myInsens / myJoy, myMantra, mySensuality, mySerenity, mySpark (Discontinued Line)

[myInsens is a discontinued incense line. – Mike, 6/15/21]

myInsens is a new company in the US offering natural and premium Indian incense. The owner, Kaivan Dave, contacted me last year about the project and after samples of the incense, I’ve been pretty excited for a while to announce the company’s presence, their web site went live not too long ago.

One of the things you start to notice with Indian incense over time is the distribution structure. It is quite possible to think of several incense companies having separate product, but often certain incense companies in India market incenses outside the country and so, for example, the Madhavadas family provide incenses for Primo, Pure Incense and others.  I mention this because myInsens is definitely providing a new scent profile with their first six incenses, one that will be similar to other Indian incense companies, but with variations that make them well worth checking out on their own. Kaivan has struck me as very careful in the quality and styles he is releasing first and as such all of the incenses in the line have done nothing but open up since I started using them.

But not only are the incenses good, the packaging and presentation is particularly notable. The first thing I thought of when I got my first samples and box was simply why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? Because the box the incenses come in is wonderfully crafted for travel, a hinged box with a compartment for an incense holder. Even if you’re the Japanese incense type, I can imagine you’d love a box like this, with just a little bit of arrangement you can load the case for travel and not really have to worry about broken sticks. The only downside to any of this is that $19.99 for 24 sticks of incense and the box might be considered too steep for some, and I might agree if we weren’t dealing with what is essentially a connoisseur level of Indian incense. But I’d still maintain it’s almost worth it for the box alone, it’s that cool.

myJoy is the first of two reddish colored sticks, both essentially florals. I’m often the first person to complain about how poor some Indian florals can be, so I’m also going to rave about them when they’re great. And in many ways what myInsens has done with the floral incense is one of their selling points. myJoy is the type of floral that many companies attempt and few get right, and it is a real credit to myInsens that this is so beautifully balanced, because a hair outside of this balance can really hurt a floral. In the description, we’re given crushed rose petals and olive oil, the latter perhaps being the first time I’ve heard of the ingredient in an incense. The perfume that centers the stick is just incredibly well conceived, with almost real essential oil quality definition. The beauty of walking through a garden is the subtletly of scent, not some sort of perfume drowning session, so it’s so easy to recommend this, its powdery and feminine sweetness has a true delicacy and sense of nature in it. Pure Incense’s Pink Sayli is perhaps roughly in the same style, but I’m not sure anyone’s done it better than this.

The ingredients given for myMantra are ground patchouli leaves and frankincense powder. I also notice a strong sandalwood presence as a base, and the patchouli holding the center. The patchouli tends to the sweet, I’d guess due to the frankincense powder which gives the overall scent a fruitiness you don’t tend to find in most patchouli incenses. Due to so many elements at play the overall bouquet has hints of vanilla and orange in the mix, which remind me of spicier teas as well as certain colognes. But like all the incenses in this line the effects are quite gentle and always subtle and you never forget their are organics at work, all of which wonderfully unfold duing the burn.

While the whole line is good, if there was a standout in it it would have to be the absolutely world class mySensuality. Talk about raising a rose (and, as the description unveils, raspberry) incense to a new bar. How the company managed to get a rosy incense this authentic at a reasonable price is quite frankly almost miraculous territory. Like with myJoy this has floral definition that you usually only see in the high end Japanese lines (like Shoyeido Floral World). While other incenses in the line have a bit more halmaddi, this is still essentially something of a champa style, balanced to the point that criticisms fall away. The rose/raspberry mix is a real triumph for the company, so rich it almost has wine-like notes. Make sure this one’s in your first sample pack.

mySerenity moves back to familiar territory. This is definitely a champa incense, with what seems like a very nice halmaddi and honey mix. We’re given both lavender and vanilla as ingredients, although the former is certainly not very loud, which I generally think is a good move. The style is quite similar in many ways to Satya Natural, Honey Dust and others and thus is perhaps a bit on the generic side as a scent while still nailing the quality end of it. In fact if there’s any criticism to be made, any stick this thick with gum can be slightly problematic on lighting, but once it’s going it should be fine. The ingredients are nice and fresh and this is essentially a vanilla/balsamic mix, quite old school at heart.

mySpark nearly combines the spicyness of myMantra and the ambery subnotes of  myJoy with the champa qualities of mySerenity and indeed the ingredients given are patchouli oil, halmaddi and sandalwood. Like myMantra, this is something of a spicy, somewhat cologne-like masculine scent. Once again the perfume/oils being used in this stick are nicely defined, including a light touch of sweetness, in fact the way the florals and woods mix is lightly reminiscent of a good oud. This is the kind of champa I tend to gravitate to on a personal level and found this stick quite bracing and enjoyable.

When I got to writing notes on myZen, I realized I had gotten some aromatic fatigue, particularly because it is the lightest and airiest incense in the catalog. It was one of those moments where I was struck by how careful the incense making is here. In fact this seems to be almost the perfect meditation incense, not so loud it will distract you. The ingredients are sandalwood, halmaddi champa flower, the sandalwood the most pronounced ingredient in the middle with the champa flower playing lightly around the edges (my first impression was violet). Of all the scents in the catalog, this seems to be the least oil heavy.

Perhaps the best news about myInsens is they’re already looking forward to new scents, in fact I believe I was told there were four more on the way. This is all excellent news, because the combination of quality incense with an intelligent and modern style of packaging is all too rare in the field today. Also it should be mentioned that if you sign up for their newsletter you can get 10% off on your order. I highly recommend any incense lover who likes to share to give a sampler a try, I find it worth it for the box/holder combination alone. That it comes with extremely good incense makes it a perfect package.

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Gonesh / Vanilla, Cinnamon, Raspberry

This is the first write up where I feel like I’m putting my boxing gloves on and getting ready to rumble. I picked up a package of Gonesh a year or so before starting the incense resource at Mike’s Prattle, when I’d walked into a local store one day and found myself a little weary at picking up another box of Nag Champa or another common Shrinivas scent, so even though I knew it would be trouble, I picked up this three in one package of the dreaded “charcoal dipped” style. When I first tried them, I wasn’t at all impressed, but it’s nothing like my post-Japanese incense nose, which actually prefers the smell of burning California forests to these scents.

There appears to be very little natural about these scents. One page has the claim that Gonesh incense has the “highest charcoal content of any brand on the market,” a statement that will make many of us scratch our heads over the idea that this might be a good thing. I’d argue that this, in part, is exactly what makes their incense so unpleasant. No matter what “high quality raw materials” they use, very little about any of these incenses strikes me as remotely natural, rather the aromas are more like air fresheners or other synthetic oils and perfumes. And this is why this is likely to be the last review an incense of this style here (no doubt I’ve broken one of my own rules already).

The Vanilla reminds me of the smell of extract in the bottle, but that’s only the top note, the rest of the oil is more in the hair or bottle spray mode. The charcoal’s probably the most hidden here, but don’t take that for invisibility, it’s still there with its characteristic abrasiveness. This may be a cleansing scent in its own way, but so is 2 oz of Listerine. In particular, the finish on this one was brutal. With all three of these, it took maybe a week in between for me to brave another light, just so I could finish my notes up. And in most cases the stick was put out after about 2-3 minutes when I started to feel like I was choking.

The Cinnamon has an oil like a cinnamon-flavored toothpick made out of nuclear material. The charcoal here is even more harsh. While it’s obviously more affordable than most cinnamon incenses, a comparison of this to, say, Baieido’s Koh is as one-sided as the Lakers playing your local high school team. I’d as soon have this scent coming from the bucket of hot water and cleaner I use to wash a car.

The Raspberry is the least unpleasant of the three. It reminds me of taking Raspberry Bubblicious gum, especially that gooey, aromatic center they have. The charcoal’s still harsh but it doesn’t conflict with the oil as badly as the Cinnamon. As the stick continued to burn the aroma turned more to something like raspberry cough syrup and the smoke got quite cloying. While the California fires at the moment probably have something to do with it as well, my eyes were starting to sting after a few minutes.

To say the least, the charcoal dipped incense stick kind of ruins the idea of incense for many people, it’s far more common than it deserves to be and belies the idea that there are really excellent incenses out there that have none of this sort of harshness or clouds of choking smoke. To say the least, these are among the most unpleasant scents I’ve ever tried, although to be fair they’re a little smoother than other charcoal lines (not counting, of course, some of the Baieido charcoals which are in a different league). I’d recommend not only avoiding this but the whole style in general.

Nippon Kodo / Yume-No-Yume (Dream of Dream) / Bamboo Leaf, Butterfly, Fern (Discontinued), Fiddlehead Fern, Goldfish, Horse-Tail Plant (Discontinued), Japanese Morning Glory, Maple Leaf, Pink Plum Flower, Whooping Crane)

Nippon Kodo seem to be the largest Japanese incense company, especially when looking at all their various lines and collaborations. From their very inexpensive Morning Star Line all the way to the Most Exceptional Quality kyara line, the company has a wealth of different incenses, being one of the few Japanese companies to also have a bamboo stick line. In fact only Shoyeido has a similar wide range in styles and tastes.

As incense is generally a niche interest in the United States and usually allied with new age shops, there tends to be strong trends towards smokeless incense and all natural incense. From research, I think it’s very difficult to tell where a company diverges from using all natural ingredients to using organic if not entirely natural ingredients all the way to the art of perfumery where synthetic oils and ingredients are often taken for granted. Having wandered too often into the wake of mainstream and heavily synthetic colognes and perfumes, it’s easy to get turned off by the idea.

As far as I can tell one of the identifying features of an incense that has a healthy share of synthetic ingredients is how strong a stick smells without burning it. Natural ingredients by their lonesome don’t stand out very often from Japanese sticks, especially sandalwood and aloeswood heavy sticks, which is a far cry from sampling fresh Indian masalas. Nippon Kodo’s Yume-No-Yume line is a good example of an incense whose fresh stick could nearly scent a room without lighting it.

This line is rather elegantly presented for the modern consumer. The gift packs come with incense and a porcelain holder (both also sold separately) that mirrors the packaging art, usually a white background with slight Japanese art that reflects the nature of the incense. Yume-no-yume also comes in both stick and coil form, and while I haven’t tried the coils yet, the scents do seem eminently suited to that form (if maybe too much for smaller rooms). The only thing to watch out for in the packaging is the plastic holder that contains the incense and mini burner, it’s far too easy to cause a spill opening the holder (counterintuitively) the wrong way. Other than that bit of warning that becomes mitigated once you get used to it, I actually really like the packaging.

If I remember correctly, Nippon Kodo’s Fragrance Memories phases certain incenses in and out every so often and I believe they do something similar with this Yume-No-Yume line as I’ve happened across one incense that seems deleted (for now). Currently the line has nine different blends and the least impressive of these incenses is fine indeed.

Pink Plum Flower contains key notes of white plum, red plum and willow leaf bud. This listing of the ingredients will automatically give one the impression there’s something different at work here, as I don’t have a clear idea of what each of these three notes might be like. Like the whole line, the stick is strong and pungent, far more so than any natural Japanese plum flower incenses, most of which I’ve tried have been very mellow and light. In fact that sort of subtlety is what prevents me from being totally behind this blend, it may be the least distinctive blend in the range.

Goldfish is the other incense in the line that doesn’t quite come up the rest. While I’m generally very impressed at the way certain notes are blended for effect, I find it pretty hard to get used to the mint/watermelon/jasmine blend, especially with the whole water motif at work here. I’d almost forgotten jasmine was involved but the other two are quite strong. It’s definitely unusual, but a bit like a symphony not quite in synch.

Butterfly was the first blend I tried and won me over fairly quickly. Here, the key notes, geranium, vanilla and cinnamon all blend almost flawlessly into a scent that reminds me more of amber than any of the other blends. Part of it is not terribly far from Shoyeido’s Horin/Nijo scent, but as a far more perfumed scent this is much stronger in impact and not as subtle.

Bamboo Leaf might be my favorite of the whole line, it appeals to my taste for sweet/green and patchouli-esque hints, despite the fact it doesn’t appear to have patchouli as an ingredient. The green tea is way out in front and surprisingly the yuzu citrus and lemon flower notes don’t really give that much of an impression of a lemon tang to the tea, I get the impression they mostly add to the complexity. This is probably the one I’d start with first if you’re new to the line.

Maple Leaf is another favorite in the line, its hints of persimmon, tonka bean (think vanilla), and ambergris blend perfectly into a rich and somewhat fresh scent. While this doesn’t strike me as quite as amber-like as Butterfly, it’s obviously by ingredient in that general class, but the name of the incense isn’t misleading either, with some hints that will likely remind you of a pancake breakfast, partially due to just how sweet it is.

Whooping Crane might be the least intense blend in the line and you can see why the choice is made. With a winter/snow motif, there’s a very slight mint hint to what is a rather perfectly blended combo of camellia, musk and frankincense. I detect the musk at times, but frankincense can often be a tough call since quality can vary so much. As far as a packaging theme to incense scent relationship, this is about as spot on in the line as it can get. Very sultry.

For fans of fruit scents, you can probably do no better than Fiddlehead Fern, which takes berry intensity into its own level. Lots of fruity incenses strike me as pretty synthetic or unsatisfying, so it’s kind of a jolt to find out that the one I like the best might be the most synthetic in the bunch. Very fruity and rich with the raspberry middle almost, if not quite obliterating the black currant and leaf bud of peach notes. Quite impressive overall.

My second favorite in the line is probably the Morning Glory, partially as it strikes me as YNY’s most exotic blend. The green banana in particular is fabulous and the vetivert gives it most of its Eastern tinge, almost musky and dense. I’m used to bergamot as being slightly citrus-y, but it’s kind of hard to detect here. Above all, the oil scent is just a little unusual and it really adds quite a bit of character, although at the odd time it might seem like everything clashes – only for a moment.

The strangely named Horse-Tail Plant is not likely to win over the western consumer, but it ought to as it’s the weirdest incense in the line. For one thing, it’s the only incense with only two named notes, strawberry flower and oil-seed rape blossoms. Neither name gives any hint to the blend involved here which is almost beyond description. The small print says “Fruity-green. The refreshingly bitter scent of new leaf buds in the moning dew.” Bitter might be the only descriptor that resonates with me, but again it’s a bitter I’ve not quite experienced before.

The deleted line is called Fern, and I assume Fiddlehead Fern was its replacement. You can see why in some ways as other incences in the line capture similar qualities better. The notes are maple leaf, yuzu-citrus and bitter orange and if you scroll up you can see all but the latter note in other blends. Here they don’t seem to blend quite as well, although I may think differently after another sample or two.

Overall, this is a really neat line. Whatever you might consider synthetic, the scents here are clean, smooth and not headache inducing in any way, they’ve certainly changed my mind about the potential of the meeting of perfumery and blending arts. And they’re also very affordable, a package of 12 sticks or 5 coils (without holder) running you about $6-$7. I’m actually looking forward to the next switch out to see what they come up with next.