Kyarazen’s Artisinal Incense: Enko, Old Sage and Zen Moon

Kyarazen has spent the last two months creating a trio of luxury incenses. Each embodies a unique character and personality and creates a different mood and atmosphere. That an artist can compose olfactory poetry, using nature’s raw materials, is truly amazing and inspirational! Thank you, Kyarazen, for sharing your painstakingly crafted reflections. I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to try them.


Kyarazen’s Enko is a larger than life scent- one that unabashedly fills a room with its hypnotic presence. It immediately reminds me of the interior of a traditional Chinese medicine shop where the mysterious scents of roots, barks, herbs and fungus, seashells and mineral extracts, and animal and insect components, are compounded into remedies that have been used for over 2000 years.

Enko has a rustic vigor that settles on my shoulders and burrows into my clothes with confident persistence. It is primarily a bitter scent, whose liveliness and energy are enhanced by warm herbs (turmeric, spikenard), woods (sandalwood), spices (pepper?) and salty mineral notes (shells).

Rather than unfolding note by note, the elements fuse to create a very dynamic and dense scent. This combination of vibrant buoyancy and weighty substance is unexpected and intriguing. I find myself inhaling it’s unfamiliar, medicinal aroma more and more deeply, and feeling invigorated by its penetrating presence.

To me it is very much an earth toned scent- russets, ochers and ambers; the scent of rugged escarpments and expansive plains. Although it is a quintessentially Chinese scent, Copeland’s Fanfare For the Common Man celebrates the same strength and openness that Enko, more humbly but not any less passionately, encapsulates.


Old Sage is an exceptional sandalwood incense that continues to perfume the air with the sweet scent of Santalum album long after it has finished burning.

Held breaths of silence punctuate this milky, opalescent fragrance that wraps its user in a haze of tranquility and mellowness. The fragrance is so intoxicating that I long for its reappearance during those vacant, scentless intervals.

Old Sage is more restrained than Kogado’s Hoshinohayashi, and its creamy notes are tempered with a hint of dry bitterness and salty mineral odorants. Inhaling the smoke has a strong physical effect: lured into a complacent daze, I’m happy to drift away, my chin nodding to my chest, my shoulders limp, my mind a puddle of blurred and melting images. Perhaps this smooth, undulating incense has already become an addiction? If so, it is one I willingly and wholly embrace.

Mutton jade; an anniversary pearl; a carnelian snuff bottle with sloped shoulders. Massenet’s “Meditation” from Thais. Golden mercury.


Zen Moon is delicately transparent. It is luminous, ethereal and elegant yet it radiates dignity and calm. The scent drifts in and out of my consciousness, dry and aloofly bitter, a cool, crescent moon sickling crystal waters. Intermittent surges of resinous sweetness, wavy lines of lactones and wisps of earthy herbs add complexity, dimension and depth to the scent, but the composition is, above all, a reverent homage to the stately and austere woody scent of agarwood.

Unlike Enko, a sustained note that never vacillates, Zen Moon is a fugue, its shadows and overtones embellished adornments of Aquilaria’s meandering melody.

Silver solitudes, a wooden box embossed with almost forgotten memories, the permanence of impermanence, Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor.

Kyarazen wrote “What I had wanted to achieve with Zen Moon is to create a special space, a hollow, omnipresent clear quietness, and the incense presenting itself in that background, weaving through the air, allowing the perceiver to experience wafts of scent like the clouds that drift slowly past the full moon in stainless light.“

He has certainly succeeded.

For more information about these incenses please see:

Some updates: Agaraura, Feeloud, Oudimentry and Kyarazen

Added Agaraura, Feeloud and Oudimentry to the Incense Suppliers. I have bought from all of these people and they all have quality products and service(IMO)

Also added Kyarazen to the Blogs section. Great information about Oud woods, oils and incense as well as the maker of a fantastic incense Heater. -Ross

Incense on the Tree of Life

I’ve written a long article on my other blog based on incense use in the Western esoteric tradition. It might also be of use to those fairly new to incense who want to choose a scent from zillions of different choices. It covers Patchouli, Jasmine, Lavender, Rose, Frankincense, Dragon’s Blood, Cedar, Myrrh, Musk and Sandalwood incenses. Readers are welcome to come over and suggest other incenses if they’d like.

Halmaddi available

Andrew at Equinox Aromatics has managed to source and bring into the US real Halmaddi.  You can check it out at the link above, It is a brown grey rather sticky substance that needs to be stored in water, so working with it will be “interesting”. You can expect to see incenses using it coming out fairly soon. At least in my case, and I am pretty sure in a number of others, they will be built around natural ingredients. The only problem with this is the cost factor of  of the essential oils and absolutes now days 🙂

OK, back to the laboratory..oh no, the musk ox is loose again!


Fifth Anniversary of the Natural Perfumers Guild

So today marks the fifth anniversary of the Natural Perfumers Guild, which is a good start. It has come a ways, gone through changes and looks to be in it for the long haul. You can find a list of the different blogs and bloggers at the bottom of this post that are writing something for this event (plus, I think, there are a few other places that will mention something about it).

I have always been attracted to the scented side of things. Making things out of different woods in my Dads shop at home was great because of the smells of the different woods.  The subtle difference in scents between different raw clays and glazes when making pottery added a whole other dimension to ceramics. Hiking, camping, waking up in the mornings in the mountains and taking that first deep breath in at first light were very special moments. The sense of smell adds a huge, but at the same time, very subtle boost to ones sense of the world around them. It’s also so often overlooked.

When using incense it took me awhile to understand that the ones I gravitated to were generally those which used natural ingredients. There is just something that “smells” different to me between those built with woods, resins, herbs, spices and real oils and those that are not. Not that it’s not possible to make odd/bad smelling incenses or perfumes with naturals (as some of my own experiments are examples of 🙂   But for my nose, generally, the naturals just work better.  The incense has lead to perfumes and classes with Mandy Aftel, who has been a great source of inspiration and knowledge and an appreciation of the real Art of Perfumery.

I love to source out new scents and spend hours on the net looking into obscure leads on new places. I am always fascinated at how different the same plant can smell from each place. As I write I can see a box with at least ten different bottles of Rose in it. Each is different and special in its own way. So I find it funny to hear, “It has Rose in it”. Really?, from where? What year? How it distilled and what was the weather/soil/water like in the area where it was grown? Using natural materials can be very tricky, very demanding and an takes an overwhelming passion.

It isalso getting much more expensive  and difficult to obtain many of the key ingredients. The prices for ALoeswood and Sandalwoods have recently gone up around 20% to 30%, that assuming you can find them. The same holds true for most of the oils used in perfumery. Not to mention the many governmental restrictions being imposed or thought up. Its a great time to be into he naturals and at the same time it is a bit scary.

So, when you find them…enjoy!  -Ross

Ca Fleure Bon:   anya’s garden;   Blossoming Tree Bodycare:                             Being Led by the Nose:  Anu Essentials Blog:   Olfactory Rescue Service:               I’m Just Saying:   Providence Perfume :
Bellyflowers:   Ellenoire:    Aromatics International:   Olive and Oud:   Lord’s Jester Inc:   A Little Ol’Factory:     Perfume Journal:
Natural Perfumes:    The Western Cape Perfumery:
Aromatherapy Contessa:    Absolute Trygve:

On the Boardwalk

The first incense that ever “floated my boat” is an ambergris/oud mix made by our own Ross. It is soothing yet uplifting, penetrates without sharpness and gently seeps into my soul with firmness and tenderness. It conjures up images of a magnificent old tree in the middle of a forest- a tree whose roots drive towards the center of the earth, whose trunk spans 6 men’s chests and whose branches vie with Icarus to reach the sun. Each branch is strong enough to hold a city-full of children and beneath its branches flowers grow, worms crawl, antelopes lounge in its shade and mothers read to children. They all feel safe and protected.  The ocean gently washes its heart-spread leaves, its strength is encrusted in it’s bark; it’s roots are scaled with sober purpose. A mineral firmness thickens and darkens its sap as it drifts in anchored solitude.

Yesterday I sampled Agar Aura’s Tropica- a mukhallat dominated by Borneo oud, rose, frankincense and above all- ambergris. It is the dry, salty, breezy scent that makes my heart beat faster before the ocean even pops into sight. It smells of skin after gentle exercise, a child’s tears, of a rosebud covered in snow. It smells of the sea-kissed tree that  grows in Ross’s beautiful blend. If I were to color it, it would be the color of the Acropolis.

Many mukhallats are too heavy and dense for summer but Tropica’s cool dryness is perfect for sweltering days and humidity laden nights. It can be purchased at

Mandy Aftel and the 2011 Fifi’s

The Fifi’s are the perfume worlds Oscars and this year, for the first time ever, there is a natural perfumer in the running. Mandy Aftel has three different perfumes on the ballot. If you are interested in seeing a small independent “niche” perfumer win, one who is also directly responsible for the perfume world and the buying public becoming aware of alternatives to main stream perfumes and fragrances, this is your chance to make a difference. Having her perfumes on this year’s Fifi ballot is a huge step forward for all the independents and small perfumers.

You can caste your vote by going here: Facebook Page for FiFi 2011 Consumer Voting, or you can also go through this link, which is sponsored by some of Mandy’s students:

She is asking that people vote for the scent called Honey Blossom so as to not split up the votes.

Honey Blossom was created in a meeting of the minds with fellow niche perfumer Andy Tauer for a project where they both created perfumes from a starting point of two materials (each of them picked one material) and their scent journey is chronicled on Nathan Branch’s blog (which is always a good read in itself). This is a fascinating read into the creative process of two very well thought of artists.

I was lucky enough one evening to go by Mandy’s studio to drop something off and she had just pretty much finished up Honey Blossom. To say she was excited would be putting it very mildly.  She puts her all into her creations and it shows, this is a stunning, very beautiful floral with miles of depth and, on me, lasted about 6 hours or so. Plus it keeps evolving as it goes, what more could one ask for?

You can also check out my piece on being in a perfume class with Mandy here.

Oud: Regional Profiling

The scents of oud oils can loosely be categorized according to geographic region. There is, however, some crossover, and it’s important to recognize that the scent of oils don’t strictly respect artificial boundaries or political borders .

The first oud I purchased was from Borneo and I think it was a good choice for my introductory experience. Borneo oils are amongst the lightest, airiest and most ethereal of ouds. They have terpenoid top notes that have been compared to camphor, mint, acetone, magic marker, turpentine, lacquer thinner, etc. This high, whistle-y note is typical of Borneo oils and is one of their most distinguishing characteristics. The effusive, light sweetness of these oils is sometimes described as “floral”.  Although I think that description is slightly misleading, their sweet and piercing topnote is vaguely reminiscent of the indolic nature of some flowers, or the mintiness of tuberose. Borneo ouds have a clear, woody drydown. One of my favorite ouds from this region is Oriscent’s Borneo 3000. Its clean crispness is typical of Borneo oils.

Oils from Malinau, in northern Indonesia, boast hints of sweet vanilla, cool melon, apple, tangerine and gentle spices. One of the finest examples is AgarAura’s Malinau. The complexity of notes adds depth, interest, substance and weight to the Borneo profile.

The brightness and clarity of Borneo and Northern Indonesia oils amplify their happy and uplifting spirit. Because of their sunny  and breezy disposition the season with which I associate them is Spring.

Indonesian oils from Merauke also start out with a clear, vaporous topnote but their midrange and basenotes are herbal, dry, mossy and earthy. Notes of mushrooms and patchouli are clearly distinguishable; some exhibit salty and metallic notes. The cool dryness of Merauke oils is refreshing, however their earthiness adds a grounded and unrefined element to their character. Some people have said that Merauke oils that are distilled from Aquilaria filarial (such as Oriscent’s old Oud Royale) are closest to the smell of burning agarwood. Uns Fine Craft’s “Maroke” is an example, though it is no longer available.

Once again a (more subtle) clear and vapory top note greets the nose on sniffing oils from Irian Jaya in West Papua, Indonesia. This time that note is mixed with an ample sprinkling of white pepper, cloves and nutmeg. Some Irian Jaya oils have a resinous, pine-y mossiness that is reminiscent of a cross between patchouli and oakmoss. They exhibit balsamic, musty, muddy and damp notes in the base. Uns’ Irian Jaya oil (sold out) is representative of this group of oils. I associate Merauke and Irian Jaya oils with summer because of their herbal and earthy herbaceousness.

Peninsular Malaysian oils smell slightly turpy and sweet, are enlivened with a pinch of feisty cinnamon, and remind me of the smell of old, dark and damp basements.  A classic example is Oudline’s well priced ML-OL-SRN- Super. I like its faintly musty smell that, to me, feels cozy and warm. In worst cases these oils may exhibit strong, swampy notes of decaying vegetation.  East Malaysian oils smell sweet, thick and resinous and have a delicious, woody drydown. One such example is Oriscent’s Malay Royale. These  “Borneo Maylay” oils (for example those from the states of Sabah and Sarawak), smell very similar to oils from Indonesia.

Ouds from Cambodia are amongst my favorites. They are very accessible to the Western palate, and their complexity and curvilinear development add to their wide appeal. Some of the notes I associate with Cambodian oils are figs, prunes, plums, liqueur, berries, jam, caramel, tobacco, cinnamon and vanilla. The drydown of Cambodian oils is sweet, gently spicy and woody.  Oils from this region smell deep, warm, rich and sensuous- they are truly jewel-toned.  A mouthwatering and affordable Cambodian oil is Oudimentary’s  KSSS. In appearance and texture it exhibits the thick and gummy stickiness common to some of the finest Cambodian oils. I associate these oils with Autumn because they are bursting with richness and ripeness.

Laotian ouds can smell very fecal and barnyard-y. Because of their strength and reckless character I personally prefer them in blends, however there are some people who think their “energy” is unparalleled when it comes to using ouds for meditation. One very surprising aspect of Laotian oils is that although they start out smelling very raucous and unsavoury they have an unexpectedly sweet dry down. It’s hard to believe that these oils, after an hour on the skin, are the same oil that smelled so funky right out of the bottle.  A large selection of Laotian ouds can be found on the Enfleurage website.

Hindi ouds from Assam are amongst the most beloved and respected of Dehn al Oudhs, especially in the Middle East. Because so many of the wild trees were cut down and are now protected by CITES, today most oils are distilled from plantation trees. The scents that predominate in Assam ouds are the healthy barnyard scent of new mown hay, the animalic lustiness of leather and the campfire-memory-generating smokiness of smoldering wood. Some ooze with the juicy note of  succulent plums (Areej’s Hindi Manipouri); others exhibit more primal notes that only the most confident and daring would feel comfortable wearing in public (Oriscent’s Mostafa). An Indian oud that exhibits the stature, dignity and wholesomeness for which these oils are revered yet is still eminently wearable is Oudhasi’s Assam Flora. Because these ouds can smell aloof and imposing they remind me of winter.

I’ve only smelled one pure oud from China- Oriscent’s Chinese Exclusive. It gets the award for “rudest oud”. Anyone who loves the smell of ripe cheese and humus should definitely give it a go!

These descriptions are not exhaustive and not every oud is going to conform to these general profiles. They’re a start, though, in figuring out which oils might appeal to you. I strongly recommend purchasing samples, if they’re available. It’s taken me a long time to accept that we don’t all perceive smells the same way, and that basing a purchase decision on another person’s description isn’t really a substitute for sniffing an oil with your own nose on your own skin.

I hope your exploration of oud oils is an exciting and rewarding adventure. Onward and oudward!

Thoughts about incense and perfume

I read Christian’s comments on in the ORS-News post about “incense note” perfumes and laughed. I recently ordered about 15 different samples from Lucky Scent (great selection) of perfumes and such listed as “incense note”. I realized that the word  or note “incense” means two very different things between the worlds of incense and perfume. In perfume it seems to refer to frankincense more than anything else while, really, the term incense is so much broader.

Many of the notes that make a piece of burning or heated quality sandalwood or aloeswood so special and unique are very hard to capture in a perfume. The element of heat adds an entire extra dimension to the scent. More even the heat of wearing it on one’s skin. The same is true if you heat a drop of sandalwood or aloeswood oil. Another set of notes come out to play. This might be very difficult (if not impossible) to replicate in a perfume. Possibly using synthetic molecules but not sure at all about using the naturals. Even smelling the best aloeswood/oud oils is nothing like heating up a piece of good Kyara. The same goes for sandalwood, it is rare to find good quality sandalwood for less then $100/oz, never mind the cost of high grade oils.Even if you perfume were 50% sandalwood in no way would it smell the same as, say, Daihatsu’s Sliced Sandalwood on an incense heater.

It occurred to me when looking at this that burning incense seems to compress the time between scent notes that most perfumes are built around,  in other words, the length of time between the top, middle and base notes is delivered all at once. Also incense seems to favor the base notes more. The tops and middles tend to mix together with the bases, there is quite a lot going on at one time when an incense stick is burning, while an incense heater can tend to stretch out and slow up the delivery.

Many of the standard citrus top notes would get lost or simply not work well in the incense medium, the same being true for many of the floral’s. They can get lost very fast (having just watched a seemingly large amount of Rose EO somehow vanish in an incense mix I made). Of course the smoke aspect of incense plays a huge roll also, even in the smoke-less styles available now, there is still some and that effects how you are going to accept the scent.

None of this is to knock one or the other, I like both! It’s just a few thoughts that have been passing through of late. Thanks for the input Christian! – Ross

Mandy Aftel ..The Room of Many Bottles Full of Good Smells

I love the raw materials of incense and perfume. Many of them tend to have very blurred borders in their usage between one and the other. I have come to realize that I am a somewhat “materials oriented guy” when it comes to this sort of thing and because of all this I started gathering up a lot of essential oils, absolutes, resins, herbs and all the rest of the raw materials that go into creating incense and what has been termed by Octavian Coifan as “The Eighth th Art” or perfume.

There are no schools for incense making in this country, or if they exist they are pretty well hidden. So I decided to try another route and take perfumery classes. I had read Mandy Aftel’s book “Essence and Alchemy” and was captivated by her insights into the worlds of scent and its references to metaphysics. It didn’t hurt that I had studied some of the ideas within the Alchemical teachings and figured I would feel at least comfortable and probably highly intrigued in a class taught by her. It’s also very convenient that her studio is nearby and close to some of my favorite restaurants and coffee shops, how could it not be wonderful?

I still remember my first class, being clueless as to what to expect in such an environment, although I was sure it would not be anything like, say, a Microsoft Network class (amongst other things I am also an IT). So I studied up in Mandy’s Level One Work Book and left for the first morning of class praying that I would not look or act too much like a neo-barbarian or whatever other low life images came to mind.

When walking into Mandy’s perfume studio one is greeted by the sight of what I now always think of as “The Room of Many Bottles Full of Good Smells”, and yes, I do see this with capital letters. It’s done up in light creamy white walls and a stunning amount of polished   wood. There are wooden book cases and shelves everywhere (totally filled) and on one side is a large glass container with at least five pounds of high-grade Frankincense (my eyes went to this very quickly; it’s an incense thing, kind of comforting). But what really just sort of rivets ones attention is the huge wood perfumer’s organ. A quick estimate tells me there have got to be at least five hundred bottles on this thing, all nicely labeled and sorted. My little “materials oriented guy” brain goes into shock – just think of all the wonderful smells in them! OK, I was a little short on how to really use them, but…damn, five hundred bottles!

Now it is my third time coming to a weekend class with Mandy, but it’s almost always the same reaction when walking in. It is a beautiful space to work and study in, well designed for its purpose.

Class starts, there are six other students besides myself and they are from, in this class, from all parts of the US. In other classes I have been in they have been from as far away as Australia and New Zealand. The class starts out by everyone introducing themselves and why they are here.

This is where things become so much more than you could imagine before getting there. Mandy, as the teacher, is incredibly passionate about what she does and as far as I can tell she never really stops being that way. There always seem to be ideas coming up on what to do next. She is really an entrepreneur of the first water with a huge imagination and a lot of focus.  Plus she has that special ability to pass on what she has learned in a manner that is validating and seems to be perfect for the person she is talking to. She has seen or  made most of the mistakes that someone starting out will run into and is not scared to tell you about them on the off-chance that you will then not need to go there. She is also out front about what it can cost in terms of time and money to go down this road, both of which can be high. In fact she mentions repeatedly how many times she has tossed out the test blends, experiments and just plain mistakes. It is amazingly reassuring to the beginner to hear someone who is very high up the perfumers ladder say what amounts to, it’s not all going to work and it does take some real live time, energy and money to make it happen. She is being very truthful as she says this, but there is also a smile on her face. It is a rare teacher who can laugh at themselves and she does have a wonderful sense of humor.

Mandy and feedback to the class

You also get to bounce ideas off of your classmates, which is invaluable. Every one of them has a different way of looking at any given assignment. Each day in the Studio will last about seven hours and you will make anywhere from three to five scents, based on what the class wants to go for or what Mandy thinks would offer the best experience. It becomes a very focused and intense time. You might be surprised at how concerned one can become over what one drop of say, Cade, will do to your blend and the clock is ticking. One DropYou  get to have honest feed back from her on where each scent is at and you also get to hear the same thing about your classmate’s endeavors. She is incredibly good at discovering where the mistakes are and how to correct them. This is invaluable information to the beginner.

As the weekend progresses you find yourself trying many new ideas, not just because there are so many new raw materials to try, but because you get to see and smell what everyone else is trying and then see where you could incorporate some of this into your own creations.

At some point Mandy will create something from selections the class gives her. This is one of the more profound moments. It’s one thing to open a bottle of say, Jasmine Sambac, and just smell it, it is a whole different level to open the same bottle and know what it is going to smell like right now and then in fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, an hour and so on as it dries down. Plus, what happens when you add it to other E.O.’s, absolutes and whatever else is in the mix, remembering that each one of them is also going through its own evolution within the bottle. Being a perfumer is a lot like conducting a large orchestra. It’s really about how all the separate essences (instruments) will mix together (harmonize) and how that scent (sound) is going to be received by the world. So to see someone who has put the many hours necessary to educate the nose and now has a very good idea as to what is going to work with each other and under what conditions is a real treat. Right there you can see that it is really all about taking the time to educate yourself on how the parts can play and harmonize together with each other.Your wrist, a perfumers best friend!

By the end of the class you have seen and done quite a lot. You have a much better understanding of how the materials work together and when to use which ones. You may have meant people who you can bounce ideas off in the future, which will be a great help. You have gotten to play in the “The Room of Many Bottles Full of Good Smells”! You will walk away with many more ideas than when you walked in and a much greater appreciation of the possibilities that can open to you.

Making perfume really is an art and there are many, many ways to go about it, being taught some structure and techniques and receiving honest feedback can go a long ways towards helping one with their goal. This is probably (at least for me) one of the most valuable lessons I learned. Oh yes and Mandy’s opening statement (somewhat paraphrased) “This class is not about making anything good, it’s about spotting the mistakes and fixing them”.

I would like to thanks Mandy and her husband Foster for a wonderful time along with all my fellow perfumers in training (all three seasons worth, you know who you are). I feel honored to have gotten to study with all of you… Also thank you Michelyn Camen at with some editing input and help.

  Hey, anyone know where I can get my hands on some antique Sandalwood oil or Boronia?  One can get very spoiled with access, even for a short time, to Mandy’s collection  😮 )

Cheers    -Ross

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