Temple of Incense / Amber, Amber Supreme, Benzoin Absolute, Big Cleanse

Temple of Incense Part 6
Temple of Incense Part 8
The entire Temple of Incense review series can be found at the Incense Reviews Index

I am a relative beginner in the world of Indian incense. While in my incense journey, Indian style incense was the first I encountered, it was during that time period in 2013-2015 that, for the most part, Indian style incense was mostly overly bombastic with shrill single notes that chased me out of the room or had me putting it out hastily. Smells like burning hair and cheap cologne would have made many of my descriptions back then.

So recently, I encountered Happy Hari for the first time, years after the founder died. This opened a door and I quickly began searching for more, almost coinciding with Mike reopening ORS. Learning about Temple of Incense sent me in a scramble. My first order was for one of everything. I have not been let down by this exciting journey and I decided to share the reviews in alphabetical order, leaving out the ones that Mike has already reviewed.

Our first stop is with Amber. As someone who first encountered King of Amber, this is exactly the same. For those who don’t know King of Amber, this is an extruded resin stick. It has a thickness and a heaviness to it that makes it stand out from most other masala sticks(other than other resin sticks like it). It also takes a while to light, showing that there is more resin than oil to make this stick.

I’d love to call this ‘Amber Absolute’ or ‘exemplar’ of the amber scent but it is more like ‘Egyptian Amber’ in that it comes across more like the soft Egyptian Musk type of smell you can get in attars and even in multiple brands of incense sticks. However, I don’t want you to imagine the cheap and artificial smell that can come from those $5 perfume bottles. Rather, this is more that they took actual resins and oils to create this from natural sources, and the result is this amazing, bewitching, soothing scent that everyone in the family comments on when I burn it.

The best thing about this compared to so many other incenses with ‘amber’ in their name on the market, this never crosses the line into cloying. It maintains a atmosphere of mystery with the soft amber scent. Since amber is common in so many western perfume blends, my nose always picks up amber in many Indian incenses as ‘perfume’ yet here it remains solidly like I expect honey amber resin to smell, with that touch of something else that grounds it a little bit, perhaps labdanum or similar, and it adds that mystery and musky type of note that keeps this from getting too sweet.

Next is Amber Supreme. Instead of being a thick, extruded resin stick, this is a handmade masala finished with a light brown dust. The name makes me imagine that this is going to be stronger, faster, better than Amber, but supreme can mean other things, like restraint, discipline and regimen. In this case, this is a much more muted version of the amber smell, it is less sweet and has a little more of the ‘baby powder’ note of amber in it, but again, none of this is the artificial amber or perfume amber. This doesn’t cross into cloying, or sweet, it remains subtle and restrained, which is two words I rarely trot out in a review of anything Indian style. I also want to a address how different the sweetness is between the two. Amber has a sweetness like honey and this one has a sweetness more like confectioners sugar, which helps support the more bitter aspects of it’s scent.

I would suggest Amber Supreme for anyone who finds Amber to be too strong for their tastes, this also lacks less additional ingredients so it is more like ‘pure amber’ or ‘amber absolute’ than the previous entry. Definitely do not burn this on the tail of Amber because you will barely notice it.

Similar to Amber, Benzoin Absolute is a thick resin extruded onto a bamboo core. As someone who has loved Meena Supreme in the past, my initial hit off this was ‘Oh, so ToI renamed Meena Supreme to Benzoin Absolute’. But that lasted for just a moment as I realized this lacked the other perfumes and finishes of Meena Supreme and instead has a scent profile that would represent maybe 50% of the Meena scent.

What you get here is what I call the ‘Indian’ interpretation of benzoin, as this doesn’t come across as the burnt marshmallow note I associate with the plain benzoin, so either the locality or the processing is different here and this benzoin is less sweet and has a few more metallic and maybe even confectionery notes, like a bitter marzipan.

Big Cleanse is a thick charcoal stick with oils and maybe a bit of resin. The website sells it as a smudging stick and I think it might be good for exactly that sort of thing. It has a very herbal smell, reminding me of the German bitter teas like 7×7, and because of that, I like how this smells, though many who I have burned this with have commented on how they don’t like the bitter and acrid notes coming off it.

If the three sweet incenses reviewed here are yin, this has enough yang bitterness to balance all of them at once. While the purpose of this blog isn’t to wander as far into the spiritual nature of incense, this is clearly more for intention and cleansing than for sitting and pleasantly enjoying. However, I’m also someone who has spent years drinking bitter Chinese teas and similar kinds of things from Europe and so I don’t mind a little bit of bitter here and there, especially if you consider some of these sweeter incenses like Amber dessert.

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