myInsens / myJoy, myMantra, mySensuality, mySerenity, mySpark

myInsens is a new company in the US offering natural and premium Indian incense. The owner, Kaivan Dave, contacted me last year about the project and after samples of the incense, I’ve been pretty excited for a while to announce the company’s presence, their web site went live not too long ago.

One of the things you start to notice with Indian incense over time is the distribution structure. It is quite possible to think of several incense companies having separate product, but often certain incense companies in India market incenses outside the country and so, for example, the Madhavadas family provide incenses for Primo, Pure Incense and others.  I mention this because myInsens is definitely providing a new scent profile with their first six incenses, one that will be similar to other Indian incense companies, but with variations that make them well worth checking out on their own. Kaivan has struck me as very careful in the quality and styles he is releasing first and as such all of the incenses in the line have done nothing but open up since I started using them.

But not only are the incenses good, the packaging and presentation is particularly notable. The first thing I thought of when I got my first samples and box was simply why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? Because the box the incenses come in is wonderfully crafted for travel, a hinged box with a compartment for an incense holder. Even if you’re the Japanese incense type, I can imagine you’d love a box like this, with just a little bit of arrangement you can load the case for travel and not really have to worry about broken sticks. The only downside to any of this is that $19.99 for 24 sticks of incense and the box might be considered too steep for some, and I might agree if we weren’t dealing with what is essentially a connoisseur level of Indian incense. But I’d still maintain it’s almost worth it for the box alone, it’s that cool.

myJoy is the first of two reddish colored sticks, both essentially florals. I’m often the first person to complain about how poor some Indian florals can be, so I’m also going to rave about them when they’re great. And in many ways what myInsens has done with the floral incense is one of their selling points. myJoy is the type of floral that many companies attempt and few get right, and it is a real credit to myInsens that this is so beautifully balanced, because a hair outside of this balance can really hurt a floral. In the description, we’re given crushed rose petals and olive oil, the latter perhaps being the first time I’ve heard of the ingredient in an incense. The perfume that centers the stick is just incredibly well conceived, with almost real essential oil quality definition. The beauty of walking through a garden is the subtletly of scent, not some sort of perfume drowning session, so it’s so easy to recommend this, its powdery and feminine sweetness has a true delicacy and sense of nature in it. Pure Incense’s Pink Sayli is perhaps roughly in the same style, but I’m not sure anyone’s done it better than this.

The ingredients given for myMantra are ground patchouli leaves and frankincense powder. I also notice a strong sandalwood presence as a base, and the patchouli holding the center. The patchouli tends to the sweet, I’d guess due to the frankincense powder which gives the overall scent a fruitiness you don’t tend to find in most patchouli incenses. Due to so many elements at play the overall bouquet has hints of vanilla and orange in the mix, which remind me of spicier teas as well as certain colognes. But like all the incenses in this line the effects are quite gentle and always subtle and you never forget their are organics at work, all of which wonderfully unfold duing the burn.

While the whole line is good, if there was a standout in it it would have to be the absolutely world class mySensuality. Talk about raising a rose (and, as the description unveils, raspberry) incense to a new bar. How the company managed to get a rosy incense this authentic at a reasonable price is quite frankly almost miraculous territory. Like with myJoy this has floral definition that you usually only see in the high end Japanese lines (like Shoyeido Floral World). While other incenses in the line have a bit more halmaddi, this is still essentially something of a champa style, balanced to the point that criticisms fall away. The rose/raspberry mix is a real triumph for the company, so rich it almost has wine-like notes. Make sure this one’s in your first sample pack.

mySerenity moves back to familiar territory. This is definitely a champa incense, with what seems like a very nice halmaddi and honey mix. We’re given both lavender and vanilla as ingredients, although the former is certainly not very loud, which I generally think is a good move. The style is quite similar in many ways to Satya Natural, Honey Dust and others and thus is perhaps a bit on the generic side as a scent while still nailing the quality end of it. In fact if there’s any criticism to be made, any stick this thick with gum can be slightly problematic on lighting, but once it’s going it should be fine. The ingredients are nice and fresh and this is essentially a vanilla/balsamic mix, quite old school at heart.

mySpark nearly combines the spicyness of myMantra and the ambery subnotes of  myJoy with the champa qualities of mySerenity and indeed the ingredients given are patchouli oil, halmaddi and sandalwood. Like myMantra, this is something of a spicy, somewhat cologne-like masculine scent. Once again the perfume/oils being used in this stick are nicely defined, including a light touch of sweetness, in fact the way the florals and woods mix is lightly reminiscent of a good oud. This is the kind of champa I tend to gravitate to on a personal level and found this stick quite bracing and enjoyable.

When I got to writing notes on myZen, I realized I had gotten some aromatic fatigue, particularly because it is the lightest and airiest incense in the catalog. It was one of those moments where I was struck by how careful the incense making is here. In fact this seems to be almost the perfect meditation incense, not so loud it will distract you. The ingredients are sandalwood, halmaddi champa flower, the sandalwood the most pronounced ingredient in the middle with the champa flower playing lightly around the edges (my first impression was violet). Of all the scents in the catalog, this seems to be the least oil heavy.

Perhaps the best news about myInsens is they’re already looking forward to new scents, in fact I believe I was told there were four more on the way. This is all excellent news, because the combination of quality incense with an intelligent and modern style of packaging is all too rare in the field today. Also it should be mentioned that if you sign up for their newsletter you can get 10% off on your order. I highly recommend any incense lover who likes to share to give a sampler a try, I find it worth it for the box/holder combination alone. That it comes with extremely good incense makes it a perfect package.

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Gonesh / Vanilla, Cinnamon, Raspberry

This is the first write up where I feel like I’m putting my boxing gloves on and getting ready to rumble. I picked up a package of Gonesh a year or so before starting the incense resource at Mike’s Prattle, when I’d walked into a local store one day and found myself a little weary at picking up another box of Nag Champa or another common Shrinivas scent, so even though I knew it would be trouble, I picked up this three in one package of the dreaded “charcoal dipped” style. When I first tried them, I wasn’t at all impressed, but it’s nothing like my post-Japanese incense nose, which actually prefers the smell of burning California forests to these scents.

There appears to be very little natural about these scents. One page has the claim that Gonesh incense has the “highest charcoal content of any brand on the market,” a statement that will make many of us scratch our heads over the idea that this might be a good thing. I’d argue that this, in part, is exactly what makes their incense so unpleasant. No matter what “high quality raw materials” they use, very little about any of these incenses strikes me as remotely natural, rather the aromas are more like air fresheners or other synthetic oils and perfumes. And this is why this is likely to be the last review an incense of this style here (no doubt I’ve broken one of my own rules already).

The Vanilla reminds me of the smell of extract in the bottle, but that’s only the top note, the rest of the oil is more in the hair or bottle spray mode. The charcoal’s probably the most hidden here, but don’t take that for invisibility, it’s still there with its characteristic abrasiveness. This may be a cleansing scent in its own way, but so is 2 oz of Listerine. In particular, the finish on this one was brutal. With all three of these, it took maybe a week in between for me to brave another light, just so I could finish my notes up. And in most cases the stick was put out after about 2-3 minutes when I started to feel like I was choking.

The Cinnamon has an oil like a cinnamon-flavored toothpick made out of nuclear material. The charcoal here is even more harsh. While it’s obviously more affordable than most cinnamon incenses, a comparison of this to, say, Baieido’s Koh is as one-sided as the Lakers playing your local high school team. I’d as soon have this scent coming from the bucket of hot water and cleaner I use to wash a car.

The Raspberry is the least unpleasant of the three. It reminds me of taking Raspberry Bubblicious gum, especially that gooey, aromatic center they have. The charcoal’s still harsh but it doesn’t conflict with the oil as badly as the Cinnamon. As the stick continued to burn the aroma turned more to something like raspberry cough syrup and the smoke got quite cloying. While the California fires at the moment probably have something to do with it as well, my eyes were starting to sting after a few minutes.

To say the least, the charcoal dipped incense stick kind of ruins the idea of incense for many people, it’s far more common than it deserves to be and belies the idea that there are really excellent incenses out there that have none of this sort of harshness or clouds of choking smoke. To say the least, these are among the most unpleasant scents I’ve ever tried, although to be fair they’re a little smoother than other charcoal lines (not counting, of course, some of the Baieido charcoals which are in a different league). I’d recommend not only avoiding this but the whole style in general.