Mermade Magickal Arts / Kyphis, Incense Cakes; Espirit de la Nature / Giroflee Ordorante

It seems like with the new kyphi mechanism in play that there’s been a substantial creative outburst at Mermade in the winter months. Combine that with ORS being in something of a downtime, it can be really hard to keep up and deeply go into some of these new and wonderful scents that Katlyn has been whipping up in winter months, so I thought I’d do my best to try and do some sort of overview to catch up on some things. As I’ve mentioned before, the catalog window for a lot of Mermade goodies is short and often ORS reviews can shorten them a bit more, and even when I start a review page in draft, I have to keep tabs on what is still live or not by the time I’m ready to publish something. And this too, of course, goes for the Espirit de la Nature incenses that show up. It’s often like watching a car zip by.

So let’s start with the Mermade kyphis. I covered Kyphi #2, Goddess Temple, here. I believe the #3 was the green Emerald Temple variant and the #4 was the Amber Kyphi (pictured left), all of which are now gone, at least for the present. If you read the #2 review then you will realize these are largely intriguing variants of the same sort of kyphi base with a new front. All of them are wonderfully etched in detail and I’m just generally of the opinion that if you see a Mermade kyphi go up for a sale then it’s a good idea to start planning an order. The amber variant did not last long at all and it is a really wonderful incense, with the back half connected through this kyphi lineage and the front a wonderfully perfect amber scent, distinct and almost definitive. And I think the #5 variant here (coming soon, will link when live) will be Goddess Temple with Oud (pictured right). I just have a few early samples of this one from Katlyn’s last package but I might have to separate this one from the “usually special and magnificent” to the “particularly special and magnificent” category. I love the way the oud in this one sort of tinges and modifies the kyphi lineage of all these previous incenses. It does so in a way that might create the most significant change of this line of incense. It feels less like it has a new top note and more like the oud has just deeply infused itself into all aspects of the scent. When you think of kyphi as this sort of aged melange of ingredients that all add up to something like an aromatic vintage, the #5 seems to be a really cool leap sideways that might make you feel like you’re trying kyphi all over again.

Another project Katlyn is working on is “incense cakes.” There are three different ones that are all very recent, Cakes for the Queen of Heaven, Rose of Isis and Dionysos. These are all essentially a mix of resins, woods, herbs and spices that are all formulated into small little discs with a stamp applied and mostly mixed in with another natural ingredient. The first blend is subtitled a Mesopotamian incense and includes cedar wood and essential oil; Suhul and Yemeni myrrh; Iranian galbanum; styrax – liquidambar; labdanum resin and absolute; black frankincense; and juniper herb and berries. Not sure if my botany is up to this guess and it’s not in the ingredients, but the cakes look mixed in with eucalyptus leaves or something visually similar. You can actually really suss out the specific ingredients in this mix and one thing I like about it is that a lot of these are not as common in available incenses so you really feel like the styrax and labdanum are quite forward here and the evergreens give it all a more herbal quality than a green one. It all adds up to a nicely mysterious mix that reveals a cool creative take on a regional scent.

Rose of Isis is a bit more straight forward a blend, with the rose and sandalwood mix out in front. The rose comes from three different absolutes, and the sandalwood is the quality Mysore, but in addition there’s Sahul myrrh, Saigon cinnamon, Hougary frankincense, and benzoin; the mix dusted with agarwood powder. I’ve long understood Katlyn to have a really deep connection with Isis energy and have experienced a number of her crafts in this vein both on and off the market to know she is a vessel for it. The rose here is lovely and powerful, redolent even in the fresh tin, in the way that a friendly rose absolute can lead to it being a bit like valentine’s day candy. But there’s not just that element, but a really genuine scent of the actual rose flower that is paired with that. As the heat continues the rose note will tend to fade into the background more, with the myrrh and cinnamon comng in louder towards the late heat. The sandalwood seems a bit milder than you might expect, mostly due to the powerful rose front, but it tends to tie everything together in the background.

Dionysos is something of an incense cake version of one of Katlyn’s older incenses with the same name. In fact this review is still probably fairly spot on in many ways and here you can get this almost vintage spirits sort of vibe just over the fresh cakes in the tin. Part of this I believe is the black currant bud absolute. As a kid who grew up in England in the 70s, black currant was almost ubiquitous in sweets and I loved it. Here it’s modified by some of the other ingredients into kyphi-like age, like a fine intoxicating spirit. There’s classic incense resins (undoubtedly part of what carries the currant), agarwood, juniper berries, sweet tobacco absolute, cassis (also black currant), galbanum and a pinch or two of sativa. I sort of roughly classify this kind of incense into Katlyn’s later summer blends, there’s this sort of feeling of heat and harvest at work, ripe berries, hay and herb. One you definitely would want to pull out at a party, an event much richer with the god of wine in attendance.

There were also a couple new Encense du Monde incenses in the Mermade catalog of late but one blew out incredibly fast and the other might be gone by the time I get this incense live (3 left! Going, going..). This last one left (well they both were!), Giroflee Ordorante, is naturally up to Bonnie’s incredible talent, an incense that boasts a very involved ingredients list: “Matthiola longipeta ssp bicornis enfleuraged [night-scented stock] while still on the stem into benzoin, palo santo and tolu balsam resins, propolis, rose extract, palo santo wood, sandalwood, rosewood, cloves, cinnamon, vanilla, patchouli. Bound with reduced organic honey. Powdered with monarde fistulosa- rose variety.” What I immediately notice with this Nerikoh style blend is the mintiness and balsamic qualities combined, but it’s sort of the layer a lot of complexity sits on, a complexity I am not sure I’d even have the time to get into before this very original blend disappears. I’m not even familiar with what appears to be the main note, the night-scented stock, so I can’t place it in the aroma exactly. So in many ways Giroflee Ordorante is certainly unlike any nerikoh style incense I’ve tried in a Japanese catalog, but it stretches the form in quite the innovative way. These little pellets pack both a massive and quiet aromatic punch with that almost trademark creative touch Bonnie has that feels like fractals disappearing into infinity.

And I’d be amiss to not mention that the latest batch of WildWood is in stock, and while I haven’t tried this latest one yet, it’s certainly in a lineage where I have loved every single one and it is something you’d have to consider a Mermade evergreen classic.

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Temple of Incense / Patchouli Woods, Pineapple, Rose Absolute, Saffron

Temple of Incense Part 11
Temple of Incense Part 13
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

So we’re coming down to the final few Temple of Incense reviews. Our second to last installment is a mixed back of floral, wood, fruit and herbs.

Jumping right in with Patchouli Woods, this stick is very similar in look and smell to Green Patchouli (aka Patchouli Khus) that Absolute Bliss sells. This is a handmade charcoal blank that appears to have been dipped in scented product due to how the bamboo sticks appear to have been treated as well. While I’ve talked about not liking dipped styles of incense, this one is another case where the quality of the product stands out. The scent is a very soft, herbal patchouli that feels like it’s muted with a bit of something else like saffron. Due to there being this secondary note in here, it gives plenty of interplay. If they had just stuck with patchouli this might have turned into a cloying drone of a scent.

The other thing that makes this interesting is that most of the time Indian style patchouli comes with a lot of sweet and vanilla and similar, this does none of that, which makes it almost seem like this is a more serious and down-to-earth type of stick than the typical patchouli. If you collect patchouli, this is definitely one to add because it’s a more mild and muted interpretation and not so sharp and ostentatious as other patchouli agarbatti.

Pineapple! This is a very sweet stick, opening the box and pulling one of these handmade agarbattis out, I am met with a very sweet pineapple smell, though it has a scent that I would normally associate with pineapple candy. The sticks are finished with a soft tan powder and have a natural bamboo core. When you light them up, the candy pineapple turns into multiple different pineapple scents, but none of them smell exactly like fresh cut pineapple, but you DO get pineapple flower, pineapple plant, pineapple candy and something that reminds me a bit of the guava stick, perhaps a sweetener?

As Pineapple continues to burn, I realize that I am no longer smelling pineapple at all, that the guava smell has taken over and I think that this overlaps in scent with guava. I ran off and lit a Guava Guava stick and there is definitely a big difference as Guava Guava has more of the guava smell in it than Pineapple, but Pineapple ends up being less pineapple to me, only because after the initial hits, it fades into the background and takes a back seat to this more sweet ‘candy’ scent that I noted the unlit stick smells like.

Rose Absolute is another rose entry from Temple of Incense, and this one doesn’t seem to have an analogous stick in Absolute Bliss/Happy Hari as I compared this to Queen of Roses and Krishna Rose to make sure. This is a pink bamboo stick with handmade charcoal masala with a brown finishing powder. The smell of rose is heavy in the packaging. After lighting, the scent is pleasant but not the kind of rose I would expect. It smells like marzipan to which rose water has been added. It has a sweet kind of ‘bread made with rose’ as the rose here is not exactly a fresh rose but also not a candied rose and not the hand lotion rose either. This is exciting primarily because it kind of smells like a fancy cookie to have with some high tea.

When I focus just on the rose to try to say what it is, it does have a little edge of cosmetic-type of smell to it, like rose scented rouge. If I had to ‘rank the roses’ that Absolute Bliss and Temple of Incense do, I would rank it: Queen of Roses, Rose Absolute, Krishna Rose, Indian Rose.

Saffron is difficult to place. I can’t tell if it is a extruded dough agarbatti heavy with charcoal or if it is a charcoal blank dipped in solution. Either way, the bamboo core has a color similar to the stick which tells me it got soaked in the same solution. I’m guessing that they used either saffron oil or a saffron absolute to make this stick because it has a depth many saffron scented sticks lack. When I add saffron to rice or something neutral, there is a bright, grounding scent I associate with saffron that if you spend time listening to it like you’d listen to incense, you’d get a deeper spice that is warming. All that is in this stick and I’m impressed because the style generally is not something to impress me.

I didn’t initially like Saffron, but I bought a box anyway after getting a sample because I know that the company it keeps is impressive so I gave it a second chance and now I think I’m halfway through the box. It is a good starter incense for the early morning, giving you space to work up to something stronger and more pungent.

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.

Temple of Incense / Fruits of the Forest, Guava Guava, Indian Express, Indian Rose

Temple of Incense Part 8
Temple of Incense Part 10
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

This next grouping of Temple of Incense happens to be some of the sweeter entries in their entire catalog. If you like sweeter incense or even have a sweet tooth, these are some sticks to consider.

Starting with Fruits of the Forest, an extruded tan agarbatti without a powder finish, we have an incense that proclaims on the box to have “scent of wild strawberries and blackberries”. I expected this to be a dipped charcoal type of incense for those notes but instead this is a charcoal heavy masala using what I’m guessing are absolutes. The scent is quite nice, and while it can cross into the “Hi-C” type of ‘mixture of fruits’ where you really can’t discern the fruits, there are moments where I feel I can pick out a wild strawberry or blackberry, more specifically the flower of the blackberry than the berry itself, I think.

Either way, this is a very sweet stick and for me, it is pleasant and has enough interplay that I can enjoy it but others in my household don’t like it and say it’s rather cloying with the single sweet note. I happen to like sweet incense after a meal almost like a dessert of sorts, and this, Guava Guava, Pineapple, Pratyahara Sutra, Forbidden Fruit, and Dragon’s Blood are all on high rotation for this position.

Guava Guava looks so very different than Fruits of the Forest, it is a handmade charcoal heavy masala finished with a tan dusting. It is thicker and heavier than Fruits but when you light it, you get treated to a sweet dessert sort of scent. If you have ever spent time in the tropics around guava season, the guava trees start to drop their fruit and as you approach, it will smell sort of like this. The only thing missing from this smell to make it ‘authentic’ is the acrid tinge of fermentation happening to the fallen fruit.

While I mentioned about using these sticks as a ‘dessert’ of sorts after a meal, this one in particular is tricky because it does have a smell close enough to the food that I get hungry if I haven’t eaten and I’m smelling this. One of the things I’m starting to get curious about is that here in Hawaii, there is a combo called POG juice, and the POG stands for Pinapple, Orange, Guava. I’m starting to wonder if this will pair nicely with the pineapple and orange sticks ToI offers. I’ll check in about that in a later review.

Indian Express has a box that says ‘A scent playing with the sweet and layered fun of paan’. I had to look up what paan is and it’s a slightly addictive betel leaf preparation that is often chewed and spit out. The stick is an extruded charcoal blank that has been soaked in scent compounds. This type of dipped incense tends to get the lower ratings here but I think this is another one of those exceptions. While I haven’t experienced paan, I do know I’ve experienced the geranium, rose, rosemary and kewda before and those florals come across nicely in different layers, some of them powdery and sweet and others acrid and bitter. The nice thing is that for a dipped incense, there is so much interplay that this doesn’t get cloying with a single note. I know I’d love to revisit this scent when/if I ever experience paan.

Finishing out this round is Indian Rose, a hot pink agarbatti that looks to be machine extruded onto natural bamboo with no finishing powder. It burns like a charcoal because of how the ash forms. This is a sweeter version of rose than some of the other entries, and there isn’t as much movement between the different scents of rose, but what sits front and center is something like a rose buttercream frosting, it has a sweet, creamy note that carries the rose scent like a petal resting on a pillow. According to the box, this is a blend of different rose oils. What I’m guessing is that there is a masterful recipe blending these because many times this kind of ‘rose oil’ on incense ends up smelling like Vaseline Intensive Care.

Again, when I experienced this as a sample, I wasn’t as interested in it. I have a feeling that the freshness of this particular stick is important because I get the feeling that the first run I had was far older as I could barely suss the rose and what I did smell smelled like ‘stewed’ roses. I get none of that scent here, the rose is fresher, and comes with a sweet scent that sometimes smells like powdered sugar and sometimes like butter cream frosting. Good for people who like sweet and rose scents.

Kousaido / Sanshi-Suimei / Gion Koh; Waboku Set (3 scents); Koto koh, Take koh, Sumi-koh, and Ume koh

Kousaido is a Japanese company of a very modern bent, carrying many of the same sorts of lines you see with Nippon Kodo. So I’ll be straight up when I say that these styles aren’t usually to my taste and this review is of a few places I cast my net looking for some things I thought I might go for or to at least get some general overview of the company. Like in Nippon Kodo and even some of Shoyeido’s lines, some of these incenses are the sort of short 2 1/2 to 3/4 inch, slightly thicker sticks that tend to be machine produced and laden with perfumed aromas. They are perhaps not targeted at traditional incense fans, although one of the boxes here perhaps presents a slightly closer pitch to wood-based scents.

You usually don’t see moderns in pawlonia boxes, but Gion Koh is part of a series of five moderns in small little ones called Sanshi Suimei. Japan Incense sells a nice little sampler of 3 sticks each which you can find here. I received these close to the beginning of reopening ORS, so not only did I really not think to make notes of the other four, but none of them were really to my tastes. That’s not to say I disliked them all, but it was only Gion Koh that really stood out in a way that made me order a separate box. As I’ve probably gone on record elsewhere, I do tend to like amber themed incenses and a mix of that with sandalwood and ylang ylang ended up being quite a pleasant affair. Don’t mistake what this is, a perfumed modern, but it reminds me of the better aspects of some of the deluxe and discontinued Shoyeido Floral World sticks. The sandalwood is still pretty strong in the midst and while this doesn’t really smell much like the ylang ylang I remember from essential oils, as that’s a fairly gentle scent compared to the somewhat hair product level strength of this, the note doesn’t really overwhelm the wood or the base amber scent. And for me it’s that last piece that makes this something of a pleasant diversion for me. Other scents in the series just hit different areas within the same format, so if you think you might like the style I’d probably recommend the sampler first to see what you gravitate towards.

These next two boxes are actually made up of multiple scents and are sampler boxes whose contents don’t appear to be imported separately. So before we go back to the short stick format, we’re going to discuss the Kousaido Waboku set, which includes Kusunoki (Camphor), Hinoki (Japanese Cypress) and Keiyaki (Zelkova) at 25 sticks each. This set seems far and away the most traditionally minded series Kousaido exports to the US through Japan Incense. I was curious, not at all for the Cypress which tends not to deviate from either Baieido or Nippon Kodo versions, but for the other two incenses which actually seem to be fairly rare aromas on their own. And I do love me some camphor. First of all, I should say that the inserts each of the three series of incenses come in are less boxes than cardboard wrap arounds. As such it felt like a bit too much trouble to unwind and take separate pictures of the incenses as it feels like these wraparounds are likely to degrade with too much use. Besides the incenses themselves look almost exactly what you might expect from something in an inexpensive Nippon Kodo line.

And unfortunately the Kusnoki seems strangely contrived. It’s not difficult to tell what Kousaido was going for, just that it’s somewhat puzzling it doesn’t really hit the camphor sweet spot when expenses shouldn’t need to get in the way. It’s as if they dialed it back a bit on purpose which really kind of sets it a bit too close to what is a fairly, obviously, inexpensive wood base. Even that’s fairly mellow but matching this kind of light base with a dull note really doesn’t work all that well. But it’s a modern right? When you pitch woods as moderns this is often the sort of effect you get. The Hinoki is really little different, although inexpensive Japanese hinoki incenses tend to work out OK, even the smokeless Hinoki in the NK line isn’t a bad incense. But when I think of something like the Bosen Pythoncidere and that super green cypress scent in comparison, this just feels a bit lukewarm. It’s closer to the NK but even closer to the Camphor in that it’s got that thin wooden base with just a bit of the main scent sort of submerged in the middle. As such I think most will probably find this a bit more pleasant than the Camphor, but I’d still advise sticking to the Hinokis you already have as this one doesn’t have much to offer. And strangely the Zelkova tree, based on rummaging the internet a bit, seems like a shade tree and not something usually considered an aromatic source. But Keiyaki might be the most fascinating blend of the three here in that this incense has an aroma that’s fairly unique. And it’s not only that, but where the previous two incenses felt like mild aromas in lighter wood, this seems a bit stronger and more in your face, which might imply a greater level of perfume here. So even though I’ve never smelled a zelkova, nor could make any fair comparisons, it’s still the incense of the three I enjoy the most. Make no mistake, this one is still obviously perfumed, but at least its distinct.

The next Kousaido grouping falls under the name “Set of 4 Scents.” This artistically designed box set, where the four different boxes provide a nice little mosaic of tree branches, hides four different modern aromas with 2 and 3/4 inch sticks (I would guess this is a typo at the Japan Incense site as nearly all modern mini sticks are in this range). Koto Koh is described as including sandalwood, amber, ambergris, and oak moss and could almost be a cousin of Gion Koh because of the red-colored base and the amber. The oak moss element is surprisingly noticeable in the mix, although it blends into what is perhaps too much of a generic perfume. On the outside of the individual box, Sumi Koh also says “(Ink).” Along with borneol you essentially get a decent description of the purple stick’s bouquet. The borneol gives the aroma its piquant top end while the ink scent makes up the rest of it. I find ink scented incenses to perhaps not be the kind of aromas I’d burn all the time, but I do appreciate their originality and difference. And at least here the muskiness of it outweighs any sort of heavy floral note. I’m pretty sure Nippon Kodo has one or more bamboo themed incenses but from those or the Kousaido Take Koh, it’s difficult to tell what this is going for as the lily of the valley, cyclamen and bergamot notes sort of mix aqua like and citrus qualities up into one very muddy green floral. It’s honestly a bit of a mess and not a bad example of a modern that really doesn’t work. Finally there’s Ume Koh which intends to be a baika or plum blossom incense, but is so full of off and synthetic lilac notes that any hope of the plum and clove saving it is completely lost. It’s virtually impossible to find a sunny side up on this one as it has more in common with insect sprays than anything pleasant.

Overall, Kousaido moderns may not really be at all to the taste of most of the ORS readership. They are perhaps more tailor made for the causal browser who might stumble across the Koh Shi brick and mortar on a visit to the bay area and want something more in line with the types of modern air fresheners, perfumes and candles that tend to proliferate in modern stores.

Absolute Bliss / White Lotus Oudh Saffron, Bengali Jungle Flora, Forbidden Fruit, Devansh

The following four Absolute Bliss imported incenses are four of their absolute finest and in this case there are no match ups that I know of in the Temple of Incense line. After Corey sent me samples of these I almost immediately ordered more stock, and while these certainly aren’t the end of the great ones, every single incense more or less grabbed me in just a few inhalings.

I wrote about the regular Oudh Saffron in my last installment, so you might consider the White Lotus Oudh Saffron to be something of a more deluxe variant of it. It presents a magical act where I’d assume a White Lotus absolute has been mixed in with the formula which not only adds some level of floral to the other scent but the way it interacts with the oudh and saffron itself is truly remarkable. In fact you can smell some of this on the fresh sticks, the way it brings out a sort of mintiness out of the oudh was an instant winner for me but only the crown of what is going on. Like the regular it appears to be a lightly dusted charcoal stick, but I think where often other oudh mixed charcoals often bring out the base a bit, the really intense floral makes it go in the opposite direction and it is truly arresting. Make no mistake that this is something of the capstone of perhaps all of the Absolute Bliss imports that originate from the creators of the Happy Hari line. In fact I’m not even quite sure how much is left of this current batch, but I’d certainly write Corey about it if you’re interested. Certainly fans of the regular Oudh Saffron and the Happy Hari Oudh Masala will want to check it out. It’s really a stunning, complex aroma that will have you pinging between the floral oil and the oudh and saffron mix and marveling at how so many complex ingredients can interact in so many fine ways. I still reach for sticks of this and keep the package close at hand.

Let’s be honest, a name like Bengali Jungle Flora is the kind of incense name that made me get into everything in the first place, it just has that ring of something special and exotic. Long time readers might remember the old Shroff Channabasappa Jungle Prince incense from so long ago, well this is not just reminiscent in name alone. However where I pointed out that the Jungle Prince was woody, that’s not quite so true here, it might be more that the floral oils are (or were) shared across the incenses. The Jungle Flora stick feels a bit softer than the usual HH charcoals and so I’m not sure if there’s some halmaddi in the mix here, but for sure this has that sweeter sort of floral mix that tends to be closer in family to champa or even champa flower or lotus incenses. There is even some deeper level of spice or something behind all the florals, which just helps to give it some depth and richness. A beautiful incense indeed and fairly unique to the rest of the AB/HH/ToI catalog.

Forbidden Fruit is an incense that reminds me a lot of the old Maharaj/Maharaja blends that Mystic Temple and Incense from India used to carry during the days when incenses like this were halmaddi-rich. However while those had a green-tipped bamboo stick, this one is orange. This aroma is really a combination of sweet and spicy qualities and so it’s not in the more polished style of fruit incenses like ToI Fruits of the Forest or Arabian Attar. But it really has that sort of exotic and rich spice mix that seems a lot rarer today but used to be more common. In fact I even remember certain Satya blends used to be more like this (one memory popping up is incenses like Aastha, Ajaro etc). Incenses like this were always highlights of my Indian collection and this one is really no different, it felt like a winner as soon as I lit one. Describing it more fully is somewhat difficult as it seems to be a combination of all sorts of different elements as well as floral oils that aren’t as common in more familiar incenses. But this is unquestionably one of my new favorites in the AB catalog.

And finally there is Devansh, the fourth of what are all very fine incenses. Devansh is one of the most sophisticated and complex incenses in the AB arsenal. It seems almost facile to call it a floral incense even though it obviously has rose and, perhaps, other floral oils on the top, but there is a richness to the base scent that is often missing in purely floral-themed incenses. This feels like it certainly has a bit of sandalwood in the mix and it nods in the direction of flora incenses without really having their overall profile. Think of it this way, if it was a flora it would perhaps be the finest of the class. So in a way it’s almost like you want to get out of the way that this is something like the Queen of Roses and think of it more a stick where the top note is the lead for something quite a bit richer in the middle. I might add that this reminds me a little of the ToI Amber Supreme in the middle. It is a tremendously gorgeous work of incense art.

Please note again that you can find all of these incenses at Absolute Bliss. However, I’ve been informed that none of the incenses reviewed here will be put up at the website, so I would use the contact page to contact Corey Topel for prices, shipping time and availability. But let me underline here that all four of these incenses are absolutely amazing and among the most highly recommended in either the AB or HH catalog. They are well worth hopping on while stocks last.

Temple of Incense / Sufiaana, Arabian Attar, Banaras Sandal, Delhi Nights

Temple of Incense Part 5
Temple of Incense Part 7
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

I wanted to pause for a second and comment a bit on the overall Temple of Incense line and how it kind of relates to my understanding and I’ll thank Stephen here for some internal conversations on this very subject. I’ve talked quite a bit about how in the 90s masala recipes changes drastically in style, particularly the move away from halmaddi in incenses. The thing I probably didn’t notice as much is that some of these incenses moved into different masala styles, but there seems to have been a greater move towards charcoal bases, more than I probably expected. Charcoals often have dusting that tend to hide the color and some charcoals are actually hybrids with masalas themselves so it’s a little bit of a guessing game with what is what but you can usually tell by how firm the sticks are. So I feel to some extent the old language I was using has maybe not kept up so well with some of these changes. Part of it is that I think some of the charcoals or hybrids do a fairly good job now of mimicking incenses that were previously in a more masala or even champa/halmaddi style in the past. Bengal Beauty was one I was thinking of burning it last night, that it still attempts to go for what is overall a very sweet scent, because those lavender tipped sticks in the past actually did have halmaddi of a sort. But I wanted to mention all of this because 1) the Temple of Incense line actually seems to be largely charcoal or hybrid, but 2) their charcoals are usually so good that it’s easy to overlook that they are. So I’ll also add that the difference between what we cover here is that I try to avoid dipped charcoal sticks, and not as much charcoal sticks that are created differently or hybridized. After all even a Madhvadas line like Pure incense uses some charcoal in their sticks and it’s not uncommon in Japanese incenses either.

So Sufiaana for example, like Bengal Beauty, is a good example of a charcoal or hybrid with a lot of dusting and a very sweet aromatic profile, a scent that used to be fairly common in the halmaddi era. It is described as having a light sandalwood base, with musk and big floral top notes. This is another one of those incenses that reminds me vaguely of an incense that used to be in the Incense from India line (might have been something like musk sandalwood or some such). You can tell from the £14 price on the box that this incense lies more towards the top end of the range. Sufiaana has a lot of its own personality. The sandalwood and musk make up a great deal of the bouquet but the “big floral top notes” could also be just as easily described as fruity. It’s not even terribly different from some of the top floral oils we talked about in the El line in that you get such a mix of different floral perfumes that picking out or describing anything too specific isn’t really possible. But there’s no question Sufiaana is really beautiful and actually justifies the amount of movement in the profile, it really keeps you busy moving one’s attention from one note to another. And a lot of that is that the sandalwood/musk and floral elements have a great deal of interplay in the scent. It’s something of a classic Indian scent overall and well worth trying.

And also somewhat coincidentally, the Arabian Attar is probably a perfect example of an actual masala hybrid, I’m sure charcoal is part of the overall incense blend but the clear choice here wasn’t to just go in the same direction that, say, the Himalayan Spikenard went in. I’d classify this one as existing in the same sort of aromatic area as Perky Pandit and Fruits of the Forest, in fact all you’re really told is its a combination of “oriental perfume” and a fruity note. All of these fruitier blends share a sense of judicious mildness and this one actually seems to fall along the lines of say apple and pear as opposed to berries, tropical or citrus. It’s actually a little reminiscent of the old Juicy Fruit chewing gum in some ways, particularly in how it ends up seeming fairly generic as an aroma. I’m not sure what my expectations were with Arabian Attar but this isn’t how I generally think about them, which may speak more to my inexperience than anything else. But there’s certainly nothing really woody about this incense.

Banaras Sandalwood is the second of three sandalwoods to discuss. As I said with the Extreme, the Temple of Incense sandalwoods are very good indeed and thankfully the Banaras is in a more affordable price range than the Extreme, while not losing too much of what makes that such a great sandalwood. While the note in the Extreme that really makes it special is somewhat reduced here there’s still enough hints of it that make sure this doesn’t fall into more generic categories. Also, unlike the Extreme and the regular charcoal, this is dusted with enough wood that it imparts a bit of a different quality to it. Anyway I find this very enjoyable and certainly well worth checking out especially if the Extreme isn’t in your price range. This is the real deal, brash, in your face and super redolent with sandal oil. Oh and apparently there’s a bit of lemon in here too, something that is not an uncommon addition to a sandalwood as it compliments certain qualities.

Finally, with more of a mix of specific elements there is Delhi Nights. This one has notes of bergamot, citrus, amber and tonka bean, a combination that instantly reminds me of some of the Designs by Deekay blends. Strangely it even has something of what I might call a celery note, which may be due the combination with what smells like a healthy bit of wood as well. And circling around to where I started with this article, this is another example of a stick, one that may be a charcoal or hybrid, that has enough of the vanilla (somewhere between the tonka and amber I bet) and lightness to be redolent of champas in some way even if this is much too dry to have halmaddi anywhere near it. I really do like the resolution on this stick because it plays in ways that you don’t expect at all from the notes. For me the citrus elements are so dampened they barely show up like you’d expect. It’s a very fascinating incense indeed.

I’m pleased to say that I will be handing off the rest of the Temple of Incense series to Stephen starting with the next installment, so stay tuned as there is a lot more coming!

Temple of Incense / Purple Rain, Radha, Sandalwood Extreme, Shakti

Temple of Incense Part 4
Temple of Incense Part 6
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

Temple of Incense have such a large line of incenses that it feels like they come from different manufacturers in India or at least there are large variations in recipes. We’ve noted several occurrences where there is overlap with the manufacturers of Happy Hari incenses and yet Purple Rain and the Rose Absolute strike me more like Madhavadas family incenses. This provides for a great amount of variety, although from a reviewing perspective, especially after recent reviews on the Designs by Deekay and Happy Hari lines, it is easier to see that the tradition of western companies arranging for incense manufacturing from India and putting their own branding on it can end up being somewhat blurry. A lot of what we learn tends to be from analyzing various incenses that seem the same from brand to brand. We will note similarities in recipes, but may not always have the objective stance to do anything other than guess what lineage an incense comes from.

Madhavadas family incenses often tend to be dry masalas with a very similar base so whether you’re buying Primo or Pure Incense (or maybe Triloka or Ganesha etc), you will start to become quickly familiar with it. The issue with this base is it can be fatiguing in large quantities because it imparts such a similar scent to all of their incenses that they often smell similar even when the note changes. On the other hand this becomes less of an issue when the perfumes are finer. In a line like Temple of Incense, Madhavadas-style masalas are a bit more infrequent but they do occasionally pop up. With an ingredient listing of champa flower and blue lotus, Purple Rain is perhaps not surprising in that it is reminiscent of the Pure Incense Blue Lotus or maybe earlier Triloka lotus incenses, although it is not exactly the same. The champa flower oil seems to make this one quite a bit sweeter than the lotus on its own. It is an intensely floral incense but fortunately without any real off notes. I would guess this one could be easily cloying in larger quantities so it seems best used as an occasional. I do smell a bit of that base Madhavadhas like masala scent but the stick is thin enough to not overpower the perfume.

Radha is one of Temple of Incense’s several rose-fronted incenses and it lists Rose de Mai, Rose Wardia and Rose Absolute, so it’s absolutely no surprise that the Forest Fruits at the end get a bit lost in all that floral wallop even if the obvious intent was to make this a fruitier floral blend. This is a very gorgeous, full-rounded rose charcoal incense, and it feels like the fruitiness gives this a bit more of a cherry or berry-like sub-element, but even with all these strong floral perfumes, part of the base seems slightly more akin to some of the more attar-like elements found in other TOI incenses. I’ve probably gone on record on ORS that I don’t tend to lean to florals as often, but this is the kind of incense that could change my mind on that. I work (or maybe used to work) across from the California State Capitol Park Rose Garden so I have a pretty good idea of what it smells like walking through a garden of them, and while this isn’t exactly going for that kind of thing, it still has enough rose in it to feel pretty authentic. It’s very impressive, very beautiful and an absolute must.

And now we get back to the incense I spoke of in our first installment, the great Sandalwood Extreme that made me absolutely certain I was in a spectacular line of incenses. I will say it again or maybe just for the first time but there is no western Indian incense importer I know of doing better sandalwood incenses than Temple of Incense and it’s not just this one, which is the best of the three, but the other two (Sandalwood and Banaras Sandalwood) are nearly as brilliant (and much more affordable). The only way I can describe in words why these are better is because of the resolution of the oils, they have that “something else” that rises above the merely woody and demonstrates why distillation can often bring qualities out of of the wood that even high quality sandalwood on its own can’t. This is the ultimate sandalwood punch and even its charcoal format can’t get in the way of what a knock out this is, in fact this is one of the rare cases where the oils mask the undesirable elements of a charcoal nearly perfectly. Even the old Shroff sandalwood charcoal doesn’t have this kind of feeling of nostalgia, it just brought me immediately back to a time where I was just discovering incense. Mind you you’re only getting 12 sticks for maybe the highest price in the stick line, but it’s well worth it. Of course you’re not losing much at all going for one of the line’s other sandalwoods (and more of that in later installments). [9/10/21 NOTE: There is a near-equivalent at Absolute Bliss called Natural Mysore Sandal.]

Finally we get to the third of TOI’s thick baton style wonders, the stupendously purple floral Shakti. Rose, halmaddi and exquisite oils indeed. Just like Shiv and Ganesha this is candy-coated floral champa-like goodness at its very best. It sheds purple dust everywhere and is an incense so good I get mild anxiety over losing even a little bit of it. Honestly I think all of these thick sticks are really something of the same family, they all have an internal champa-like sweetness but vary in the floral profile. The rose here isn’t like quite as noticeable as it is in the, say Radha above or the line’s Indian Rose, but it mixes in with a whole scent profile that is tremendously pleasant. I sense some fruit in the mix, a bit of vanilla and a whole sort of floral range (violet? carnation? champa flower?) that would keep me busy for days. If you’re a traditional incense fan, moderns aren’t usually along the same lines but this is the kind of modern incense I can really get behind. Like the Shiv it’s almost akin to the old Dhuni Frangipani scent, an incense that nearly broke my heart when it vanished so maybe now is a good time to stock up. It is a sweet, sugary incense confection.

Anyway we will be taking a little longer of a break on the regular series of Temple of Incense line and of course coming back to them at some point in coming weeks. I believe Stephen will be jumping in as well. But hopefully the last five articles will have given everyone a head start into such a fantastic Indian incense line and these are by no means the end of the really great ones so there will be more to come. Please show this family your support and enjoy the many treasures they have to offer – this is the real deal.

Temple of Incense / Krishna, Om Masala, Oudh, Perky Pandit

Temple of Incense Part 3
Temple of Incense Part 5
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

I began writing this the day after I received my third order from the wonderful Temple of Incense folks across a country and an ocean and am posting a little after my fourth. As you go into the line you realize just how large the scope is. If you have been into Indian incense for a while then a journey through their catalog is like discovering new friends but also rediscovering old ones. I find as much pleasure out of this feeling that wow I have not smelled this scent in something like 25 years as I do coming across something surprisingly fresh and new. This is one thing you discover fairly fast with ToI and that’s this sort of modern approach from a traditional foundation feel. Even when the line goes into fruity incenses or perfumed incenses there’s still this feeling that nothing is synthetic or off, which often allows you to sort of reappraise some modern variations. I’m still sort of mindboggled they’ve managed a line that is well over 50 incenses now. We also continue to to be aware that Temple of Incense and the Happy Hari and associates have a lot of shared scents and will point those out whenever possible, but this gives people options in the US and UK. So onto batch four…

Krishna has a woods, vetivert and musk mix and it may be extremely close to what you would imagine for such a description. To me this is a dyed in the wool Indian traditional that feels like it’s stripped down almost to its bare essentials. In terms of the woods this does have something of a sandalwood presence, although not so much in the sense of the powerful sandalwoods used in the more specific incenses in the line, but a more lighter wood content. But it’s also background for the very clear vetivert and musk mix, a pair that do go fairly well together, earthy and sweet. So overall this is going for something of a more simpler, basic blend and overall it makes it a somewhat lighter and milder affair. It’s an incense that calms rather than stimulates.

In a lot of Indian incense reviews I’ll be able to go hey this one smells like Satya Natural or Honey Dust, or this one reminds me of Mystic Temple. It’s this sort of personal history of having known the masala style through numerous variations sold by all sorts of companies and recognizing similarities in not only recipes but often the dyed end of a bamboo stick that helps to solidify that connection. However, there are also times like with Om Masala where you are smelling something almost painfully familiar where memory just can not provide the link back to history. But this recipe too used to be a very common one and it just brings me right back to they heyday of all the really great champas. In fact Om Masala even has halmaddi resin as an ingredient along with strong woody overtones. So without remembering previous iterations I can say for sure this one is a classic reborn. Maybe it was something of a specifically named spice champa because you get this whole mix of woods, spices, musk and resin sweetness in the mix. But overall if you want to check out something that smells exactly as I remember it from 25 years ago this is a perfect pick. Highly recommended for sure.

I’ve mentioned before that some Temple of Incense scents have a very strong correlation with those in the Happy Hari Line and there’s no question their Oudh is right in the pocket there with the Happy Hari Oud Masala. This agarwood masala is undoubtedly impressive as long as it has this kind of complex oudh oil in the mix and I’d be splitting hairs comparing the two incenses. This is a brash, powerful, spicy and earthy scent that really has to be tried, whichever brand you pick, and unless you want to try everything you might only pick one or the other. But it’s unquestionably an Indian incense essential and while oud masalas are really nothing like Japanese aloeswoods they have a whole range of complexities that make them a different kind of joy. Think of a really high quality cologne with a strong woody profile and you’re getting close. Whether you pick Happy Hari’s Oud masala or this one, it’s an essential for the collection.

And after two blazingly powerful incenses, Perky Pandit and it’s single audumber note seems like a complete change of pace. This is apparently an aromatic from the Indian Fig Tree and it is a very quiet, mild aroma that is really utterly unique and not comparable to anything else. It’s something of a combination of dry, slightly woody, and mildly fruity elements and it really doesn’t remind me so much of the aroma of your regular fig except very fleetingly. It feels like it’s still based in a masala format with champa characteristics and has those elements but they’ve been toned down enough to fit the mildness of the top note. After a few sticks I’m not super sure about this one as while its unique in its overall tone, it doesn’t cut through so much with any sort of distinctiveness. Honestly I’d probably mostly recommend this to someone who wants a quiet more subtle scent, but sure enough if part of your love for incense is getting used to a wide variety of scents than this will surely be a new one for your nose.

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