Bosen / Hoi-An Aloeswood, Refining

So I had meant to sweep up these Bosen scents. I think for the most part ORS has covered many of this Taiwan-based line’s incenses through the years but occasionally they have added a new (ish) one like the Hoi-An Aloeswood, which is basically an ambergris-infused aloeswood and one we hadn’t reviewed.

This one’s a real treat from my perspective and the company appears to have matched the ambergris with a decent level aloeswood so you can equally experience the notes of the wood as well as the salty goodness of ambergris (also be sure not to close the link after the first sentence.) This stick of course reminds me of Ross and his “souked” agarwood, which this certain resembles in many ways. Anyway this is simply a match made in heaven, where some of Bosen’s lower end aloeswoods on their own can be average, the mix with ambergris just gives you a whole host of notes to experience during a burn. It’s honestly near the top of my favorite Bosens.

Refining Incense was probably left out of reviews all those years ago by accident as my check on Amazon shows I’ve ordered it twice. This is one I mentally classify with their more Tibetan-style incenses like in this group. Refining Incense is a mix of agarwood, white sandalwood, styrax, ghanten khampa, several Tibetan Dharma medicines and nectars, and binder. However, it really seems to be the styrax resin that stands out, and at 35% it is more than double the amount of any other ingredients. So the overall incense has a very strong and distinct resinous note with the agarwood, sandalwood and ghanten khampa (a Tibetan wormwood) making up much of the incense’s back notes. Most Bosen Tibetans have some sort of fruity-resin like mix that distinguishes them from the usual Tibetan incenses, not to mention the tensile strength of these sticks is certainly stronger. In many ways this actually reminds me a little of the Pythoncidere, although it seems to have some floral and other aspects that incense doesn’t have. But Bosen always made these to smell fresh, high altitude and distinctive and they’re all really enjoyable, there are none of the cheap wood aspects you get in lower tier Nepali/Tibetan incenses in Bosen products.

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Kunjudo / Kan Ken Koh / Breath, Sleep

Early in 2021 about when I reopened ORS I covered an interesting new incense Japan Incense had gotten in stock called Kan Ken Koh/Healing. This was an interesting charcoal-based mix of oils packaged in these neat little glass test tubes. As it turns out this incense is part of a series from which Japan Incense has turned up two new ones, Sleep and Breath. With a bit more data one can only come to the conclusion that these are really essential oil mixes rather than what you usually see in traditional Japanese sticks, and almost feel like they could have been targeted at a more new age or even co-op sort of audience. As such, they’re quite different than what you’d normally expect.

Breath lists magnolia kobus, eucalyptus oil, artemesia princeps and borneol as ingredients, with the eucalyptus being the focus. You absolutely get that eucalyptus leaf oil scent from this burn, in fact it’s a bit tea-like in a way and I’d assume the artmesia (mugwort) probably helps get it there as well, moving the overall aroma in an herbaceous direction. The borneol content seems rather small in comparison, hanging just onto the edges and the magnolia seems to be used more to ground this in a friendlier direction rather than being a feature on its own. It’s a neat stick overall because of its herbal qualities and quite natural smelling, definitely recommended for those who enjoy eucalyptus. That tree’s sort of slightly bitter and unique scent has really been given justice by this stick.

Sleep lists cedarwood, chamomile, thyme and hops, something of a very unusual mix I would guess; however, the link between chamomile tea and a bit of drowsiness seems fairly common in US herbal tea culture as well. Overall Sleep isn’t terribly different than Breath but where Breath seemed to have some high resolution oils in the mix, Sleep seems a bit more dialed back, perhaps intentionally. Cedarwood would actually not be the kind of aroma I’d imagine would help me sleep and it’s fairly strong here, but the rest of the herbs seem like they’re pulling it all a bit more in the right direction and it feels like that thyme and hops mix gives the edge of the scent a bit of luster it might otherwise be missing. But of the two in the series this feels less individual and realized than the others in the sense that the other two aromas really pop out at you while this one feels a bit more blended.

Mermade Magickal Arts + Esprit de la Nature / The Mothers – Ancient Winter Remembrance, Emerald Temple – Katlyn’s Kyphi “Green”

So right about when we turned to ORS holiday time, Mermade Magickal Arts went all festive on us and released a bunch of really yummy new treats. I love all of Katlyn’s work but I might have particular favorites in the whole axis of evergreen/green/winter seasonal incenses that she does and so it was impossible for me not to make an order, and then when I got everything wonderful in, I’m like oh my god how do I share what I am experiencing and write about these on holiday time when a lot of Mermade blends rocket out the door in a few weeks time (or sometimes before I can even write anything). Well I’ll give at least these first two a shot, and although this might not be up to usual review standards, for sure these incenses are up to the usual high Mermade (and Esprit de la Nature) standards. These are two really wonderful incenses.

But let’s first start with one that a periodical and greatly admired contributor to the Mermade catalog has created. As many may be aware of, Be en Foret of Esprit de La Nature is also one of the great artists of heatable incense out there and her new blend The Mothers – Ancient Winter Remembrance is an absolute triumph of the style, one of the finest conifer incense blends ever made. I am still marveling over the complexity, beauty and triumph of this stunning incense, it is literally not to be missed. Look at these ingredients: balsam fir (Abies balsamea) bark, needles, resin, extract; Amanita muscaria mushroom; juniper (Juniperus virginiana) berries; spruce (Picea rubra) needles; hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) needles and extract; cedar (Thuja occidentalis) tips; mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) flowering tops; rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus) leaf extract; tree mosses (Psuedoevernia spp and Usnea spp); pinion pine (Pinus edulis) resin; and poplar (Populus tremoides) buds. All of these ingredients are bound with black elderberries (Sambucus nigra) and homemade hydromel (mead) and mixed with the Amanita muscaria mushrooms.

So the first thing one must look at is that in the overall sense of things we’re usually used to pine scents, perhaps balsamic scents and so forth when we talk about evergreens and conifers. It’s that experience of walking through a forest in cool mountainous air and experiencing the whole unified scent that so many plants combine to create. But there are so many different sorts of plants being used in this one that the aroma becomes so complex it actually starts to become somewhat kyphi-esque in its profile. I mean just sitting here after a second heat and trying to describe everything that goes through my head as I experience this is virtually impossible. First without any listing of something like frankincense, this still has a very resinous scent that one must chalk up to the various tree extracts and materials. The Mothers has a very pleasant, somewhat spicy fruitiness in the mix that is amazingly enjoyable, but this mix isn’t facile, it is deeply complex, aged and beautiful. I smell orange peel and marmalade, caramel, honey and wine, and where Katlyn’s green incenses tend to speak the voice of the Sierra Nevadas with a much greener finish, Be’s has its own unique character that is separate enough that you are likely to find both different species of the same genus. I’m not sure I can speak quite to how something like the amanita speaks through the scent, but the incense does feel like a conglomerate of smaller voices and there is a slightly psychedelic edge on all of this that adds to the choir’s unity. It is that sense of mycorrhizal fungi as a symbiosis of plant and fungi and, as the aroma spreads, human life as well.

Sort of in the reverse (or maybe inverse?) direction of this is Katlyn’s Emerald Temple, a “green” kyphi. One of the reasons I found this fascinating in the description is I sort of imagine kyphis more as brown, purple, or maroon, so I really liked the idea, given Kat’s skill with greeny goodness. The ingredients on this one, always a big list with kyphis, include fir balsam raw resin, green frankincense (Sacra of Oman), copal blanco, fir balsam Absolute, Cedar (Thuja) essential oil, Benzoin Essential oil (molecular distillation), and Chios Mastic. All dusted in green fragrant Arbor vitae (green cedar) powder. I would guess this kyphi is made with the production techniques of the previous kyphi we reviewed. Like some green mixes this also crosses over into lime-like territory, particularly due to the green frankincense and some element of the copal. My grandmother and a few other members of my family used to live in Key Largo for many years and could whip up a great key lime pie, which is what this scent reminds me a lot of with that mix of lime and sweetness. Even something like a lime Jolly Rancher kind of captures that front note. Of course this notable green frankincense note is really just the lead for that typical melange of caramel, wine-like, raisin tinged kyphi base, something that tends to remind me of autumn, except the lime pushes it all into different territory. It’s a nice little divergence from the kyphi norm and a cool little experiment that’s well worth looking into if you like the kyphis that come out of this venerable outfit.

But even as I come to a close here, I really want to remind folks to act fast. I just realized that Katlyn’s stupendously great Lord of the Rings inspired incense Elvish has already gone out of stock, and I can only imagine these two and the wonderful Southern/Central/native American inspired Lucida and the Tibetan inspired Golden Tara are soon to follow. These incenses, as always, show Mermade on the very cutting edge of cross-cultural experimentation with incense scent and culture and I often can not write fast enough to keep up with their demand and in many ways that’s a good thing as it shows their great appeal.

Tanak Thupten Ling Monastery / Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3, Grade 4, Grade 5

Any time I see a new (more accurately, new to me or ORS) monastery or incense company with grades on their incenses, it’s unlikely that I’m going to like all of them. First of all you have to take a look at the pricing, while not forgetting that sometimes stick length and even thickness can play a part in cost. Honestly for the most part, price decreases down grades tend to be fairly gradual. Mindroling is a good example of a graduated sort of scale and Nado Poizokhang used to have something like 6 grades that were available, although that seems no longer the case. Grades don’t always mean an indication of decreasing quality as the numbers rise, but they often do. So you tend to expect a #1 is just simply going to be a better incense than #5, not to mention more pricey.

None of this is really the case in this wonderful line of Tanak Thupten Ling Monastery incenses, or at least as the grades go down you’re not left thinking the lower incenses are worth skipping. Where I often dip into a sampler and then only buy a roll or two that I like, I went with the #1 and #3 first and then over time decided to get the rest. It doesn’t hurt that four of the five come in really beautifully designed cardboard rolls. Once again we must tip a hat to the great incense-traditions.ca for continuing to expose us to the many fine treasures of Tibet.

These are all wonderful, classy, complex and unique incenses that you come to expect from the area. The ingredients list in all of them are white sandalwood, wormwood, saffron, nutmeg, cloves and cypress;, although, you should note right away that the incenses vary a lot more than just what this list is telling you. Grade 1 is unquestionably the line’s treasure. Where later sticks get longer, Grade 1 is a modest sized stick popping with aromatic complexity. It’s literally beautiful and arresting from the first light and immediately popped up into my top 10 Tibetan incenses, it’s just that good. Repetitive burning has not changed my mind on this. Every ingredient in that list can be found here, popping with high resolution and sitting right next to each other, it’s got fine woods, great tanginess, that sense of herbal wildness you get from the wormwood and so much more. It has an aromatic intensity that even a lot of other monastery incenses don’t have. Just now I noticed some almost like spice rack sort of side note, peppery and piquant, which I hadn’t even noticed in the first five or six sticks. I love to use the word kaleidoscope when it comes to incenses like this that are so resolute and intricate, you still notice new things about them as you go. Incredible incense, extremely highly recommended.

Grade 2 changes quite dramatically and it’s funny of the five grades here this is the one I’ve found hardest to get used to. It brings out the more dangerous qualities of the wormwood a bit more so that it runs close to, say, some of the Dzongsar monastery incenses. It goes for a much drier profile than the Grade 1 and seems to not be quite as complex, although if you concentrate on it a bit you do still notice that the ingredient resolution is still pretty high. It feels like a lot of the spice content is a lot more dialed back so that the overall profile ends up being a lot more herbal, in fact there’s something of a grassiness or hay-like scent in that would seem a lot more barnyard if it wasn’t just completely missing any musk. Had I just experienced this incense as a sample on its own, I might have foregone a roll, but in the grade scheme of the entire Tanak Thupten Ling line, it’s actually kind of fascinating the way it fits in and contrasts with the other grades. And as you get used to it you realize that the overall dryness and herbal content hides a bit of the depth that experience will bring out with use. This is not what I call a Western friendly incense overall, but nor is it cheap or low quality. Perhaps its defining strength is that like with the Grade 1 it has a definite wood contour in the middle. But make no mistake this one has a learning curve.

Grade 3 is an incense that actually reminds me a little of my extreme favorite monastery incense Wara. I’m actually starting to feel like I go through an entire package of Wara between every mention of it and the desire to sing its praises threatens to take over sometimes, even from this review. Part of the similarity is there is some crossover with Wara with whatever makes up this sort of almost tarry blackened resin-like element in both incenses. Grade 3 veers away from some of the deeper, more complex and almost undefinable characteristics in Wara but increases some similar, more woody and evergreen elements that serve more as side notes in the Wara. The wormwood is much more subsumed in this incense, much more of a side note, and the cypress and spices are more obvious than they were in the Grade 2. So despite the same ingredients list, you’re talking about a third, completely different incense in this range. Naturally I liked this a lot and notice that it’s the one TTL incense that’s out of stock as I write this. Anyway some other notes in this are a bit of clay, peat, and juniper and in the end has some level of a fresher forest-y note somewhere in the middle that gives it some character. It’s wonderful stuff and the second one here I would recommend unequivocally. Not sure there are a lot of Grade 3s this good and there’s a bonus in that from this grade on, the sticks get a bit longer.

Grade 4 is maybe the first one in the line that starts to feel like there’s some level of ingredient shift as well as some level of similarity to one of the higher incense grades, but it’s still a remarkably strong incense. It’s fairly akin to the Grade 3 in that sort of dark, somewhat resin-heavy feel, but there feels to me less wood and a bit more heavy an emphasis on the spices. There’s a net tangy sort of thing that often shows up somewhere in the clove, nutmeg and cinnamon territory and it’s a level of spice that you really don’t get in the first three grades. In fact, if you step away and come back you can feel the wormwood a bit more, although not as crackly and herbal on top like it is in a higher resolution, more just like a bit of the Tibetan funk. I like the way this blend tends to merge with Grade 3’s darker profile. I will say that my expectations on this had me thinking I’d get tired of it, but the stick did the absolute opposite and continued to surprise me with reuse. Honestly at about $15 it’s quite decently priced and really doesn’t have the same sort of quality drops that, say, Mindroling does when it reaches its Grade 4.

The price of Grade 5 drops quite a bit to $12. But imagine simply if you did not know this was a grade 5 and was just evaluating it as a new Tibetan incense at this price. I think you would find it remarkably good. What is interesting about it is unlike the previous four grades, this incense seems to be more of that salty sort of blend you find in Holy Land and numerous other Tibetan classics except the herbal quality of the wormwood weaves its way in that blend which makes it a little unique. I think a lot of the more heavier wood aspects you find in the previous two grades are dialed back for this blend. And it actually feels like the muskier qualities are more active than in the previous four as well. So I would definitely just completely throw out the grading system at this point because this is really as good as any of the previous incenses or better, except the Grade 1, which is in a class of its own. Honestly in a lot of ways its like getting a slight variation on a big long stick roll of the Holy Land grade 2 except with a valid alteration in personality. One thing I really liked about this one on reuse was just how complex it is, how arresting the burn is. There’s no feeling at all along the TTL line that cheap wood filler is being used to replace quality at all. Its the capstone to an absolutely terrific, fascinating monastery line – a bravo to incense-traditions.ca for finding more new and interesting scents for us to try.

Baigu Temple / Medicine Buddha Backflow Cones

The Baigu Temple Medicine Buddha Backflow Cones come in a nice little stylish pouch. Unlike the last two cones I covered (Ba’er Qude and Ganden), these are not red but a tan color and have a very different profile. The cones have the same listed ingredients as the stick incense: lavender, wormwood and sandalwood. So I think one can assume that the idea is to have two formats of the same incense, the biggest difference is that these make the waterfalls in the neat little backflow burners. However to my nose the cone format does change things around a bit. The wormwood isn’t really as present in this format and the sandalwood is a lot more intense, which may say something about how the base of the incense has been altered to support the cone format. I wrote that the Baigu stick has a bit of a funky note, but you really don’t find it in the cone. I’m not sure how much the whole backflow cone trend is really a western thing because when I search for these types of cones on, say, Amazon, they flare up a bunch of warning signs for me. But if it is and the monasteries are just reacting to this trend then making a friendlier blend for the cone seems like it’s probably a smart idea. It’s a bit of a simpler incense, has some level of spice to it that I don’t remember so much from the stick, and if you mix all that in with the sandalwood (and other wood) base with light herbal touches from the wormwood and lavender, you’ve got yourself a pleasant cone here. You might even want to start with this one before the stick at least if you’re trying to get your toes wet, although normally I still find this format to be generally weaker than a stick. They burn quick and they’re rough towards the end, where a stick would still be lit for another 20-30 minutes.

Mermade Magickal Arts / Green Faerie

Oh here’s another one … five left at the point I posted this (and Kuan Shi Yin was gone by the end of the day I posted it, so…) Green Faerie, if I was to give it the most simple explanation, is something like an absinthe resin blend. I’ve always really enjoyed the aromatics of a nice absinthe (I don’t partake much of alcohol anymore) so it seems like a very natural and cool idea to transport this sort of almost liquorice-like bouquet to an incense format, especially by a creator who has gotten really good at creating oil blends that often have the depth and intensity of fine wines or spirits. First of all the resins, which is really quite a list: mastic dipped in fir balsam, green frankincense dipped in violet leaf absolute, and Hougary Oman Frankincense. This creates an incredible strong base that honestly lasts for hours and hours, I even left my heater on overnight and got wafts the next morning (it is also very sticky stuff and takes a bit of extra effort to extract from the tin). I really feel like that violet note cuts through nicely, but overall the sum parts of this really set up a nice background to give the more absinthe-particular herbal content a base to exude their strengths in. These are wormwood, tagetes lucida, davana and Egyptian mint. I love the way it feels like these herbs were carefully chosen to bring out that particular absinthe aroma, particularly with the anise/liquorice and minty notes. But that’s not all, there appears to be some jasmine, rhododendron and sandalwood as well, which gives the overall scent some slighter and more complex notes. Anyway I think you’ll know from the word absinthe if this is going to be along your lines. It’s of course quite a bit more than that and the equal or more to any spirit’s aromatics and like all Mermade brews an absolute winner.

Baigu Monastery / Baigu Temple Medicine Buddha Incense

I’ve talked about what I find maybe to be Tibet’s most dangerous incense in their regular Dzongsar incense. It is a fascinating blend for me, because to me it has the richness of incenses like Holy Land, Nectar or Wara but maybe a richness isn’t what you want with that kind of scent. In fact I’ve recently had samples and feel my review has largely held on it. It’s one of those sticks you wouldn’t recommend except to an intrepid explorer wanting to cover all angles of the range of scents you can get and in that case you really don’t want someone to miss it. What I’m missing is seeing someone try it in real time in all its funky glory. There is really no question about its alienness to the Western nose and I find that incredible fascinating.

Anyway I bring it up because that funky note, the one I’ve heard called sweaty socks but sometimes I think of it maybe as a kind of cheese – hell I’m not even sure what it really is (my best guess is there’s something like asafoetida in there) – isn’t something completely intolerable when it’s turned down some. And it is indeed turned down enough and mixed in with this Baigu Temple Medicine Buddha Incense to help assist a really deep, rich and complex Tibetan aroma. I’m always looking for something like the incenses I mentioned above. I’ve often really thought that while I have a ton of Japanese incenses on my favorite list there’s always a handful of Tibetans I utterly crave when I get into them and which I have gone through rolls of. I write this after a month of burning Wara every night. I literally can’t get enough of it and there’s no kyara price shame to stop me.

The only incenses listed in Baigu Temple Medicine Buddha incense are lavender, wormwood and sandalwood. For sure some of the funk is the wormwood, but not all of it, because from my experience it really only adds a dry part of the tang and not the more humid middle. And yeah although I may not have noticed it without reading it, the lavender is actually really obvious as part of a very herbal top note. While Baigu is a bit drier than some of the more richer incenses, I think it’s obvious how complex and involved the aroma is. It’s just that there’s some of it taken up by a bit of woodiness at base. So this is one well worthy of your attention. Yes there’s a bit of an outlay because it’s a double roll and so it may be worth asking for a sample or finding it in a variety sampler. But with where I’m at with it right now I’m really glad it is a double because I think this one could be something like a top 10 or 15 Tibetan incense because it does what all the best ones do, introduce you to something unfamiliar, fascinating and ultimately addictive.

Bosen / Dakini, Herbal Meditation, Pythoncidere, Shangrila and Zambhala Incenses

Amazon-distributed and Taiwan-originated company Bosen has had a number of their aloeswood incenses reviewed by Ross here and here. The company also has a number of different blended incenses, several of which are considered to be Tibetan incenses by the company. Blend and ingredient-wise these are similar to Tibetan incenses in many ways but the sticks’ unique densities and high levels of quality wood make them more like hybrids between the Tibetan style and Southeast Asian sandalwood and aloeswood sticks and as such are fairly original and certainly a lot higher quality than all but the most deluxe Chinese exported Tibetan blends. I’ll be breaking up the eight current blends into two groups, the five here that have unusual or Buddhism-related names and, later, three (Blessing, Refining and Purifying) that are basically verbs. The division is somewhat arbitrary however, as my experience is that there are similarities among all the incenses. [8/31/21: Worth nothing here, I never did get around to the the later three, although for sure a Blessing review is forthcoming.]

In fact the similarities among the incenses are worth discussing first as there is a a base that is roughly common to all of their Tibetan blends. The binder, Machilus Zuihensis Hayata Powder, appears to be 10% of each incense and is likely what gives each incense a slightly evergreen flavor. All of the incenses, except the Pythoncidere, have quantities of aloeswood and sandalwood in them, although in a couple of cases the aloeswood is called agalloch eaglewood, 15% each in the Shangrila and Zambhala blends. Aloeswood is surprisingly at its highest in the most inexpensive blend, the Herbal Meditation 20% and lowest at 10% in the Dakini. Except for the Pythoncidere again, white sandalwood varies from 10-15%. So as you can see there’s a good 40% or so of four of the incenses that are basically the same. All five of the incenses have a large, unidentified quantity of several Tibetan Dharma medicines and nectars (spelled amitas in Shangrila). From there each incense varies by note.

[Updated 8/31/2021 No discernable changes from this review. – Mike.] Dakini Incense is one of Bosen’s two “Top-Grade” incenses and contains small percentages of lubu, nard, safflower, and semen alpiniae katsumadai (I’m not asking either). It’s the densest and most complex of the five incenses here with a definite strain of spikenard in the mix and a very fruity, sweet smell as the top note. Like all of the incenses here, due to the above-mentioned commonalities, there’s a tangy mix of aloeswood, sandalwood and evergreen binder, but the large ingredients list gives the incense some latent heft to it that improves the incense with use. It’s not quite as immediate as the next two scents but definitely seems to be the most deluxe of the batch.

[Updated 8/31/2021. Reupped the thicker sticks and notice no discernable changes from this review. – Mike] The company’s low end Herbal Meditation Incense is something of a revelation and is available in 11″ bulk thin sticks, 8″ thin sticks, and 8″ thicker sticks (an earlier search pulled up 18″ thin sticks and powder, but I didn’t find them this go around). The uncommon ingredients in this blend are a good 25% of zijin rattan and 25% of lysimachic foenum-graecum hance. It’s rare to find a company whose lowest end incense is one of their best, but I’ve found this incense to be extremely addictive. While not particularly resinous in quality, the aloeswood does come through and give it some character and the tangy herbal quality of the foenum-graecum balances out the sweetness nicely. The entirety has hints of apple tobacco and other herbal qualities along with the light evergreen touch. It’s extraordinarily pleasant and a great deal for the money, especially at its bulk price. However, it may be an even better incense in its thicker form, where the sweetness comes out a bit more and the impact becomes heavier. I’m not sure if this is because the ingredient to binder ratio is higher, but it’s certainly more aromatically redolent in this form.

[Updated 8/31/2021. No change in review except price. Incense remains the same, review still valid.] Bosen’s Pythoncidere Incense is a virtual triumph of incense making and one of the finest blends you’ll ever try outside of the aloeswood and sandalwood worlds. The company says the “…formula contains heavier density of Phytocid, which will make you feel like in green shower when you use it.” I’m honestly not sure you can really create a better description than this, it’s what drew me in for the buy and I believe they absolutely succeeded with this blend, which starts with literally a 50% content of high-resin hinoki (cypress). The evergreen qualities are cranked up to a high without the harsh qualities usually brought with it and the green qualities verges verdant with an almost banana like quality in the mix as well as hops and a sweet candy-like note. It’s the kind of green almost approached in alpine-like incenses or even those green durbar variants in Indian incense, but none of those perfect the quality like this one does. It’s literally one of the best incenses you can buy for $13. I’m hoping Bosen add a bulk box for this one as soon as possible as I’m already rocketing through my first box.

Like Dakini, Shangrila Incense is labelled as top-grade Tibetan incense, although I don’t think it’s nearly as successful as the rest of the line. It’s distinguishing qualities are 15% safflower and 15% ganten khampa, but the overall aromatic flavor is one of woods and an almost candle/beeswax like overlay.  Like all the Bosen Tibetans it has a certain sweetness, but unlike the others it also has something of a drier touch to it. It’s possible there’s a learning curve at work here but initially I’m not as impressed with this one as I am with the other blends. Shangrila is also available in coils and powder, neither of which I’ve tried but it’s possible both formats might improve the quality due to different ingredient ratios.

[Updated 9/2/2021. No real changes to review (added camphor), but as I stated at the end, you do warm to this one.] Zambhala Incenseis set apart by 15% karpura (camphor) and 15% artemisia oligoarpa but is an intensely evergreen incense that resembles Pythoncidere without being nearly as successful. In this case it’s almost the most traditionally Tibetan of the line, resembling in some ways incenses like Dhoop Factory’s Alpine, but quite a bit more refined due to the aloeswood and sandalwood quantities. Given the price similarity to Pythoncidere, I wouldn’t recommend this one first but I’ve also noticed the subtleties of the aloeswood peeking through on this one, promising a learning curve that might make it more worthwhile than my initial impressions.

Beautiful work basically, and given that Amazon fulfills this companies products, you can easily add a $10-$20 box to any other small order to get free shipping out of it (which also means that most of their aloeswood and sandalwood products get automatic free shipping as well). It should also be mentioned that the packaging of these incenses is world class with thick, high quality cardboard boxes, some padding for no breakage and silica gel to keep the incense dry. It’s all around top work from a great company who clearly make high standard product and get good ratings from buyers as well. ORS recommended to say the least.

Nu Essence Resin Mixes Part 1 (Neptune, Pluto, Moon, Uranus)

The Nu Essence Resin Mixes are completely unlike the Japanese loose mixtures I reviewed last week. They are based on a combination of ancient magical formulas as well as great scent combination’s.  I have a feeling many of our readers (not to mention Mike 🙂 ) might know much more then I about the esoteric aspects involved here. It is obvious that a lot of testing and study have gone into these blends. The musk, ambergris and civet are based on high quality synthetics that, unlike most synthetics seem to work well when heated. This could be because they are also pretty much surrounded in essential oils!
These mixes come in small metal tines. About an ounce’s worth of some very powerful scent. I used, at most, 1/8 teaspoons worth in a foil square on my heaters to try them out. Actually the first time I used one I piled it on and was pretty much overwhelmed. Really, these are very potent blends using natural herbs, resins and essential oils. Some of them use so much oil that they seem moist when opening the tin. One tin will last quite a while; it is a very good deal.There are over twenty (at the moment) different blends from this company. For this review I picked four of the planetary mixes. They use a great many different components, many of which I have not experienced before this. This, for me, makes it even more fun and interesting. I will be doing at least two more reviews on this line.
They seem to work best being gently heated, plus they will last longer that way also 🙂

Neptune:
Tonquin musk, benzoin, sandalwood, and rose.
Very deep, sultry rose and musk scent. Everything about this is powerful, almost overpowering. The sandalwood is like a low frequency carrier note way in the back round, the benzoin’s sweetness drifting through to catch your attention and then, once again, you are surrounded by the rose infused musk hues. This is not a light scent; there is almost, at times, a bite to it. This would, to me, be something to scent or flavor a room, as opposed to say taking a deep, close in, breath. It is very potent and takes the rose floral thyme into very sultry depths.

Pluto:
Sandalwood, benzoin, ambergris, amber, and bitter almond.
Upon heating gently one is immediately greeted with the sandalwood, closely followed by the bitter almond. The benzoin/amber/ambergris combination present themselves as a sort of soft yet potent ambery wave to my nose. There is a certain “stone” quality at work here (perhaps the amber is the actual crushed mineral rather then the resin spice blend usually found).
Again, not a light scent, a bit less forceful then the Neptune, but still for doing up an environment, not a Koh ceremony. The bitter almond adds many interesting, and to me, new scent qualities to the mix. The “bitter” aspect playing off the ambers and sandalwood/benzoin mixes. Great fun. I find myself more drawn to this one just because it is a bit more playful.

Moon:
Karaya gum, frankincense, wormwood, sandalwood, camphor, jasmine, and artemisia.
Spicy, camphorus, yet with a light floral (the jasmine) note. I guess uplifting or vibrant would be a good overall description. Not as strong scented as the two above but at the same time it holds its own in a very different manner.. As you heat it up and experience all the camphor tones the jasmine and frankincense keep drifting in. This would be great to set a very uplifting and at the same time, mellow vibe in a room. There almost seem to be many contradictions at play here as it shifts from an almost bitter( but not harsh) to sweet scent with the camphor tones playing through the middle. I am sure the other components play some subtle parts in this but I do not know them and the mix is so well combined that it is hard to separate things out. I could feel my head clearing up when this is going and at the same time a certain inner clearing going on also, which, given the wormwood and Artemisia, makes sense.

Uranus:
Jasmine, juniper, sandalwood, cinnamon, and benzoin.
At first heat the jasmine and cinnamon immediately start to drift up. This is a very interesting combination that somehow works really well. Alchemy in action! Think jasmine with a kick. The woods seem fairly muted at first, while the benzoin adds a little sweetness as a base note. As the upper notes fade into the back round the woods and benzoin come more into play and stay for quite awhile lending a certain grounded quality to the overall mix. I find myself very attracted to this one, probably because the jasmine and cinnamon blend really works for me. This is great to scent a room with just for the upbeat ambiance it gives. Very nice.

These are available at many of the Incense Suppliers we have listed in the side bar to the left.

Enjoy and Happy heating…Ross

Nippon Kodo / New Morningstar / Aqua (Discontinued), Bloom, Earth (Discontinued), Grass

Nippon Kodo’s New Morningstar line includes four different incenses, all of which roughly align to one of the four elements. Each box contains 40 sticks and will run you about $5 a box, although package deals can be found that reduce this a little, and there are gift sets with ceramic burners.

For my money, a line like this seems targeted more at the casual incense lover. While I have a fondness for one of the blends in this series, the others strike me as possibly synthetic or synthetic seeming, in a way that will remind you of perfumed soap. Fortunately it’s only a mild note in the line and probably won’t bother most, but it was enough to make it hard for me to get fully behind these.

Aqua is a jasmine, tangerine and cyclamen blend that was already familiar to me due to a smokeless version Nippon Kodo has in their Ka-Fuh line (also called Aqua). While both versions are very close, I thought the watery nature of this incense was a little more prominent with the New Morningstar version. This blend strikes me as wet, with citrus accents, and the jasmine seems mostly sublimated to the blend rather than being obvious. I know the local store really prizes the Ka-Fuh version of this incense (and it appears to be the best selling of that line for NK), but for me it just doesn’t have a real cutting power to it and there’s just a bit of a synthetic feel that doesn’t work for me. But it does have a uniqueness to it that might appeal to those who want something light and floral.

Bloom looks like the fire incense with the red stick and packaging. It’s also the most floral of the four incenses with its white plum, muguet (lily of the valley) and tulip blend. This is the incense of the four I liked the least, and without looking at the ingredients I wouldn’t have even considered it next to other white plum incenses (it also makes me wonder if this corresponds to the Ka Fuh White Plum as well). It has a burn that reminds me more of a scented candle than an incense and is perhaps a tad on the sweet side for my tastes.

In comparison to the rest of the line, the Earth blend stands out like a sore thumb. Where the rest of the line usually has a strong floral note on top, this blend of black currant, cinnamon and chocolate features the cinnamon element as the oil note. I really liked this incense when I first bought it, it struck me as being the best of the chocolate-themed incenses I’d tried from Nippon Kodo (the other two would be the CafĂ© Time Mocha cones and the Fragrance Memories Paris Cafe blend) with all three elements playing off each other so that at times each of the three notes is dominant. While over time, it has struck me (and mostly in comparison to other incenses) as a slight touch soapy, it’s still quite enjoyable.

The last of the four has a strong air element to it with the lavender note blending with bergamot and artemesia. It’s less Grass than a wind blowing through a field and it has a rather dominant citrus/lavender oil to it as well as a slight floral touch. I can imagine lavender lovers might take to this one as it’s a pretty crisp blend, but like the whole line it’s difficult to see the blend as particularly distinctive.

In summary, I’m probably not the target audience for this line so much, particularly considering it’s more a floral line than a wood or resin one, but like a lot of Nippon Kodo incense, you have to admire the ambition at work. If your tastes are similar to mine, you might want to give the Earth a try, but if they’re more to the floral than these are inexpensive enough to be worth a try.