Nitiraj / Color Aromatherapy Nag Champas / Black, Blue, Green, Gold, Orange, Purple, Red

This line up of Nitirag nag champa incenses seems to be one of the few remaining sublines in their catalog. There are seven aromas, undoubtedly to match up with the chakras, and they’re all created to represent a color in scent (there are no artificial colors on the incenses themselves). The entire line is more or less saddled with a lack of distinction in the same way so much of the Shrinivas line is, lots of aromas that only change  things to slight degrees.

Nitiraj’s Black Nag Champa for meditation lists sandalwood, vanilla and floral oils, which unfortunately doesn’t tell you much. And why would it? Everything is slightly tweaked here from the generic Nag Champa scent, especially the spicy middle and floral top notes, all of which are just gently different. The variation is quite nice, not up to the Shroff and Dhuni quality you’re seeing these days, but not poor either. It actually reminds me a little of the base that is part of the Nikhil flavored champas.

The Blue Nag Champa is for relaxation and contains rose, jasmine and sandalwood, making this somewhat similar to the Shrinivas “Valley of the Roses” incense. Like that incense the floral oils have an almost chemical-like scent and there’s no hint of true rose and very little jasmine. Unfortunately most floral champas don’t work out too well due to the avoidance of expensive ingredients and this is little different. There’s too much of a furniture polish thing going on here.

The Green Nag Champa is about balance and includes citrus oils with garden flowers and sandalwood. It’s quite nice, sandalwood heavy, with the citrus and flowers mixing in nicely and giving the entire incense an uplifting feel. The citrus oils in particular enhance the sense of freshness, strangely, in a way the Blue totally failed to accomplish. And most importantly, everything feels real with no off notes.

Wisdom is the theme of the Gold Nag Champa and the incense includes amber, jasmine and sandalwood. This champa is nice and hevay in the amber department, which gives the whole champa scent a totally different feel. The amber champas found in other lines are similar in style, but the jasmine really pops nicely in the mix (although a better jasmine oil might have made this a classic). Definitely one of this line’s best incenses, no surprise it gets the gold spot.

The Orange Nag Champa aims to evoke happiness and includes sweet woods and spices. It’s another semi-sweet champa, not terribly far from the Green if it had no citrus oils. Because of the lack of flashy ingredients, this also is still within the more specific nag champa aroma. It’s gentle, which is nice, but it doesn’t really have much in the way of a personality. There are Mother’s incenses that do this kind of thing much better, let alone Shroff’s Little Woods.

The Purple Nag Champa has a prayer theme and includes forest herbs and flowers. Another extraordinarily foofy, sweet nag champa, this one is mildly evocative of the sweetness of Honey Dust or Vanilla. Like with some of the other incenses in this line, it lacks a certain personality, althought it does seem to capture its color in a way the others don’t so much. Then again it doesn’t strike me as foresty in any way. Not much more to say, it reminds me of a forgettable Shrinivas offering.

Finally we have energy in the way of the Red Nag Champa which features exotic oils and sweet tropical fruits. At least in Red’s case we have a bit of vigor, probably due to the fruit oil mix (memories of Ajaro or Aastha from the Satya line come up here). But overall, we have the same issues, slightly weak and multiple ingredients combining for mild and unsuggestive aromas. This has sort of a champa mixed with a mild fruitiness that has little definition. It’s not unpleasant, but this just pales next to better incense.

There’s one more Nitiraj line, Masterpiece, although I believe this line may be on the way to deletion. But better than all of these, at least slightly, is Nitiraj’s gigantic Atmosphere brand which as a whole is a little more deluxe than the actual Nitiraj lines. Again, it’s worth keeping in mind that even when I’m positive about the incenses above, this is in no way to indicate these incenses are on the same level as the Mother’s champas, Shroff, Dhuni, Happy Hari etc.

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Shroff Channabasappa / Wet Masala / Darshan, Drona, Little Woods, Nag Champa

Shroff Channabasappa Part 1
Shroff Channabasappa Part 2
Shroff Channabasappa Part 3
Shroff Channabasappa Part 4
Shroff Channabasappa Part 5
Shroff Channabasappa Part 6
Shroff Channabasappa Part 7
Shroff Channabasappa Part 8
Shroff Channabasappa Part 9
Shroff Channabasappa Part 10
Shroff Channabasappa Part 11

There are probably enough comments on Shroff’s last batch of wet masala incenses in various threads on ORS that reviews at this point are near redundant. This is partially because this batch is easily one of the best to be imported to the United States in years (perhaps only the batch with Pearl, Jungle Prince et al was more celebrated). In terms of quality to cost ratio, you may not find better incense out there.

Previously there were only two wet masalas, French Musk and Saffron. I think the French Musk probably fits better in style with the group represented by Pearl, Jungle Prince et al, which leaves Saffron as the best comparison for the new batch. However these don’t strike me as wet masalas in the same way the old halmaddi-rich champas did, they’re not particularly gooey or easy to pull apart. But they’re all very rich, powerful and high quality scents based on some combinations that you might not have come across before.

Fresh on the stick, Darshan is redolent of candy green spearmint and you’ll need to like that to like this incense. The other ingredient here listed is musk with citrus, but there aren’t any really overt citrus elements that come to my mind, such as lemon or orange. What happens is that the mint and musk end up combining with the sugar and spice base to give off an aroma not far off from baking Christmas cookies. There’s even an unusual caramel note in the mix that helps to increase its sweetness. If you’ve familiar with past spice champas (the one that comes to mind is the long, sadly deleted Blue Pearl Spice Champa) you’ll have the general idea, but the spearmint really makes this a one of a kind stick. I find it particularly impressive because mint oils are often powerful enough to overpower most other notes in an aroma, so the balance struck here is clearly the work of a very impressive recipe. I fell in love with this one instantly and never grow tired of it. I’m likely approaching 100g already burned already.

Drona could be the weakest of this new group of eight, but relatively speaking that still puts it way above the incenses in recent reviews like Nitiraj or Sarathi. The ingredients here are musk, sandalwood and vetivert, however only the musk strikes me as particularly obvious and you can definitely compare this incense in part to Shroff’s French Musk. It ends up being a little on the generic champa side and shares the caramel notes of the Darshan, but other than the slight vetivert teases along the outside, no other element in the incense is any louder. The aroma ends up being kind of light and fluffy, with slight touches of vanilla and cocoa powder, but unfortuantely it doesn’t really have much of a hook or personality to sell itself. One might think of a mild nougat scent, slightly creamy, even certain latte types are reminiscent.

Little Woods is quite simply one of those incenses ORS was created to tell people about, it’s a triumph on every level, simply one of the very best incenses you can buy at its price level. The ingredients here, perhaps confusingly, are listed as fouger, oriental, rose and ambery sandal. The former element appears to be particularly important, and rather than describe it myself, I’ll just send you here. Of course any really classic incense is going to have a blend so perfectly balanced that to break it down would be difficult, and that couldn’t be more true for Little Woods. I find some similarity between this and N Ranga Rao’s woods, particularly the way certain wood subnotes merge with almost citrus-like evergreen touches on the top, but that’s as far as the comparison goes, because the perfume on Little Woods is much richer. But part of why such a strong perfume works is because it’s grounded in a superior base, with a mix of floral notes, leather and spice tea. In fact even well in excess of 100g burned, I still notice new elements of the incense, in fact I’m sitting here now going, yeah I think I get some of that ambery sandal too. Anyway, essential. In caps and boldface.

Shroff’s Nag Champa is interesting because it came out so close to the Dhuni version with so many similarities that they’re worth comparing, however Dhuni’s own brand has actually improved and changed enough that newer versions probably aren’t so comparable. Anyway Shroff’s entry is very traditional, almost definitive in some ways, although like Dhuni it’s a bit thicker than what you’ll find from Satya, Shantimalai etc. In fact the red box is probably a good comparison, but Shroff’s Nag Champa  is not as close to that as Happy Hari’s Gold Nag Champa because it’s so much drier. Shroff’s version also, unsurprisingly, bears the hallmarks of their brilliant perfuming skills, but it’s to the point that you end up thinking most of the aroma is carried by it, and let’s face it, a nag champa entirely succeeds or fails on its base. I do have to admit, I’m actually starting to get worn out by nag champas, largely because outside of Dhuni, I’ve yet to see any that haven’t managed to disguise off base notes or even sometimes the bamboo stick and while Shroff’s version manages to be really clever with the gentle plumeria-like scent on top, you need a much more resonant base to make me forget the formula is still missing something it used to have. On the other hand, I do think the Shroff version gets the scent to affordability ratio down perhaps better than any other version, so if you’re a fan looking to get away from Satya, this will be a good choice.

Next up: Ruby, Shanti, Shran, Super Star…

Mother’s India Fragrances / Arjava, Hansa, Lavanya, Om, Purusha, Sattwa, Yajna

Since the last installment on the newly released Mother’s Fragrances Nagchampa incenses, the company kindly sent me what I’m dubbing the “Nag Champa Construction Set,” which is a series of ingredients that go into making their fantastic bases. One thing I learned fairly early about incense is that information from the east on these treasures has actually been remarkably sparse and so I’m extremely thankful to have received a further education from the creators. Not only has the set helped to show me where the sandalwood works into the base, but in particular having a sample of halmaddi resin has really helped to narrow down just where this works into these incenses. And overall my already high respect for the creator of these incenses has grown when I consider what the base smells like compared to the finished product. These are just works of art on every level.

So I wanted to say a few words about halmaddi resin before getting to the “back seven” nagchampas. This ingredient is particularly interesting in that the actually fresh smell of the resin itself (almost like a combination of chocolate and turpentine elements) is completely different from the smell while it’s burning, which is floral (likely that element similar to the champaka flower), slightly bitter and very balsamic. Not only is this obvious from the resin, but also from the base stick. Even on its own this a pleasant scent but what struck me is how much of a chameleon halmaddi must be since the oils that go into the incense change the nature of the relationship. Also, the Mother’s bases, while soft, aren’t gooey like the resin or many of the incenses I used to burn 15 years ago and as I intuit from the oils, there’s a really impressive level of balance and restraint here.

I wouldn’t have even recognized the base stick in the Arjava Nagchampa, which is the first of four incenses in this group that was not part of the original 12 incense sampler I received months ago. If there is a slight wildness to the halmaddi, you wouldn’t find it in this incense, which has a level of gentleness that is quite surprising. Where the descriptions of many of the other incenses list as many as 5 or 6 ingredients, there is only one specific listed here: rose. It’s interesting in that this is one of the new 14 that really stands out as being quite different, there’s an unusual herbal note at the top that is quite exotic and unique. The central scent is almost akin to some of the herbal-rose combinations found elsewhere and this all lies on a wood level that has been turned up a notch, while remaining pillowy soft. While it could be said that this is another wonderful contrast of spice and floral elements, the results aren’t quite so piquant as they are in the other scents, leading to a very sublime finish. Particularly because when I burn this I feel like I’m always trying to reach a description of the end, one that’s essentially elusive and mysterious. Like all great incenses the final notes end up as part of one’s memories.

Hansa Nagchampa is similar to the Arjava only in that it also has a fairly noticeable woodiness in the mix, but essentially this is a scent that returns to the floral/spice mix of many of these incenses. A lot of the main players in the whole line are in this one, including kewra, vetivert and lavender, but as always the addition of other ingredients modify the aromatic contour substantially. In fact, of the entire line this is perhaps the incense I find the most difficult to describe as the ingredient combos seem familiar, but the overall scent has been changed enough to be completely unique. Perhaps part of this is the golden champa scent in what I’d describe as the fourth fifth from top to bottom.  The amber here isn’t as strong as it is in the Om Nagchampa but it definitely flirts with the attention around all the floral notes and in many ways actually accentuates these notes so one feels that the florals are dominant to the spice mix in the background. And overall it’s the Kewra and Lavender that make, incrementally, the boldest statements in the mix. But in the end it’s puzzling because perhaps the best word to describe this incense is kaleidoscopic, because at any different time it’s possible to see new interactions among the ingredients. Which means in the end any static description won’t do this justice, as the base and the vetivert that tie it all together are really the only constants.

Lavanya Nagchampa really clicked with me after a couple sticks when it became obvious that the central part of the incense is very evergreen and spicy. I’ve discussed some of the incenses that contrast florals with a spice that could be roughly described in the cinnamon/clove/hot area, but this seems to get part of its spice from the use of resins as well as cedar, so that the spice note feels more green than red. Users of resin blends may have come across those that are resonantly foresty and that would be the comparison here. But it’s only a beginning and a platform because what dances on top is the jasmine and ylang ylang, and like the Arjava the results are just so delicate. It constantly strikes me that among Indian incenses, many of which can be incredibly strong and aromatic, that these are among the most refined and gentle, something only a master perfumer could gauge so perfectly. In the end it’s almost as if your aromatic senses try to convince you of its floral nature as the bewitching, rich evergreen and liqueur like background bubbles underneath, creating an almost yin/yang like paradox.

In fact as you use these incenses it’s really hard to separate one masterpiece from another, but there’s something in the Om Nagchampa that has made it my fastest used incense in the whole line, I literally have trouble trying to keep from burning my stock up in a couple days. It basically presents a triangle of amber, vanilla and cassia that is simply breathtaking and close to my sense of aromatic nirvana. My idea of the perfect incense is something that manages to be dry and rich at the same time, hinting at sweetness without being cloying. The cassia in this incense is just so perfectly placed that it’s a sheer delight and the amber notes are virtually flawless. As this scent burns it becomes so sublime by the end of the stick that it manages to represent the concept of Om in a way that might evoke ain ineffable response in the user. In fact it’s even difficult to want to burn another incense after this as it leaves such a powerful energy in the air after the last elements go up in smoke. By a long shot my top incense of August and it could be a reigning favorite for a while now.

Purusha Nagchampa is another of the dominantly lavender incenses in the line, which follows the absolute success of the Ganesh Nagchampa. Mother’s uses a number of different lavenders, however, and in this case we’re seeing an English lavender at the front, a note that is probably the most dominant lavender scent in any of these incenses. But while sitting on the top, the ingredients from the base up do a lot to modify the scent. For one thing this is one of the few, if not the only incense that has a sage note, an ingredient that seems to be far more common in American incenses (specifically southeast or Native American blends). Here it’s used to modify the lavender, and the results seem to bring out some of the wilder, herbier elements the two ingredients have in common. I’m not as familiar with orris, but I suspect this has a great deal to do with the more unfamiliar middle subscents that help to give this incense its individual personality. Closer to the base, the patchouli blends with the balsamic nature of the halmaddi to help make sure the top notes don’t go overboard. In the end this is definitely on the sweeter side of the Mother’s range, but it’s got just that touch of wildness to rein it all in.

Sandalwood is a main ingredient in all these incenses but it perhaps makes its presence most known in the Sattwa Nagchampa. With kewra, lavender tuberose and vetivert in the mix, this is definitely something of a cousin to the Atma and Hansa blends, if you can imagine the biggest change to be an increase in the amount of woodiness used. The vetivert here also seems to be turned up enough to give the scent a pleasant and sharp subnote and adding this to the woods and halmaddi base helps to balance the florals without reducing the richness of the scent. Overall this is a very pretty incense with a lot of activity in the mix and it’s among the bolder scents in the line. And like its cousins, the mix seems gauged to reveal its complexity slowly over time, something a review really can’t account for without an excessively lengthy preparation period.

Continuing a number of incenses with a strong lavender element is the spicy Yajna Nagchampa. However, if some of the Mother’s scents tilt more to a floral side, this is a decidedly spicy incense with woody notes, nagarmotha oil, patchouli and oakmoss all combining to imply a spice that also reminds me of cinnamon toast. This is also a very woody incense, however the type of wood scent it reminds me most of is akin (but far superior to) Satya’s Patchouli Forest scent, with that sense of crystalline, green resin that that incense evokes. Not only is the Yajna spicy, but it’s also devilishly complex in that there seems to be a lot of elements that make up this level of the incense. The oak moss is particularly noticeable here, almost more than a subnote at times, and with the patchouli it grounds the scent as something far more earthy the fire-like. In the end as you notice all this spicy, grounded activity it makes the presence of the lavender on top such a surprise and delight.

I’ll have to admit nearly every incense in this line is at a level of intricacy that they’re very hard to do justice to in words. So many of them are like a puzzle, because I feel that in a lot of other incense lines you wouldn’t expect some of these ingredients to work together like they do and in the end appraising them is like looking at a beautiful painting and switching between the singular elements and the composite final work. I may have mentioned strongly how much I love the Om, but over time I have no doubt that I’ll switch from favorite to favorite because in the case of complex aromas like found in the Hansa or Yajna, you get the feeling that it will take at least 10 sticks to feel that you’ve got a full grip on what’s going on here. And in the end I think this is the real joy in the use of incense, that what you have has the potential to continue to surprise and elate you as changing circumstances provide the varying viewpoints to smell new facets of complex bouquets. Because in the end with this line of Mother’s Nagchampas, all 19 exquisite treasures, you have some of the finest incenses available, particularly at an affordability that is quite astonishing. And please do check out the previous article for buying options, as I suspect in less than a month’s time they should be widely available to most of our readers.

Nippon Kodo / Morning Star / Fig, Lotus + East Meets West / Thai Memory

This write-up is an odds and ends sort of thing and likely to be one of the last Nippon Kodo modern reviews I make here. Most of these incenses come from my early days (which really wasn’t all that long ago) exploring Japanese incense, when I didn’t know quite what I liked yet and it has since dawned on me that I’m just not a Nippon Kodo type of person, at least when it comes to moderns (the jury is still out on their high end aloeswoods). The issue, as I’ve mentioned before, is that most if not all of their moderns are created with what I’d call inexpensive and offputting perfumes, the type of scents that always remind me of what digital technology sounded in the early 80s, bad snapshots better captured in a more authentic setting. An NK modern often starts out OK but like a diet soda (particularly the old saccharine ones), it becomes quickly apparent you’re dealing with a subsitute.

I also haven’t reviewed the very popular Morning Star line before, not only because that line and my pocketbook aren’t intersecting anywhere, but because they’re also inexpensive enough that virtually anyone could try them on their own. And I’d have avoided them entirely except for a trip to a local store where on a whim I decided to give the Fig and Lotus brands a try. That a different trip had me purchasing another East Meets West coil set may have been the last straw for this sort of on the spot purchasing. It’s one thing paying that extra retail price for something you like, another when you get something you don’t. Most if not all these sailed off in the “trading circle” box with the hope someone things my opinions on these are crazy.

To be honest, based on the Fig and Lotus, at least with Morning Star incenses they’re properly priced. One will not be expecting kyara at $2.50 a box. What one will get is a very inexpensive, partially sandalwood based and rather heavy perfume oil on top. This basically means you match your taste to the scent on most of these Morning Star incenses. In both of these cases, the scent captures the most perfume-like and floral natures of the relative scents. Where fig can also be pulpy, damp and, err, Fig Newton-like, here it’s brightly floral and somewhat reminiscent of grape Kool-aid, a memory scent that came welling up from my seven year old head. It’s not initially harsh, but like many synthetic florals the aroma really starts to cloy around a third of the way down the stick.

The Lotus is similar. It’s a scent that varies with just about every permutation, but one aspect that makes a Lotus incense successful is the sultry, shimmering mirage-like quality of the flower, something undeniably exotic and even a little erotic when it’s done right. I’d never had that much of an expectation for this incense, but given the sort of depths the lotus can muster, the results are certainly pale even with low expectations. It’s like a black and white photograph of a flower garden, we can indeed see the Lotus but it’s hard to be affected any more than that.

The problem with some of the more expensive NK moderns is they don’t really improve on the Morning Star formulas, giving the impression they’re quite overpriced. Take the East Meets West line. I covered a different scent from this line a while back (and for more info on the line itself I’d refer you to this same link) and if I’d ever made a mistake going twice to the same dried up well, it was with this line. Like Scandinavian Memory, Thai Memory is fraught with bitter and soapy aromatics. Even in its description we get “sharp citrus,” which even if this was considered a selling point comes off extremely offputting. The key notes are bougainvillea, bamboo, and honey, but like most NK incenses with unusual combinations of three, the result is quite clashing. The honey doesn’t seem to survive the combination too well, dominated by the sharp citrus, which, combined with ginger, is just too much top note for this mellow of a base. Overall it’s not quite as extreme as Scandinavian Memory, but too far into the unpleasant category for me to hang onto.

It’s unlikely I’ll be back to visit these lines any time soon, at least not with my pocketbook. Morning Star incenses aren’t much of a risk for any incense budget, but the East Meets West line, despite the striking presentation, is too highly priced in coil or stick format. At a price of $21.50 you could be diving into Tibetan high enders and quality aloeswoods rather than letting harsh perfumes etch unpleasant memories into your head.

Nippon Kodo / Café Time / Cassia, Mocha; Sakura (Cherry), Green Tea; Lime, Mint Tea; Lotus, Wine

As a creator of a number of different modern lines, it could be said that Nippon Kodo, at least in its American front, leads the market when it comes to user friendly, accessible and modern scents, and as such it’s a company that doesn’t really make a lot of incense that appeals to my personal taste. But even beyond this disclaimer, a lot of modern incenses I have tried in the Nippon Kodo stable have gone beyond just having a different aesthetic into what I find to be unpleasantly perfumed incenses. That is, there’s a difference between not being a big fan of fruity or floral incenses while recognizing that there are times when they are well done and just dismissing anything of the sort. Having reviewed (and not altogether positively) incenses in lines like Free Pure Spirit, East Meets West, Elemense and New Morning Star, it’s time to turn to some incenses that, while not being my thing, are sometimes well done for what they do.

Café Time is a series of cone incenses that come in pairs in cylindrical cardboard containers with five cones for each of two flavors per container, with a theme to tie them together. Café Times are rather small cones and even if they’re quite affordable between $5 and $6 a container, you’re still paying at least 50 cents a cone. Given these cones are done in 15 to 20 minutes, you’re not getting a lot of value for the money, but at least in most of these incenses you’re getting a decent scent, with very few of them showing the off notes and cheap perfume aromatics of some of other NK’s lines. Read the rest of this entry »

Nippon Kodo / Free Pure Spirit / Pure, Spirit

I’m about to go brutal here, so look away if you’re squeamish. Quite simply, this Nippon Kodo line might be the very template for what can go wrong with mainstream Japanese incense targetted to a modern audience. It’s a line of three incenses that confuse the line name and each incense name by having the latter come from the former, all of which have strange (and somewhat uneven) white boxes that have you trying to figure out which one you’re looking at for a few seconds. But that’s by far the least of the incenses’ problems.

I occasionally walk by people wearing synthetic perfumes. A lot of the times the memory this evokes for me are the strong chemical smells I experienced in organic chemistry labs in UC Davis. In general I find synthetic aromas to flatline very quickly, in general they are rarely incenses that will grow on you, at least positively. With both Pure and Spirit, it wasn’t long before both scents were literally becoming unpleasant to my nose. It’s true, all three scents in the line are meant to be fruity and I’m no appreciator of fruity incenses. However, I don’t think these incenses are even successful with what they’re trying to do. Like the Fragrance Memories line, this is Nippon Kodo working with a combination of three scents for a composite fragrance. In both Pure and Spirit’s case these elements clash miserably.

Pure goes for a red berry, grapefruit and pine needle combination. Even the idea itself doesn’t sound all that great to me. The outcome is basically a bitter,  astringent mess, where the harsh notes of the grapefruit citrus are actually unbalanced even more by the pine needle element. The red berry is almost overwhelmed by both and the whole thing smells like artificially scented soap bars. It’s like a caricature of a good incense and even over several sticks, the experience just got worse and worse. The last stick for this review I ended up putting out, swearing I’d never light one again.

Spirit is better, but not by much. This one goes for green tea, lemon and peppermint and, like in Pure, the former element is drowned out quite a bit with quite a bit of clashing going on. Green Tea itself often has a very subtle quality to it, so pepping it up with lemon and peppermint is like adding fruit syrup to beer, it just ruins a good thing. Even comparing this to, say, the Green Tea cone in the Cafe Time series is unfavorable for this incense. All I get is harsh, synthetic lemon and mint smells that batter the senses into submission. The lemon, at times, seems more like orange or tangerine with a citrus imbalance. It all comes off kind of like diet soda, affected negatively by the aftertaste.

I tend to like to complete series before I review them here, but in this case you couldn’t get me within 100 feet of Free, based on these two incenses. Quite frankly even some of the cheaper lines in the Nippon Kodo catalog are more pleasant than these, including some of the basis Morningstar incenses. And with those you’re paying only a fraction of the price on this line. Overall, I just don’t see the point to incenses such as these when you can get a $12 roll of Baieido Special Kokonoe or Kobunboku for nearly half that.

Shoyeido / Xiang-Do / Rose, Palo Santo, Vanilla, Mixed Fruits, Citrus, Marine, Lavender, Violet

Shoyeido’s Xiang-Do series is created by what the company calls their exclusive pressed incense process, a process that for most of us on the outside will be somewhat obscure. What we can tell from the product is that these incenses concentrate the aromatics to a degree rarely found in the natural world and, most importantly, do so very successfully. To my nose, Shoyeido is responsible for many of the best modern incense styles on the planet and their pressed incense is generally extraordinary.

Like Shoyeido’s LISN series, one is aware by the numbers on the boxes that we only see a small part of this line here, what would amount to 16 incenses, with three of them labelled as Xiang-Do Fresh (Green Tea, Tea, Coffee). Xiang-Do not only provides a small sampler for the Fresh trio, but a 12 stick/12 aroma sampler as well. It looks like the larger 30 stick/10 aroma sampler has been deleted at the Shoyeido site, but may be available for a little while longer if you look around. The price of the 20 stick boxes is rather close to $15 and with the short 2 3/4 inch length, these incenses can generally be considered pricy, as is all of the incenses that use the pressed incense process (I know I’d like to see bigger (60 stick) boxes). I’ll be covering half of the line in this article, the other half will be forthcoming (including my two favorites in the entire line – Forest and Peppermint).

Xiang Do’s Rose is easily one of the better Rose incenses I’ve been able to sample, perhaps not quite at the level of the Floral World/Royal Rose, but certainly more affordable. Like all of the line’s incenses the floral oil is very concentrated, starting with a sweet garden-like rose aroma and ending in a surprisingly dry finish. Rose incenses aren’t generally my favorite, but the style and rich base make this quite attractive.

Palo Santo comes from an Andean tree and while it’s a rather extraordinary scent whether natural or in this pressed style, it’s one you rarely see in Japanese incense, which makes this somewhat unusual. I think of it as a somewhat orangey aromatic wood, with hints of mango and apricot and a bit of talcum. Quite pleasant and definitely unique, it’s likely to be friendly to most noses.

Vanilla is about what you’d expect, although the intensity of the aroma brings out sides to the scent rather uncommon to most vanilla incenses. It’s both slightly sweet and spicy, but not at all like vanilla in the ice cream or confectionary sense, a little closer to the tonka bean sort of aroma, almost as if it had fruitlike qualities. This is one I’ve slowly grown to over time and I’d probably put it in the second tier after Forest and Peppermint.

Mixed Fruits never strikes me as a good idea for incense, and while this is decent the overall mix of apple, citrus, banana and grape kind of renders the overall aroma somewhat banal. I can imagine specific fruits would probably work better under such a style and can imagine the Japanese line must have them. Here there’s a surprising lack of aromatic concentration and distinction. However fruit incense lovers might see this a bit different.

Citrus has similar issues, although in many ways this is fairly close to Forest and Peppermint in style. The previously mentioned 30 stick sampler was displayed sort of like a rainbow of colors and while it does help to make it look like a pretty box, there may also be some similarities in style with scents similar in color. The end note on this one has a grapefruit-like citrus aroma that for my nose doesn’t finish quite so well.

Marine is another one that may seem bizarre to the western nose. It’s that attempt to capture the aromas of being at sea or on a beach. Nippon Kodo have an incense called Aqua that captures that sort of wet/watery sort of scent. Marine itself is more of a saltwater vibe, a bit of brine that doesn’t seem to work so well with the general base of this incense. Fortunately it’s dry, but this will be one you’d want to try in a sampler first.

The last two are probably my favorite in this specific group. Lavender surprised me in not being very typical of incenses with French lavender oil, which is a good thing given their prevalence. The aromatics are intense enough to give the incense an almost liquor-like lavender scent, dense, perfumed and sweltery. It does have similarities to the lavender you might find in hair products, however the Xiang-Do base helps to balance this proclivity and keep it a little on the sweeter side.

Violet‘s my favorite of the Xiang-Do floral scents, not terribly far from the natural aroma, although the base adds sweetness and balance to the oil. I got a little purple valentine candy in there as well, it’s a really delightful scent, one of the few florals I can really get behind.

Other than the Fresh trio I mentioned earlier, the remaining Xiang Do incenses (exported to the US) are Forest, Peppermint, Sandalwood, Frankincense and Agarwood, all of which I hope to cover in the future once I managed to “complete the series.” Despite that I’ve been fairly critical on this first eight, I’d still recommend giving the sampler a try as depending on one’s personal tastes you might well find that you enjoy certain blends more than I do. I tend to find Shoyeido pressed incenses to be among the finest treats in incense and very complimentary to woody, spicy and more natural styles.