Temple of Incense / Sandalwood, Vanilla Woods, White Sage, Oudh Extreme

Temple of Incense Part 12
Temple of Incense Part 14
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

Finishing out the series of Temple of Incense sticks, we have some woody ones and the last one, Oudh Extreme, is another ‘advance sample’ as the ToI does not yet have it up on their website but when they do, hopefully this review will still stand up.

Our first stop is Sandalwood. This is the third sandalwood stick, after Banaras Sandal and Sandalwood Extreme. This is an oil-heavy charcoal masala hand-applied to a thick natural bamboo core. There is some flecks of light powder here and there but it doesn’t appear to be finished with powder.

Lighting this up, the oils become apparent as the stick immediately bursts into flame as it gets close to a heat source. The sandalwood is here, but it’s not as strong or as luxurious as the expensive Sandalwood Extreme. There is also something else added in, something sweet and dry, making this more like some of the cheaper Japanese sandalwoods where there is things like cinnamon and clove to spice it up as well as cover the fact that the sandalwood is probably a lower grade or else you’d just make a stick without the spices if it was nicer. Now comparing to cheap Japanese sandalwoods like Mainichi Koh isn’t to say this is a bad stick, I’m trying to zero in on the profile of sandalwood presented here, because there are hints of richer, salty and buttery sandalwood but they come sandwiched in this drier sweet note.

I’m going to post a note here and mention that when I compared this review I wrote to my initial impression of this stick, I realize something is wrong. In my initial impression, I describe it as a handmade masala on a bamboo stick painted red with a light tan powder finish. This is a different stick here because in my initial impression, I compared the sandalwood smell coming off it to Minorien Sandalwood, just a bit stronger because of the format. So perhaps there was a quality/consistency change between my sample and the purchase of the box.

Vanilla Woods is a charcoal masala hand-applied to a bamboo stick that appears to have been dipped in something. The masala has a sprinkling of a green powder (possibly that mint note). On the box, it is described as “Vanilla, Cassis, Sweet Musk, Woods, Hint of Mint.” My first reaction as I light this is that it smells like those sunscreens that are bad for the reefs. That sort of ‘banana/coconut/tropical’ sort of smell. But it transformed quickly between multiple scents vying for pole position. The mint is cooling and comes and goes but the clear leader is this vanilla smell that seems to trade places with a richer sweet scent that might be the cassis. However, I am not sure I detect a ‘sweet musk’ unless that is the sweet scent I called cassis or perhaps the sweet musk and cassis are on the same team? Regardless, as a charcoal stick that might have been dipped, this has a lot of class and character.

The second sage entry from ToI, White Sage is a handmade thicker agarbatti, finished with a light tan powder. This comes on a natural bamboo stick. This comes across as clean and crisp, though it is less exemplar of what I consider sage to be as there is something sweet in here as well as a soapy note that reminds me a bit of Ivory or Irish Spring in that sharp acrid note. The more I spend time with this rather cooling smoke, cool possibly because of the mint mentioned on the box, I am realizing that the scent reminds me a bit of when the dentist’s sterilized hands were in my mouth and against my nose. This is back when I was a kid before fear of things like HIV meant people wore gloves. Overall, I’m not a fan of this scent but it does have a very fresh and clean scent, like someone doing laundry with Fels-Naptha.

Oudh Extreme appears to be a triple threat. The bamboo is purple and discolored as if it has been dipped in oudh oil and my fingers smell of oudh after touching just the bamboo. The masala is a charcoal heavy masala, finished with a tan powder. My guess is the masala is charcoal and oudh and agarwood and then the stick is dipped in a oudh perfume/oil, and then finished with an oudh powder. This has so much oil in it that it lights like a torch. The scent is definitely deeper and more complex than the Oudh stick, this actually has a lot of scent profile in common with their Oudh Masala, which is a powder you can buy in their bakhoor section. This is very rich, very heavy in the perfume oudh profile. This has a bit of interplay between a sort of cologne scent you’d expect from the Persian area of the world, and the oudh sticks that Happy Hari/ToI carry. I really like this. It’s like when you’re burning Minorien Aloeswood and decide that you want a bigger punch so you reach for Minorien Kyara Chokoh. This is the bigger oudh punch. Recommended for anyone who loves Oudh and Oudh Masala from Happy Hari.

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Temple of Incense / Tulsi, Desert Sage, Dragon’s Blood, Frankincense

Temple of Incense Part 7
Temple of Incense Part 9
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

While the plan was to go in alphabetical order, the fine ladies at Temple of Incense decided to send me two samples and they said they are coming to the website soon so this is a sneak preview of Tulsi and then we go back to the alphabetical crawl through the ToI catalog.

Tulsi arrives as a thick extruded agarbatti that looks to be a mixture of charcoal and aromatics, finished with a brown powder. It lights up into a warm, mildly sweet scent that is dominated by tulsi. My caveat to talking about this is most of my tulsi olfactory experience comes from the tea, which steeping in boiling water is different than extracting the oil and combusting it. What I get here is something that comes across as warm and fresh, with a herbal note that almost pushes into the lavender/fabric softener range. The soft sweetness could be a touch of halmaddi or similar binder/sweetener.

As I mentioned, being relatively new to Indian Incense, I don’t have the experience to talk about the stuff from 10 or 20 years ago and compare, but one thing that I can do is mention that in the 100s of sticks I’ve sniffed that have mentioned tulsi as an ingredient, none of them were as pleasant as this one, in fact, until this stick, I had started to think that tulsi was a note to avoid in incense, as I was starting to associate it with a Ivory Soap type of smell. But none of that is here. What I like so much is how fresh this is and how it seems to freshen a room and brighten it.

Speaking of cleansing, Desert Sage is one of the entries from ToI that follows on the tails of the likes of ‘Big Cleanse’ in that many of the ingredients are used as space cleansing for intentional work. They list eucalyptus, sage, mint, rosewood, cedar and pine on the box. Coming out of the box, unlit, the scent is like a sage bundle. But when you light it, you get more of the other ingredients in a shifting interplay that sometimes combines into a minty, cool, refreshing sort of scent and other times you just get a whiff of cedar or eucalyptus.

You can tell they are using high quality oils both because it smells great as it burns but also because it lit up like a torch soaked in gasoline. There are moments when the pine shines through it all, and others where the cool mint can be felt, but mostly this is good for anyone who likes ANY of these scents because they are all rather in the same ‘school’, they all come across cool, clean and refreshing. I’m going to mention that initially, when I got all the samples and had 1 of everything, this was the first stick I didn’t like. Now that I bought a box of it, I can tell the first one was contaminated by nearby samples because of how much more this smells like the ingredients and not like a bar of soap.

Dragon’s Blood is an extruded agarbatti with a red powder finish that stains the bamboo stick. Absolute Bliss sells this same stick as ‘Red Blood Dragon‘. This is a very fruity and sweet interpretation of the resin, and the stick format is similar to the other resin sticks in this lineup; like Amber, Myrrh, Frankincense, all have similar extruded resin-agarbatti though this one is a bit thinner. The masala is charcoal heavy because it is very black under the red powder.

This is almost like having a cherry soda or similar kind of treat. I would call it a ‘nose dessert’ because of how sweet it is. The nice thing is that it has a lot of class. Some sweet types of incense get too cloying, but this is one of those things that reminds of one of my weird friends who asked if I’d ever had microwaved Kool-Aid. This is what the microwave smelled like after we boiled a few cups of ‘berry’ Kool-Aid. It was delicious, by the way, hot Kool-Aid. I’m fairly sure that this incense will titillate anyone who loves sweet but also needs a bit of class, like choosing Tiramisu over a Snickers Bar.

Frankincense opens up with a nice serrata/frefreana citrus note. This is a thick extruded agarbatti with a soft coating of powder and it burns a bit slower than average. If you’re familiar with Happy Hari’s King of Frankincense, this is the same stick coming from the same maker, even the bamboo core is the same color and size.

One of the things as I was getting introduced to Indian style incense is that many times if frankincense appeared in the name it was never available in the scent. Even the high end Pure Incense Connoisseur Frankincense doesn’t actually smell like frankincense. But this one does. There isn’t actually much else competing with the scent other than maybe something salty that I can occasionally detect as possibly one of the binders. This is easily one of my favorite frankincense sticks, if you like the Tennendo Frankincense, you will most likely like this and it burns for an hour or so, too!

Temple of Incense / Bombay Blues, Coconut Dream, Dancing Sufi, Jaipur Joshi

Temple of Incense Part 2
Temple of Incense Part 4
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

This next quartet from the Temple of Incense line shows some interesting variations. As you explore the line, you find a really wide range of different scents that leads one to expect that there’s nearly something for everyone in the group. This group contains basically two (somewhat similar) charcoals and two very sweet and almost confectionary-like incenses. It has been truly fun to go through this range, there’s a surprise at every bend.

Bombay Blues is a really well-named incense. The given ingredients of patchouli, mint, geranium and khus push this aroma much more into cooler regions than a lot of incenses. The base feels like maybe a notch north of a charcoal in the direction of a masala. The khus and patchouli both provide a bit of a clay-like base note but they’re also co-responsible along with the mint for the incense’s overall smooth and chilly top notes. There are surprisingly few green notes like you’d expect from these sorts of ingredients. Even though it is not mentioned in the ingredients there seems to be a bit vanilla note in this as well, which may be the only warm thing about it. The geranium seems to be much farther in the background as a subnote. It’s a very interesting scent overall, it certainly sets a mood and atmosphere quite different than any I usually expect from an incense. Overall it’s probably not as much to my taste but please don’t take that to mean the artistry isn’t still at its usual high level here and if the ingredients list is attractive to you then you’ll certainly want to see if it’s to your taste.

I was working through some Ramakrishnanda incenses recently and noticed that the company had changed their Govardhana incense away from the original loban and coconut aroma to wood rose and vanilla. As someone who felt that the stick was one of the most successful coconut scented incenses I had tried, I was disappointed to see it go, so perhaps it’s fortuitous to try a new coconut incense with Coconut Dream. As I mentioned in my original Govardhana review, I have smelled some utterly disastrous coconut incenses in the past and find it’s a pretty bad idea to formulate one purely on a dipped oil as its likely to smell more like suntan lotion than real coconut. Unsurprisingly Temple of Incense does create a very nice “coconut champa” incense here (although this is scent is still largely charcoal-based) which has enough of a woody base note to make sure such a sweet scent doesn’t get too cloying, and rather than suntan lotion, this smells more like a coconut cream pie with hints of toasted coconut and a lot of vanilla. It even has the kind of grassy subnotes real coconut has, which I think might have the side effect of making your stomach growl. Don’t get me wrong, anything this delectable is probably something you want to use judiciously, but I can see coconut lovers wanting to eat this one up. It’s very nicely done.

Dancing Sufi is an extremely close cousin of Happy Hari’s Niyama Sutra which I have effused elsewhere about. In fact if you have done a deep dive into the Temple of Incense catalog and noticed that they too have a Gold Nag Champa with flakes in it, it’s hard to not feel that both lines share the same recipes or creators. This appears to be an incense with a top note so delicate that it may begin to age really fast as I notice it a bit more in the fresh Niyama Sutra than I do here, but they’re both extraordinary incenses in my book. The notes here are vanilla, kewra, amber and rose absolute. I remember kewra (aka screwpine) from old Shroff incenses and you can smell its particular and unique subnote here. The vanilla and amber are also really obvious, but it’s curious to imagine what gives the top note a sort of like nutella hazelnut or caramel sort of aroma because that’s really what makes this particular stick pop gloriously. Well, that and the beautiful rose note, which is a wonderful secondary bit of complexity. Definitely put this one on your shopping list if you haven’t tried it, it is a particularly fine incense. However US customers might find it more price conscious to go for the Niyama Sutra. You really don’t need both.

Jaipur Joshi is not terribly far from Bombay Blues. It’s perhaps a little more obviously charcoal-based but they both share a mint background that give both incenses a bit of similarity. The other notes in this incense are amber, woods and musk and this mix is certainly less earthy and cooling than the Bombay Blues. The amber here is unlike how it is in most of the other Temple of Incense line and more reminiscent of the charcoal “royal amber” types due to its more perfume-based transmission. The musk is particularly strong here and the woods are very similar to the way they feel in the Wood Spice incense. So in some ways if you’re familiar with some of the rest of the line, it’s difficult not see this as a bit of a hybrid, a combination of elements from other incenses in a new mix. But where the coolness of the ingredients tend to mask the charcoal base in the Bombay Blues, the base is a bit more obvious here. Temple of Incense do respectable charcoals for sure, but I find it to be a bit of a limited format and while this never gets too harsh it feels like it pushes in that direction a bit.

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.

Mermade Magickal Arts/Ostara, Sweet Medicine, Sunpati

One of the difficulties of maintaining a site like Olfactory Rescue Service is covering the boutique/independent incense creators. However, one of the great things about these creators is that once they get some steam underneath them then their products end up selling themselves and the venerable Mermade Magickal Arts is a prime example. I’ve been buying from Mermade (or in the way past from outfits that sold Mermade products) since the late 90s.

Olfactory Rescue Service would probably not even be in existence if it wasn’t for the effect Katlyn Breene’s Shamanic Circle had on me as it really showed that place where the scent departs but the memory continues. My first experience with this incense was literally smelling it hours later after I had departed the area, like it had just dug into my subconscious and became a font of memory-scent. Not long after this I was introduced to great aloeswood incense and it was very similar. Part of the power of incense is its collaboration with the user, with the user’s experience and memories, the partaker’s sense of place and nostalgia. Katlyn’s familiarity with the western magickal tradition was also something I personally resonated with over the next decade and so her brilliant artwork and presentation also enhanced her incenses as well as imparting subtle energies to them that are quite impressive and true to the subject material. Katlyn is also a mentor to a whole new generation of creators and is a tremendous asset to the whole community. Mermade is quite simply an incense institution, perhaps the paragon of American incense.

So now we’re talking about an artist 20 years later who has been at the top of her game for years and whose every new work is a treasure, no matter what it is. When I visit the shop, I just find the newest scents I have that are available. They turn over much faster now and I’m assuming much of that is just due to the quality, the word of mouth, the internet etc. The materials get finer, the recipes more original and creative, the surprises more plentiful and impressive. So this article will be a snapshot in time and is likely to be obsolete shortly and just a memory. It wouldn’t shock me if one of two of these scents are gone by the time you read this. They are worthy of being snapped up. Which of course means that months down the line there will be new incenses or new versions etc.

Ostara is a very balanced blend of mastic, sweet mint, myrtle and jasmine. When I lived at my old place years ago, I had some mint plants in my back yard that literally took over the entire area at one point, creating a smell that overwhelmed anything else close. Mint is a strong, extremely overpowering scent if you’re not careful, which, of course, is why its a mainstay in gums, breath fresheners and so forth. To use it appropriately in an incense takes a fine guiding hand and naturally that’s what you will find in Katlyn’s work. All four of the elements mentioned here are present in the final bouquet without one overpowering the other, which certainly took some skill as it would have been easy for the myrtle to get buried under the mint and jasmine. The myrtle in particular sets the blend apart as its such a gentle, unique smell that isn’t very common in incense. The fact that this has a mastic base rather than one from frankincense or other resin also helps to move this to a unique space as its fruity component seems to hit a bit closer to apples and pears than the lemon and lime you tend to expect from frankincense. There’s also a touch of the wild in this one. I’ve noticed more and more of Mermade’s recent incenses have a bit of a liqueur or aged like subscent to them that give everything an extra level of complexity. This level has almost like a bit of banana peel to it, a reminder of the depth of the wild behind the nature. The Brian Froud-like artwork on the container is the icing on the cake as far as this is concerned.

Sweet Medicine is another new favorite of mine that I’m hoping to see as a perennial classic from Mermade like Wild Wood or Pan’s Earth or Kyphi. It wasn’t terribly long ago I wrote in praise of Tennendo’s Propolis incense, so it’s wonderful to see this amazing aromatic source in another incense, and here it is part of a blend with so much goodness it’s hard not to be exhaustive: sweet grass, black and honey frankincense, benzoin, balsam, myrrh, balsam poplar buds and sweet clover. The overall profile is of course sweet but it’s also complex and wonderfully energetic and it builds in intensity to an aromatic crescendo as it builds in space. The balsamic content and propolis in particular I think grounds the sweetness in a way that’s important in giving it some personality, it lets it hit that spot without becoming too cloying. This means the overall impact is just glorious, with the sweet grass also giving it a touch of airiness. Right now I have two newly planted trees in the front yard that are budding and attracting much of the local bee population so this seems like the right time to break such an incense out. A real A+++ treat, don’t miss it.

Sunpati is subtitled a Quiet Mind incense and it certain is a much quieter incense than those that are generally based on woods or resins. It is made from Rhododendron Anthopogon leaves and flowers, an ingredient that tends to find its way into many a Tibetan incense, Linden leaves, flowers and essential oils, an ingredient you don’t find in incense much at all, and a nunnery-sourced Lawudo blend from Nepal. As the description at the page reveals, this is something of a grassy, tobacco tinged, sweet, late summer to early autumnal sort of blend whose ingredients usually don’t find their way to this level of resolution. If you have been using stronger incenses before this they’re likely to overwhelm the finer aspects of this incense which are gentle and very unique, in the same way you might find piles of leaves that have fallen of trees or a mix of bushes and plants on a walk. It has an almost wistful, nostalgic vibe to it. I love these sorts of experiments as they introduce me to scents I haven’t experienced before and show that our practiced incense creators continue to stretch out into new terrain.

More Mermade scents, just around the corner, I have a few more to go (they’re all in the top picture)….

Mermade Magical / Classical Kyphi by Nathaniel, Deep Earth Premium

Howdy! Its been a while since I have written a review, but I managed to scrape some funds together to snag an order of Mermade Magical Arts’ Classical Kyphi by Nathaniel Musselman.
The wonderful people over at Mermade Magical also were kind enough to throw in a few samples with my order, including Deep Earth Premium 2013, so I will be doing a double review today!

Classical Kyphi has a scent that upon first whiff ,smells reminiscent of fresh raisin bread and frankincense. After a bit the cinnamon starts to come through, with a touch of anise. Heated gently on charcoal or an electric heater, this will surely please anyone who enjoys sweet, spicy scents.

The Deep Earth 2013 is hands down a new favorite of mine. I will most definitely be keeping a supply of this on hand, once I have the means to. As stated in the previous article by Ross, it comes across very thick, resiny and woody. Upon placing it on my charcoal censer, I was immediately hit with a strong aroma of labdanum, although curiously it does not list labdanum in the ingredients. Alongside the top not of labdanum, I noticed myrrh,  with a scent resembling honey and agar wood in the background. Anyone who is a fan of deep resin and wood scents will definitely love this blend.

Shroff Channabasappa / Wet Masala / Darshan, Drona, Little Woods, Nag Champa

Shroff Channabasappa Part 1
Shroff Channabasappa Part 2
Shroff Channabasappa Part 3
Shroff Channabasappa Part 4
Shroff Channabasappa Part 5
Shroff Channabasappa Part 6
Shroff Channabasappa Part 7
Shroff Channabasappa Part 8
Shroff Channabasappa Part 9
Shroff Channabasappa Part 10
Shroff Channabasappa Part 11
Shroff Channabasappa Part 12

There are probably enough comments on Shroff’s last batch of wet masala incenses in various threads on ORS that reviews at this point are near redundant. This is partially because this batch is easily one of the best to be imported to the United States in years (perhaps only the batch with Pearl, Jungle Prince et al was more celebrated). In terms of quality to cost ratio, you may not find better incense out there.

Previously there were only two wet masalas, French Musk and Saffron. I think the French Musk probably fits better in style with the group represented by Pearl, Jungle Prince et al, which leaves Saffron as the best comparison for the new batch. However these don’t strike me as wet masalas in the same way the old halmaddi-rich champas did, they’re not particularly gooey or easy to pull apart. But they’re all very rich, powerful and high quality scents based on some combinations that you might not have come across before.

Fresh on the stick, Darshan is redolent of candy green spearmint and you’ll need to like that to like this incense. The other ingredient here listed is musk with citrus, but there aren’t any really overt citrus elements that come to my mind, such as lemon or orange. What happens is that the mint and musk end up combining with the sugar and spice base to give off an aroma not far off from baking Christmas cookies. There’s even an unusual caramel note in the mix that helps to increase its sweetness. If you’ve familiar with past spice champas (the one that comes to mind is the long, sadly deleted Blue Pearl Spice Champa) you’ll have the general idea, but the spearmint really makes this a one of a kind stick. I find it particularly impressive because mint oils are often powerful enough to overpower most other notes in an aroma, so the balance struck here is clearly the work of a very impressive recipe. I fell in love with this one instantly and never grow tired of it. I’m likely approaching 100g already burned already.

Drona could be the weakest of this new group of eight, but relatively speaking that still puts it way above the incenses in recent reviews like Nitiraj or Sarathi. The ingredients here are musk, sandalwood and vetivert, however only the musk strikes me as particularly obvious and you can definitely compare this incense in part to Shroff’s French Musk. It ends up being a little on the generic champa side and shares the caramel notes of the Darshan, but other than the slight vetivert teases along the outside, no other element in the incense is any louder. The aroma ends up being kind of light and fluffy, with slight touches of vanilla and cocoa powder, but unfortuantely it doesn’t really have much of a hook or personality to sell itself. One might think of a mild nougat scent, slightly creamy, even certain latte types are reminiscent.

Little Woods is quite simply one of those incenses ORS was created to tell people about, it’s a triumph on every level, simply one of the very best incenses you can buy at its price level. The ingredients here, perhaps confusingly, are listed as fouger, oriental, rose and ambery sandal. The former element appears to be particularly important, and rather than describe it myself, I’ll just send you here. Of course any really classic incense is going to have a blend so perfectly balanced that to break it down would be difficult, and that couldn’t be more true for Little Woods. I find some similarity between this and N Ranga Rao’s woods, particularly the way certain wood subnotes merge with almost citrus-like evergreen touches on the top, but that’s as far as the comparison goes, because the perfume on Little Woods is much richer. But part of why such a strong perfume works is because it’s grounded in a superior base, with a mix of floral notes, leather and spice tea. In fact even well in excess of 100g burned, I still notice new elements of the incense, in fact I’m sitting here now going, yeah I think I get some of that ambery sandal too. Anyway, essential. In caps and boldface.

Shroff’s Nag Champa is interesting because it came out so close to the Dhuni version with so many similarities that they’re worth comparing, however Dhuni’s own brand has actually improved and changed enough that newer versions probably aren’t so comparable. Anyway Shroff’s entry is very traditional, almost definitive in some ways, although like Dhuni it’s a bit thicker than what you’ll find from Satya, Shantimalai etc. In fact the red box is probably a good comparison, but Shroff’s Nag Champa  is not as close to that as Happy Hari’s Gold Nag Champa because it’s so much drier. Shroff’s version also, unsurprisingly, bears the hallmarks of their brilliant perfuming skills, but it’s to the point that you end up thinking most of the aroma is carried by it, and let’s face it, a nag champa entirely succeeds or fails on its base. I do have to admit, I’m actually starting to get worn out by nag champas, largely because outside of Dhuni, I’ve yet to see any that haven’t managed to disguise off base notes or even sometimes the bamboo stick and while Shroff’s version manages to be really clever with the gentle plumeria-like scent on top, you need a much more resonant base to make me forget the formula is still missing something it used to have. On the other hand, I do think the Shroff version gets the scent to affordability ratio down perhaps better than any other version, so if you’re a fan looking to get away from Satya, this will be a good choice.

Next up: Ruby, Shanti, Shran, Super Star…

March 2011 Top 10

  1. Shroff Channabasappa/Wet Masala/Little Woods – Quite  simply this is one of the best Indian incenses you can buy. I think I’ve lost count how many sticks I’ve gone through at this point, there have been times where I’ll just burn one after the other. In fact I’ve been meaning to get to this latest and finest batch from Shroff, but haven’t found the time yet, but this one is described as containing fouger, rose, ambery sandal and oriental scents. It strikes a balance I can barely describe, but has an oil mix that’s extremely addictive.
  2. Shroff Channabasappa/Wet Masala/Darshan – This spearmint fronted work of magic could be interchangeable with Little Woods, as I’ve burned nearly as many sticks of this. This is an Indian incense I think almost everyone will like, it’s redolent of minty, spice cookies and very friendly.
  3. Kyukyodo/Musashino – Kyukyodo have a kyara and it’s a lot different from the dark and resinous kyaras you’ll find in, say, Shoyeido’s stable. In fact the first time I tried a stick it was difficult to describe because it has a lot of similarities with other Kyukyodo green sticks (Denpo for example) in that it’s kind of light and foresty. But once you get used to it and the green kyara note comes through, it becomes breathtaking. Like most kyaras it’s an expensive buy (given other Kyukyodo prices, my guess this would run $350 or so at 20 sticks if it was imported here) but in this case there’s really no other kyara like it.
  4. Meena Supreme – There’s an up and coming new company in Britain who’s set forth trying to import some incenses not generally seen outside of India and Meena Supreme was the first one (a more indepth review is forthcoming) I received. This was described to me with a hail of superlatives and has managed to live up to most of them. It’s a fluxo style incense, very thick and smokey with some earthiness in the background making it somewhat akin to Sai Flora. Quite frankly I’d have trouble describing the aroma even after going through two boxes of it, except to say it’s extremely addictive.
  5. Dhuni/Kashi (new version) – I’m not sure what’s going on in the Dhuni labs of late, but their latest care package was absolutely astounding despite there only being one true new scent. What else arrived was improved versions of three of their incenses. The new Kashi seems to increase the thickness and richness of the sticks. If you’ve ever tried Honey Dust or Vanilla or Satya Natural then you’ll know this scent, but I guarantee you’ve never smelled it at this level of luxuriousness. For me, it rejuvenated a scent I think I’d grown rather tired of.
  6. Dhuni/Special Amber (new) – The one stick sample of this I received is possibly the largest stick of Indian incense I’ve ever encountered, in fact I wondered if I could use it to defend myself. And bigger is better is definitely the case with this new version which seems to increase the content of the fine amber resins being used because at times this stick is like burning a fine resin mix, very sublime and much more balanced and measured than the original version (which was pretty great in its own right as it was). This is definitely one I’ll want to restock.
  7. Kyukyodo/Murasakino – It’s difficult to tell for sure, but other than the Musashino above, I’d probably put Murasakino at the top of the premium Kyukyodo aloeswood list. It comes in a variety of different boxes and packages but the silk roll in pawlonia box is probably the standard version. This is a potent, green aloeswood with that wonderful sharp acridity good wood always brings. And unlike Haru-no-yama, this is different enough from the Sho-Ran-Ko to make it feel not too duplicative.
  8. Dhuni/Khus – Much thanks to the Dhuni group for stocking me up on this utterly fine and fantastic vetivert champa. I had left a stick of this burning upstairs last night and remember just how incredible the aroma it left. Vetivert is often described as cooling, which isn’t something I always pick up in incenses it contains, but this one has absolutely nailed that vibe. This one’s an essential.
  9. Shroff Channabasappa/Ruby – I’m a little slower burning this one because I haven’t nabbed a 100g box yet and it took me a few sticks, but when it comes to the red colored, floral/rose type of champa, this one is the supreme version by a long way with a perfume intensity that’s unusual for this style. Very well rounded and gorgeous.
  10. Tibetan Medical College/Holy Land – What can I say that I already haven’t on this one. Still a staple around here and just polished off another box (third maybe?). In a class of its own.

Nippon Kodo / Café Time / Cassia, Mocha; Sakura (Cherry), Green Tea; Lime, Mint Tea; Lotus, Wine

As a creator of a number of different modern lines, it could be said that Nippon Kodo, at least in its American front, leads the market when it comes to user friendly, accessible and modern scents, and as such it’s a company that doesn’t really make a lot of incense that appeals to my personal taste. But even beyond this disclaimer, a lot of modern incenses I have tried in the Nippon Kodo stable have gone beyond just having a different aesthetic into what I find to be unpleasantly perfumed incenses. That is, there’s a difference between not being a big fan of fruity or floral incenses while recognizing that there are times when they are well done and just dismissing anything of the sort. Having reviewed (and not altogether positively) incenses in lines like Free Pure Spirit, East Meets West, Elemense and New Morning Star, it’s time to turn to some incenses that, while not being my thing, are sometimes well done for what they do.

Café Time is a series of cone incenses that come in pairs in cylindrical cardboard containers with five cones for each of two flavors per container, with a theme to tie them together. Café Times are rather small cones and even if they’re quite affordable between $5 and $6 a container, you’re still paying at least 50 cents a cone. Given these cones are done in 15 to 20 minutes, you’re not getting a lot of value for the money, but at least in most of these incenses you’re getting a decent scent, with very few of them showing the off notes and cheap perfume aromatics of some of other NK’s lines. Read the rest of this entry »

Shoyeido / Xiang-Do / Agarwood, Forest, Peppermint, Frankincense, Sandalwood, (Fresh) Green Tea (Sencha), Tea, Coffee

Part 1 of this article can be found here.

The eight incenses in question here are part of Shoyeido’s pressed Xiang-Do line, a series of short incenses using a patented technology to create aromas that are much more intensified than one finds in traditional and even most modern or perfumed lines. In this group are what I consider perhaps the best of the line, 16 incenses of which are currently exported to the United States. More details on the line can be found in the first Xiang-Do article which can be accessed by clicking on the above link.

For a company well-known for deep and deluxe aloeswood incenses, the Agarwood version of Xiang-Do actually evinces as much the woody scents of aloeswood as the resin scents and as such this incense reminds me of more inexpensive aloeswood sticks, where the actual bitterness of the wood peaks through. Xiang-Do does manage to balance these aspects of the scent so they’re not as harsh as they would be in a traditional incense, the results of which give this incense a very unusual scent. It’s the least sweetest incense in the line and as such may be slightly unfriendly to the casual user, but appreciators of aloeswood may end up liking this one the most.

I have an extreme fondness for Xiang-Do Forest, possibly due to the way it hits some notes of a pine incense I used to like as a teenager, in fact that might have been one of the first incenses to really grab my attention. Almost every time I burn this it’s somewhat evocative of these years, with an extremely fresh, concentrated, multi-evergreen blend that smells of pine, fir and other conifers. It’s perfectly made for the style, with all these fresh evergreen-like resins working well under such concentrations. I’m on my second if not third box of this aroma and really wish this was one they brough 60/80 stick packages over for. It may be one of my favorite incenses for breaking up a string of traditionals.

I warmed up to Peppermint immediately. It probably should be said that Xiang-Do incenses that are very close to one another in the rainbow of colors are quite close in scent at times, and this subrange of greener Xiang-Dos tends to appeal to me a little more than the others. In fact that the Peppermint is colored greenish gives way to the idea that it’s actually more of a peppermint/spearmint sort of combination, the latter quality being part of its richness with the peppermint notes on top. It’s as cooling as you’d want, with a bit of that green freshness that Forest also has.

Frankincense I like in most incenses, but I found this version to be slightly disappointing, perhaps because sticks from Tennendo, Minorien et al tend to capture some of the high quality resin’s more profound notes. The Xiang-Do version is somewhat muted, icy white and overall a bit on the standard side. I’ve used the white coil in the Sakaki set as a comparison ever since a reader pointed it out, they both have a sweet and candy-like nature to them that capture the center of the resin pretty well. But for such a concentrated series, I actually expected this to be closer to the resin than it was.

Like the Agarwood, the Sandalwood seems a bit closer to standard or lower quality wood without a lot of quality resin notes. It does manage to come off rather woody for the style, without the sort of spicy breadth to it you tend to expect in pressed incenses. Overall it’s a bit airy and powdery, surprisingly light for the style and scent. I’m always amazed at the restraint of these incenses, when stylistically they could be a lot more off. That it actually seems woody still in this sort of base is rather clever.

The last three Xiang-Do incenses here have been marketed in a sampler subtitled “Fresh,” but I believe this may be just a way to promote them in the United States, as like the others in the line all have a number, implying a much larger range to be found in Japan. All three of these follow the wave of popularity of tea and coffee incenses, a passion I only partially share.

The Green Tea (or Sencha) incense is roughly in the Forest and Peppermint vein, and like many Green Teas I’m always struck by their sweet patchouli-sort of aromas. Fortunately the central green tea oil does bring out the leaf quite a bit, I’m always reminded of sage family plants when I smell this, almost as if there’s a slightly psychoactive side to it. It does have the range’s rich base to it and I was actually a little surprised this one didn’t grab me as much as I’d expected, although I’m definitely warming to it with every stick.

It was actually the Tea incense itself that really impressed, a reddish, pungent blend that combined tea with spices in a way that reminds me of Chai without the milk. There’s both jasmine and cinnamon/clove hints that really give this a richness beyond just the leaf itself and I fell for this in a way that puts this on my next Shoyeido shopping trip. Tea, spice and floral all at once, there’s a definitely exotic bent to this that’s as far away from Earl Grey or Darjeeling as you can get.

Readers will know I don’t go for Coffee incenses in general (and I should mention that I do love coffee itself) and while this Xiang-Do moved a little closer to the bullseye for me, due to the way the overall aroma smells more like vats of crushed beans than a café after a long day, it still doesn’t strike me as something I’d particularly want to fragrance a room with. But overall if you are a fan I think this is one you might prefer as it has an intensity that helps to mitigate the funkier aspects found with charcoal coffees.

I noticed by looking at the numbers on the Xiang-Do boxes that there has to be a good four or five dozen more aromas we don’t even see in the United States, similar to the LISN lines. It’s hard to imagine how successful more aromas would be given the short stick and expensive (16.50 for 20 sticks) price. When I think of these incenses, I think of them as game changers, that is a pleasant way to mix up my traditional incenses without the funkier perfumes. One can find samplers of the line in order to check these out on your own, as the style is similar enough in most cases that everyone’s going to find their favorites. For me, the Forest is the huge favorite, although I’m finding Peppermint and Tea to be both on the ascendance in terms of use. And as a great example of a modern style, these are incenses likely to be friendly to the visitor who is casual about these things.

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