The Mother’s India Fragrances / Frankincense (Sweet), Guna Nagchampa, Meera Nagchampa, Neem Nagchampa (Part 1 of 2)

[Please note that in the writing of this it got really long, so I decided to split up the review into two segments and will be using the same top picture for both.]

I got wind of the first five Nag Champa incenses from Mother’s Fragrances probably late 2008 or early 2009. For my nose these were easily some of the best Indian sticks on the market and all five scents were amazing, particularly Ganesh Nagchampa which was something of a revelation. It wasn’t actually until a bit later that I was told they were using halmaddi in their incenses, but I felt Mother’s had really devised an incense recipe of their own with these five that set them apart from everything else in the market at the time. So I wouldn’t have called any one of them a traditional Nag Champa, but they were great nonetheless. Soon after I posted this original review, Mother’s in India got in touch with me when they released their expansion of 14 new Nag Champas, which I review in two parts. They were exceedingly generous, well beyond the usual samples I receive for review, and sent me something like 5 20 stick packages of not only the new 14 aromas but the original five as well. I was just blown away, but after this they also sent a package of aromatics, including a jar of halmaddi to show what they used in their incenses. I was just amazed at the transparency and kindness of the company, moved even. And while not all 14 incenses hit me in the same way as the original five, I still found much to like including my second favorite in the whole series, Om Nagchampa. But overall all 14 seemed well in line with the original 5 and my enthusiasm for this line was at a huge high.

Not very long after this, Essence of the Ages did a restock on their incenses including smaller packages of 12 sticks each. I didn’t buy many but I had mowed through at least my Ganesh and Om stock (I probably gave packages away too) so I restocked a few of each of these in the 12 stick packages. I remember when I first opened them, I thought something had changed. I wasn’t quite sure because the general aroma was still the same but everything felt a bit thinner, like there was less halmaddi or the perfumes were not as complex anymore. Soon after this I was contacted by someone different at Mother’s who wanted to send me the first half of their second expansion. Still very generous, multiple packs, a second mailing of aromatics. I review this group here. My enthusiasm of these was more tempered and I was starting to notice that not all of the oil mixes were working out really well. But, perhaps as a result of the less enthusiastic reviews, I was never sent the second half, nor really motivated to ask if they were coming.

Mere Cie was the US importer on these incenses (although all my contacts up to this point were directly in India) and I believe the owner of the company changed hands somewhere here (indicated by the slight change in name to Mere Cie Deux). But I was always left a bit puzzled by the remaining stock of Ganesh and Om I had left, every time I’d return to them the difference between them and the original stock became more and more obvious. Not only that but over time they both developed mold in a way that the original incenses haven’t. This isn’t an unheard of thing mind you, but I live in Sacramento where its is extremely dry and mold is very unlikely to occur, in fact other than this one and probably the Om, I’ve only seen it happen in uncured resin mixes where it’s a foregone conclusion.

This isn’t a huge deal mind you, the packages must have been something like 10 years old and anyone is likely to use them a lot quicker than I did, so I would not take this as an indication of anything but this curiosity I had over this stock and what I had previously received via samples, because none of the even older sticks have developed the same issues. Once ORS reopened I felt like I needed to add caveats to the first three series of reviews, to warn people that these reviews may no longer apply anymore. I take absolutely no pleasure in doing so, but one of the largest difficulties of reopening ORS (in fact it had a lot to do with closing it in 2016) is dealing with these recipe changes, particularly when it comes to incenses we were in support of. This is a huge thing when the lion’s share of a site’s reviews are at least five or six years old and as many as 14. But to me the changes are also unconfirmed yet, because there are other reasons that might be in play like just a batch that didn’t come out right and so forth. The aim is to be objective and not punitive.

I know Tara, Mere Cie Deux’s new owner, had asked to send samples my way and finally I have received a new set of packages from her of seven new-to-me incenses and a small sampler package of three herbal incenses. I want to first thank her for sending them. Again, please understand that I try my best to objectively review the incenses as much as I can, even if I might not like a particular scent I know other people have different tastes and I want to write in a way that people can identify if they might like something that I wasn’t as enthusiastic about. The issue over whether something is bad incense is something I mitigate by not reviewing samples of particular styles like most dipped incenses and so forth. I don’t regularly do things like Gonesh or Hem or oil-based hexagonal boxes of Indian incense or WildBerry or stuff like that. There are other forums out there including the Incense group on Facebook that have large groups of fans who like certain dipped styles and so forth and I just make it a habit to stay away and let them be. In fact even Mother’s has lines of charcoal and oil incenses that I think are outside the framework of ORS. However if they are masalas or Nag Champas then they are entirely within our framework.

So I wanted to set this context for when I opened the new sample box. Immediately what I noticed was a very strong and unusual wood or herbal note that permeated absolutely every single incense in the box. I literally began to go through most or all of the incenses to hunt down what it was because it seemed to me to potentially pose an aromatic conflict with some of the incenses. I didn’t know if maybe the herbal samples had contaminated the champas or if the note was part of the new base of incenses or if it was just one of the nag champas. As I initially went through them I found that this note seems to be part of the base of these new incenses. I don’t know if any of the line’s earlier incenses have switched to this new base or of it’s specifically formulated for these incenses, but I also noticed that this note is largely part of the unburned stick and not really part of the actual burn. I’m still not sure what to make of it. Mind you it is not an artificial or unnatural scent, it’s just strangely different and not a note you would imagine would compliment halmaddi.

But it’s important to bring up I think because this batch of incenses is actually very interesting, maybe even experimental in some ways. It’s one reason I wanted to sort of give a precis of my Mother’s journey to date because these are quite a bit different. If you look at pictures at Mere Cie, you can still see the lighter champa base on the older incenses and while I’d still love to rest my thoughts on whether the early lines have changed or not, the seven under review here appear to (mostly) be completely different incenses with a very new and unusual halmaddi-masala mix. There’s the unusual wood or herbal note I mentioned above but the base also can be something more like sweet chocolate, almost confectionary in a way. As you can see from the names of the incenses, we’re covering a lot of ground here that’s very unusual in the world of nag champas, in fact we’re stretching the definition of this way past where Mothers originally took it and into new territory. Don’t get me wrong, as I sort of adjusted to what I was smelling. I found these all to be intriguing incenses and increasingly fascinating as I went forward. You can find these for sale at the Mere Cie Deux website on the champa page.

So first of all there’s the Frankincense (Sweet). While this isn’t labeled as a Nagchampa on the package like the rest of these are, it still roughly fits into the same format and that addition is actually listed in the insert in the package. It’s a bit more akin to the sorts of masalas I used to see in the Triloka, Incense from India and other lines, where it would be brown colored and very sweet. Different from say the Happy Hari/Temple of Incense formula. But the same masala/halmaddi base used in all the rest of these incenses is here as well, and this sets it apart from the usual sweet frankincense masalas. There is some actual level of the resin, like it’s crushed up in the mix some, but it’s not a level of top flavor that really strongly outweighs the base. And this sort of sugary, confectionary, chocolate feel to it is really dominant here in a way some of the other champas in this batch don’t have because of the more divergent top notes. The other ingredients listed for this incense are Indian benzoin (where it supposedly gets its more balsamic tones from), gugal resin, cedar wood oil and a trace of Assamese oudh. In my hunt for that earthy note I mentioned above, I did guess it might be the gugal as its in the same family of myrrh and I’ve noticed this sort of wood-like quality that comes from the actual plant wood itself rather than the resin alone. Anyway overall this is a pretty intriguing incense for sure. It’s unlike most other Indian frankincense sticks, champas or otherwise, and the cedar oil also works nicely with the balsamic and resinous qualities. It’s a very friendly incense that I think most will like.

Guna Nagchampa is simply Coffee Nagchampa (or maybe more accurately Mocha Nagchampa), which is something I thought I’d never see myself write. This is a stick that reminds me a lot of Nippon Kodo’s Paris Café Fragrance Memories stick. Now one of my favorite smells in the world is a high quality brewed up coffee, but I tend to think of that aroma without the cream and sugar. When you have this sort of sweet halmaddi base you’re really going for something more like a mocha or latte sort of aroma. And to my nose this is a bit more superior to the NK stick simply because the halmaddi base seems more natural as a sweetener than extra perfumes. Because there are so many Japanese sticks that really only reach an approximation of coffee, I think this one might move into the lead as one of the most attractive coffee aromas outside of coffee itself. It’s a modern for sure and there’s nothing like premium bean about it, but Mother’s often tend so close to traditional ingredients this actually feels pretty authentic. But once again, you’ll be a struck by the interesting chocolate-y base as any of the coffee top notes. It’s funny but I always remember liking Nestle’s Quik for chocolate milk as a kid, but there was always some secondary powder I remember liking a little less that smelled a lot like this incense, but for the life of me I couldn’t dig anything up (maybe Ovaltine?). Anyway yeah this one’s a very interesting take on it, although you really have to think halmaddi rather than champa with this kind of thing as this doesn’t smell anything like a mainline floral Nag Champa. And that’s OK.

After really starting to love the Absolute Bliss Natural Beauty Masala, Meera Nagchampa with its mix of sandalwood and cedar wood top oils is really a pocket sort of aroma for me and maybe my overall favorite in this grouping. This is a champa a bit more akin to the early incenses I reviewed (links above) but for me this is something of a perfect top note with a really great mix of the two wood oils. It’s not a complex incense, it doesn’t get too sweet in the mix which really allows the natural fragrance of these two great incenses to mesh and meld. If you like cedar this is a no brainer for sure. Very nicely done and proof simplicity is often a net positive.

Neem Nagchampa is a very unique mix, with neem leaves from the azadirachta indica tree. Neem leaves are an herbal aromatic that repel insects, and seem to be used for other unconfirmed medicinal reasons as well, but it’s the first time I can remember it being used in an incense. Now I have never smelled these leaves, but they appear to be part of the Indian lilac tree, but if I am getting the note right the leaves are a somewhat pungent, green scent and certainly herbaceous in the way we normally think of it. So in a lot of ways this is the first top note in this series that I think is quite unusual and experimental as a mix for a “nag champa.” But I’ve said it before, exploration and new scents are exactly what you look for in new incenses, so I definitely laud the company for trying some new things out. Overall this isn’t a sweet nag champa like many of the others in the series, the base seems a bit modified to sort of pull the Neem note out on it, and I’d dare say it seems to be successful in presenting this almost as an alternative to a lemograss or citronella sort of scent.

As mentioned above, my writing over the ORS Mother’s journey went on longer than I expected, so I moved the remaining three nagchampas and the Herbal Ambience samplers to a second installment that should be live in a few days.

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