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.

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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!

Aba Prefecture (Miyalo Town) / Huiyou and Qinrun Tibetan Incenses

I live pretty close to the Sierra Nevadas and have a lot of camping and travel memories of going into the evergreen-rich mountains and the ever-present scent of pine, cedar, fir and juniper. Hikes were always permeated with this higher altitude freshness and some of these were the woods that would end up in your fire at night. And so a lot of these impressions form the basic memories that the most resinous and green Tibetan incenses tend to recall. There are the similarities that trigger those memories and of course the differences that make them fascinating.

Both Huiyou and Qinrun incenses are intense evergreen incenses made by the Aba Prefecture in Miyalo Town. Huiyou Incense appears to be a therapeutic incense with a number of different uses but its central potency lies in how well it really captures this high altitude evergreen and wood aroma. It’s not the same kind of stick that Aba Prefecture’s other incenses create (the two great Shambhala incenses, a review of which should be forthcoming) or the sort of denser stick I’ve talked about with Bosen or Five Fragrance but this doesn’t lose any of that super green middle. I’m burning a stick first thing in the morning right now when it’s cool with a cup of coffee and it’s just an invigorating scent that gets in the back of the brain and pulls out great memories, where you’re all bundled up and inhaling the richness of nature. While the incense’s dominant note is definitely that green foresty scent, this also has a lot of herbal and spice content to keep it nice and complex too. There are so many blending ingredients that it’s a bit hard to separate one out from another, but it has that wonderful sawdust of fresh cut evergreen wood as a note and a bit of a spice mix that reminds me of some teas. Really gorgeous incense, highly recommended at its price point. It’s a bit smaller of a box than most of what you’re used to (including the Qinrun), but it’s well worth it.

Qinrun itself is something of a variation (or vice versa) of the Huiyou. It still has a lot of the same evergreen and wood qualities, but they’re a touch milder and pulled back. The ingredients given for Qinrun (there aren’t any given on the Huiyou but it’s not hard to extrapolate in some way) include white sandalwood, rosewood, nutmeg and Rhodiola roses. I feel this is enough of a variant on a good thing to make it an incense worth checking out in its own right. I would guess the rose element is probably not in Huiyou as much because it’s a note that changes the profile a bit, you get it right on the edge and it is a wonderful adjustment to it. It is really rare for floral elements to be strong in Tibetan incenses, so this incense is somewhat remarkable in having one. It also feels like the wood content is a bit higher, but once again this is just a slight change. Like Huiyou, this is a very beautiful incense with a lot of richness and complexity. Quinrun is a bigger box than Huiyou with only a slight adjustment upwards in price, but it’s still a very affordable incense for such incredibly high quality.

As a final note on the photos, you can see the fronts at the incense-traditions.ca links, but these are both really beautifully done boxes, so I thought I’d feature the other angles.

Pure Incense / Tuberose, P-Gokula, Pushkar, Pavitra Vastu; Revisits / Connoisseur / Agarwood, Blue Lotus, Parijata, Rosewood

Pure Incense have been kind enough to provide lots of samples for Olfactory Rescue Service review and I recently received a new batch, including four old sticks previously reviewed in order to give a taste of where these classics have been heading as ingredients and recipes change over the years. In my opinion this kind of transparency is to be highly lauded when so many companies just change things completely without notice and I believe it to be a true acknowledgement of the art of incense in that change is inevitable in this field and that your favorites will probably not be around forever. It is good to see that even with changes that new formulas are being added and experimented with and that Pure Incense really do have a way with the perfume notes in their incenses. So let’s start with the new and previously unreviewed formulas. [NOTE 10/8/21: Due to variation in natural products it is unlikely Pure Incense reviews written from 2009-2013 will be completely accurate in 2021. Links below are to new versions (in these cases Absolute versions), so please use caution in purchasing. Pure Incense uses different grade levels and you’re likely to find their best work in their Connoisseur and Connoisseur Vintage ranges.]

When it comes to certain floral incenses, a lot of Indian incenses tend to a high level of charcoal in them, after all you can’t really burn rose petals and have the scent smell like roses and so there is a high level of oils in incenses like this. Tuberose is one of these scents and I’m probably not alone in not being a fan of this format of incense. But just like when you compare Pure Incense to their US cousins Primo, the quality level seems to be a lot higher with Pure Incense and I found the base to be, if not pleasant, and least not offputting. I seem to remember Primo’s version being a lot harsher and eyestinging. The oil on the base, of course, is quite nice and while you can still sense a bit of the vanilla floating behind it in the base, the Tuberose is a soft, rounded and cushy floral, somewhat powdery and quite feminine.

The Pavitra Gokula scent, which seems to be a subline of Pure Incense’s Premium collection, appears to be a new riff on their classic Blue Lotus scent. And like anything even remotely similar to the Blue Lotus, this is a very beautiful and bewitching incense, almost like a caramel-tinged floral. It has some similarities to one or two of the Vrindavan incenses elsewhere in the line, and there’s that wonderful hint of sweet and crystal pink that these incenses are topped off by. The Gokula has an almost candy-like middle, giving it a real complexity (especially when you consider how complex the Blue Lotus perfume is on its own). Perhaps its only weakness lies with the base, but its likely most readers will already know if they’re OK with it or not. And if you’re not sure I wouldn’t let it put you off as the base layer actually adds more than detracts from the complexity. It’s really the kind of direction you want to see a company take, experimenting with their formulas for new takes.

The Premium incense Pushkar also riffs on the Blue Lotus incense, this time combining it with the Vrindavan Champa scent. I believe it is with some modesty that Pure Incense hasn’t ranked this with their Connoisseur level, as the crystal pink floral scent mixed with the Blue Lotus oil is really a product of master craftsmanship. The mix has some similarities to the line’s brilliant Rosewood incense as well in that the scent seems to have a bit of woodiness in the middle to give it a nice breadth. It’s almost like a mix of pink florals and evergreen foresty scents. It’s truly well worth checking out, a really fine entry to their line. [10/8.21 – A reader pointed out that this is an equivalent scent to Temple of Incense’s Purple Rain, which sounds reasonable both by picture and this description.]

The Pavitra Vastu is notable for not having any flower oils in the mix and is instead a mix of herbs. The result is a spicy, tangy herb and wood heavy blend with a hint of citrus in the middle. It’s a very robust and hearty incense that has more than a hint of orange tea in the mix, although it really doesn’t get too spicy. After a couple of sticks, I wasn’t sure about how complex this could be, but it is nicely balanced and has a nice clarifying affect on one’s surroundings.

As could be expected the Connoisseur line has changed in scent in the few years since I reviewed them last. It would still be a good idea to revisit the reviews here and here in order to see where these new reviews get their basis from. I only had a stick of each of the new version to sample and so I can only really approximate the changes, but none of them are particularly severe, which leads me to speculate that the changes are mostly via the ingredients.

The Connoisseur Agarwood has, unsurprisingly, changed the most, which is what you’d expect. Of course it’s important to note again that Indian agarwoods differ a lot from the Japanese, but the Pure Incense version from a few years ago was easily the best of the Indian agarwoods, with a wonderful deep and resonant foresty camphor like note that gave it a huge amount of dimension. This new version (marked Autumn 2013) doesn’t strike me as being quite as woody and I wasn’t sure with just one stick if that note was as strong as it used to be, but the incense really hasn’t lost the agarwood scent at the center. It just seems maybe a little more concentrated, and it isn’t overshadowing the vanilla note in the base like it used to. But I think if I was coming fresh to this I’d still enjoy it a lot, there is really no other Indian agarwood on the market with this kind of scent. It doesn’t have a perfume based scent like other Indian agarwoods, and so it’s still quite dry and stately. [NOTE 10/8/21, I have some some stock on this one bought from Incense Warehouse in the last year. It largely remains the same as this review. I will note that in the gap between closing and reopening ORS, Pure Incense have added a much wider array of more specific agarwood and oudh incenses, many of which I hope to review in the near future. However this Connoisseur version still remains a very good, general, Indian agarwood incense.]

The new (Sept-Dec 2013) Connoisseur Blue Lotus is quite close to what you might remember from my original review and in a way is a lot more difficult to describe since essentially what has changed is the perfume oil(s). None of the subtle notes have disappeared so much as changed in just the way you’d expect from the flora the oils were distilled from. The overall scent still has the soft and floral notes the original did and honestly I don’t think this has changed for the worst, it’s at least as good as the stick I previously reviewed. And this is really a special incense, there’s no other like it on the market. [NOTE 10/8/21: Unfortunately the Connoisseur Blue Lotus I have in stock is not fully up to old standards. However, I had a sample of a recent stick of the Blue Lotus and Musk and the former was absolutely perfect in that one, so I’m assuming this is either an age or vintage issue with this box. The Blue Lotus used by Pure Incense isn’t really used in any other line in any other way so variance is likely to be acceptable anyway.]

The Connoisseur Parijata seems to be a much milder incense this time around and seems to lack a bit of the punch and personality of its predecessor. Keep in mind again I’m only evaluating one stick and the nose has the ability to close up on some occasions. But this one strikes me as light and airy and so the base comes through quite a bit and seems to render it a bit more generic than I had remembered it (I still need to dig out the old stick as I’m going mostly on memory here). It’s a bit powdery, woody and sweet but ultimately I found the burn a bit too mellow to get my attention.

On the other hand the Connoisseur Rosewood was an improvement to an already excellent incense and I found this new version to be absolutely superb in every way. It’s hugely rich, floral and fruity, having those fine wine-like qualities all good perfume oils have. And like all good oils, the scent has lots of subnotes, all of them red or pink. It’s hard to quantify why this is much better than most Indian rose incenses, maybe the hint of wood or spice in the background helps to make up for the bitter notes often found in these sticks. Nonetheless this is superb and the biggest upgrade in an already fine group.

It’s good to see Pure Incense still going in what has been something of a difficult market of late and nice to see they still have a commitment to quality and connoisseur level scents.

Huitong / Cure Disease, Taizhen, Solemn, Golden Light, Plum Blossom, Sky Dragon, Yun Hui Incense Powder (Discontinued or Unavailable Line)

While we do see a lot of incenses coming in from the Tibetan region within the political boundaries of China, Huitong is the first Chinese incense company we’ve been in contact with. In many ways Huitong might be considered the Chinese analog of Baieido in that all of their incenses seem to be made without the use of perfumes and oils, using only ecologically sound ingredients. What this means is that it’s been very difficult to do their incenses justice as to even pick up on their subtleties means you have to approach them like you do with Baieidos and “listen” to them.

This is essentially sort of a hybrid style, using extruded Japanese-like sticks to format what are essentially very Tibetan-like scents. So the most obvious comparison would be to Bosen’s Tibetan traditionals or even some of the Korean incenses, except as already mentioned that Huitong doesn’t use oils as Bosen does and the scents will be friendlier to Western noses than many of the Korean incenses. But one thing most of the scents have in common is they all have multiple ingredients and thus often don’t have the dominant sandalwood or aloeswood notes that tend to make categorizing Japanese incenses a little easier.

Cure Disease is described as a “kind of historic incense, which is mainly used for cure disease and health preserving. It was originated from Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.) and recorded in ancient books that burning this incense regularly could help to strengthen us both emotionally and physically.” The ingredients are listen as figwort root, spikenard, cypress seed, rhubarb, aloeswood, storax and clove.  As such, this type of mix reminds me a lot of some of the sweeter TDHF Tibetan ropes with a bit of fruitiness  in a much more refined format. Like with most mainland incenses, the aloeswood is quiet and mixed in but it works quite well to give the incense some heft. The results are quite pleasant, especially as the scent builds, almost like a mix of woods and grape.

Taizhen incense is the second of three Huitong incenses packaged in beautiful cardboard rolls. The incense “originated from Imperial Consort Yang of Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) Consort Yang known briefly by the Taoist nun name Taizhen, was one of the four beauties of ancient China, she was the beloved consort of Emperor Xuanzong for many years. According to legend, Consort Yang treasured this incense very much and named it by her own Taoist nun name. Taizhen Incense is made from various famous and precious Chinese traditional materials according to the ancient spice formula.” The ingredients listed are sandalwood, Chinese eaglewood (aloeswood), saffron, cloves, jave amonum fruit, saussurea involucrata, rue, cogongrass etc. In this case the sandalwood is noticeably up front in a sort of freshly cut wood way. The other ingredients sweeten this base scent up in the same way they do in wood powder heavy Tibetan ropes. The Chinese Eaglewood gives the aroma a bit of roundedness and the front has a fruitiness not dissimilar to the Cure Disease, In some ways it’s like a nice, smooth low wned aloeswood crossed with Tibetan-style spices.

Solemn Incense is one of the previous Buddhist incense. It was originated from Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) when Buddhism was popular in the society. According to legend, when burning this incense, all the gods will pray to Buddha all together. It is usually used for practice Buddhism or reading at the home.” Like the previous two incenses, this is packaged in a cardboard roll. It contains sandalwood, aloeswood, mastiche, galbanum, and saruma henryi among other ingredients. It’s a very light sandalwood and aloeswood blend, with a slight fruitiness akin to the Taizhen (one wonder if this roll series might have some thematic similarities). It’s quite pleasant, again largely due to the fresh wood powder scent at the center. It seems like the galbanum might give the scent the fruity subnote. Like all good meditation incenses, it also has a slight ineffable quality about it. Solemn may not be as rich as the previous two incenses but in a way it’s the most successful.

Golden Light moves the packaging format to boxes and presents another tradional Buddhist formula from the Tang Dynasty, its name originating from the Golden Light Sutra. The ingredients are given as sandalwood, frankincense, basil and cypress seed and the incense definitely smells like a variation on a combination of those first two ingredients. As such it’s not terribly far from, say, a less refined Kyukyodo Yumemachi as if it was done as a Tibetan stick. This puts the incense in the general catgeory of the “daily incense” in that the ingredients here have less luster than in the other sticks. For the most part this is a woodshop sort of scent and as such it is also similar to the Incienso de Santa Fe bricks.

I’m about 95% sure the next incense I’m reviewing is Huitong’s Plum Blossom. Although the box wasn’t clearly labelled, the graphics seem to match the story which goes like this. “Plum Blossom Incense was created by Princess Shouyang, the daughter of Emperor Wu in the Nan Dynasty’s Song Era. Princess Shouyang was a plum blossom lover, according to the legend, one day when she slept beneath a tree, a plum blossom fell on her forehead, leaving a floral imprint. With the imprint, she looked much more beautiful. Soon, all the ladies followed her to paste plum blossom shaped ornaments on their foreheads. It was then called Plum Blossom Makeup. Hence, Princess Shouyang was crowned Goddess of Plum Blossom and this incense was also name Plum Blossom incense.” Plum Blossom is a coil incense (the coils are the same shape and size as many mainland aloeswood coils) and is made from spikenard, aloeswood, radix angelicae dahuricae, cortex moutan, clove bark and sandalwood. It’s interesting to see spikenard listed first as I didn’t sense it taking up a lot of the scent. Instead you seem to have the mainland take on something like Baieido Kobunboku done Tibetan style. That is the incense itself is centrally woody but it supports a sort of light floral mix that creates the plum blossom aroma and does so without the off scents one would expect with inexpensive perfume. It’s not spectacular so much as understated and like all the Huitongs, nicely done given the boundaries.

“Sky Dragon is a kind of precious Chinese traditional incense. It was originated from Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) when Buddhism was popular in the society. According to traditional recipes, the incense requires several days of cellaring during production process.” Sky Dragon has a huge list of ingredients: rosewood heartwood, cloves, sandalwood, valeriana jatamansi, cogongrass, rue, frankincense, benzoin, ageratum, galangal root and cypress powder. The rosewood appears to be the central ingredient and the mix gives this stick a very different bent from the previous incenses which all have a substantive sandalwood component. It makes for a nice change, slightly anyway, because the rosewood doesn’t have quite the depth to carry it completely. Even the spices mixed in the other scents are missing here, leaving this one with a sort of campfire scent.

I didn’t receive any information with the last incense here, Yun Hui incense powder. This seems to be the deluxe item in the batch, as the powder has an intense richness that none of the sticks quite approach. Even fresh out of the box the spicy, fruity blend pops out of its small ceramic interior container. And maybe it starts with that container but it makes the whole incense reminiscent of Japanese kneaded incenses mixed in with the woody and powdery elements of Tibetan powders and ropes. This scent seems highest in good aloeswood content with subnotes of tea, caramel and butter on the heater. In order to get this review up in even a remotely reasonable time, I had to forego a sample of it on a charcoal burner but I may come back and add that. Needless to say, this is very good powder, reminiscent to some of the better Tibetan powders and I’m hoping to be able to get to know it better.

We’ll have some more Huitong incenses up for review somewhere down the line. Overall what reviewing these did for me, is really question the idea of what effects perfumes and oils have on an incense’s immediacy, because without them one’s work is a lot more difficult in trying to describe a scent as all of these, with perhaps the exception of the powder, are very quiet and gentle scents which will make you stretch to understand. Which is not at all a bad thing in my book. I’m actually overall very impressed with the sheer class and visual impression of Huitong. However, there’s one disclaimer and that these incenses aren’t easy to get at the moment, at least in the US and as I finish this up I realize I don’t have a URL. So I’m going to first direct you to Frankie’s blog where I assume one can leave a comment if you’re interested in purchasing, and I should be back in a few days with something a bit more direct.

Pure-Incense / Absolute & Connoisseur / Frankincense, Jasmine, Parijata, Rosewood, Sandalwood

In this group of Pure-Incense sticks, I’ll be tackling the back five of the incenses that come in two forms, the Absolute and Connoisseur lines. Some of the Connoisseur packages also say Double Absolute, so one might be safe in guessing that the top line doubles the relevant oil or ingredients from the Absolute and that’s actually not a bad gauge to go by, it really does seem in many cases (although there will be two exceptions in this group) that the Connoisseurs are twice as intense or strong as the Absolutes. [NOTE 10/8/21: Due to variation in natural products it is unlikely Pure Incense reviews written from 2009-2013 will be completely accurate in 2021. Links below are to new versions, so please use caution in purchasing. Pure Incense uses different grade levels and you’re likely to find their best work in their Connoisseur and Connoisseur Vintage ranges.]

For this back five, we have three sticks that are very common in the Indian masala world: Frankincense, Jasmine and Sandalwood. These are the incense archetypes one might find in any Indian incense range from Mystic Temple to Triloka to Primo to Incense from India, however, it’s easy to say that while the Absolute version of these three scents is quite comparative to similar incenses found in these other lines, the Connoisseur Pure-Incense line introduces these scents at, perhaps, their finest. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot more to say about them that I haven’t mentioned in a previous review or two. On the other hand both the Parijata and Rosewood sticks here are quite unique to Pure-Incense and present variations on other incense woods.

In both the Connoisseur and Absolute forms, Pure-Incense Frankincense is the most common masala form of the scent, one that carries the aroma of the resin quite a ways from its natural state, embedding it in a charcoal, vanilla and sandalwood base and thus transmuting the resin’s qualities into something different, a masala that seems to work more with a resin extraction than the resin itself. The combination of the perfume elements and the base end up creating something of a third note that varies depending on which company creates it, but ends up being something like a confectionary, anything from cocoa powder to caramel to nougat. It’s a noticeable element that one won’t find at all in frankincense resin per se, so it’s important one sets one’s preconceptions aside if you’re coming from a pure resin perspective or perhaps even the sort of frankincense you might find in Minorien or Tennendo lines. In the Connoisseur version this frankincense oil note or the combination of ingredients that make it up is refined to a very high degree thus surpassing any of the masalas that vary from the Absolute version and hail from different companies. At this oil strength the scent is sublime and the strength of the aromatics give it a scent like some fine cognac or wine which really sets it apart from other Indian masalas, making this, perhaps, the best Indian frankincense you can buy that isn’t a champa or durbar style. If you’re familiar with the style based on one of the above companies’ offerings then I’d advise to skip the Absolute and move right onto the Connoisseur, however if you’re not at all familiar with this style than you’re likely safe with either one.

Likewise, there’s a similar comparison when it comes to Pure-Incense’s Jasmine charcoal. In fact of all the sticks that cross from the Absolute to the Connoisseur, I’d say the least amount of aromatic difference exists between the two jasmines. This is the typical jasmine essential oil on charcoal base that you’ll see from many of the above-listed companies and as such it varies very little from one to another. Unfortunately as pretty as the essential oils seem to be on these sticks, the charcoal bases in nearly all cases often compete or overwhelm the oil, no doubt due to the pretty, ethereal and gentle scent of the jasmine. The combination creates a combined note that while not terribly off putting isn’t nearly as distinct a jasmine note as you might find in the Shroff catalog. Even the sparkly fixative used to bind the oil doesn’t seem to help with the dissipation and this characteristic makes it fairly difficult to tell, after some aging, that the Connoisseur version contains a stronger dose of the oil, in comparison it only seems vaguely more intense. Perhaps fresh off the batch it might be more impressive, but again I think this reflects more of the weakness of oil on charcoal scents than it does on the oil itself.

Parijata (nychanthes arbotristis) is another of India’s aromatic flowering trees and appears to be the scent the incense matches up with, but not having actually experienced the aroma of the tree itself, the scent of it seems to me to be almost a variation of sandalwood and a mighty fine one at that. The only other parijata I’ve examples is the Krishna store version and it’s a completely different incense to either Pure-Incense version here. To my nose the Parijata incense here is almost like a chandan sandalwood stick pepped up with light fruity elements, for some reason I always seem to get hints of apple with this one or perhaps citrus in the mix, not to mention an unusual floral subnote. It’s a really attractive incense at the Absolute level and only slightly more intense at the Connoisseur version, the difference obviously the amount of oil being used. And the oil in the Connoisseur version seems to impart an even woodier quality with hints of, perhaps, saffron in the background – really beautiful stuff.

The Rosewood appears to be one of Pure-Incense’s newest catalog entries and like Parijata is a tree in its own right, although I believe what we’re seeing in incense form is something different as the rosewood trees appear to be named as such for their wood colorings rather than aromatic qualities, that is, except for Brazilian rosewood from which an essential oil is distilled. Just about every rosewood incense I’ve sampled has been quite different, so I’ve never been able to guess at what could be the standard, however it’s not difficult to think of Pure-Incense’s two versions as among the best I’ve tried. Even at the Absolute version this is a floral incense that’s as sweet as a durbar and suffice it to say, this doesn’t appear to be a mixture of, say, rose and sandalwood. The rose or floral element that dominates the incense has hints of ripe or even tart cherries and one can detect behind this powerful scent a rather mild wood backing. At the Connoisseur strength these elements turn even more elegant with the tarter elements of the top floral oil mellowed out a slight amount and perhaps a bit more in the way of a woody character. I’ve really yet to get into either deeply but found both really impressive and in this case even at the Absolute level there’s quite a bit of potency at work here. Only the Pink Sayli could be described as prettier.

Finally, Pure-Incense also has the classic Sandalwood oil masala in both Absolute and Connoisseur versions and as one might have experienced if one has dealt with better grades of sandalwood, the Connoisseur is the real treasure here with a really high quality sandalwood oil at the center that does exhibit elements of the heartwood. While the oil is at a strength level that it perhaps obscures certain aspects of the wood itself, I tend to like to think of this as a different experience overall and there’s a real almost antique-like side aroma that comes out of high quality oil at this strength. At the Absolute level we’re almost dealing as much with the vanilla base and thus more of a vanilla sandalwood mix than something purely woody. At this strength it’s a scent that’s almost a dime a dozen, one that can be found in nearly every Indian incense line. The Pure-Incense Absolute version does indeed hold up quite well in comparison to similar scents from other companies, but only the Connoisseur level is truly special here.

Anyway that takes the Pure-Incense overview through the Connoisseur line and thus the next few installments will get into the Absolute only lines. At this point one will notice in many cases that the Absolute versions are at strength levels more comparable to the Connoisseurs in some cases, likely due to more inexpensive ingredients making it possible. Next up I intend to cover some of the Absolute champas and Vrindavan scents, many of which I find the most pleasant in the Absolute line.

SAMPLER NOTES: Shochikudo, Shorindo Kobiana Line (Discontinued), Tahodo / Sekizen Koh (Discontinued)

This is a slight summary of some of the more recent modern Japanese incense imports, including one traditional scent and another on the fence. [9/28/2021 – Please note that although the Shorindo Kobiana line has been discontinued, I have added one link below to what looks like remaining stock.]

Like many of the new imports we’re seeing there are quite a few new companies making their entry into the US Market, including an incense from Shochikudo called Kirari or Ocean Breeze. This one has a rather huge list of ingredients given as: rose, lavender, jasmine, ylang ylang, iris, lemon, bergamot, blue cypress, sandalwood, vanilla beans and oak moss. It’s almost like a starter list of essential oils and with a sampler I’d be hard pressed to say that any of these particular ingredients stand out more than any other except for, perhaps, the vanilla bean (I get an impression of some amber as well). This is an incense generally in the vein of Nippon Kodo’s Aqua, a floral mix with a distinct seaside sort of aroma, not quite briny, but a more upbeat and pleasant approximation, like a mix of garden and beach. It’s going to be only for those who really go for a sample as with a box of 200 sticks, it’s one you’ll want to be sure you really like at first. I found it quite pleasant, but my experience with Aqua was the same and I found it quite cloying over time so I’d be hesitant even though I think this is a better incense.

Shorindo has been extremely active on the exportation of front after entering the US market with their Chabana Green Tea mix, in fact since I received the following samples, they’ve added two more incenses in the Chabana line. The first of the four samples here is the most traditional incense in this whole group, a sandalwood and cinnamon scent called Wakyo. I love cinnamon so I found this instantly a winner, it’s not a particularly complicated incense, but it differs slightly from the traditional sense in that it seems polished and possibly made partially out of oils or perfumes. But give cinnamon essential oil is quite cheap, it all comes off quite authentic and just a bit stronger than the average Japanese traditional blend that doesn’t use oils like, say, Baieido Koh. It’s somewhat reminiscent of incenses like Shoyeido Horin’s Hori-kawa or even Kunjudo Karin or its Gyokushodo analog Kojurin in scent, maybe in the middle of this group in terms of a traditional to modern axis.

Shorindo has also brought over three perfume incenses in a line called Kobiana. These are definitely far to the modern style and seem to exist to carry over previously created perfumes, although they seem a little different in that they’re not quite smokeless. I doubt my impressions are going to be particularly useful, so as an addendum I’d like to refer you over to Sprays of Blossoms, Curls of Smoke for a much more informed review before I take a clumsy stab at these.

All three of these sticks, despite the color names, seem to be a dark blue color. The Kobiana Yellow Cute is created to be reminiscent of Etro’s Magot perfume and the notes given are, on the top, bergamot, lemon, jasmine and iris; lavender and cloves in the middle; and patchouli, cedar, vanilla and musk at the base. Like with the Kirari, I have trouble picking these apart although at least I can distinguish this scent from the other two in this series as being distinctly floral and very reminiscent of the types of perfumes you run into being worn in the US. As is the case, I tend to get as much of the alcohol or synthetic scent as I do the florals and completely miss any of the elements supposedly in the base with, perhaps, the iris, lavender and jasmine the most obvious scents to me.

I have a lot of trouble telling the Kobiana Red Elegant and Kobiana Blue Sweet apart, but both strike me as fruit and florals, and like the Kirari above, both are somewhat reminiscent of Nippon Kodo’s Aqua in that they both have an almost watery like scent. The Red is reminiscent of Chanel Chance perfume, the Blue Etro’s Anice. The Red lists pink pepper, lemon and pineapple on top; hyacinth, jasmine and iris at the heart (likely where I’m getting the Aqua similarity from); and amber, patchouli, vetiver and white musk in the base. Strangely enough from this mix I get watermelon, cyclamen and the listed jasmine, but it’s such a light scent that with a sample it’s really hard to break it down. Similarly scented, the Blue lists Brazilian rosewood, anise and bergamot; the middle notes iris, jasmine, anise and garden dill; and the base notes amber, musk and vanilla. I’m not sure if the note similarities between these two incenses account for why I can barely tell them apart, but for some reason I wasn’t getting much anise or rosewood and still felt it was mostly watery, fruity and floral. In the end I had to separate the two and test them at different times just to confirm for myself I hadn’t accidentally gotten the same sample twice and to maybe convince myself I don’t quite have the nose for moderns like these.

Like Shochikudo, Tahodo has currently exported only one incense to the US, although similar to Shorindo Wayko, this is something of a modern/traditional blend. In this case Sekizen Koh is clearly something of a perfumed sandalwood stick and not authentic in terms of a pure sandalwood, but it makes up for it with a nice blend of clove, nutmeg and slight floral and citrus hints. It tends to the slightly sweet and in another life could have easily been added to, say, one of Daihatsu’s modern lines. Like most perfumed incenses I’m not sure how long I’ll last in terms of appreciation, but my initial samples were extremely pleasant and I liked it right away, especially due to the attractive nutmeg subnote.

More in the next installment including pairs from Nihon Senko Seizo, Saraike Kunbutsado and Scents of Japan.