Shroff Channabasappa / Soft (Semi-Dry) Masalas / Apsara, Exotic Petals, Little Woods (new version), Orange Blossom, Pride, Raja Yoga, Silver Bouquet, Suganda Mantri, Tapasya, Yatra, Yogi Bouquet

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
Shroff Channabasappa Part 12
Shroff Channabasappa Part 13
Shroff Channabasappa Part 14
Shroff Channabasappa Part 15

Shroff Channabasappa Part 16

I’ve been wanting to write about this group of incenses for a really, really long time now, in fact it should be a measure of my appreciation for them that I’ve restocked every single one once. If there can be one string that ties all of these incenses together is that they’re (almost) all very sublime in terms of their mixtures of notes, the kind of quality that’s like a lure or siren’s song. When I first started to use them, I found it fairly difficult to get a really good impression that I could turn into words and then before I knew it they had sucked me in and I fairly rocketed through all of my initial packages before I could even put words down on paper. So then I ended up restocking them again a few months ago and was a bit more careful and methodical with them. By then there was a new blend called Silver Blossom and some of the original soft masalas were starting to change in recipe. One of these is here, the new version of Shroff’s classic Little Woods.

While Shroff don’t tag these as wet masalas, it’s kind of difficult to really tell what the difference is between the two categories, except, perhaps, that the wets are a bit stronger in terms of perfume content. There’s perfume in these as well but they are much quieter in terms of how much the scent comes out of the boxes when you open them. Think of Darshan or Saffron and how potent they are, these are something of a step down from those. But most of this group is also different than the original group that Little Woods came in, and what they tend to smell like on the burn is quite a bit different from what they smell like in the box. But in all of these incenses’ cases, the more you get to burn them, the more you come to love them and some of these I’d find difficult to do without, especially with all the changes and bad news on the market at the moment. With Dhuni closing up shop, Shroff are now the predominant incense in the Indian export field and the reason why they are is part to do with the subtlety and quality of the last couple of groups.

Apsara lists balsam, jasmine and musk as part of its ingredient list and you’ll see musk pop up at least a couple more times in this group. In particular this is a really crystally perfume musk that really works well with these incenses. With Apsara it’s married to a really sublime and gorgeous floral champa scent with a terrific spicy finish. It’s somewhat reminiscent of pink or even royal amber incenses at times and the mix of what seems like cinnamon (but is probably partially the balsam) and the champa base is perfectly done. As such, it is fleetingly similar to some of the better Japanese florals with a high quality perfume scent at heart. Gentle and seductive, like nearly incense in this liine, this has a subtle quality that always keeps me coming back to it.

With lavender, sandal, and palmarosa in the description, Exotic Petals is a mix of lemon and citrus with a floral and fruity type of center. This is the type of scent I always find reminiscent of air freshener or furniture polish, it’s bright, intense and almost impossible not to get the huge palmarosa hit in front. But don’t let comparisons to these household products scare you off, this is much more well done than a synthetic fragrance, and it has a unique atmosphere that is well worth checking out, particularly for those into “desert flower” type mixes. It has a bit of sandalwood in the mix that grounds it nicely and it has a really cleansing vibe that is good for lifting the atmosphere of your burning area. In fact this one seems quite perfect for summer.

Little Woods has been reviewed here before and has shown up in previous monthly top tens for me, I’ve always stood behind it as one of the best incenses India has to offer. So I was a little tentative to realize that the group it came in has rumored to have changed in scent. The new version is definitely different but the good news in this case is that it’s at least as good as the old version. When I originally reviewed this, I found it slightly reminiscent of the incense known as Woods that started out brilliant and then really took a dive with the recipe changes. However, I’d say the new version might even be closer to that original classic and this seems to be less perfumed in some ways and more evergreen or resinous in scent. As a result it doesn’t feel like we’ve lost another old favorite so much as gained a new one (even if the perfumed version was brilliant). Little Woods is still an evergreen and evocative wonder.

Orange Blossom lists orange and ylang as ingredients. Like an orange cream soda or popsicle, this fruity-citrus champa is one of the best and most unique of its type. It’s not only that it gets its scent right (too many bad memories of off orangey incenses makes me hesitant to approach these), but it does so and manages to be subtle as well. The blossom part, if you will, is nicely defined and gives the scent a lot of sunshine, it’s still distinctively gummy and balsamic at the same time with a touch of the powdery. The combination of elements makes this one perfect overall, but do note these are thicker sticks than the rest of the line and thus the stick count will be a little lower.

Pride sticks out of this group quite a bit by moving away from obvious floral scents and using sandal, aloes and musk as its ingredients. It’s probably the driest in the bunch, stick and scentwise and reminds me a little of Shoyeido’s Haku-Un, a woody blend with a nice touch of aloeswood in the mix. It’s quite different for a champa or soft masala, with peppery hot notes mixed in with the woody/spicy blend. At the risk of repetition, it has a great balance like all of this line. The whole scent has a spicy richness that makes this an earthy classic and could easily be used as a temple incense. Don’t expect this to have any sort of whopping Japanese style aloeswood note in it, but you can tell the ingredient is part of the mix nonetheless.

Raj Yoga is an earthy champa of a different type, and lists rosemary, olibanum and oakmoss among its ingredients. It’s very close to what I’d call a patchouli champa variant with a green, herbaceous character (the oakmoss I’m sure) that is reminiscent of vetivert as well. The middle seems sandalwood heavy and there’s a touch of spice/floral to give it some individual character. It’s all extraordinarily fresh and original, and a great example of why these are all such impressive hybrids, incenses that only work because all the moving parts are in their right places. It’s tough to pick a favorite in this group, but for sure this would be in the running.

Silver Bouquet is one of Shroff’s very recent blends and is a really excellent entry that reminds me of the older champa days. It’s not so much that it reminds me of one scent in particular as it evokes a combination of older notes in a newer blend. Hints of Maharaja or Incense from India’s Silver Temple, a touch of Lotus, a bit of Incense from India’s African Violet fill the mix as well as a bit of nuttiness and a thread of spice permeate. It hits the kind of sultry end you want with a “silver,” with the perfume revealing some cool subtleties through the burn. Amazing, like a quality spiced tea.

When I restocked Suganda Mantri, it was the one incense in the group I bought two boxes of. It’s one of this line’s brilliant pieces of art, a rich, sultry Eastern perfume in champa form. The scent is quite woody (musk and sandalwood are listed) and the subtleties are many and difficult to list. There’s a bit of chocolate, some earthiness, some sensuous florals, especially rose. It has a depth to it all the best Indian masalas have, where the plurality of ingredients come together in all sorts of sublime ways. It may be the best of several examples of why this batch of Shroffs is so good. Perhaps a bit similar to desert flower blends but if so the most superior version of that scent on record.

If there’s one incense in this group that I might have slipped a little bit with, it’s the musk, sandalwood and amber blend Tapasya. It’s a bracing, fruity blend with the usual sandal, orange peel and spices, in fact this could be considered something of an alternate version of the old Maharaj scent. The main issue with it is that either the bamboo stick or part of the aroma cuts through with a slightly rough woody scent that gives it some bitterness. It gives an abrasive note to the scent that prevents it from working properly. Like Pride, it’s quite dry, but not in a good way. In fact as I took notes down on this I went through several sticks just to try and capture why it wasn’t working as well for me anymore and mostly it just doesn’t pop like the rest of them.

Yatra, a mix of jasmine, sandal and musk, is an excellent blend of fruity and floral with a really powerful and crystally musk presence, this is really what this line does well, balancing several ingredients in an unusual and clever fusion. The wood and champa base sits in the middle and they seem to ground both the jasmine and musk so that both are distinct in the bouquet. Sometimes jasmine can be overwhelming, but like with Apsara it is placed rather perfectly in the scent. Very nicely done, fresh with a touch of evergreen in the mix.

Finally we have Yogi Bouquet which lists citrus, musk and balsam. Like Yatra, it has a distinct and noticeable musky quality, although where it’s more crystalline and perfume-like in Yatra, it shows up a bit more sultry here, meshing perfectly with the balsam. The citrus is nicely mixed in and doesn’t kill the incense like it often can when the essential oils are over accentuated. There’s a bit of sawdust in the mix as well and it’s perhaps a touch rough, but the combination makes it quite worthwhile.

This article more or less catches up with the Shroff line to date, although after trying the new Little Woods, I’m curious to revisit some of the other incenses in the group that have probably changed. I tried Pearl again but it’s close enough to the old version to be redundant and reports elsewhere on the site evince that Jungle Prince might not be up to the standards it used to have. Another big change is that Shroffs are now being packaged in 50g packages, which seem a good balance between not having enough and having too much. Let us know in the comments section what your current favorites are in this thread and if you’ve noticed any changes, any observations will be highly worthwhile to our readers.

Advertisements

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.

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.