Happy New Year (including Gokula and notes on Mermade Magickal Arts)!

I just posted the last two articles for my Gokula series today as Gokula is running a 20% off sale through 1/8, so I figured if you hadn’t checked the line out yet now is a perfect time! There are some definite goodies in their gigantic line and there’s actually a whole back half I didn’t review that are Mahavadhas sourced, so if you come across any of those that are good, do let us know in one of the Gokula post threads! Anyway, this takes us nearly to the end of the reviews stored up from last year, there may be a couple more to trickle in. More on this in a sec…

As I’ve been taking it easy over the holidays, I haven’t had too much of a chance to review or evaluate anything, but I did want to mention a few more Mermade Magickal Arts goodies. These aren’t intense reviews as I basically love all Mermade incenses which definitely all deserve deeper dives, but Katlyn tends to always be really busy during the holiday season and releases quite a few new vintages and I wanted to get in my thoughts before they’re gone. It was really nice to see Baccy Claus again, it’s at least the second vintage but I would guess the batch I had previously was before we started ORS up again. This one seems an improvement, never a surprise with Katlyn’s work, almost as if the middle had been brought up to match that peppery herbal note that makes this a scent unique in her catalog (think a mix of tobacco and herbal with the greener evergreen notes cradling this top scent). This one even has some unique elements in the mix with a touch of Amanita and Sativa, I’ve had the pleasure of an incense or two in the long past where Kat will mix something like this in and the results are always special and a bit different from the normal catalog. So certainly this is one to add to your cart right away.

Also checked out was her latest vintage of the Classic Kyphi, as I have long stated on these pages the Mermade kyphis are always well worth checking out, although I have been really unable to plumb the depths of this one quite yet. It’s really impossible to evaluate something this complex after just a sitting, but this will certainly be out right next to the heater over the next month. Some of the most recent kyphis strike me almost like drier wines compared to the sweeter ones, if you need an overall take. Forest Honey seems like a new experimental merging of two of her lines (say Sweet Medicine and Wild Wood for example) and is quite a bit different from Kat’s usual green holiday mix and a welcome variation. As always you get that great balance that allows you to experience both sides of the scent. But once again, I still need to dig out the time to really sit with it. Similarly with the Jasmine Dreams. I spend a lot of time both reviewing and evaluating and largely getting really fatigued by jasmine incenses over the last year, so it was great to get back to one that really highlights how good it can be. Perhaps part of the reason is this has a lot of green frankincense and repeat customers generally know how high quality this frankincense can be from Mermade. But this has a real nice peach note (resin seems to help bring this out) that you can often get out of the better jasmines and it seems like a perfect match with the better frankincense. So overall and as usual, it’s impossible not to recommend all these new treats, not to mention that it looks like Mermade has several Esprit de la Nature goodies in as well which always go really fast. I haven’t tried any of these but they’re always great as well. I would bet Bonnie probably has more at her site!

So with that said while there are probably a few more reviews in the wing to go, we’re reaching the end of the current “season.” This year is unique particularly in that there’s also very little in the current queue to review as well. I think we’ve debating internally that there are things like Satya incenses that I’ve sort of had on the table, but with less time to really review things of late it can be difficult to force yourself to take a look at incenses better worth avoiding. There’s a Review Information link at the top left if you’d like us to review your incenses, just let us know. Happy New Year everyone!

Advertisement

Kunjudo / Kan Ken Koh / Breath, Sleep

Early in 2021 about when I reopened ORS I covered an interesting new incense Japan Incense had gotten in stock called Kan Ken Koh/Healing. This was an interesting charcoal-based mix of oils packaged in these neat little glass test tubes. As it turns out this incense is part of a series from which Japan Incense has turned up two new ones, Sleep and Breath. With a bit more data one can only come to the conclusion that these are really essential oil mixes rather than what you usually see in traditional Japanese sticks, and almost feel like they could have been targeted at a more new age or even co-op sort of audience. As such, they’re quite different than what you’d normally expect.

Breath lists magnolia kobus, eucalyptus oil, artemesia princeps and borneol as ingredients, with the eucalyptus being the focus. You absolutely get that eucalyptus leaf oil scent from this burn, in fact it’s a bit tea-like in a way and I’d assume the artmesia (mugwort) probably helps get it there as well, moving the overall aroma in an herbaceous direction. The borneol content seems rather small in comparison, hanging just onto the edges and the magnolia seems to be used more to ground this in a friendlier direction rather than being a feature on its own. It’s a neat stick overall because of its herbal qualities and quite natural smelling, definitely recommended for those who enjoy eucalyptus. That tree’s sort of slightly bitter and unique scent has really been given justice by this stick.

Sleep lists cedarwood, chamomile, thyme and hops, something of a very unusual mix I would guess; however, the link between chamomile tea and a bit of drowsiness seems fairly common in US herbal tea culture as well. Overall Sleep isn’t terribly different than Breath but where Breath seemed to have some high resolution oils in the mix, Sleep seems a bit more dialed back, perhaps intentionally. Cedarwood would actually not be the kind of aroma I’d imagine would help me sleep and it’s fairly strong here, but the rest of the herbs seem like they’re pulling it all a bit more in the right direction and it feels like that thyme and hops mix gives the edge of the scent a bit of luster it might otherwise be missing. But of the two in the series this feels less individual and realized than the others in the sense that the other two aromas really pop out at you while this one feels a bit more blended.

Mermade Magickal Arts / Kyphis, Incense Cakes; Espirit de la Nature / Giroflee Ordorante

It seems like with the new kyphi mechanism in play that there’s been a substantial creative outburst at Mermade in the winter months. Combine that with ORS being in something of a downtime, it can be really hard to keep up and deeply go into some of these new and wonderful scents that Katlyn has been whipping up in winter months, so I thought I’d do my best to try and do some sort of overview to catch up on some things. As I’ve mentioned before, the catalog window for a lot of Mermade goodies is short and often ORS reviews can shorten them a bit more, and even when I start a review page in draft, I have to keep tabs on what is still live or not by the time I’m ready to publish something. And this too, of course, goes for the Espirit de la Nature incenses that show up. It’s often like watching a car zip by.

So let’s start with the Mermade kyphis. I covered Kyphi #2, Goddess Temple, here. I believe the #3 was the green Emerald Temple variant and the #4 was the Amber Kyphi (pictured left), all of which are now gone, at least for the present. If you read the #2 review then you will realize these are largely intriguing variants of the same sort of kyphi base with a new front. All of them are wonderfully etched in detail and I’m just generally of the opinion that if you see a Mermade kyphi go up for a sale then it’s a good idea to start planning an order. The amber variant did not last long at all and it is a really wonderful incense, with the back half connected through this kyphi lineage and the front a wonderfully perfect amber scent, distinct and almost definitive. And I think the #5 variant here (coming soon, will link when live) will be Goddess Temple with Oud (pictured right). I just have a few early samples of this one from Katlyn’s last package but I might have to separate this one from the “usually special and magnificent” to the “particularly special and magnificent” category. I love the way the oud in this one sort of tinges and modifies the kyphi lineage of all these previous incenses. It does so in a way that might create the most significant change of this line of incense. It feels less like it has a new top note and more like the oud has just deeply infused itself into all aspects of the scent. When you think of kyphi as this sort of aged melange of ingredients that all add up to something like an aromatic vintage, the #5 seems to be a really cool leap sideways that might make you feel like you’re trying kyphi all over again.

Another project Katlyn is working on is “incense cakes.” There are three different ones that are all very recent, Cakes for the Queen of Heaven, Rose of Isis and Dionysos. These are all essentially a mix of resins, woods, herbs and spices that are all formulated into small little discs with a stamp applied and mostly mixed in with another natural ingredient. The first blend is subtitled a Mesopotamian incense and includes cedar wood and essential oil; Suhul and Yemeni myrrh; Iranian galbanum; styrax – liquidambar; labdanum resin and absolute; black frankincense; and juniper herb and berries. Not sure if my botany is up to this guess and it’s not in the ingredients, but the cakes look mixed in with eucalyptus leaves or something visually similar. You can actually really suss out the specific ingredients in this mix and one thing I like about it is that a lot of these are not as common in available incenses so you really feel like the styrax and labdanum are quite forward here and the evergreens give it all a more herbal quality than a green one. It all adds up to a nicely mysterious mix that reveals a cool creative take on a regional scent.

Rose of Isis is a bit more straight forward a blend, with the rose and sandalwood mix out in front. The rose comes from three different absolutes, and the sandalwood is the quality Mysore, but in addition there’s Sahul myrrh, Saigon cinnamon, Hougary frankincense, and benzoin; the mix dusted with agarwood powder. I’ve long understood Katlyn to have a really deep connection with Isis energy and have experienced a number of her crafts in this vein both on and off the market to know she is a vessel for it. The rose here is lovely and powerful, redolent even in the fresh tin, in the way that a friendly rose absolute can lead to it being a bit like valentine’s day candy. But there’s not just that element, but a really genuine scent of the actual rose flower that is paired with that. As the heat continues the rose note will tend to fade into the background more, with the myrrh and cinnamon comng in louder towards the late heat. The sandalwood seems a bit milder than you might expect, mostly due to the powerful rose front, but it tends to tie everything together in the background.

Dionysos is something of an incense cake version of one of Katlyn’s older incenses with the same name. In fact this review is still probably fairly spot on in many ways and here you can get this almost vintage spirits sort of vibe just over the fresh cakes in the tin. Part of this I believe is the black currant bud absolute. As a kid who grew up in England in the 70s, black currant was almost ubiquitous in sweets and I loved it. Here it’s modified by some of the other ingredients into kyphi-like age, like a fine intoxicating spirit. There’s classic incense resins (undoubtedly part of what carries the currant), agarwood, juniper berries, sweet tobacco absolute, cassis (also black currant), galbanum and a pinch or two of sativa. I sort of roughly classify this kind of incense into Katlyn’s later summer blends, there’s this sort of feeling of heat and harvest at work, ripe berries, hay and herb. One you definitely would want to pull out at a party, an event much richer with the god of wine in attendance.

There were also a couple new Encense du Monde incenses in the Mermade catalog of late but one blew out incredibly fast and the other might be gone by the time I get this incense live (3 left! Going, going..). This last one left (well they both were!), Giroflee Ordorante, is naturally up to Bonnie’s incredible talent, an incense that boasts a very involved ingredients list: “Matthiola longipeta ssp bicornis enfleuraged [night-scented stock] while still on the stem into benzoin, palo santo and tolu balsam resins, propolis, rose extract, palo santo wood, sandalwood, rosewood, cloves, cinnamon, vanilla, patchouli. Bound with reduced organic honey. Powdered with monarde fistulosa- rose variety.” What I immediately notice with this Nerikoh style blend is the mintiness and balsamic qualities combined, but it’s sort of the layer a lot of complexity sits on, a complexity I am not sure I’d even have the time to get into before this very original blend disappears. I’m not even familiar with what appears to be the main note, the night-scented stock, so I can’t place it in the aroma exactly. So in many ways Giroflee Ordorante is certainly unlike any nerikoh style incense I’ve tried in a Japanese catalog, but it stretches the form in quite the innovative way. These little pellets pack both a massive and quiet aromatic punch with that almost trademark creative touch Bonnie has that feels like fractals disappearing into infinity.

And I’d be amiss to not mention that the latest batch of WildWood is in stock, and while I haven’t tried this latest one yet, it’s certainly in a lineage where I have loved every single one and it is something you’d have to consider a Mermade evergreen classic.

Mermade Magickal Arts + Esprit de la Nature / The Mothers – Ancient Winter Remembrance, Emerald Temple – Katlyn’s Kyphi “Green”

So right about when we turned to ORS holiday time, Mermade Magickal Arts went all festive on us and released a bunch of really yummy new treats. I love all of Katlyn’s work but I might have particular favorites in the whole axis of evergreen/green/winter seasonal incenses that she does and so it was impossible for me not to make an order, and then when I got everything wonderful in, I’m like oh my god how do I share what I am experiencing and write about these on holiday time when a lot of Mermade blends rocket out the door in a few weeks time (or sometimes before I can even write anything). Well I’ll give at least these first two a shot, and although this might not be up to usual review standards, for sure these incenses are up to the usual high Mermade (and Esprit de la Nature) standards. These are two really wonderful incenses.

But let’s first start with one that a periodical and greatly admired contributor to the Mermade catalog has created. As many may be aware of, Be en Foret of Esprit de La Nature is also one of the great artists of heatable incense out there and her new blend The Mothers – Ancient Winter Remembrance is an absolute triumph of the style, one of the finest conifer incense blends ever made. I am still marveling over the complexity, beauty and triumph of this stunning incense, it is literally not to be missed. Look at these ingredients: balsam fir (Abies balsamea) bark, needles, resin, extract; Amanita muscaria mushroom; juniper (Juniperus virginiana) berries; spruce (Picea rubra) needles; hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) needles and extract; cedar (Thuja occidentalis) tips; mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) flowering tops; rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus) leaf extract; tree mosses (Psuedoevernia spp and Usnea spp); pinion pine (Pinus edulis) resin; and poplar (Populus tremoides) buds. All of these ingredients are bound with black elderberries (Sambucus nigra) and homemade hydromel (mead) and mixed with the Amanita muscaria mushrooms.

So the first thing one must look at is that in the overall sense of things we’re usually used to pine scents, perhaps balsamic scents and so forth when we talk about evergreens and conifers. It’s that experience of walking through a forest in cool mountainous air and experiencing the whole unified scent that so many plants combine to create. But there are so many different sorts of plants being used in this one that the aroma becomes so complex it actually starts to become somewhat kyphi-esque in its profile. I mean just sitting here after a second heat and trying to describe everything that goes through my head as I experience this is virtually impossible. First without any listing of something like frankincense, this still has a very resinous scent that one must chalk up to the various tree extracts and materials. The Mothers has a very pleasant, somewhat spicy fruitiness in the mix that is amazingly enjoyable, but this mix isn’t facile, it is deeply complex, aged and beautiful. I smell orange peel and marmalade, caramel, honey and wine, and where Katlyn’s green incenses tend to speak the voice of the Sierra Nevadas with a much greener finish, Be’s has its own unique character that is separate enough that you are likely to find both different species of the same genus. I’m not sure I can speak quite to how something like the amanita speaks through the scent, but the incense does feel like a conglomerate of smaller voices and there is a slightly psychedelic edge on all of this that adds to the choir’s unity. It is that sense of mycorrhizal fungi as a symbiosis of plant and fungi and, as the aroma spreads, human life as well.

Sort of in the reverse (or maybe inverse?) direction of this is Katlyn’s Emerald Temple, a “green” kyphi. One of the reasons I found this fascinating in the description is I sort of imagine kyphis more as brown, purple, or maroon, so I really liked the idea, given Kat’s skill with greeny goodness. The ingredients on this one, always a big list with kyphis, include fir balsam raw resin, green frankincense (Sacra of Oman), copal blanco, fir balsam Absolute, Cedar (Thuja) essential oil, Benzoin Essential oil (molecular distillation), and Chios Mastic. All dusted in green fragrant Arbor vitae (green cedar) powder. I would guess this kyphi is made with the production techniques of the previous kyphi we reviewed. Like some green mixes this also crosses over into lime-like territory, particularly due to the green frankincense and some element of the copal. My grandmother and a few other members of my family used to live in Key Largo for many years and could whip up a great key lime pie, which is what this scent reminds me a lot of with that mix of lime and sweetness. Even something like a lime Jolly Rancher kind of captures that front note. Of course this notable green frankincense note is really just the lead for that typical melange of caramel, wine-like, raisin tinged kyphi base, something that tends to remind me of autumn, except the lime pushes it all into different territory. It’s a nice little divergence from the kyphi norm and a cool little experiment that’s well worth looking into if you like the kyphis that come out of this venerable outfit.

But even as I come to a close here, I really want to remind folks to act fast. I just realized that Katlyn’s stupendously great Lord of the Rings inspired incense Elvish has already gone out of stock, and I can only imagine these two and the wonderful Southern/Central/native American inspired Lucida and the Tibetan inspired Golden Tara are soon to follow. These incenses, as always, show Mermade on the very cutting edge of cross-cultural experimentation with incense scent and culture and I often can not write fast enough to keep up with their demand and in many ways that’s a good thing as it shows their great appeal.

Sanbodhi / Incense Coils: Cold-Dissipation, Heat-Dispelling, Mind Soothing, Spirit Stimulation, Yoga

I have been trying to find other providers of this incense other than Amazon but Amazon seems to be the one bringing this Chinese/Tibetan company to the West. I have known of Sanbodhi for several years, as I keep trying to find more quality Chinese incense makers to showcase and discuss. Initially, I only had access to the Cold-Dispelling coils, which are among some of my favorite Tibetan Style smells. Currently, only a handful of these are left on Amazon but they tend to restock all five flavors so if you don’t see one, definitely check back. If I find a better source that keeps them in stock, I’ll edit this post. Also, as I find more information or even a website for them, I’ll update this post, but for now, Amazon lists them as operating out of China.

The can for Cold-Dissipation (no link due to out of stock) changes color as the first one was blue and the second was red. The incense inside has been the same. This is a formula I’ve encountered in different incense producers, and it often shows up as ‘Medicine Buddha’ or ‘Healing Incense’. It has a salty, woody front that reminds me a bit of a cheap aloeswood or a lower resin content aloeswood. There is a bitter-sweet follow-up of something medicinal, a smell that I recognize from multiple Tibetans, and I have always associated this scent with the ‘Medicine Nectars’ that Bosen lists in their ingredients. The marketing copy suggests that his is good for winter time, reducing the amount of dampness that cold causes (runny noses and phlegm). However that works out, I have always found this a nice cool temperature incense in that it tends to smell better when the temperature is cooler and more ashy and smoky when it’s warmer. As a result, I haven’t burned this as much in Hawaii but I used to burn it year-round in SF.

Heat-Dispelling seems very similar in scent to the Cold-Dissipation coil, but it seems saltier, less sweet with a slight juniper note. This claims to be good for dissipating the heat from summer, for preventing heat stroke and similar overheating types of conditions. As such, I imagined it was better to burn this when it was hot in the middle of the afternoon rather than a cool evening or morning. While I can’t speak much to the medicinal aspect, the smoke does seem ‘cooling’ in the same way mint or menthol can give off that cooling/refreshing feeling. This doesn’t have the same bitter-sweet center and instead it is more woody, reminding me of cedar/juniper blends.

I decided to hold off on reviewing Mind Soothing (no link due to out of stock) because I wanted to try it when things were getting rough. Well, it’s Monday afternoon and this was a particularly rough day with a lot of things breaking. So here I am lighting up the Mind Soothing coil and noting it’s a lot milder than the first two. It has a much more bitter presence, like more of the evergreen/juniper than the previous two and less of whatever the sweeter cedar wood used for the first two. I will say that it is kind of calming, just listening to the coil. I’m not sure if this is a cure-all for the worst day of your life but definitely more like a beer after work. As the wood scent builds up after it is about 20% into it, there is a note that wasn’t there at the start, and it is sort of like a breakfast cereal note. This is more like the smell of the inside of a box of breakfast cereal after you’ve removed the packaging. It’s part cardboard, part something sweet. It isn’t unpleasant, it’s just the closest parallel I could draw to what I’m getting off this note. While this isn’t going to be a strong room-scenting coil, it is definitely a relaxing companion and makes my recommendation list.

I decided to try Spirit Stimulation as a “first cup of the day”, before I have my normal tea. I wanted to see if it indeed stimulated me and got me going. I’m normally a morning person so perhaps this isn’t the best test but I do feel alert and focused. How does it smell? Well, I would say this scent is even milder than the Mind Soothing, so mild that I kept having to leave the room and come back in to really notice the difference because it’s subtle enough to just sort of ‘creep up on you’ and you don’t notice the smell as much because you’re in it. It is less salty and has more of a subtle wooden note with a few herbs. Almost like someone took a piece of pine and set a few aromatics on top of the pine and then it got set next to a old-fashioned steam radiator and the aromatics and wood smell subtly increase. Now I say pine but it is a kind of generic ‘warm wood’ smell as it smells like a sheet of plywood that is sitting in the sun, it doesn’t smell like combusting wood even though it is burning.

Yoga starts out with a much less mild and more spicy scent. I’m reviewing this almost immediately after Spirit Stimulation so compared to the previous, this has far more going for it. There is something like a hint of frankincense like you’d get with a good Lotus Ground. The salty woods are here but they take a back seat to the medicinal-frankincense type note that is in the foreground. The marketing copy on the side of the can says “This incense is prepared according to the Tibetan ancient incense formula to help the concentration in yoga practice. It is also used to relieve fatigue.” I feel like I agree with this statement and that while subtle, it is doing what it is supposed to all while smelling great.

Absolute Bliss / Dharmik, Krishna Rose, Kundalini Flora, Natural Beauty Masala, Natural Mysore Sandal, Vintage Nag Champa

As with previous reviews of Absolute Bliss-imported incenses, there is no current plans to list these incenses at the Absolute Bliss website so it is highly recommended and encouraged to contact Corey directly using the methods at his contact page if you are interested in any of the reviewed scents here. My experience is that you can find what you want and ask him for a Paypal invoice. This is the final group I’ll be reviewing for the time being, although hopefully not the last in the way of new scents from the exporter.

Dharmik is a really interesting flora or fluxo sized stick, although it falls a bit short of being a flora per se. It’s interesting in that there is a scent from this that I might call “brassy” which is something I have sensed in these types of sticks (especially Sai Flora); however, this seems to be a dusted charcoal and almost entirely dependent on a very strong oil. For sure there’s some combination of spices, woods and maybe even florals in this perfume but it’s very hard to pick out exactly what’s in it. Surely some level of sandalwood oil but it’s either an accident or there’s very little since it’s not imparting that level of personality to it. The spice plays around the edge a bit but I can’t separate whether it’s cinnamon or clove or something else because it’s not loud enough. Ditto with the florals, nothing is too loud in here to even define this as a floral incense. It’s certainly an interesting and pleasant scent and a bit tangy, but it sort of runs out my imagination trying to define it further. It feels like there might be some musk and amber in this as well and I’m just falling short of picking out screwpine/kewada just because there’s some level of an unusual flora in the mix. It tickles my memory a bit in being reminiscent of some old schools scents I remember, but they’re all lost in the mists of memory. I will say though that after several sticks I’ve come to love this one a lot more, like it has some latent addictive quality to it.

Krishna Rose is somewhat similar to Temple of Incense’s Indian Rose, but rose absolutes, incenses and mixes all often vary enough for even similar incenses to be different. There’s also a pretty visible difference in what the stick looks like in that the Indian Rose is a much more polished and thinner looking magenta colored stick, while the Krishna is obviously a very red-dusted charcoal stick. This doesn’t mean the Indian Rose isn’t charcoal but it looks a bit more like it’s probably a hybrid as you don’t generally see much in the way of peek-through. However the overall scent profiles are roughly enough in the same ballpark to mention it. Krishna has a nicely cherry-like rose profile, it’s a bit sweet and overall doesn’t really have any off notes which should make it a winner for most floral lovers. Whether it’s really much of a rose scent, well maybe a little but there’s a bit more to it and it probably leans more to a fruity-floral than a pure floral. But it certainly avoids a lot of the pitfalls you find in more inexpensive Indian masalas or charcoals. I don’t really sense any bitter or sour notes at all.

Kundalini Flora is akin to the Bengali Jungle Flora, but it has a more powdery sweet sort of floral mix, an almost pink like smell with maybe a more carnation-sort of bent in the middle. I’m often so used to Indian florals being rose or lotus incenses that I’m almost not used to coming across something that seems so much more Western friendly, so much more like a mainstream, feminine perfume in an Indian incense. It’s a very pretty and warm incense with a softness to it that betrays nothing in the way of sharp or bitter notes. It’s not even particularly far from the Vintage Jasmine/Jasmine Blossom except it doesn’t have any specific floral definition to it and there may be some level of lilac in here as well, although lilac incenses usually come with a lot of off notes. So yes this is nicely done, very friendly, a successful pink floral well worth trying out if you’re missing something like that.

The Natural Beauty Masala is a pretty vast contrast to the Kundalini Flora in that it is a tremendously woody incense, in fact it’s notable for having quite a bit of cedarwood in it, which changes the mix with the sandalwood oil quite a bit. The wood oils are just right out in front with this one and it’s actually a bit hard to tell if it’s the strength of the oils that bring up a bit of a spice background or if there’s a touch of that added or maybe a little bit of both. There may even be a touch of oudh in the mix. It’s honestly one of the best woody Indian incenses I’ve had the pleasure of trying and while it’s not really in the same family as the Happy Hari Oud Masalda, the two Oudh Saffrons and so forth, it’s still likely to appeal to the appreciators of these incenses. Once again I think the strong and powerful cedarwood note in this really sells it as it reminds me a little of the cedarwood masalas you used to be able to find in Triloka or even Pure Incense sticks, but there’s no base to get in the way of the scent and it’s not quite as sweet. There may be some light floral touches to balance it as well. Very recommended. *Please note that this is incense is currently out of stock and the hope is to have a new batch back in in October.

The Natural Mysore Sandal incense is really the AB equivalent to TOI’s Sandalwood Extreme, except because they are different batches I would give the quality nod to the TOI. However it is a slight nod only in the sense that this one doesn’t set off my nostalgia buttons off so much. However the AB version is much, much more affordably priced and since it’s still a wonderful sandalwood (this one pulls away from the Happy Hari Absolute Sandal quite a bit), it is really hard to argue that the quality difference justifies what may be something like double or triple the price, particularly if you’re ordering overseas to Temple of Incense. I think most Indian sandalwood fans are likely to find this one very pleasant indeed and it has a well defined sandalwood note that hints very much at fresh cut, quality wood. In fact if the TOI might have that nostalgic hint of the old days, this one at least really shows up the resinous qualities of the wood quite well. Sitting here in front of this, I find the gap between the two narrowing quite a bit.

Vintage Nag Champa is also a charcoal and it might make you wonder if Mike is going to go into one of his grandpa speeches about the old days again as this is unquestionably halmaddi-less. It’s also instructive in the sense that some of the same drier notes I detected in the Gold Nag Champa are here without the flakes. But overall it might be worth seeing this as more of a nag champa perfume or oil mix fronted incense rather than a champa style per se. It’s certainly a pleasant stick overall and still has the authenticity of the perfume up front, but it’s also as likely as dry a Nag Champa as you will try and there’s really little in the way of the sweet elements that help to ground the perfume. It gives way to clay and stone-like notes that I’m not sure are intentional, like it’s earthy in the same way a patchouli or vetivert incense is. And so for me it has something of a feeling like it’s almost leeching moisture out of the air. The bottom line, I guess, is I’m not sure it’s an improvement on the Gold but its kind of unique just because it’s so charcoal.

Ganden Monastery / Incense, Backflow Cones

There’s really an incredible amount of movement going on in Ganden Monastery Incense so it’s perhaps fortunate that one’s initial outlay gives you a rather huge box of it because you’re going to need it. It’s so complex that a sample and several sticks into a box I still feel like I’m learning this stick’s varied and unique contours. If it wasn’t so sleek I might make a comparison that it’s like two or three other incenses combined and often feels like it exhibits every note under the sun. There’s woods, berry, spice and camphor. Some level of tanginess in the mix, certainly some level of saffron, a bit of the “corn chip” scent. But no matter what combination of elements is most obvious at any given time, it’s like the smoothness of the overall incense might be the most impressive thing about it. I feel like it’s playing a game of hide and seek with me in that when I’m focusing on it with attention it seems to reduce to the conglomerate of the whole, but when I start getting distracted doing other things than it finds a way to bewitch you with its endless cascade of treasures. I also want to mention that overall this is a fairly mild incense, it doesn’t have the usual punch of a lot of monastery incenses, so it may be a decent gateway to the style. But it’s really the subtle qualities that recommend it.

It’s interesting, then, to look at the Ganden Monastery Backflow Cones in comparison as in this case there is an ingredients list: white sandalwood, saffron, purple sandalwood, cedar, and ganden grass. As the cone isn’t terribly different from the monastery’s main line incense one might imagine all or most of those ingredients are in that one too. It’s interesting to see ganden grass on an ingredients list for the first time in a while as I remember Dhoop Factory having an almost specific Ganden grass incense (I still very much lament not having access to this great company anymore) and it may be the one ingredient not as strong in the regular stick.

I realized too that this may be the first review of backflow cone I’ve done. Backflow cones have a hole down the center as they’re basically designed for holders where the smoke drifts down in artistic sorts of ways (like waterfalls), but it’s not really much use if you use it in a container of ash where the smoke is likely to pass through if you keep it up right. I noticed by this method that the cone starts to pick up the ash about 1/3 of the way down, so I tipped the last one over and noticed the aroma was pretty consistent. So overall it’s a nice cone, although personally I think you sacrifice a bit of quality with this format overall. But in many ways it’s a bit denser of an aroma than the regular stick with the saffron more present than the stick. It’s still quite a premium aroma and very enjoyable and to my nose miles better than the usual sorts of cones offered for backflow.

.

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!

Mermade Magickal Arts/Faunus, Sandalwood Dragon, High Desert Incense

Faunus is what appears to be a variation on Mermade’s classic Wild Wood formula. I have waxed frequently about how much I love Mermade’s forest blends, in fact over the years I tend to have the last 2 or 3 vintages still going in the collection and they are always a treat. This one seems to highlight fir balsam and cedar tips. For my nose, there’s something of a difference when balsam is used as it usually isn’t quite as piquant or strong as resins and so it has created a slightly quieter incense than one might expect from Wild Wood. I very much enjoy these slight variations, not just because the scents have a specific range of variation (since they essentially all belong to an evergreen family) but because new variations highlight specific ingredients and help you learn more about them. For me this just shows greater maturity in the work, which often tends to be just to show how much better the resolution is of the spirit of the plants being used. So you move from just experiencing a forest scent to actually experiencing the scent of each tree as a separate entity before the mix happens. Also, this one is interesting in that it seems to be aimed at a more summery scent, when I tend to personally associate these incenses with the cooler seasons. Needless to say newcomers to Mermade are advised to grab the latest of this type of mix when grabbing a heater.

While Sandalwood Dragon implies its main ingredient in its name, the mixture of frankincense and myrrh resins along with camphor really impart as much of the overall scent as the sandalwood, which really works around the edges and compliments the center more. This has a very lime/citrus aroma to it and is quite invigorating. I’ve loved the scent of camphor since I was a child and it’s in a nicely mellow form here, kind of like the glow on top. As I mentioned in the previous round up that it’s often tough to keep up with a reviews as this one has ticked down to “one left.” So I hope this isn’t the last we see of it, as I really like the way the ingredients compliment and accent the more crystalline elements of sandalwood.

While we don’t usually review raw materials at ORS, I’ll make it known that I usually grab a bit of frankincense or some other gem when shopping at Mermade, as not only does Katlyn provide a number of different kinds of frankincense, with wonderful variants, there are a lot of other neat treats to find as well. Some times she blends these resins and raw materials into more simple mixes, such as the well-named High Desert Incense. I’ll just quote the ingredients: “Pebbles of Copal Blanco, Aleppo Pine, Pinon Pine, and Maydi Frankincense soaked in Essential oils of Cedar, Fir, and Pine and dusted with Red Cedar and Juniper powdered wood.” This mix of materials really gives this one a bit of a southwestern feel, with the frankincense taking a bit of a back seat to the copal and pine. It has been resolved so the woodier smells that coat the resin really come out in the mix, the final adjustment that really provides the evocation of the desert. It seems like a perfect incense for the summer.

Kunlha Incense: Jetsun Dolma, Lotus Pema, Shing Tsa, Pangpoe, Loong Pö

These are produced by Kunlha Incense, which is a small family business. They are made without any animal materials and also seem to be made of very high quality herbs and woods. They are also pretty much “non sweat sock” or “funk note” in style. At the same time they are very approachable to a pretty broad range of people if you don’t demand the above two stylistic elements. Other than Loong Po there do not appear to be any oils used. At this point I have re-ordered three times so I am pretty sure I like them 🙂

Jetsun Dolma (Green Box): I think this is modeled after Green Tara as it is listed as “curative and healing incense”. The scent is a bit heavier then any of the other sticks, which might be valerian or mugwart. It is also very relaxing (to me at least) and is great later in the evening. This one seems to be herb heavy with some wood notes in the background. I find it fairly pleasant but not something I would use just for the scent.

Lotus Pema (Yellow Box): This is the wood scent one hopes to find when trying out anything that says “cedar” or “juniper”. It is beautiful, subtle, and very clean with no off notes at all. Really a great stick of incense in the pure wood style. This has become my “go to” woods scent. Highly recommended and I have yet to find anything comparable to it.

Shing Tsa (Blue Box): The cinnamon, rhododendron, and juniper in this blend seem to inter weave themselves yet at the same time you can sense each separately, which is a pretty good trick in incense or perfume. It can be very entertaining to sense them as they play out in the room. Great for mornings and afternoons. Really a well-rounded incense, almost Japanese in style. Uplifting and not overdone.

Pangpoe (Red Box): This is along the lines a of a fairly traditional “red stick” Tibetan incense. Lots of herbs and some woods totally blended into an overall combined scent profile. Classic but at the same time maybe not as much a standout like the three above. IMO, as always.

Loong Pö (White Box): This one seems to be designed as something to use for post work chill out. It has a mellower background scent then the Pangpoe with the addition of a perfume note added into it. Since my box is at least two years old and the note is still there (somewhat reduced) I am assuming there are some synthetic aspects to the scent. Essential oils or Absolutes, especially any floral’s do not tend to last that long unless tightly sealed, which these were not. However it is an interesting scent, like a light floral mixed with (maybe) aldehydes, pretty classic in style and not overwhelming at all. A nice mix and a pretty good stick that should appeal to many people.

-Ross

« Older entries