of color and whatever floral and oil content “flavors” the base. This base strikes me as being made up of binder and lighter woods, perhaps something like a cedar and inexpensive sandalwood mix. It gives each incense something of a traditional grounding so that these don’t exactly match up with the more modern styles you’ll find more readily. Although it fetches a fairly expensive price, it’s safe to say that it’s unlikely you’ll need to restock this for a very long time, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the total stick content approaches 500.

The Hana Rose immediately had me crosschecking my memory with recent Indian masalas, most of which strike me as having a far more authentic rose scent, however you trade this authenticity for delicacy and restraint in the Hana version. The bouquet seems to be made up of other elements and often comes across more as a general floral aroma than a pure rose one, but as such it has a surprising complexity for an incense at its price with a mix of flower and slighty berry-ish elements. And most importantly, there are no off notes or bitter subscents interfering.

The Lily might be the most successful of the four and comparatively it’s the most exotic of the bunch. The green color of the stick reflects the verdant snappiness of the top perfume as if some of the building blocks were patchouli or even green tea. Overall I think this scent most closely matches the flower it represents and it succeeds in that it’s not too uncommon to find bitter and offputtting lily incenses, however on the other hand, the most superior scent of this type is the expensive Encens du Monde Blissful Mountain and the Hana version is a far cry from it in both scent and price. But the two do share a certain woodiness at core, implying most of the scent comes straight from the oils.

The Violet is similar to the Lily in terms of being a perfume on wood scent and it may be the woodiest of the four incenses here, either that or it has the most fleeting and mellow perfume. As the base seems to bury the floral scent, the stick doesn’t evince the type of gentle subleties that make a fine violet incense (as is notable in, say, Shoyeido’s Floral World series) and while the finish isn’t unpleasant, it’s also not very notable.

The Lavender also suffers from not being terribly reminiscent of the real thing, although one might argue that in a floral set the aim was to bring out those aspects rather than the more pungent aroma of pure French lavender oil. However because of this possible compromise the scent ends up being a little too close to synthetic home deodorizers, a hazard that befalls many generic florals. Not that it’s bitter or soapy, Tennendo is generally too classy a company to not avoid those pitfalls, but it might have been more successful had it been called something else.

As a whole the Hana set surely wins on presentation, but on incense it will entirely pivot on the tastes of any particular consumer. In fact one has to classify the incense here as being fairly low budget, especially when you divide up the cost of what is a very large bulk package. It’s unlikely any will find these unpleasant and floral lovers are likely to have a higher opinion than I, but despite the restraint and class shown here, you’re likely to find greater authenticity in the less pricier Indian masala ranges, although perhaps the quieter and gentle nature of these four will balance the playing field for some.

Les Encens du Monde (Florisens) / 1000 Years of Wisdom (Koukando Sennenko), Pine & Orchid Wedding (Kunjudo Shoranko), Whispering Bamboo (Koukando), Oriental Breeze (Kunjudo Shobikoh) (Discontinued), Aloe Vera (Discontinued), Middle Path, Mount Fuji

It’s dawned on me recently that if you want really high quality but low price incenses, the various Encens du Monde sandalwoods are really some of the best on the market. It’s true there’s something of a price markup with most of these due to the incenses’ long travel regiment, but I think the quality of most of these incenses does indeed offset these prices to some extent. The real difficulty with these incenses is making sure you don’t overlap with something directly distributed to your country; however, my experience over time has been that even in the cases that incenses do overlap, there’s still enough of a recipe difference to set two similar brands apart.

For example, I reviewed Koukando Rangetsu vs Encense du Monde Jade Orchid a while back and while you certainly only need one or the other, I felt the EdM variety was slightly the superior with a better wood base. Later I got the opportunity to compare Kunjudo’s Karin in the box to Karin in the tube and found that the difference was nearly significant, the former much sweeter, the latter muskier and more traditional, making me wonder if the Encense du Monde Forest of Flowers variant might differ in its own right [NOTE 7/3/21: As it turns out this is because it was really Karin vs Tokusen Karin]. With these experiences I wouldn’t be quite so sure that even when two packagings match up in style that you’re dealing with the exact same incense. And Ross’s warning in the latest top 10 should be taken under advisement as well, there are indeed formulation changes happening with nearly every incense under the sun as aloeswood, sandalwood and halmaddi all get rarer. In the group I’ll be reviewing today, the Oriental Breeze packaging matches up with the “generic” Shobikoh incense [NOTE: Discontinued], but I’d make a guess that the Shobikoh probably isn’t quite as strong as the Oriental Breeze given the difference in price. In summary, buyer beware. I believe most of the EdM incenses in this review are made by Kunjudo, with the known exception of Mount Fuji, which is a Shoyeido incense not otherwise distributed here. [Correction: Please note Francois’ comment below for the right origins of these incenses]

1000 Years of Wisdom (1000 Ans de Sagesse) is something of a potpourri type of incense with ingredients extracted from various wood powders, essential oils, cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus and patchouli. It’s a black colored stick but not of the smokeless kind usually found in this color. It’s a hard one to describe given there are really no dominant scents other than the eucalyptus content being fairly obvious with its almost menthol like cooling scent. It does appear to have the typical sandalwood base and although there is no obvious aloeswood content, oil or otherwise, has some similarities to the Shoyeido Sei-Fu blend. Whisps of sweetness, anise and even an herbal flavor that reminds me of veitivert pop up occasionally, but overall this is an incense formulated for a unique scent. It’s not at all a bad deal for the almost $9 a roll and one I’ve found gets better with use. This incense, available in a large box, has been identified as an equivalent to Koukando Sennenko.

Pine & Orchid Wedding (Mariage du pin et de l’orchidée) I’ve tried in the short roll but it also appears to be part of the Japonessence line as well, although I’m not sure if it varies in scent or not. This is one of my very favorite under $10 sandalwood based rolls and in some ways it’s almost like a low octave and inexpensive version of the incenses you see as Seeds of Transformation and Blissful Mountain in the much pricier Meditation range. That is, it’s a wood based stick with a fabulous floral oil on top, a marriage I’ve really grown to appreciate with use. The floral oil isn’t as expensive or as high class as it is in the previous mentioned incenses but nor is it bitter or off  putting, just a bit mellower (it should be mentioned that the two top ends use lily essential oil rather than orchid, but the results are too similar not to compare). The pine is typical of its use in most Japanese incenses in that it’s a woody scent rather than the heavily resinous pitch you’ll encounter in, say, Fred Soll’s incenses (Shunkohdo Matsuba Pine is fairly close for example). Overall just a perfect scent, fresh and calming and even with the EdM hike, very affordable.

Like 1000 Years, Whispering Bamboo (Le Chant des bambous) is a pretty complex and multi-ingredient heavy scent, although in this case we’re dealing with a square stick with the typical green color. The ingredient list has “a delicate touch” of violet along with sandalwood, cinnamon, eucalyptus, Chinese plants and patchouli. And in particular the Chinese plants aspect evokes similarities to various traditional Kunmeido and Shunkohdo scents that use medicinal herbs, with a unique spice as a backdrop. This is a much more intense scent than, say, the bamboo incense found in Kunjudo’s Three Scents box due to these herbs, although I would suspect the slightly fruity undertones are where the violet manifests (or at least it doesn’t all evoke for me what I typically think of as a violet scent). Overall its quite unique and another EdM winner that improves for me with every stick of use.

As I mentioned before, Oriental Breeze (Brise Orientale) has packaging reminiscent enough of Shobikoh as to hint that we’re dealing with a very similar incense and a significantly different price. Of all the incenses in this review, this is the most obviously inexpensive, it’s described as a sandalwood incense with clove and cinnamon, a combination very common at the lower price ranges. The wood, unlike with the other scents here, is a bit on the bitter side at times, and the oil content is much lower, making this one only roughly indistinguishable from most lower end “every day” sandalwoods. Although I haven’t tried the Shobikoh per se, it may be the one to start with given its low cost. Those stocked heavily with green low end sandalwoods will likely not need the duplication.

The next three incenses could be considered “sampler notes” in that I’ve only tried a couple sticks of each and don’t feel I’ve exhaused the aromatic potential of any of them. The good news is that with all three I felt my best experiences were towards the last stick, and in one case I did an almost complete turn around. This case was the Aloe Vera, admittedly not one of my favorite scents, it’s quite the common addition to soaps and even tissue paper, with its very noticeable green, verdant and fresh scent. My initial take on this incense was that it was too bitter and unpleasant, but I found myself actually warming to it by the second stick. It really does what it says on the box, representing the aroma in a wood base, with some hints of clay and patchouli in the mix. I perhaps did not have enough of a sample to know how I’d feel about it in the end but still ended on a positive note.

Middle Path I liked from the start, it’s a purple stick with a very purple “feel” to it, slightly mellow and otherwise not terribly far from most low end green sandalwoods, except it generally avoids the bitter tendencies found in the woods. There’s quite a decent sandalwood value here, with a noticeably sawdust like aroma, but the best part is the myrrh and spicy oil, the former of which would account for the mellowness. One I think I’ll be adding to the next incense order. [NOTE: While the link to Zen Minded also has “Daigen Koh,” I am not sure if it’s the same as the Daigen Koh in the Daily line. The Dailies used to have different colors but the ingredients list seems a bit different.]

Mount Fuji, as previously mentioned, is a Shoyeido incense not distributed through the main company, perhaps because it’s fairly similar to the same line’s Miyako-gusa scent. That is, it’s a typically spicy, but uncommonly rich and slightly sharp low end sandalwood mix that wouldn’t have fit particularly comfortably in the Daily or Classics range.  There appears to be lily of the valley in this one, but I didn’t notice the same sort of powerful oil that’s in Seeds of Transformation or Blissful Mountain, more so I got impressions of forests, pine and other woods and maybe a touch of patchouli. But again, with only a couple sticks its possible I was just missing the notes.

Likely next up on the Encens du Monde agenda will be a look at the Aromambiance line, which to my nose is almost how I’d envision Nippon Kodo moderns if they were done a bit better. But that will be some time down the road. As far as these incenses are concerned, Pine and Orchid Wedding is something of a must, but other than the Oriental Breeze and maybe the Aloe Vera, all the rest seem to be strong low end sandalwoods all with unique combinations you may not have tried before.

Shoyeido / Floral World / Echo (Discontinued Line)

There are four sets in Shoyeido’s Floral World series. They are available as short sticks or cones and range in price from $20 to $60. Mike has reviewed Star here, which is the most expensive of the four, and Royal here, the second most expensive. Echo is next, with Gold as the least expensive. The sticks are packaged 20 of each variety, in a tray that slides out of the box and includes a biodegradable burner. The cones are available in three packaging configurations, the newest being an affordable box of 8, each wrapped in colored paper folded like petals and arranged beautifully to resemble a crepe paper blossom. A lovely presentation for gift giving and the perfect amount for sampling.

The three scents in the Echo set include Lavender, Violet, and Sandalwood. What’s confusing about the Floral World series is that many of the scents overlap. Three of the sets include Jasmine, three include Violet, and three include Sandalwood. The sticks are colored differently depending on the set, presumably indicating a difference in quality. Furthermore, I am not sure how this grading system applies to the single-scent boxes of cones, with only one version of each scent available in this form.

The Lavender definitely has a floral scent, though I wouldn’t say that it distinctly reminds me of this plant. Lavender is in the lamiaceae (mint) family which includes basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano. Like its cousins, it has a distinct pungency, even bitterness, that I do not detect in this incense. Not to detract from this fine creation, but it seems to focus more on the sweet top notes of the plant. To me is smells less like lavender and more like a combination of rose and fine dusting powder. The Violet, again, has that note of dusting powder and resembles the actual scent of the plant much more accurately. Restrained and elegant, cool like the plant, and with a hint of what I can only describe as green. (Can a smell be a color?)* The final scent in the set is Sandalwood, a perplexing inclusion in a floral set for sure. However, this wood is the base of so many incenses, a testament to its ability to combine so well with a amazing range of other aromatic plants. Here it is combined with a floral scent, bringing out the sweetness of the wood, though the floral note is the predominant one. I would say of the three that this is the most interesting and complex, and the one I am having the most difficulty describing. The aroma is more like a bouquet or a mix of different flowers than like any one specific flower. Either way, the smell is quite enticing and long-lasting, continuing to scent the room hours after it finished burning.

These are certainly some of the best florals I have ever encountered. If you like the dipped charcoal perfume incenses then I guarantee that you will enjoy these! Really just lovely and a totally different experience than most other florals I have tried. Very fine and feminine and obviously of the highest quality.  Kudos to Shoyeido for creating a range of florals that are elegant and well-balanced.

*12/3/08  Well, turns out smells can be green!  Apparently it’s the hexenes that smell like cut grass, referred to as “green notes” in the science of scent.  Thanks to Steve Schaffer for the link to Luca Turin’s TED talk on this and how smell is more about the vibration of the molecule than the shape.  Interesting!

Shoyeido / Xiang-Do / Rose, Palo Santo, Vanilla, Mixed Fruits, Citrus, Marine, Lavender, Violet

Shoyeido’s Xiang-Do series is created by what the company calls their exclusive pressed incense process, a process that for most of us on the outside will be somewhat obscure. What we can tell from the product is that these incenses concentrate the aromatics to a degree rarely found in the natural world and, most importantly, do so very successfully. To my nose, Shoyeido is responsible for many of the best modern incense styles on the planet and their pressed incense is generally extraordinary.

Like Shoyeido’s LISN series, one is aware by the numbers on the boxes that we only see a small part of this line here, what would amount to 16 incenses, with three of them labelled as Xiang-Do Fresh (Green Tea, Tea, Coffee). Xiang-Do not only provides a small sampler for the Fresh trio, but a 12 stick/12 aroma sampler as well. It looks like the larger 30 stick/10 aroma sampler has been deleted at the Shoyeido site, but may be available for a little while longer if you look around. The price of the 20 stick boxes is rather close to $15 and with the short 2 3/4 inch length, these incenses can generally be considered pricy, as is all of the incenses that use the pressed incense process (I know I’d like to see bigger (60 stick) boxes). I’ll be covering half of the line in this article, the other half will be forthcoming (including my two favorites in the entire line – Forest and Peppermint).

Xiang Do’s Rose is easily one of the better Rose incenses I’ve been able to sample, perhaps not quite at the level of the Floral World/Royal Rose, but certainly more affordable. Like all of the line’s incenses the floral oil is very concentrated, starting with a sweet garden-like rose aroma and ending in a surprisingly dry finish. Rose incenses aren’t generally my favorite, but the style and rich base make this quite attractive.

Palo Santo comes from an Andean tree and while it’s a rather extraordinary scent whether natural or in this pressed style, it’s one you rarely see in Japanese incense, which makes this somewhat unusual. I think of it as a somewhat orangey aromatic wood, with hints of mango and apricot and a bit of talcum. Quite pleasant and definitely unique, it’s likely to be friendly to most noses.

Vanilla is about what you’d expect, although the intensity of the aroma brings out sides to the scent rather uncommon to most vanilla incenses. It’s both slightly sweet and spicy, but not at all like vanilla in the ice cream or confectionary sense, a little closer to the tonka bean sort of aroma, almost as if it had fruitlike qualities. This is one I’ve slowly grown to over time and I’d probably put it in the second tier after Forest and Peppermint.

Mixed Fruits never strikes me as a good idea for incense, and while this is decent the overall mix of apple, citrus, banana and grape kind of renders the overall aroma somewhat banal. I can imagine specific fruits would probably work better under such a style and can imagine the Japanese line must have them. Here there’s a surprising lack of aromatic concentration and distinction. However fruit incense lovers might see this a bit different.

Citrus has similar issues, although in many ways this is fairly close to Forest and Peppermint in style. The previously mentioned 30 stick sampler was displayed sort of like a rainbow of colors and while it does help to make it look like a pretty box, there may also be some similarities in style with scents similar in color. The end note on this one has a grapefruit-like citrus aroma that for my nose doesn’t finish quite so well.

Marine is another one that may seem bizarre to the western nose. It’s that attempt to capture the aromas of being at sea or on a beach. Nippon Kodo have an incense called Aqua that captures that sort of wet/watery sort of scent. Marine itself is more of a saltwater vibe, a bit of brine that doesn’t seem to work so well with the general base of this incense. Fortunately it’s dry, but this will be one you’d want to try in a sampler first.

The last two are probably my favorite in this specific group. Lavender surprised me in not being very typical of incenses with French lavender oil, which is a good thing given their prevalence. The aromatics are intense enough to give the incense an almost liquor-like lavender scent, dense, perfumed and sweltery. It does have similarities to the lavender you might find in hair products, however the Xiang-Do base helps to balance this proclivity and keep it a little on the sweeter side.

Violet‘s my favorite of the Xiang-Do floral scents, not terribly far from the natural aroma, although the base adds sweetness and balance to the oil. I got a little purple valentine candy in there as well, it’s a really delightful scent, one of the few florals I can really get behind.

Other than the Fresh trio I mentioned earlier, the remaining Xiang Do incenses (exported to the US) are Forest, Peppermint, Sandalwood, Frankincense and Agarwood, all of which I hope to cover in the future once I managed to “complete the series.” Despite that I’ve been fairly critical on this first eight, I’d still recommend giving the sampler a try as depending on one’s personal tastes you might well find that you enjoy certain blends more than I do. I tend to find Shoyeido pressed incenses to be among the finest treats in incense and very complimentary to woody, spicy and more natural styles.

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