Mother’s India Fragrances / Nagchampa / Aravind, Chakra, Govinda, Pavitra, Radha, Rishi

The initial batch of five Mother’s India Fragrances proved to be a line popular enough to expand, with fourteen new incenses hitting the market about two years ago. The company has chosen to expand the line once again with not only these initial six incenses, but I believe there are also six more, although I have not received samples of these yet. Mother’s nagchampas in some ways are a style of their own, featuring halmaddi, sandalwood and additional ingredients in order to create scents that are unlike any other incenses on the market. For one thing, while these aren’t low smoke, they do tend to be a bit mellower than the incenses put out by Shroff and Dhuni and I know there have been times switching back to these sticks where I’ve found them a bit hard to pick up. So I tried to spend a bit of time with these in order to let them open up.

In essence you could almost call at least four out of these six sticks an expansion in the floral/rose direction. This is an interesting move by the company as I don’t think this niche had been quite as worked out yet in the  previous expansion. However, scents like these are usually considered more modern and less traditional and so I think a lot of these are likely to appeal outside the incense crowd and only those within that crowd who can deal with a lot of rose, geranium and jasmine scents are likely to go for most of these. And so I should probably state outright that geranium tends to get on my nerves quite a bit, so keep that in mind in cases where it pops up that this is a reflection of taste and not artisanship.

Aravind Nagchampa is something of a Lotus Nagchampa (Aravind means Lotus) and it combines jasmine, gardenia, rose and champa flower for the first of the florals here. This is the first of four that takes the Mother’s nagchampa center into a pink, “floral bouquet” direction, perhaps for the first time. All four of these incenses share a very delicate and light floral touch. Like a lot of incenses using low cost floral oils, the mix of oils tends to a bit of a generic quality, yet perhaps the surprise is that the overall stick comes off kind of dry and not drenched in perfume like you’d expect for this kind of style. In fact one thing to realize up front is it often takes a stick or two before the bouquet starts to unfold and in this case the results can occasionally be reminiscent of the actual flowers. In fact, this is actually reminiscent of some of the more affordable and better Japanese florals. As to whether this is reminiscent of other Lotus incenses, I’ll leave up to you, as they all tend to vary quite a bit.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in this first bunch is the Chakra Nagchampa which is one of two here that doesn’t go in the pink and floral direction. Well, you wouldn’t know it from the description, which lists fruits, spices, jasmine, tuberose, cyclamen and lily. Once again, this feels like a distinct move to a more modern and mainstream friendly type of incense and it’s reminiscent of one or two of the Nippon Kodo Yume no Yume blends in the way this combines florals and fruits with spice around the edges. Of course the cyclamen note is almost immediately evocative of NK’s Aqua, but seated in the Mothers’ halmaddi base, the results to my nose are a lot more successful. In fact without the spicyness this might not have worked too well, but instead we have something fascinating. This is possibly the first in this group I’d recommend without hesitation, especially as it’s quite unlike previous incenses in the line.

Govinda Nagchampa returns to the floral (sub)style with a mix of sweet champa flower, neroli, ylang ylang and sweet roses. During my first sticks it was instantly noticeable how similar this is in style to the Aravind, except in this case it feels like the halmaddi/sandalwood center seems to come out a bit more. Govinda isn’t quite as dry as Aravind and the overall scent is noticeably sweeter. But like Aravind this is a noticeably more floral and “flower mix” type of scent than previous installments in the line and so when you look at the overall expansion it makes sense to move in this direction, giving the brand quite a bit more breadth. Like the Pavitra, I found that this mix starts to take off with use and like most of the incenses in the line increased use makes you feel like the creators really sat down and made sure they got the balance right. So if you want to try one of the florals I’d either start with this one or the Pavitra, but be sure to try one before expanding to the others as they’re all variations on a theme.

Pavitra Nagchampa might have been the floral in this group I liked the most, if, perhaps, because I spent the most time with it. At this point in taking notes on these incenses you start to run out of descriptive qualities when the incenses still fall into a pink, rosy, “feminine,” floral bouquet category. Certainly they all vary in scent within these qualities, but how to describe this one is difficult because my initial take was that the the top was a bit too strong with the florals of jasmine, rose, neroli, ylang ylang and balsamic orris. But after a few sticks it started to hit me from outside that such a mix works really well with the champa base, perhaps here the balsamic orris is triggering the halmaddi to bring out some more foresty qualities. Anyway if I was to choose one of the floral bouquet champas here to start with it would be the Pavitra, if only because I think it underlines how clever some of these blends are.

Radha Nagchampa is more dry and robust as a floral and includes white rose and spicy geranium. Anything with geranium tends to lose me and this wasn’t much of an exception, but putting aside the personal preference, you’d have to discuss this one in terms of its rosyness. As such this is perhaps the least bouquet-like as a floral, but it moves in the type of floral direction that I tend to find a bit harsh. It does have the same sort of clever balance the rest of the incenses in the line does in terms of the oils matching up with the base, but as this was the fourth incense so close in style, I was started to really run out of ways to separate this from the rest. In the end I’d probably say start with Pavitra, if you really love it follow it up with Govinda.

It’s perhaps a tribute to how modern this latest batch is that Rishi Nagchampa is described as an incense children love, and sure enough this mix of red roses, fruity jasmine  and blue violets puts this square in the inoffensive and fruity berry category. Generally anything this reminiscent of stawberries or raspberries will tend to be fairly popular but as most incense lovers know, you can only approximate these kinds of scents and in doing so the results often come off a bit generic, sure you won’t offend anyone but the results won’t be particularly exciting either. As a result even though this strikes me as a natural incense, the mix of scents leaves this feel a bit synthetic or dull. It’s lightly reminiscent of the smell of a big vat of gumballs at a candy shop or berry candles. It actually is quite well done overall in that it’s a lot better than most incenses this style, but like most of this new expansion it feels tailor made for people with only a casual interest in incense.

Anyway I hope to follow this up eventually with the other six. It should be said that Mother’s has always been incredibly generous with what they send, in this batch I also got a set of essential oils and absolutes they appear to be selling. All of the ones I sampled seemed to be of good quality (I particularly enjoyed the various cinnamon and cassia oils) so if you’re an incense creator this could be well worth looking into. Overall despite that some of these incenses aren’t to my personal tastes, I think this is a pretty clever expansion with every single one of these not repeating the type of scents we’ve already seen. And if you’re a fan of roses and other florals there’s probably some new favorites waiting for you.

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Shroff Channabasappa / Jaji, Kasturi, Kewada, Lilac, Lily 1938, Monica, Night Rose

This batch of Shroff Channabasappa‘s Masala Base incenses, which happens to be in a completely different style to the others in the same grouping, is particularly problematic from a review standpoint. All are different florals in a style that isn’t quite pure charcoal given they all have various flecks of other materials in them, but are definitely pretty close given the scents seem to be almost entirely oil based. Second, a couple of these florals are given in their regional name which makes them particularly difficult to research, so I have to admit crossing my fingers a little and hoping I got the general aromas correct.

This type of incense is among the most intense out there and despite that many of these are gentle florals, they all burn pretty loud like most charcoals, although the slightly hybrid like nature means they’re a little more restrained than most. They’re very difficult to discuss because the name is pretty indicative of the scent you’re going to get, it’s almost as if you could just indicate the original flower and say this is a charcoal and perfume based version of that scent. But with that said there really is some nice definition on these and while there are definitely times I have trouble with charcoals (sometimes even with the company’s high enders), I’ve found these to be quite good when the mood hits.

Jaji is an incense of a specific class of jasmine flowers, in this case possibly Jasminium Grandiflorium, and while this is sometimes called Jaji, the scent will still be familiar to most as a jasmine incense. Like all jasmine incenses, they’re often overkill in a charcoal format, so one should probably use this stick in larger rooms where the scent can dissipate to the sweltery, exotic floral aroma one may be familiar with. When the scent is light, the scent is lilting and very pretty. It’s difficult with my nose to say if this departs radically from any other general jasmine incenses, as it’s always been my experience that jasmine incenses can be wildly different (even check out the other jasmine incenses in the Shroff line for an example of this), but it’s quite possible this will still end up being new enough for those who love this type of scent.

Kasturi is a word used in some area of India to refer to musk and in particular it tends to be part of the species names of several aromatic plants in the turmeric family, often used in incense as an herbal musk. Certainly this is the sort of aroma you get with Shroff’s Kasturi stick, a sweet and dry musk scent that seems to capture the scent quite nicely. In fact I’d suggest this wouldn’t be a bad incense to consider an almost ground zero herbal musk oil scent. As a musk this is basically the least floral incense of these seven, but don’t take that to mean there aren’t floral-like elements in the bouquet as this actually fits quite nicely with the others.

Kewada is yet another English transliteration of a name for screwpine which you’ll see as Kewda, Kewra and Pandanus elsewhere. This is a scent widely used in Indian incenses, such as in many of the Mother’s Nagchampas I recently reviewed. The reason why is it has an unusual rose-like scent to it, along with its foresty lower notes, so I can imagine it’s an effective and relatively inexpensive way to create rose-like subscents in incense. Here I would suspect you’re mostly getting the real deal, so there’s also notes of mint, fruitiness (like raisins perhaps), and molasses in the mix. The results sort of put this on the fence in terms of its floral nature, and given the girth of the entire bouquet it’s quite loud on the charcoal stick.

Kewada is quite difficult to describe in a way, but when you get to an incense like Lilac it’s very hard to do anything but call the Lilac a Lilac as that’s what you’re getting on this stick. I’d put the scent among the softest and most feminine of floral aromas, a gentle and distinct perfume that evokes pink and white for me, very pretty and not terribly intricate, but on the other hand it’s not a floral one will mistake for a rose or jasmine incense. I’ve found that this incense has matured quite a bit since I first bought it and I’m surprised that the charcoal hasn’t quite overwhelmed the oils here, but make no mistake the base plays a part here.

The Lily 1938 scent is also quite distinctive from other florals and it comes off as a wilder, more fecund sort of perfume. Perhaps due to the order in which I sampled these, I saw some similarities to both the Kewada and the Lilac as well it having a musky middle. Perhaps its almost sickly-sweet characteristics make it a bit tough to bear in a charcoal format, or at least I don’t always find a stick to my taste, but at the same time I’m still fairly convinced they’re getting the scent close to correct. But this is another I’d probably suggest applying to a larger room as there’s no doubt the scent here is very perfumey.

I couldn’t find a lot on Monica as the commonality of the name and place (Santa Monica) make searching a bit problematic for any sort of taxonomic connection. Incense-wise it’s a very fruity floral, although the fruitiness comes out more in the way it would in an alcohol drink or wine. And it’s an incredibly sweet scent which manages to actually make the overall scent a bit less floral than you might imagine, in fact I’d say this might fall just ahead of Kasturi on that scale. It’s perhaps closest to the Lilac in its beauty and it might even be just a bit more accessible.

Night Rose is the last of this group and obviously not your common rose scent, even if they share some characteristics. For one thing the oils here are very intense, even cloying. I’ve personally got to have a rose pretty close to the real thing to enjoy it and having not personally experienced the true night blooming rose this appears to be portraying, my only comparison is the usual and it’s just not a very gentle scent due to the combination of loud perfume and charcoal base.

The next group, which also falls under this Masala Base category, seem to be completely different incenses that remind me far more of the original and larger dry masala group. For the seven in this review, you’ll want to be sure you’re at least tolerant of charcoal incenses before sampling as these can be very loud and overwhelming at times. However, to my surprise I’ve also come to appreciate them more, if not for helping to vary up the usual floral scents.

Mother’s India Fragrances / Nagchampas / Agni, Amrita, Atma, Bhakti, Jyoti, Lila, Moksha

After being introduced to and living with Mother’s India Fragrances’ original five Nagchampas, I can’t imagine anyone wouldn’t have asked the question “How come there aren’t more of them?” After all the originals are a phenomenal quintet of nagchampas in an era where the form has mostly degenerated. Where so many companies have either eliminated or reduced the content of halmaddi in their products, often creating inferior recipes that only resemble the incenses they used to create, Mother’s have managed to continue a line that not only still contains the ingredient (also called mattipal) but considerably expands the art form.

That is, when nagchampas were made 15 years ago or earlier, the incenses were so full of the gum that the sticks remained so wet you could easily pull them apart. The Mother’s Nagchampas don’t aim for a similar effect and while the incenses are still quite damp, often visibly through the inner packagaing, they all have a uniform consistency that follows the original five scents to what is an incredible 14 new scents. And for those of you already well familiar with the original five, these are going to surprise and elate you as in most cases they have brought the form up to a new level of complexity. Almost all of these incenses have as many as five or six different oil or material sources not even counting the halmaddi/mattipal and honey base. The results are so impressive that it’s difficult to feel that even after sampling several sticks of them that the full story has been told.

I’d like to thank both the home company of Mother’s India Fragrances and their Dutch distribution company Wierook for not only making Olfactory Rescue Service aware of them, but by providing a bounty of gifts and samples in time for me to get some reviews out just before the products come to the United States (not to mention one of the most informative and descriptive English language documents I’ve ever seen for a line of incenses, something that strongly assisted my reviews). Where it was difficult to label only five incenses as the finest Nagchampa line available, now that the total is up to 19, there’s really no question that this is the top line of its format, with a fascinating and aromatically superior range that doesn’t stop to recreate any old recipes and instead uses superior essential oils and absolutes to create a wide range of impressive and intricate scents. This installment will cover the first half of these 14 new incenses with the second half to follow shortly.

The first of these incenses is Agni Nagchampa. Perhaps the most simple description is that this is more or less a musk nagchampa, but it’s far more complex than that. It’s essentially a French Musk sort of scent, which bears some comparison to Shroff’s incense of that name or even the old Blue Pearl Musk Champa, however we know from the description that the central musk scent is created from ambrette seeds. My experience with musks created this way is that they usually aren’t quite this sweet, so one has to look to the other ingredients to see how the bouquet is formed. Obviously the halmaddi and honey anchor this quite nicely at the base as they do for all of the incenses here, so it’s really the middle of the aroma where the magic is. The pivotal ingredient here is neroli or orange blossom oil, an aspect which is the first of many through these incenses that show an incredibly clever perfumery at work because it’s a scent that is mellow and doesn’t overpower while anchoring the musk to the base. The cedar seems to bring out the balsamic aspects to the scent more which both balances the neroli and ensures the fragrance doesn’t go over the top on its way out. Make no mistake, this is still a decadently rich and sweet incenses as any sweet musk would be, but you can almost feel the restraint nonetheless.

As rich and sweet as the Agni is, the cinnamon-laden Amrita Nagchampa is almost a study in contrasts. Even with the amazing halmaddi and honey base, the results are very dry and of this seven, this could be the most direct incense. The cinnamon is very beautifully drawn, in fact the description the company uses is “edible,” something easily understood with a sample. However the cinnamon does have its supporting actors, including patchouli, cedar and some unnamed woods and resins. There are some elements in this that remind me of Nippon Kodo’s Silk Road incense except with a much more genuine feel) but the comparison hints at an exotic subnote that really helps to transmute the base to support the overall dryness.

The Atma Nagchampa is also a restrained piece of work, but in this case it doesn’t transmit a single essence like the previous scent did, instead it portrays a balancing act with a number of different notes at work. What’s amazing about it is that even with so many players the composite aroma remains gentle and subtle. On top we have the dominant floral oils at work, some lavender and what seems like a closer mix of geranium and kewra (pandanus or screwpine) notes. But like several incenses among the new aromas, Mother’s have chosen to contrast these floral elements with a spicy backdrop (including clove), something the company is clearly adept at. The results are actually akin to a standard (if exceptional in quality) nag champa with a soft floral in touch. What it loses without a particularly aggressive bouquet, it gains with a gentle aura and since everything seems to work on such a subtle level, it’s one of the most difficult in this group to get a hang on. But by the last stick I had out it was really starting to get under my skin.

Bhakti Nagchampa is something of an instant classic. As mentioned with the previous incense, Bhakti goes for a floral spice mix that is extraordinary in that it seems possible to pick out the individual elements as they interact with each other. The rose/tuberose/geranium mix on the top could be the best among a number of incredible floral elements across all these incenses and this is perhaps because they not only have strong definition but they’re contrasted perfectly with the patchouli and cedar base. In fact the only question I have is whether a scent like this might lose some of this fantastic definition with aging, because the balance here is like a highwire act with all the base elements a stage for the florals to dance lightly over.

Jyoti Nagchampa has some similarities to the cinnamon heavy Amrita, but here the scent is less monochromatic and more of a tangier multi-spice blend. In fact, it seems likely some of its spicier attributes come from the mix of myrrh, vertivert and patchouli, a group of ingredients that all have great transmutational qualities in different blends. In fact any time Mother’s uses a larger amount of resins in its incenses, it seems to trigger the more balsamic and sometimes evergreen qualities of the base. The mix definitely leaves me very curious about the quality of benzoin used in the ingredients as I recognize none of the usual subnotes and a quality that is truly exquisite. Again this mosaic (which also pulls in kewra to a slight degree) really hits a great balance with a vanilla and spice presence that is just perfect.

Lila Nagchampa is a patchouli heavy incense whose other ingredients really shift the whole tonal balance you normally associate with the herb in new and fascinating ways. For one, this is an incense as sweet as the Agni or Moksha blends, something particularly unusual for something so prevalent with patchouli. Sharing the stage with the patchouli on the top is tuberose, which has already shown its effectiveness in the Bhakti, but where that incense contrasted the floral and spicy, the Lila goes for the composite approach, like a rainbow color chart changing from one end of the spectrum to the other. Undoubtedly the vetivert changes the patchouli element some, always a great partnering, but perhaps where the benzoin and oakmoss lies is where the true transmutation occurs as it falls into the sweet base. The informational material also calls chocolate as a note as a result of the benzoin and you indeed find a powdery cocoa-like subnote in the mix of all this interaction. Like so many of these beautiful scents this seems like one that will have a learning curve as long as the best incenses because it’s not at all what you’d expect in the long run. It’s better.

Moksha Nagchampa …. well if you think it couldn’t get any better than what I’ve already run through then we’d have to at least call this a gamechanger. Champa users may be familiar with a lot of the intersections between style and addition, but the incredibly lily of the valley scent (muguet) that crowns the Moksha is positively ecstatic. And Mother’s doesn’t shy from the contrasts here either, setting off on a trail of oriental woods and saffron notes that end up creating a very rich depth before giving one a floral shock that starts with the rose notes, part of which are described as “citrusy rose petals” which seem to be what I’m picking up as a slight melon-like fruitiness. It all results in the most incredible, kaleidoscopic aroma that has the feminine, floral notes of so many modern perfumes but with the depth of the traditional. I’ve had a few incenses with lily of the valley in them, but none quite so stunning as this one.

One thing you’d expect from a great company is that in expanding what was a really impressive quintet, Mother’s haven’t sat on their laurels and tried to spin similar variations off of an already established success, they’ve possibly surpassed them, or if not, they’ve added such an incredible amount of variation to their line that it breathes new life into the whole line and makes you want to go back to the original quintet for reevaluation. With each stick I became far more deeply involved with each one to the point that picking a favorite is very difficult, there’s really not a blend here I wouldn’t want consistent stock on. There’s just no question that this is the crowning line of the modern nagchampa and I’m fortunate to be able to bring seven more to your attention in the next installment.

SAMPLER NOTES: Kunmeido / Tsukinowa / Blue Rose, Green Lily, Yellow Jasmine, Red Violet

If you scroll down just over half way here, you’ll see the four packages of Kunmeido Tsukinowa coils that come in four varieties, eight coils for $21.00. It should be said up front that like many traditionally minded incense appreciators, I don’t tend to go for floral aromas as much as woods or spices, so the four coils here aren’t really aimed at my tastes, except that I’m very fond of coils.

In terms of quality, I’d say these are definitely better than most under $10 floral incenses, but not quite up to, say, the Shoyeido Floral World Star line. Floral World Royal’s closer, but I’d say these are just under those in terms of quality. In the Shoyeido Floral World line, the better quality of aromatic oils seem to distinguish price and at the Star level you’re probably getting something very close to essential oil in the aroma, there’s actual specific definition of the aromas involved. When you move down to Royal the definition loses its specficity some while still being of very high quality. I imagine the Tsukinowas as another step down, where the aromatics aren’t quite up to Royal but have about the same amount of definition.

It’s fairly difficult to really describe these four coils outside of their base aromas, like many florals, it’s a matter of the top oils that set the tone for the scent. The Yellow Jasmine for example will be of little surprised to those familiar with Japanese Jasmine incenses. There’s definitely sandalwood in the base, but the overall aroma is driven by the powerful Jasmine oil. Like all the Tsukinowa coils, these almost have Indian incense-like strength and will have a room smelling like Jasmine in a matter of seconds. Perhaps, a little too strong at times, at least these are high quality enough not to have any noticeable off notes.

The Green Lily is also pretty definitive and while I prefer something like Encense du Monde’s Blissful Mountain, which combines a traditional Japanese sandalwood with Lily of the Valley essential oil, this comes pretty close in a more modern, perfumed sort of way. I’m not a huge fan of Lily to be honest, there’s a bit of bitterness or sharpness in the smell that I may just not be built to appreciate, but there are some sweeter notes in the base of this coil that help to make it somewhat user friendly.

The Blue Rose isn’t generally the most friendly of Roses, after all blue colored roses don’t appear in nature and as such a symbol around it has grown to mean an impossibility (think of the Red Rose symbol and the heart). I thought it was actually impossible I’d find a rose I’d like until I bought the Shoyeido Floral World Royal pack, but even then there’s an aspect of very red rose incense that’s a bit bitter or sharp for me, so I found this Blue Rose to be a bit mellower and more to my liking. It may not make a rose convert out of me, but I found the harsher notes to be muted here, so that you get the rose aroma but not in an overwhelming base. I found it to be the best of the four coils here, not something I would have bet on before sampling.

In fact I thought Red Violet would have been my #1 before checking the Tsukinowas out, but I’ve probably been ruined on the Shoyeido Floral World Star Violet, which is still my favorite floral. Very little compares favorably to it, but at least with the Tsukinowa you get a fairly definitive violet aroma. Here the aroma seems to be quite a bit different, at times reminiscent of violets, at others more like a general floral incense. I thought there was maybe a bit of tartness to this scent that didn’t make it work as well as I would have liked, but without a full box I’m not sure if that was an anomaly for this coil. Overall it may have been the most strongly perfumed of the four and as such approaching, if not getting to an off note.

Overall these four are a little above standard florals and those already prone to floral incenses are likely to enjoy at least one or two of these quite a bit. For me, so many florals have harsh or off notes, so it’s easy to celebrate incenses that don’t have those notes. And between $3 and $4 a coil isn’t too bad for this sort of quality. (Thanks to Ross for the samples) – Mike

SAMPLER NOTES: Kunjudo / Japanese Gardens (Tea Garden, Fruits Garden, Bonsai Garden, Moss Garden, Stone Garden); Less Smoke (Plum, Cherry Blossom, Lavender, Rose, Lily of the Valley)

These two Kunjudo ranges, all of which are exported directly to the US rather than via Encens du Monde, feature some of the company’s lowest end incenses and as such could be comparable to similar Shoyeido or Nippon Kodo lines. In fact the Japanese Gardens line does have some similarities to Shoyeido’s Daily series, while the Less Smoke incenses remind me quite a bit of Nippon Kodo’s Morning Star line. The former, in general, strike me as traditional or natural scents, while the others definitely have synthetic qualities that often seem to come into less smoke incenses. And it should be said that while these do have less smoke, they are not smokeless.

Tea Garden is the line’s green tea incense. I thought this one smelled almost identical to the Green Tea incense in Kunjudo’s Three Scents packaging, enough where I did a side by side. I don’t think they’re identical, with Tea Garden’s green tea oil not quite so intense, but they’re definitely close enough where you’d need one or the other. Having tested out a few Green Tea incenses recently, this one might be the one I liked the most in that it does have a noticeable element of leaf or oil in it.

It’s going to be up to the user whether or not Fruits Garden is to their tastes, as I can’t think of too many fruity incenses that would appeal to me. This bouquet is kind of like a mix of apple, pear and cherry and as such has a fruit bowl smell, which tends to be less distinctive than if they went for one particular scent. While it does have some synthetic notes to it, the sandalwood base (and this is true for all this line) carries it past those notes for the most part. I can imagine this could be considered quite nice for those going for this sort of scent.

Bonsai Garden is well named, a spicy evergreen scent with hints of cypress and conifers. It’s not really a pure pine or evergreen incense because of the spice and it finishes with a bit of sweet perfume. Overall this is why I’ve written this as sampler notes, as I wasn’t anywhere close to getting a bead on the overall scent and thought this could be quite nice.

Moss Garden‘s a bit indistinct and it’s certainly nothing like the Shoyeido incense of the same name. I remember the aroma here being kind of muted and soft with hints of wet moss and a slight, lifting oil in the back. There’s a bit of fruit or lavender in there somewhere as well.

Stone Garden goes for a really spicy scent, with a strong cinnamon and floral content. I didn’t have enough of a sample to decide on whether it was distinct enough from other similar blends, but this kind of thing is generally to my liking.

Overall I thought the Garden series was rather nice for daily incenses and if I hadn’t already bought the Three Scents package, I’d probably want at least Tea Garden, even if it’s possible I wouldn’t use it much. On the other hand, the Less Smoke blends aren’t really quite to my tastes (it should be taken as a given that smokeless incenses aren’t generally my bag), the leftover whiter ash implies a certain method of creation that’s more synthetic than natural and in these cases it becomes fairly obvious. Recently I went through a Daihatsu line with very similar scents, except in those cases there was perfumery art to them that really lifted the scents (and, of course, they weren’t less smoke/smokeless.)

The obvious comparison from the music world would be the difference between 70s analog and 80s digital technology. The former’s generally fuller and more natural sounding, where the latter, before technology caught up, provided thin and inaccurate samples that were photographs to the analog’s reality. This incense range is similar. The Plum struck me as being thin, almost like an approximation of other plum blossom incenses, and I suppose it suffers from me being on a Kobunboku trip recently. The Cherry Blossom is similar, but doesn’t have the Plum’s slight bitter notes making it a little friendlier. But like most of the line this is more in the vein of sprays and home deoderizers than traditional incense, and thus less to my liking than something like Shoyeido’s Daily version. The Lavender, in particular, reminded me of a Nippon Kodo Morning Star blend, with an aroma that’s obviously synthetic and only remotely like its original oil or herb, but I did like this one more than the prior two, maybe even BECAUSE it’s not like lavender oil, something that doesn’t vary all that much when its pure. Both the Rose and the Lily of the Valley are scents I generally have a bit of trouble with in the first place, so I think my opinion can be extrapolated from the rest of the line without needing to keep firing away.

As I mentioned earlier it’s important to compare your own aesthetics to my own in these cases as I tend to prefer traditional scents and many of these are quite floral. That is while I felt fairly comfortable talking about the Gardens line, the Less Smoke line isn’t something I’d necessarily seek out on their own and was mostly curious about how good they’d be considering so many of the high line Kunjudos are so good.

Les Encens du Monde / Karin, Swallows in Flight, Royal Nave, Golden Waves, Blissful Mountain, Guiding Light

One month ago, I planned to write an article on a few of these incenses with the fact hanging heavy that at that point one could not buy Encens du Monde incenses in the United States. I’m pleased to say that this has changed and that the first batch of these incenses are now available at Essence of the Ages. We must all thank Beth for her persistence in trying to provide these incenses, several of which are world class, particularly in an era where the dollar isn’t doing so well. You’ll be able to read more reviews of these incenses in the future, but there are a number I want to cover right away as an early introduction to the line.

Les Encens du Monde is a French company who contracts with several Japanese companies to distribute various incense lines. The lion’s share of incenses distributed by this company appear to be made by Kunjudo, at the very least the Karin line is certainly a Kunjudo line, but there are others in their catalog created originally by Shoyeido or Baieido. A few of these duplicate incenses you can already find in the US, which makes any sort of discussion about this company’s incenses a little difficult to be specific about. Several of the line’s incenses also exist in Temple and Ceremony lengths and while I’d normally just consider them long stick versions, I’ve seen some of these incenses referred to as “Temple quality” while also having a significant price attached to them.

It also seems like EdM have switched around their lines a bit. I ended up buying both Golden Waves and Royal Nave overseas as part of the Karin line, only to realize that EdM have not only changed the Karin line, but the presentation and stick number as well. Both Golden Waves and Royal Nave  seem to exist as Temple or Ceremony sticks, but they do not appear to be part of the Karin line anymore. These two aromas are not currently available in the US, but I suspect we will see them eventually. I’d assume Simply Incense may still have Karin versions in limited stock. Nevertheless, all of these details make it a bit difficult to talk about these incenses in terms of lines. This article does cover the four temple/ceremony incenses in question, although all my versions come from the Karin boxes or samples. Both Blissful Mountain and Guiding Light can be found in the Meditation category.

The first incense in question is a bit complicated. Kunjudo’s Karin is already imported into the United States. As already mentioned, Karin also appears to be a line via Encens du Monde. While the boxes of the Karin incenses have changed, the old box of Forest of Flowers appears to have the same presentation, ingredient list and stick color as Kunjudo Karin, so I’d assume this is the same incense. I find Karin to be one of the gems of inexpensive incense, an affordable and fantastic blend of sandalwood, Daphne wood, and cinnamon that hits a number of different buttons. It has hints of amber even without the ingredient listed as well as wood, spice and floral and it manages to spin out different combinations of these elements like an echo of expensive aloeswoods. It’s fresh, vibrant, wonderfully spicy and addictive enough to have been a personal top 10 incense in May and I can imagine wanting deep stock in it.

Swallows in Flight is one of Kunjudo’s masterstrokes. It’s a rich, decadent and almost confectionary-sweet blend that starts with an aloeswood base and adds indulgent aromatics. The minute this one hits the nose I think of things like caramel and nougat, as this has a combination of sweet and musk that reminds me of walking into a candy shop. It definitely has a slight perfume on top with hints of white mocha that cyclically hide the base, only for the agar to remind you it’s still there in the background. It might be an incense that’s too rich at times, but when it’s right it’s a tough one to beat.

As, I mentioned before two Karin incenses are not part of the line anymore. The first of these is the stupendously good Golden Waves. Of all the EdM incenses I’ve tried, this is the one with the most obvious agarwood note. Sometimes I don’t notice this for some reason, but my most recent stick reminded me that this is very much based on the aloeswood, with a rich sweet musk and a note of hazelnut or something similar added to the top. All these elements go to making this one of those aloeswood sticks with mutable qualities, making it a fascinating stick to explore over time. At the Karin price this is a very affordable incense for its quality, which may be part of the reason it’s not in that line anymore. Hopefully we’ll see the long stick versions in the future, as this is no incense to be resigned to obscurity.

The other ex-Karin incense is Royal Nave. This isn’t quite so woody, its bouquet working more as a combination of various spices and woods. Like Guiding Light, it seems that Kunjudo do indeed like working on incenses with a massive number of ingredients and so this one is often like a faceted jewel, looking different from every perspective. The description tips us off to the aniseed, but it’s not that dominant of a characteristic to my nose. I’d say it’s more strongly spicy than strongly woody, but there’s also a perfume oil in the middle that adds to the overall complexity and comes out strongly with little fatigue. It struck me as what a Nippon Kodo Kohden stick might be like with better ingredients and also had hints of gingerbread cookie. Like many incenses in this line there appears to be a tilt to the sweet.

EdM’s Meditation line appears to have many of their high end incenses. The first of these in question is the stupendously good Guiding Light (scroll to bottom). It blends agarwood with 7 essentials and 8 wood powders for a very dense and woody incense. The aroma is all about spicy wood and I get hints of old wooden chests, brown sugar, clove, high quality sandalwood, and leather. There is definitely a high oil content, but its aroma adds a bit of mystery and insularity to the blend. Given the claim of a large quantity of agarwood, I was surprised that it didn’t have that much of a dominant note, so my guess is it’s more mid quality wood, and the blend evens some of the more specific characteristics out. I’d actually like to see this in a shorter stick, a length more appropriate for its strength outside a temple.

Finally, a really interesting, high end sandalwood and oil blend, Blissful Mountain (fourth item down). Like many EdM incenses I can imagine one of the other lines has smaller packages of the same or similar incense under a different name, based on the description of combining sandalwood with lily essential oil. Blissful Mountain is a very thick, green stick that starts with the base aroma of a common every day green sandalwood, and adds a very potent and powerful floral lily oil to it. The combination is quite intense and due to the stick’s thickness, only a fragment of a stick would totally fragrance a room. The oil is very rich, a slight tad to the soapy/floral side, but overall rather excellent, and given very few incenses already sold in the US have this sort of aroma, it’s well worth checking out. My guess the lily essential oil here adds significant to low sandalwood costs.

A browse through Essence’s EdM list will show there are dozens of aromas in the company’s lines, many of which I’m looking forward to trying and writing about down the line. There may be a small bit of risk in exploration, given that there do appear to be some crossovers between currently imported incenses and the EdM versions, but for the most part most of these have not seen our shores until now. Indeed, EdM has now expanded our choices for Japanese incense significantly.