Temple of Incense / Sufiaana, Arabian Attar, Banaras Sandal, Delhi Nights

Temple of Incense Part 5
Temple of Incense Part 7
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

I wanted to pause for a second and comment a bit on the overall Temple of Incense line and how it kind of relates to my understanding and I’ll thank Stephen here for some internal conversations on this very subject. I’ve talked quite a bit about how in the 90s masala recipes changes drastically in style, particularly the move away from halmaddi in incenses. The thing I probably didn’t notice as much is that some of these incenses moved into different masala styles, but there seems to have been a greater move towards charcoal bases, more than I probably expected. Charcoals often have dusting that tend to hide the color and some charcoals are actually hybrids with masalas themselves so it’s a little bit of a guessing game with what is what but you can usually tell by how firm the sticks are. So I feel to some extent the old language I was using has maybe not kept up so well with some of these changes. Part of it is that I think some of the charcoals or hybrids do a fairly good job now of mimicking incenses that were previously in a more masala or even champa/halmaddi style in the past. Bengal Beauty was one I was thinking of burning it last night, that it still attempts to go for what is overall a very sweet scent, because those lavender tipped sticks in the past actually did have halmaddi of a sort. But I wanted to mention all of this because 1) the Temple of Incense line actually seems to be largely charcoal or hybrid, but 2) their charcoals are usually so good that it’s easy to overlook that they are. So I’ll also add that the difference between what we cover here is that I try to avoid dipped charcoal sticks, and not as much charcoal sticks that are created differently or hybridized. After all even a Madhvadas line like Pure incense uses some charcoal in their sticks and it’s not uncommon in Japanese incenses either.

So Sufiaana for example, like Bengal Beauty, is a good example of a charcoal or hybrid with a lot of dusting and a very sweet aromatic profile, a scent that used to be fairly common in the halmaddi era. It is described as having a light sandalwood base, with musk and big floral top notes. This is another one of those incenses that reminds me vaguely of an incense that used to be in the Incense from India line (might have been something like musk sandalwood or some such). You can tell from the £14 price on the box that this incense lies more towards the top end of the range. Sufiaana has a lot of its own personality. The sandalwood and musk make up a great deal of the bouquet but the “big floral top notes” could also be just as easily described as fruity. It’s not even terribly different from some of the top floral oils we talked about in the El line in that you get such a mix of different floral perfumes that picking out or describing anything too specific isn’t really possible. But there’s no question Sufiaana is really beautiful and actually justifies the amount of movement in the profile, it really keeps you busy moving one’s attention from one note to another. And a lot of that is that the sandalwood/musk and floral elements have a great deal of interplay in the scent. It’s something of a classic Indian scent overall and well worth trying.

And also somewhat coincidentally, the Arabian Attar is probably a perfect example of an actual masala hybrid, I’m sure charcoal is part of the overall incense blend but the clear choice here wasn’t to just go in the same direction that, say, the Himalayan Spikenard went in. I’d classify this one as existing in the same sort of aromatic area as Perky Pandit and Fruits of the Forest, in fact all you’re really told is its a combination of “oriental perfume” and a fruity note. All of these fruitier blends share a sense of judicious mildness and this one actually seems to fall along the lines of say apple and pear as opposed to berries, tropical or citrus. It’s actually a little reminiscent of the old Juicy Fruit chewing gum in some ways, particularly in how it ends up seeming fairly generic as an aroma. I’m not sure what my expectations were with Arabian Attar but this isn’t how I generally think about them, which may speak more to my inexperience than anything else. But there’s certainly nothing really woody about this incense.

Banaras Sandalwood is the second of three sandalwoods to discuss. As I said with the Extreme, the Temple of Incense sandalwoods are very good indeed and thankfully the Banaras is in a more affordable price range than the Extreme, while not losing too much of what makes that such a great sandalwood. While the note in the Extreme that really makes it special is somewhat reduced here there’s still enough hints of it that make sure this doesn’t fall into more generic categories. Also, unlike the Extreme and the regular charcoal, this is dusted with enough wood that it imparts a bit of a different quality to it. Anyway I find this very enjoyable and certainly well worth checking out especially if the Extreme isn’t in your price range. This is the real deal, brash, in your face and super redolent with sandal oil. Oh and apparently there’s a bit of lemon in here too, something that is not an uncommon addition to a sandalwood as it compliments certain qualities.

Finally, with more of a mix of specific elements there is Delhi Nights. This one has notes of bergamot, citrus, amber and tonka bean, a combination that instantly reminds me of some of the Designs by Deekay blends. Strangely it even has something of what I might call a celery note, which may be due the combination with what smells like a healthy bit of wood as well. And circling around to where I started with this article, this is another example of a stick, one that may be a charcoal or hybrid, that has enough of the vanilla (somewhere between the tonka and amber I bet) and lightness to be redolent of champas in some way even if this is much too dry to have halmaddi anywhere near it. I really do like the resolution on this stick because it plays in ways that you don’t expect at all from the notes. For me the citrus elements are so dampened they barely show up like you’d expect. It’s a very fascinating incense indeed.

I’m pleased to say that I will be handing off the rest of the Temple of Incense series to Stephen starting with the next installment, so stay tuned as there is a lot more coming!

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Nippon Kodo / Yume-No-Yume (Dream of Dream) / Bamboo Leaf, Butterfly, Fern (Discontinued), Fiddlehead Fern, Goldfish, Horse-Tail Plant (Discontinued), Japanese Morning Glory, Maple Leaf, Pink Plum Flower, Whooping Crane)

Nippon Kodo seem to be the largest Japanese incense company, especially when looking at all their various lines and collaborations. From their very inexpensive Morning Star Line all the way to the Most Exceptional Quality kyara line, the company has a wealth of different incenses, being one of the few Japanese companies to also have a bamboo stick line. In fact only Shoyeido has a similar wide range in styles and tastes.

As incense is generally a niche interest in the United States and usually allied with new age shops, there tends to be strong trends towards smokeless incense and all natural incense. From research, I think it’s very difficult to tell where a company diverges from using all natural ingredients to using organic if not entirely natural ingredients all the way to the art of perfumery where synthetic oils and ingredients are often taken for granted. Having wandered too often into the wake of mainstream and heavily synthetic colognes and perfumes, it’s easy to get turned off by the idea.

As far as I can tell one of the identifying features of an incense that has a healthy share of synthetic ingredients is how strong a stick smells without burning it. Natural ingredients by their lonesome don’t stand out very often from Japanese sticks, especially sandalwood and aloeswood heavy sticks, which is a far cry from sampling fresh Indian masalas. Nippon Kodo’s Yume-No-Yume line is a good example of an incense whose fresh stick could nearly scent a room without lighting it.

This line is rather elegantly presented for the modern consumer. The gift packs come with incense and a porcelain holder (both also sold separately) that mirrors the packaging art, usually a white background with slight Japanese art that reflects the nature of the incense. Yume-no-yume also comes in both stick and coil form, and while I haven’t tried the coils yet, the scents do seem eminently suited to that form (if maybe too much for smaller rooms). The only thing to watch out for in the packaging is the plastic holder that contains the incense and mini burner, it’s far too easy to cause a spill opening the holder (counterintuitively) the wrong way. Other than that bit of warning that becomes mitigated once you get used to it, I actually really like the packaging.

If I remember correctly, Nippon Kodo’s Fragrance Memories phases certain incenses in and out every so often and I believe they do something similar with this Yume-No-Yume line as I’ve happened across one incense that seems deleted (for now). Currently the line has nine different blends and the least impressive of these incenses is fine indeed.

Pink Plum Flower contains key notes of white plum, red plum and willow leaf bud. This listing of the ingredients will automatically give one the impression there’s something different at work here, as I don’t have a clear idea of what each of these three notes might be like. Like the whole line, the stick is strong and pungent, far more so than any natural Japanese plum flower incenses, most of which I’ve tried have been very mellow and light. In fact that sort of subtlety is what prevents me from being totally behind this blend, it may be the least distinctive blend in the range.

Goldfish is the other incense in the line that doesn’t quite come up the rest. While I’m generally very impressed at the way certain notes are blended for effect, I find it pretty hard to get used to the mint/watermelon/jasmine blend, especially with the whole water motif at work here. I’d almost forgotten jasmine was involved but the other two are quite strong. It’s definitely unusual, but a bit like a symphony not quite in synch.

Butterfly was the first blend I tried and won me over fairly quickly. Here, the key notes, geranium, vanilla and cinnamon all blend almost flawlessly into a scent that reminds me more of amber than any of the other blends. Part of it is not terribly far from Shoyeido’s Horin/Nijo scent, but as a far more perfumed scent this is much stronger in impact and not as subtle.

Bamboo Leaf might be my favorite of the whole line, it appeals to my taste for sweet/green and patchouli-esque hints, despite the fact it doesn’t appear to have patchouli as an ingredient. The green tea is way out in front and surprisingly the yuzu citrus and lemon flower notes don’t really give that much of an impression of a lemon tang to the tea, I get the impression they mostly add to the complexity. This is probably the one I’d start with first if you’re new to the line.

Maple Leaf is another favorite in the line, its hints of persimmon, tonka bean (think vanilla), and ambergris blend perfectly into a rich and somewhat fresh scent. While this doesn’t strike me as quite as amber-like as Butterfly, it’s obviously by ingredient in that general class, but the name of the incense isn’t misleading either, with some hints that will likely remind you of a pancake breakfast, partially due to just how sweet it is.

Whooping Crane might be the least intense blend in the line and you can see why the choice is made. With a winter/snow motif, there’s a very slight mint hint to what is a rather perfectly blended combo of camellia, musk and frankincense. I detect the musk at times, but frankincense can often be a tough call since quality can vary so much. As far as a packaging theme to incense scent relationship, this is about as spot on in the line as it can get. Very sultry.

For fans of fruit scents, you can probably do no better than Fiddlehead Fern, which takes berry intensity into its own level. Lots of fruity incenses strike me as pretty synthetic or unsatisfying, so it’s kind of a jolt to find out that the one I like the best might be the most synthetic in the bunch. Very fruity and rich with the raspberry middle almost, if not quite obliterating the black currant and leaf bud of peach notes. Quite impressive overall.

My second favorite in the line is probably the Morning Glory, partially as it strikes me as YNY’s most exotic blend. The green banana in particular is fabulous and the vetivert gives it most of its Eastern tinge, almost musky and dense. I’m used to bergamot as being slightly citrus-y, but it’s kind of hard to detect here. Above all, the oil scent is just a little unusual and it really adds quite a bit of character, although at the odd time it might seem like everything clashes – only for a moment.

The strangely named Horse-Tail Plant is not likely to win over the western consumer, but it ought to as it’s the weirdest incense in the line. For one thing, it’s the only incense with only two named notes, strawberry flower and oil-seed rape blossoms. Neither name gives any hint to the blend involved here which is almost beyond description. The small print says “Fruity-green. The refreshingly bitter scent of new leaf buds in the moning dew.” Bitter might be the only descriptor that resonates with me, but again it’s a bitter I’ve not quite experienced before.

The deleted line is called Fern, and I assume Fiddlehead Fern was its replacement. You can see why in some ways as other incences in the line capture similar qualities better. The notes are maple leaf, yuzu-citrus and bitter orange and if you scroll up you can see all but the latter note in other blends. Here they don’t seem to blend quite as well, although I may think differently after another sample or two.

Overall, this is a really neat line. Whatever you might consider synthetic, the scents here are clean, smooth and not headache inducing in any way, they’ve certainly changed my mind about the potential of the meeting of perfumery and blending arts. And they’re also very affordable, a package of 12 sticks or 5 coils (without holder) running you about $6-$7. I’m actually looking forward to the next switch out to see what they come up with next.