Bosen / Ambon Aloeswood, Blessing Incense, Old Sandalwood

So here’s a trio of Bosen goodies that we haven’t previously reviewed. As stated in a previous Admin Notes, I’ve gone back and confirmed some of the old recipes and surveyed what needs to be looked at anew or again. There is probably another incense or few that we might want to take a look at like the Ambergris Hoin-an Aloeswood that is fairly new, so there’s more to come. But overall we have a lot of respect for the high quality of the Bosen shop and the fact they’re easily accessible through their shop on Amazon in the US.

Another (relatively) new Bosen offering is their Ambon Aloeswood. While it only says so in the fine print, Ambon Aloeswood is really part of the Chin-Zhou aloeswood series featuring Indonesian aloeswood, and this wood is specifically from Kota Ambon in Indonesia. Bosen claim this is basically 92% wood and includes a touch of “jinko agarwood.” We’ve covered the Chin-Zhou series in the past and it’s something I might like to tackle again given how much agarwood changes in profile over the years, but for now we’ll just take this Ambon on its own. This box goes for about $23 so it’s probably somewhere in the lower to middle quality wise, but in Bosen’s line it usually means it’s still pretty good. It has a nice a bit of sweetness to it and it’s not too bitter and it still feels wild rather than cultivated (or if it’s the latter they’re getting better at it). Honestly I felt that this was actually a bit better than even some of the old Baieido Indonesian aloeswood-sourced sticks so it feels like reasonable quality wood to me. It has a fairly mid resin punch and while it isn’t the complex wood you’ll find at higher Chin-Zhou price ranges, it’s still a very pleasant stick.

Blessing is the last of the Tibetan blends that we hadn’t covered yet (it seems to currently only available as coils, but I’d check back if you want to wait for sticks as Bosen often replenish unavailable stock). It’s somewhat notable in having a bit more of an amber heft to it than the others. It’s made from 10% agalloch eaglewood (aloeswood/agarwood), 5% white sandalwood, 20% nard (spikenard), 20% moly (not sure if this is wild rue or something else), 10% acronychia pedunculata, 20% lysimachia (this may be somewhat equivalent to “reiryo-koh), 2% asarum (wild ginger), 3% several Tibetan Dharma medicine and nectars and 10% Machilus zuilensis Hayata powder (which I believe is the binder). The spikenard is very obvious in this one, sweet and herbal all at once, it seems to have a similar presence that the cypress does in Pythoncidere. It’s interesting that given the different ingredients list, including several you don’t often see in incense, that it’s still fairly similar to some of the other Tibetan incenses in the Bosen line and still manages to have some evergreen qualities that don’t come from the usual sources. But as I mentioned earlier it has a bit of amber-like thickness that gives it its own aromatic qualities and this is a richness that makes this a very pleasant incense indeed. Honestly if I hadn’t seen the ingredients list I would have thought there was plenty of cypress, amber and resin in this one as well, so it’s quite remarkable. Definitely recommended and one of the first I’d start with among their Tibetan style incenses.

The front of the Old Sandalwood box says “Centuries Weathered” which seemed really promising to me. The stick is 90% sandalwood but it only says Indian, so there’s no confirmation on whether this is Mysore (unlikely), but they do seem to be going for older, more quality tree wood nonetheless. It’s certainly got enough of a price hike to match with it, so I really wanted to see if they’d do a good job with a sandalwood note, not to mention giving myself a little bit of a variation from the usual Japanese and Indian sticks. This actually does have a fairly pure sandalwood note to it, its provenance is maybe not the finest trees but for sure the wood here is quality enough to not feel like you’re being fleeced. It has a freshly sawn wood vibe which I tend to like a lot, some actual definition as being sandalwood and not other wood mixed with it and it’s fresh and vibrant. The only thing missing, and it’s something you only get with the highest grades, is that more crystalline level of wood resin, but even a bit of that peaks through. Very enjoyable, fairly priced, and while it leans closer to Japanese than Indian, the thickness of the stick gives it more power.

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Gyokushodo / Seidai Koh, Buntoku

You can see the first two sections about this entire grouping here and here.

Seidai Koh: this is listed as using Vietnam Aloeswood. It is  somewhat spicy, yet with some sweet, almost musky undertones. I am thinking that this maybe caused by the Reiryo koh (also listed as an ingredient) and perhaps some benzoin resin. Nice woody notes in this one, not super strong but nicely done. Much more distinct then the Buntoku. [NOTE 7/5/21: This incense was later reformulated and the description here may no longer apply.]

Buntoku:  An Aloeswood blend with some Sandalwood and also with Spikenard listed in the ingredients. There is a bit of sweetness mixed in with the woods, faint, but there. The scent seems to sort of balance on that knife edge between the Aloeswoods and Sandalwoods, neither quite making a solid appearance nor playing a leading role  I find this one to be the least satisfying of the line. Not that it’s bad, it’s just not a standout like most of their other products tend to be.

Keiunko is also listed in this grouping, it has also be around longer then the others and you can see Mikes review of it here.

All in all, these incense from Gyokushodo are quite good, some of them are truly outstanding and reflect a very well established and knowledgeable company with a lot of expertise in incense. My own feelings as to what to get would probably be that the prices tell the story, or, you get what you pay for. Given the prices and availability of materials that the incense makers are dealing with right now this makes sense.

Gyokushodo / Saishu Koh & Shunsui

Gyokushodo is a very old incense company who has only recently come to light in the US. They have actually had some of their offerings available here for some years but never seemed to have their name mentioned.

They have a number of lines, each of which are pretty tightly grouped as to a style. Their woods and oils lie have been here the longest and you can see our reviews on them here. The new group to come in seems to be centered on the use of traditional woods and herbs/spices without the addition of oils, at least to my nose. The first two to come in were Saimei koh and Umeshoin. I personally find them to be very well done as well as very traditional style scents. They are not particularly strong and are much more geared to setting quietly nearby rather then doing up a large space(unless, of course, like some of us; you burn a bunch at one shot 🙂  ) .

Saishu Koh uses a good grade of Aloeswood mixed with what is labeled as Lysimachiae herba (Reiryo-koh). So given that, I was expecting something along the lines of one of the incenses from Kunmeido. This is not the case. Instead I find an almost musky scent, with some additional sweet notes as well an occasional hint of clove and/or cinnamon. Way in the background there seems to be a slight green note. Again this is all pretty subtle, refined and elegant but not something that would be considered overpowering or overwhelming. It would be equally at home during meditation or even during a meal.

Shunsui also uses a good grade of Aloeswood as well as a part of a marine mollusk. I am sure there are other spices at work here also. It has a sort of bitter sweet scent to it that is stronger in delivery then the Saishuko mentioned above. Again this has a seemingly very traditional scent to it, yet it is also not a very common scent in the incenses that have come into this country (so far). As a side note the mollusk used as a main ingredient here is usually used as a fixative (something to prevent the other scents from going away too fast) This is a pretty unusual use of it and it works out well.

One thing about all of these is that they pretty much need to be first on the nights “burn list”.  So trying to taste a bunch at one sitting can be pretty difficult. Also, they all seem to have a pretty deep learning curve with many layers residing within each stick Oh yes, all of this line seem to come in a rather heavy plastic wrapper as well as in their own box. This means that they are going to hold onto their aromatics for quite a while, nice touch.

Right this moment the only place I know of where you can get these in this country is at Japan Incense. I would assume this will change but who knows.

I will be reviewing another three of these within a day or two.    -Ross

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.