SAMPLER NOTES: Maroma (all but Patchouli Discontinued), Scented Mountain

In most cases Olfactory Rescue Service is driven by what we like, rather than what we don’t, after all, despite the internet’s evidence to the contrary, my theory is it’s better to walk away from what you don’t like than take swings at it, but even though my purchasing schemes are geared to bringing in what I consider good incense, I do try to branch out. At the same time that Pure-Incense and Purelands hit the shores of the US to great acclaim, so did the incenses of Maroma and the story here doesn’t appear to be quite as pleasant. Where the incenses of the previous companies are definitively and boldly Indian, Maroma’s products, at least the few I’ve sampled here, might have come from anyone with a bag of charcoal punks and a small and indistinguished essential oil collection. Suffice it to say this small smattering of Maroma scents were requested as samples and more or less stopped me dead from investigating any more. Of course that’s not to say I necessarily got the good ones in the group, but I think I got enough of a range to make a rough judgement call.

Maroma’s got a few internal ranges, and the first two scents here are part of their Encense d’Auroville range. At roughly the same time I wrote this I was also evaluating Primo incenses and it was difficult not to compare the two charcoal bases between the companies. I’m not fond of the style at all but at least in Primo there appears to be enough vanilla in the mix to mostly account for the off charcoal notes, in Maroma’s Encense d’Auroville line there’s no such luck. That is it’s not difficult to point at this range as an example of what I tend not to like in incense, essential oil mixes whose better qualities get lost in bitterness and overly pungent and astringent smoke.

The Champak (10/8/21 – Discontinued) in this range is described as an Indian tropical floral with a mix of olibanum resin, benzoin absolute and vanilla. I dug up the ingredients list after experiencing the sample sticks and was perhaps not so surprised to see they didn’t add up with what I thought I was smelling. It’s true, with samples, we do often find a decay in the amount of oil strength, but like lots of synthetic charcoal mixes the images that come to mind are commercial products like suntan lotion and deodorants rather than anything natural. Whatever resinous attributions one might guess from the olibanum and benzoin only seem to manifest in a certain background note and most of the time all you’d notice is the harsh charcoal base smoking like a chimney.

I thought the Encens d’Auroville Patchouli might fare better but the ingredient list also includes vetivert and clove, making this far more blend than a true patchouli stick. After all patchouli alone might be enough to make up for a smoky charcoal base, but as it goes it doesn’t work at all here. In fact this is perhaps the sort of smell many associate negatively with patchouli and thus doesn’t do anyone any favors. Even the charcoal Patchouli sticks done by Primo, which aren’t among even that line’s best incenses, are far better than this one.

We get a little more distinction moving to the Kalki line which at least from the evidence found in Clarity (10/8/21 – Discontinued) seems to be more of a masala than charcoal style and it benefits from following the two E d’A sticks. However, the Clarity mix of clove, orange and nutmeg seems like it would work much better in a hot cup of tea than on this masala base. With so much incense to choose from one wonders why such an oil blend is even needed on a stick and the combination of these strangely verges on a lemongrass scent with the spices being a little too mild. I’m not saying there may not be something to like here, but this doesn’t strike me much as good sort of scent for an incense, I’d probably enjoy a blend in an oil mix in a terra cotta ring a lot more. No doubt this is a scent even the most amateur of oil mixes might come up with accidentally.

The Spa line moves back to charcoals (assuming this is true across the whole line), or at least it does with the New Energy (10/8/21 – Discontinued) blend. Here the essential oil mix seems to be more audacious, with a cast of characters including orange, lemon, basil, peppermint, lavender, cubeb and rosemary. I don’t know cubeb, but at least can fairly say that I can evince the notes of all the rest of these from this incense which is no mean feat. For sure the peppermint is nicely placed and not too strong like it can be, rounding the edges of the blend. The same issues for me are true, this seems to be more effective in an oil or perfume blend than in an incense, but at least it mostly overcomes the charcoal base problems, or at least does more than the E d’A duo.

Moving to the opposite spectrum and partially based on some comment conversations elsewhere, I revisited some of the Scented Mountain (10/8/21 – Scented Mountain still seems to exist, but the site doesn’t show up as safe on my browser, so I’m not linking to it. Likely any agarwood products would have changed a lot since this review.) work of late. My journey with these is that when I first sampled the work of this august company (a project I think we’re all well behind here), devoted to ecologically sustainable Agarwood products, I actually really liked what I got, but upon restock I found myself less lucky. I’ve never been able to tell where my general experience with agarwood incense interfaces with my opinion of the Scented Mountain Grade 1 agarwood, but it seems to be declining even at the same time the agarwood actually seems to be improving. While I think cultivated aloeswood still has a long way to go to be talked about in the same breath as Baieido Hakusui or Ogurayama, there is indeed an almost rustic pleasure burning these sticks or cones (my comments are based on samples of both, in the Grade 1 form). My problem actually isn’t with the resin scent which, while average, is still quite nice, but the bitter almost harsh aspect of the wood the resin has come out of. While you can certainly cut down on these off notes by putting product like this one the heater, it in fact is a much worse aspect when you burn a binder heavy cone.

I should also mention that even in the proper packaging, the few samples I was sent of the sticks actually managed to totally disintegrate in the mail, to 1/8 inch fragment and powder which I actually found quite instructive and hilarious as while Japanese style sticks are easy to break I rarely find that to the be the case when they’re protected. But I think it’s reflective of the weakness of the binder, so one might want to keep an eye on these if you’re an owner so they don’t vibrate to death.


Nippon Kodo / Ka-Fuh / Hinoki + Naturense / Inspired Mind

Aside from the kyara ladder which Ross reviewed in part a little while back, I’m probably not the biggest appreciator nor perhaps the true end user of Nippon Kodo product. Even their aloeswood incenses strike me as weaker than just about every other Japanese company and their moderns can often be bitter and very synthetic smelling. This latter observation could be a good reason why they tend to have a lot of affordable incense lines, but I’d prefer to shell out for quality in just about every case. Of course with every rule there are exceptions.

I’m setting this up because except for their premium incenses, I’ve not bought a Nippon Kodo incense in a very long time and probably don’t see myself doing so in the future, even to complete the two lines that I’m going to be featuring one incense each from in this post. But fortunately, I think I’ll be able to post this “odd and end” review on a high note as these are two of NK’s more pleasant scents.

I’m also not really the end user for smokeless lines. I’ve tried one other Ka Fuh scent, the Aqua, which I more or less reviewed in its smoke version in the New Morningstar line a while back. It’s a apparently a popular incense, but not really my style, even in its smoky version it’s a bit light and unimpressive, perhaps incense for those who find most incense offputting. The Hinoki (Cypress) blend on the other hand is actually quite good, in fact I’ve found myself enjoying it more with every stick. For one thing, I think Cypress tends to be a lighter, evergreen sort of scent so it works well in smokeless form, in fact the best Hinoki incense, Baieido’s version, is also low smoke. It’s a scent kind of hard to pick up if you’re not close to the burn but very pleasant when you pick it up. In comparison to the Baieido, the Ka Fuh version could possibly be slightly more synthetic but it really doesn’t come off that way overall, in fact it may just be slightly sweeter. Overall it’s difficult to say more, it smells like cypress without much of anything else and while I’d say start with a roll of Baieido Hinoki if you can afford it, this is much cheaper and only barely inferior. Unlike so many Morningstar scents, this seems to have some authenticity to it.

A company says a lot about the contents of their line when they set two aside as being natural incenses, it’s almost as if it explicitly casts the rest of their lines as being at least in part synthetic. The Naturense line is one of the two lines Nippon Kodo have labelled as natural, the other being NK Pure. Based on Inspired Mind, a lemongrass and orange scent, as well as the comparable but higher end Kohden line, Naturense seems to be an essential oil mix on wood base blend that bears a whiff of base as much as the oils, even in an oil blend as strongly scented as lemongrass and orange. It does indeed smell natural, not far from a mix of a standard inexpensive sandalwood incense and what you’d smell if you combined lemongrass and orange essential oils together. The lemongrass is dominant like it always is, but the orange does come through, lessing the pungency of the overall scent, probably a smart move. If you’re like me, you won’t need more than the occasional lemongrass incense every so often to mix things up and Inspired Mind does fit the bill as far as this is concerned.

So I think that wraps up almost every NK incense I own, apart from a Morning Star Gold sampler, a range which could be the posterchild for why the cheaper end of Japanese incense isn’t always a good idea and one that might take some time to build up the urge to comment on. On the other hand it won’t be long before I can resist a box of Tokusen Kyara Taikan.