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.


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!