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.

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Nikhil / Pineapple Champa, Strawberry Champa, Vanilla Champa (Discontinued Line)

[This line appears to be discontinued – Mike, 6/18/21]

Apple Champa, Banana Champa, Cherry Champa
Coconut Champa, Musk Champa, Patchouli Champa

My opinion of these “flavored” champas has actually degenerated quite a bit, not only since I first tried them several years ago, but also since I started writing about them. If there’s anything obvious about the whole series it’s that in every case the same generic nag champa stick (which like every other company isn’t as good as it was a decade ago) is dipped into a fragrance oil, likely synthetic and inferior even in cases where one doesn’t have to pay great expense to get a good scent. Some of these scents have to be synthetic, particularly in the fruit category, as essential oils of many of these do not exist and have to be approximated. And you can often tell as one’s opinion might be fairly positive at first, but by the end of the stick the one dimensional nature of the scents starts to cloy and becomes bothersome. And in this trio’s case at least two of these are scents you can find elsewhere in much improved fashion. So these are definitely scents, especially when you consider your minimum order is 100g of each scent, you want to try first.

Pineapple Champa was actually quite superb in the days where the champa “punks” where high quality and made with halmaddi. The rich honey and vanilla like scent merged quite nicely with all of the fruit scents and there was a time when this scent, the Apple and the Banana were all favorites of mine (the Banana in particular smelled like Banana bread, a fabulous scent), despite the use of synthetic oils (which might have been better then as well). Even to this day burning a stick of the current version is fairly nostalgic for me. The Pineapple oil here is very stylized, more like pineapple candy or flavoring than the sharp and pungent scent of the fruit, mellower and almost distinctly synthetic. Perhaps that’s for the best in some ways, as you really don’t want the more citrus-like elements of the fruit to come out in a champa blend, but the result still lacks distinction. In fact had this been shunted into the Shrinivas line (ironically this has actually been the case – although these pictures did not originate at Essence and thus are not filed on the Shrinivas page) and given a different name it would probably fit in quite nicely in between some of the company’s 100g boxes.

Likewise the Strawberry Champa merges generic nag champa with fragrance oil and this one in particularly seems to burn surprisingly long. And this is unfortunate as the longer it does burn the more obvious the synthetic nature of the oil becomes until it starts to grate. It’s actually kind of easy to pick out as strawberry is so common as a scent and flavor addition to so many air fresheners and food products. And by comparison it also doesn’t hold up, both Blue Pearl’s version and especially Fred Soll’s (the latter a natural approximation of the scent) are much better, neither one holding the deep red coloring this one has.

Finally the very common Vanilla Champa scent. Particularly with amber this is a plentiful and excellent Indian durbar (Mystic Temple, Incense from India and Blue Pearl all do superior versions), unfortunately Nikhil’s is one of its lesser renderings. Like with the Coconut champa the off scents of the oil come through much more than the central scent, making it a very cloying stick in the end. For a scent like this you want your vanilla to be drier, particularly when a champa base is going to impart some vanilla anyway, here it’s overkill to the nth degree, distracting rather then being pleasurable.

Overall and despite the synthetic oils being used here, I do think much of the problem is the champa base being used in this whole series is rather dull, much closer to, say, Goloka than Bam. When halmaddi was more plentiful it added a depth to these that made up a lot for the oils, which now seem responsible in carrying most of the aroma. In every case I’d request samples before ordering a full batch of these as in nearly every case the sticks are quite thin, so you’re probably getting at least 100 sticks in every group and that may well be a lot more than you’d want.

And Happy Thanksgiving everyone, I’ll see you all next week!

SAMPLER NOTES: Shochikudo, Shorindo Kobiana Line (Discontinued), Tahodo / Sekizen Koh (Discontinued)

This is a slight summary of some of the more recent modern Japanese incense imports, including one traditional scent and another on the fence. [9/28/2021 – Please note that although the Shorindo Kobiana line has been discontinued, I have added one link below to what looks like remaining stock.]

Like many of the new imports we’re seeing there are quite a few new companies making their entry into the US Market, including an incense from Shochikudo called Kirari or Ocean Breeze. This one has a rather huge list of ingredients given as: rose, lavender, jasmine, ylang ylang, iris, lemon, bergamot, blue cypress, sandalwood, vanilla beans and oak moss. It’s almost like a starter list of essential oils and with a sampler I’d be hard pressed to say that any of these particular ingredients stand out more than any other except for, perhaps, the vanilla bean (I get an impression of some amber as well). This is an incense generally in the vein of Nippon Kodo’s Aqua, a floral mix with a distinct seaside sort of aroma, not quite briny, but a more upbeat and pleasant approximation, like a mix of garden and beach. It’s going to be only for those who really go for a sample as with a box of 200 sticks, it’s one you’ll want to be sure you really like at first. I found it quite pleasant, but my experience with Aqua was the same and I found it quite cloying over time so I’d be hesitant even though I think this is a better incense.

Shorindo has been extremely active on the exportation of front after entering the US market with their Chabana Green Tea mix, in fact since I received the following samples, they’ve added two more incenses in the Chabana line. The first of the four samples here is the most traditional incense in this whole group, a sandalwood and cinnamon scent called Wakyo. I love cinnamon so I found this instantly a winner, it’s not a particularly complicated incense, but it differs slightly from the traditional sense in that it seems polished and possibly made partially out of oils or perfumes. But give cinnamon essential oil is quite cheap, it all comes off quite authentic and just a bit stronger than the average Japanese traditional blend that doesn’t use oils like, say, Baieido Koh. It’s somewhat reminiscent of incenses like Shoyeido Horin’s Hori-kawa or even Kunjudo Karin or its Gyokushodo analog Kojurin in scent, maybe in the middle of this group in terms of a traditional to modern axis.

Shorindo has also brought over three perfume incenses in a line called Kobiana. These are definitely far to the modern style and seem to exist to carry over previously created perfumes, although they seem a little different in that they’re not quite smokeless. I doubt my impressions are going to be particularly useful, so as an addendum I’d like to refer you over to Sprays of Blossoms, Curls of Smoke for a much more informed review before I take a clumsy stab at these.

All three of these sticks, despite the color names, seem to be a dark blue color. The Kobiana Yellow Cute is created to be reminiscent of Etro’s Magot perfume and the notes given are, on the top, bergamot, lemon, jasmine and iris; lavender and cloves in the middle; and patchouli, cedar, vanilla and musk at the base. Like with the Kirari, I have trouble picking these apart although at least I can distinguish this scent from the other two in this series as being distinctly floral and very reminiscent of the types of perfumes you run into being worn in the US. As is the case, I tend to get as much of the alcohol or synthetic scent as I do the florals and completely miss any of the elements supposedly in the base with, perhaps, the iris, lavender and jasmine the most obvious scents to me.

I have a lot of trouble telling the Kobiana Red Elegant and Kobiana Blue Sweet apart, but both strike me as fruit and florals, and like the Kirari above, both are somewhat reminiscent of Nippon Kodo’s Aqua in that they both have an almost watery like scent. The Red is reminiscent of Chanel Chance perfume, the Blue Etro’s Anice. The Red lists pink pepper, lemon and pineapple on top; hyacinth, jasmine and iris at the heart (likely where I’m getting the Aqua similarity from); and amber, patchouli, vetiver and white musk in the base. Strangely enough from this mix I get watermelon, cyclamen and the listed jasmine, but it’s such a light scent that with a sample it’s really hard to break it down. Similarly scented, the Blue lists Brazilian rosewood, anise and bergamot; the middle notes iris, jasmine, anise and garden dill; and the base notes amber, musk and vanilla. I’m not sure if the note similarities between these two incenses account for why I can barely tell them apart, but for some reason I wasn’t getting much anise or rosewood and still felt it was mostly watery, fruity and floral. In the end I had to separate the two and test them at different times just to confirm for myself I hadn’t accidentally gotten the same sample twice and to maybe convince myself I don’t quite have the nose for moderns like these.

Like Shochikudo, Tahodo has currently exported only one incense to the US, although similar to Shorindo Wayko, this is something of a modern/traditional blend. In this case Sekizen Koh is clearly something of a perfumed sandalwood stick and not authentic in terms of a pure sandalwood, but it makes up for it with a nice blend of clove, nutmeg and slight floral and citrus hints. It tends to the slightly sweet and in another life could have easily been added to, say, one of Daihatsu’s modern lines. Like most perfumed incenses I’m not sure how long I’ll last in terms of appreciation, but my initial samples were extremely pleasant and I liked it right away, especially due to the attractive nutmeg subnote.

More in the next installment including pairs from Nihon Senko Seizo, Saraike Kunbutsado and Scents of Japan.