Holy Smoke / Bloom, Cardamom, Dammar, Free Spirit, Nag Champa

Holy Smoke is the name of a domestic incense creator that can be found on both Etsy and its own website. The company states, “All our ingredients are natural and directly from nature. We try to source the best ingredients to produce the finest products. Our incense sticks are hand-rolled using honey, gum resin, botanicals and pure essential oils. Each stick will burn for an hour or more.” This in particular got my attention because even some of the best Indian incenses (and Holy Smoke sticks are Indian-style for sure) out there can be completely charcoal based which has never really been one of my favorite bases for a scent. And one must admit Holy Smoke present their incenses in a very attractive way at their sales sites. So I was very interested in checking out some of their scents.

First of all I was a bit disappointed in that the incenses I received did not have the bright colors that the presentations on line hinted at. This is of course not a deal breaker for a scent, but it IS part of what had me scrambling for a purchase. The incenses do vary a bit in color but one must come to the impression that the lighting may be bringing out what you see a bit more than the reality and in fact if you look at my own pictures in this review, the flash is definitely helping some on that account. In my experience a lot of Indian sticks that use colors may not impart any scent variations through the colors themselves but there is often something psychological about using them and I once raided the Vedic Vaani catalog trying to find the brightly colored ones and this often led to some of their better incenses. So be sure to temper one’s expectations from the pictures.

So that lovely purple color on the Bloom picture at the Holy Smoke website I don’t really see at all in the actual incense, it turned out to be much redder. This is described as a mix of rose, musk and patchouli, but what you immediately notice is just the overall blast of scent coming from the stick, it’s literally drenched in perfume oils. In fact I did not mind at all letting these sit for a while hoping to temper the power of them a little and even in doing so they still strike me as strong and powerful, perhaps even too much. So it’s probably worth setting one’s expectations that a stick like this at an hour burn and this powerful is likely something you don’t want as close to your space. The other issue, which not all of the sticks have, is that the combination of the oils being used often reminds me of air freshener type scents rather than any of the specific ingredients. As we know getting a legitimate rose oil from an essential is virtually impossible at this price range, but the overall floral scent does seem to be largely drowning out whatever is being used as the musk and patchouli. You can certainly sense both in the mix at some level but the combination still adds up in a way that reminds me if your levels on your CD are too high.

The Cardamom is very different to the Bloom. It was actually nice to see this rarely represented spice in an incense and the overall levels turned down a bit. Cardamom is a fairly unique spice but tends to appear as drier in incense which matches a bit better with the honey and resin base. But it does appear that there is more in play than the just the spice (as well as the question of how much of the spice is the actual spice and how much is in the oil). I wondered a bit about some of the natural resin in the midst of it coming through as it seemed somewhat basic quality, perhaps a touch gravelly, but it wasn’t ultimately problematic with the top note. There is some level of a floral feel to this as well as if the base or additional ingredients contribute quite a bit to the overall aroma. It’s an interesting and fairly unique aroma overall, very different to the others I sampled from the catalog. But once again, the sheer strength of the overall stick feels like it gets a bit overwhelming during the burn, something that might be mitigated by burning half sticks.

Part of the issue with incenses whose essential oil mixes are this loud is they tend to resemble household products and that’s the main issue with Dammar, an incense with a resin whose lemon-like tendencies push the overall aroma into furniture polish territory. The thing is, where in the Cardamom I could detect some level of actual resin burning here, the lemon characteristics supposedly coming from this resin all seem to be on the oil level. The issue is that it feels a bit chemical on some level in the sense where fruitiness in an air freshener or cleaning product ends up being too cloying. This also runs into having a bit of a bitter edge to it. Unfortunately, it has probably been a while since I tried the actual resin to see how close it is but it seems like here there’s much more going on than just the resin. I don’t mean to doubt the creators claim that these are all natural but sometimes the mixes can still perhaps not work quite as well.

Free Spirit is a blend of Nag Champa, Lotus, Jasmine and Ylang Ylang. One thing that originally struck me about this mix and the plain Nag Champa (below) is that it seems like the company may use a Satya-sourced Nag Champa oil or something very similar as it has an extremely familiar scent to it. The difference in base, then, is made more obvious by contrasting it with this oil which does make you notice the honey and resins a bit more. This is a bit of a drier mix but it still feels a bit crowded with florals and one starts to come to the conclusion that not unlike Madhavadas sourced incenses, the base of these tends to be aromatic enough to be part of every aroma in a way that makes them all somewhat similar. There’s a fruity sort of scent that seems common to all of these incenses that tends to mute all of the specific named notes. And so the mix ends up being quite a bit different from any one scent and in a largely generic sort of way.

Nag Champa on its own is a lot more familiar, and maybe here you can mostly sense what this base is all about as it’s easier to mentally isolate that one note. What it probably does the most is show what this sort of oil smells like outside of the usual halmaddi and sandalwood mix, that is, it’s quite a bit different without those notes and with what is the unique Holy Smoke honey and resin mix. But like the Cardamom, not having the extra oils is a bit more pleasant to my nose. But overall this doesn’t really smell all that much like a traditional Nag Champa so much as the use of that scent in this format.

Overall, with all of these incenses getting some idea of whether you like their base is going to be key where you fall with any of their aromas. But even if you like the base, the predominance of certain oil mixes is very likely to overwhelm if you are not careful. So I might recommend checking one of their samplers first, if available.

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Kunjudo / Kan Ken Koh / Breath, Sleep

Early in 2021 about when I reopened ORS I covered an interesting new incense Japan Incense had gotten in stock called Kan Ken Koh/Healing. This was an interesting charcoal-based mix of oils packaged in these neat little glass test tubes. As it turns out this incense is part of a series from which Japan Incense has turned up two new ones, Sleep and Breath. With a bit more data one can only come to the conclusion that these are really essential oil mixes rather than what you usually see in traditional Japanese sticks, and almost feel like they could have been targeted at a more new age or even co-op sort of audience. As such, they’re quite different than what you’d normally expect.

Breath lists magnolia kobus, eucalyptus oil, artemesia princeps and borneol as ingredients, with the eucalyptus being the focus. You absolutely get that eucalyptus leaf oil scent from this burn, in fact it’s a bit tea-like in a way and I’d assume the artmesia (mugwort) probably helps get it there as well, moving the overall aroma in an herbaceous direction. The borneol content seems rather small in comparison, hanging just onto the edges and the magnolia seems to be used more to ground this in a friendlier direction rather than being a feature on its own. It’s a neat stick overall because of its herbal qualities and quite natural smelling, definitely recommended for those who enjoy eucalyptus. That tree’s sort of slightly bitter and unique scent has really been given justice by this stick.

Sleep lists cedarwood, chamomile, thyme and hops, something of a very unusual mix I would guess; however, the link between chamomile tea and a bit of drowsiness seems fairly common in US herbal tea culture as well. Overall Sleep isn’t terribly different than Breath but where Breath seemed to have some high resolution oils in the mix, Sleep seems a bit more dialed back, perhaps intentionally. Cedarwood would actually not be the kind of aroma I’d imagine would help me sleep and it’s fairly strong here, but the rest of the herbs seem like they’re pulling it all a bit more in the right direction and it feels like that thyme and hops mix gives the edge of the scent a bit of luster it might otherwise be missing. But of the two in the series this feels less individual and realized than the others in the sense that the other two aromas really pop out at you while this one feels a bit more blended.

Mandala Art & Incense / Ancient Tibetan Nagchampa Incense; Natural Nepali Dhoop / Pure Aromatic Nagchampa Dhoop; Traditional Nepali Dhoop Pvt. Ltd / Om Nama Shiva Dhoop; Unknown / Golden Nagchampa, Trimurti

In addition to the Meena and other Indian incenses Everest Traders sent over, they also sent over a quintet of Nepali incenses. Since Essence of the Ages left the incense business, there has been a big hole where a solid source used to be for these incenses, as incensetraditions.ca carries primarily Tibetan and Bhutanese incenses only. Hither and Yon seems to be the primary source for Nepali incenses these days (note as always that “Tibetan” is also used as a style in the sense it means incense that does not use bamboo sticks through the middle, a distinction I need to make for later in this writeup) and there are a few others, but we’re always interested in hearing about new sources.

And it was interesting in looking around a bit that the first incense that pops up at Hither and Yon is Mandala Art & Incense’s Tibetan Nagchampa, because Everest Traders is carrying it at a little over half the price. You have to go back to 2009 the last time I reviewed incenses by this long standing company and I don’t believe any of them were these tubes of 5″ incenses. But that brings me to one distinction I have to make. Nagchampa incenses, of course, are still some of the most popular incenses you can buy, but the Tibetan style versions of these are very different. Indian nagchampas, at least at their best, were only part the perfume from the aroma – part of their success was the marriage this scent had with a halmaddi-rich masala base, a combination often missing even from Indian versions these days. And so what you get from a Tibetan version like this one is the powdery and accessible floral scent on the base of a Nepali-Tibetan style. I have tried some Tibetan nagchampas I couldn’t wait to dump the package of, this version almost feels like it could be a standard to compare others to. Like a lot of Nepali bases there is a feeling that some inexpensive woods are used to ground the incense, but it at least gets over the hump of not having a bitter or conflicting base to it and the top note is certainly pleasant. Amazingly at times it even has something like a Japanese woodiness to it which is quite intriguing. And at this price it’s certainly well worth checking out to get an idea of what one of these is like.

So how does the Natural Nepali Dhoop Pure Aromatic Nagchampa Dhoop compare? This Natural Nepali Dhoop incense is part of a large line that are mostly formatted as “Pure Aromatic Something Dhoop” and tend to be carried by shops that import Nepalis. Back in 2011 I was extremely nonplussed by the four incenses I tried in the line, or at least I think it was the same line, because I don’t remember the packages claiming what company they were from (which obviously could have changed in all this time). My issue with poorer Nepali incenses in general, when they show up, is that the bases use very cheap filler woods, I would guess poor quality juniper or pine, and at their harshest these impart bitter and campfire like notes that basically sabotage whatever it is the creators are trying to do with them. And I mention this as context as the incenses I reviewed back then were very much like this, but part of the issue was the oils used were also not pleasant. Fortunately the oil on the Nagchampa isn’t harsh but it also doesn’t have quite the resolution of the MA&I version and while the base isn’t too bad there are still some notes in the mix that are a bit distracting. It’s also perhaps a touch less sweeter. But it does have some interesting floral notes and the base is certainly more workable than what I would have expected. I’d certainly start with the MA&I version as ultimately they are close enough in style where you’d only need one or the other and I would expect this latter version to end up fatiguing.

So in order to properly review Traditional Nepali Dhoop Pvt. Ltd.’s Om Nama Shiva Dhoop (I could not find an ebay link to this at present, but will add when I’m made aware of it) I thought it worth queueing up the great Steve Hillage. Of the incenses in this review this is probably the most traditionally Tibetan of the five. It reminded me that outside of the great Dhoop Factory and a restock of Yog Sadhana it had been years since I tried a Nepali incense like this and it’s a bit of a shift from the Tibetan incenses from the autonomous region. The difference I think is largely in the base still and we’re given natural essential oils, flowers, spices, aromatic herbs, natural resins and other aromatic substances as ingredients, so basically the whole kitchen and then some. And like many of these incenses all of these things are blended as a whole and difficult to pick out separately, although I find this blend to be an interesting almost peppery meets tangy herbal mix on top of the woody base. The issue with many Nepali imports is whether they rise to level of something distinctive like so many of the autonomous region incenses do. So I would have to say that while this is distinctly aromatic and pleasant, it may not quite reach that level, but after a few sticks I’ve started to notice the resin peeping out a bit amongst all the herbal qualities so it may very well be a grower.

Moving to the Golden Nagchampa and Trimurti, we’re also moving from the Tibetan style to the bamboo stick centered Indian masala style. Both of these two incenses are from a gigantic line as well, although I’ve never known what company produces them from the wrappers themselves and never got around to reviewing any back in the day. Like the Pure Aromatic Dhoop, my experiences were not always positive in the past, nor have they been recent enough to remember all that well, but perhaps with these two we have a good example of what works and perhaps doesn’t. Golden nagchampas just by name usually imply a flora or fluxo style, in fact back when halmaddi was more prevalent, a golden nagchampa was likely to be a Sai Flora like incense in some fashion. That’s true here as well although mostly because the perfume has that similarity in the front, the stick here is generally not thick enough to be a true flora style. It’s mostly a dusted charcoal but it feels soft enough to perhaps have a little halmaddi in the mix and sure enough it’s overall a sweet and pleasant scent. And perhaps in the middle there’s a little bit of woodiness or base that will remind you it’s not an Indian stick, as I can’t really think of another Indian scent I’ve tried recently that fits this general area. It’s also quite a bit drier a burn than say so many of the vedic incenses I have been sampling lately that it also makes a nice contrast. One of the better Nepali-Indian hybrids I’ve tried.

The issue with Trimurti and this is one ORS staff discuss a lot is that when incenses are named after religious or spiritual concepts, gods and goddesses etc, it can be tough to get a bead on what’s actually going on in the scent and so I’m limited in my description to say how successful the Trimurti is for what it’s trying to accomplish. From my perspective Trimurti barely gets past its base which is some sort of nebulous mix of evergreen woods. It’s also a bit spicy and I would guess there might be a bit of something like myrrh or gugal gum in the mix. What is perhaps missing and I can compare this to the Golden Nagchampa (which has it) is an intensity in aroma that makes it a bit more memorable and attention arresting. I do seem to remember the line was full of incenses like this. It may be entirely because the line is using 100% natural ingredients and not any sort of perfume wizardry, which would largely be in keeping with many Nepali incenses. But keep in mind as well if this is something you might recognize as an aroma you like you could feel differently from me.

Mayraj / Loban Bathi; Pradhan Perfumers / Royal Life; Saranya Traders / Saranya Supreme; Sree Trading Co. / Sree Sidhi Ganesh; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Cottage Industries / No. 14 Sandalwood; Unknown / Mysore Sandalwood

In addition to the range of Meena Perfume Industries incenses Everest Traders sent me, included were a varying batch of Indian scents as well as a varying batch of Bhutanese incenses, the latter of which I will cover in the next installment. The following are incenses from a number of different suppliers, some of which I don’t believe I have seen imported here, at least not often.

Loban incenses are an unusual breed. As far as I’ve been able to tell loban can mean benzoin or frankincense or resin mixes and you’re not usually told which; however, I’ve tried enough Indian frankincense sticks to know most of those don’t smell like lobans. The Absolute Benzoin at Temple of Incense or the Asana Sutra from Happy Hari are examples of pure charcoal benzoins and these are a bit closer to the loban but also not exact. The TOI Big Cleansing incense is probably the closest although in this case there’s more of an herbal quality to that incense that won’t often be found in a pure loban. And the Loban Bathi from Mayraj (I think that’s the company but the package is so thin it’s hard to tell) is about as down the middle of a loban as you will find. The thing about lobans to me is that if you’re familiar with lower grade resins you may know they can have scents that smell like heated stone or even gravel. It’s something I became familiar with through inexpensive Catholic church mixes, which are far and away from like the great frankincense you can get through Mermade Magickal Arts. On the other hand a brilliant high end loban like Vedic Vaani’s Kawadi Golden Loban can move away from this into almost candy-like sweetness and a definite resin presence. This one is more in the middle, it may be one of the most definition perfect loban incenses you will find, there’s some gravel/stone in the mix but there’s also a very nice resin note in the mix and yes a hint of the candy that gets more refined as the quality goes up the scale. It looks largely like a dusted charcoal but it’s a tiny bit softer than I would expected. I’ve never been the hugest fan of the style but outside the VV I just mentioned, this is one of the best I’ve tried and certainly a pleasant burn. Maybe the only issue is these are thin packages with maybe 5-6 sticks, so they’re about a dollar a stick.

Pradhan Perfumer’s Royal Life is a beautiful mix of perfumes for sure. The sticks are much smaller than the average but they pack an aromatic punch that is closer to a champa style incense. This is what I consider a traditional perfume in that it has some elements of the way some Indian incenses have been for decades and if they have moved or changed any ingredients it still seems like a wonderful, nostalgic mix. There’s a touch of licorice or something in the aroma which has always been an element I love in certain Indian incenses (the short-lived Ascendance that Mystic Temple used to bring in one was like this), but this also has some level of wood in the mix among with a lot of sweetness and a big floral bouquet. The stick is a little soft so there’s probably a bit of halmaddi in the masala. Very nice overall and it makes me wonder if the company has it in a longer stick. This one I’d certainly consider purchasing on my own.

Saranya Supreme takes us back into the flora/fluxo category, very much a cousin to the Sai Flora with the thick sticks. Unlike some floras/fluxos this one seems like a thick dusted charcoal stick from its firmness, but it ultimately does a similar thing to most incenses in this style. This mix seems to lean a bit to a smoother sort of aroma which I assume in part because it doesn’t seem to have additional ingredients like most floras/fluxos and there’s a bit of a resin fruitiness in the middle that is a touch loban-like. There is also a touch of a strange woody note that is hard to get my nose around on the outsides that I don’t tend to detect in floras/fluxos usually. Ultimately it’s definitely a different take on the style, a description that’s hard to define further as these types seem to be complex and loud (and this one stings my eyes a little bit), but when I brought out the next incense I was quickly reminded that the central floras and fluxos are much wetter scented and not nearly as dry as this one. For newcomers I’d start with Sai Flora because it’s somewhat more generally available than many of these incenses and acts as a good central base from where to understand the style.

The Sree Trading Co.s’s Siddhi Ganesh works much better as a flora to my nose than either the Sarayna Supreme or Sai Flora. Over the years I’ve often seen floras fall into two categories by sight, the lighter toned sticks like Sai Flora and then those like this one that are colored dark brown and have a different sort of scent profile as a result, while still being unquestionably “flora.” That sort of crystalline brassy top note which always seems to be present in this style merges with a slightly softer base that seems to have a bit of halmaddi mixed in with the charcoal and dampens that top a little bit in a way that often balances it a little. This does have the sort of crayon-like notes I tend to find fairly often in floral incenses and the base is very similar to probably a half dozen or more incenses in the Vedic Vaani catalog who often just change the top note. There’s some level of something like plum or prunes in the mix, but also an interesting spice mix that balances it on the other side. This is a neat incense overall, with some brightness that helps ensure the oil mixes don’t bog this one down too much, which is something I find occasional with dark brown masalas like this one. However, I would say a full stick might go too long a way so I’d test this at a half stick first as it’s very fragrant. But it’s certainly one of the better fluxo/floras I’ve tried.

I believe I received a sample of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Cottage Industries #14, Sandalwood from Padma Store some months ago and getting a full package from Everest Traders reminded me of one thing in particular, that often one or two stick samples are often not enough to really get into an incense. I found after my third stick from this package I started to like this one a little more than on my initial take. My initial take on the whole line was that most of the ones I had tried were very average incenses so keep this comment in mind.

As the history goes, in India, sandalwood trees were overharvested leading to shortages, which also led to a more careful cultivation program in more recent times. However even though this is happening, there is a lot of evidence that scents like sandalwood are actually created synthetically now. Short of actually looking over the shoulders of the incense creators in India, which I would unlikely be allowed to do, it’s difficult to tell what is in sandalwood incenses these days, sometimes Indian sandalwood is used but Australian sandalwood and wood from other countries is also used. You can have sandalwood incenses that are mixed with the other woods and more lower quality. Overall a whole range of different sandalwood scents are available. For me the high end sandalwood incenses that remind me of the old days tend to be a few that Temple of Incense or Absolute Bliss, or if you like the Madhavadas style, Pure Incense has a few as well.

So with that in mind I would place this #14 in a more inexpensive category in that it does not have much of a real sandalwood note to it, but feels like maybe cheaper wood or wood that has had some of the oil extracted might be the base for this incense. It comes across a bit more like a floral mix and the note on top will be different from what you have experience. Back in the day some of the Incense from india drier masalas used to have aromas quite like this and they’re usually really inexpensive. This Cottage Industries line is actually pretty large and while it looks like Everest Traders also have an Amber and a Mattipal, I believe if you’re in Europe, Padma Store has quite a number of different blends from this company in addition to these.

The last Indian incense package I was sent was 100g of something labelled as Temple Grade Mysore Sandalwood; however, I do not detect any sandalwood, scent or otherwise, in this incense at all. For $4 for 100g batch you would basically not expect it to, but since this is an incredibly inexpensive incense I decided to just evaluate it on its own. There’s something intriguing about the incense for sure. It’s a dusted charcoal with maybe a tiny bit of softness to it. It seems sort of like a mix of a sort of sweet champa-like base with a note I remember from previous Asta Sughanda incenses from long ago, a bit like that paper meets vanilla smell, but also there’s something like a rubber tire note to it that flirts between being a kind of weird subnote and a bit too intrusive. In fact given the number of sticks in this I burned at least five before I started writing this. I would guess that the intention of this batch was to give a sandalwood note but the mix was off in some way, it’s something I think importers run into occasionally. And so there seem to be some components in the mix that are kind of interesting. But ultimately I don’t think this one works and it reminds me in ways of some accidents I’ve been able to check out.

Meena Perfumery Industries / Meena Supreme, Meena Flora, Meena Indian King, Meena Nag Champa, Siddanth, Meena Sambrani Stems

It wasn’t long ago I bought what I thought was Meena Supreme, but when I took it out, I was somewhat nonplussed. ORS has been around a while and I was originally introduced to Meena Supreme by Paul Eagle when it ended up being Happy Hari’s second incense to distribute after the Gold Nagchampa. I received a surprising number of samples at the time and some of these incenses came in Happy Hari style labels but quite a few also came in little boxes like the ones pictured here. Meena Supreme, I would guess, has to be one of the top five “name” incenses known well inside and outside India, with maybe Nag Champa and Sai Flora at the top and this one right after it. And there is a reason why, it’s a very distinctive incense, a unique combination of materials and perfumes that I reviewed way back in the day and archived on this post.

So imagine my surprise when I heard from Everest Traders on Ebay who said they were the distributor for the Kabadi family’s Meena Supreme Incense from Bangalore, India. I was very glad to hear this as this hasn’t been carried by Absolute Bliss for a while and you basically have to order overseas for it. Also, Everest Traders is California based! The box I received for review is exactly how I remember it looking all those many years ago and the aroma is as well. In fact my original review in the above link is still so in point I’m going to repeat it here first and include a link to this new source…

“But even if you can’t count on incense nirvana, usually something so prized is usually going to be quite good and for the most part Meena Supreme succeeds from just about every angle and if it may not be the best incense ever created, I’d definitely say it’s one of the more unique and desirable of Indian incenses and certainly one I’m going to add to our Hall of Fame. Meena Supreme is a fluxo incense which means it’s solidly in the genre inhabited by Sai Flora, Sai Deep, Sai Leela and the like, which also means it’s a big stick, highly aromatic and something of a major smoke producer. This is perfect for me, especially during the dawning of spring where various allergies often make smelling Japanese incense very difficult, but if Indian incense smoke is too much for you, Meena Supreme will likely be too. In fact during the first two sticks, I wasn’t even sure if I would end up liking it, but it was likely because it was just too much at the time.

Since my initial foray into Meena Supreme, I think I’ve burned three to four boxes of it if not more (the size box I got fit about 6-8 sticks I believe). It is a highly addictive scent once you get it, as most signature scents are, and is also very hard to describe. Meena Supreme starts with the same earthy, almost stable-like background tones of Sai Flora but that’s where the similarity between incenses ends. Where Sai Flora goes in a bright, heavily floral, brassy direction, Meena Supreme is much more sultry with a mix of woods, rose, cocoa, coffee (with milk) and most importantly a feeling that all the subscents have been blended and aged. Most importantly Meena Supreme had the ability to make me think about it a lot when I wasn’t burning it, which has led to a lot of impromptu reaches.”

I would only add here in 2022 that the sticks may be a bit smaller (and maybe less smokier?) than I remember (which may of course be more my memory than the stick) but I love that all the notes I listed here are still completely relevant. I came to love the mix of earthiness and sweetness almost like a mix of fresh soil and brown sugar. So anyway if you love Indian incense and haven’t tried this yet now’s your chance!

Everest Traders also sent over some other Meena Perfumery Industries incenses, which also were a lot of fun (and I would mention here the ET packaging is really nice, very cognizant of protecting all the incenses from damage). One thing I came to find out rather quickly is other than the Sambrani Stems, which I will get to last, all of the other Meena incenses share a similar base to the Supreme and share a lot of the same aromatic notes, which makes it a little harder to separate one from the other. You might want to think of these in the sense that there’s probably a top perfume mix that differs from incense to incense. So the first one of these is Meena Flora, described as a “fluxo incense.” We have, of course, reviewed several from this style over the years, the most famous being the red package Sai Flora, but we, perhaps most recently, took a look at a couple of El incenses in the same category, These are thick stick, very distinctive incenses and so you might not only consider the Meena base for the Meena Flora but the flora/fluxo style as well and consider it a mix of those things. It still has a lot of the cocoa/coffee/brown sugar/earthy base to it, but it’s a bit more heavily aromatic than the Supreme with some of the same aspects that Sai Flora has. It’s not quite that brassy or sparkly, in fact it’s quite subdued compared to a lot of other incenses in this style. My most recent personal burning has been the Vedic Vaani Sai Flora which is much more refined and well on the other side of the red packet on the earthiness-to-refined axis. It’s actually probably more different as a flora than it is as a Meena incense.

Where both the Supreme and the Flora are small 8 stick boxes, the Meena Indian King has a higher stick count (as do the rest of these incenses) and the incense itself is certainly less weighty than the Supreme and Flora. While you can still recognize the same base I have mentioned in the previous two incenses, the Indian King feels a bit drier. It’s described as a durbar bathi, which has often been a category incenses like champas fall under, and this one does feel a bit more like a Meena-style Nag Champa variant to me. I’m not sensing enough halmaddi to keep it soft but there may be a little in there, but it’s actually overall not quite as sweet as the Supreme. It’s kind of elegant in a way and very traditional. And a walk in and out of the room shows it dissipates quite nicely too with a slighty tangy-meets brown sugar edge on top. Given it’s not all that different from the Supreme, it could be considered a more price-conscious alternative given the stick count.

One of the reasons Indian King struck me as a champa type is because it’s not terribly far off from the Meena Nag Champa. Seriously the description of this, at least if you were familiar with Meena Supreme, is imagine Meena doing a Nag Champa. It feels like champas are so variant these days that we’ve almost lost what we might have considered the standard because the Satya Blue Box is such a shadow of what it used to be. And in that sense, the Meena isn’t terribly different from the more modern hard stick variants that tend to send most of the aroma up on a charcoal base. This is definitely still a masala base and may have a little halmaddi in it but most notable it’s a little sweeter than, say the Happy Hari/Temple of Incense Gold or the AB carried Vintage Nag Champa. Some of these vedic champas feel like they could pull rain out of the air with their driness and while the perfumes are probably a bit more in the pocket than this one, this stick’s combination of some aspects of Meena Supreme (like, say, the earthiness and brown sugar) make it just a bit more interesting. With so many champa variants out there and it basically a virtual impossibility to go back to the great stick of yesteryearm I lean towards wanting variation more, so I like the differences on this one.

So then there’s Meena Siddanth with a dude beaming om symbols, and, gulp, a couple of swastikas in the mix, probably not the most popular symbology in the west. As you might know this has a much different meaning in India than it does in the West so I’ll just move on to the incense itself. This style is considered a “dhoop bathi” although it’s really difficult to tell how all of these sticks vary in style from looking at them; however, this is just a wee touch softer than the previous incenses. This has a more diverse aroma, it’s still a Meena stick at heart but it has a mix of fruity, powdery, herbal, and a touch of wood oils that make it probably the most distinctive stick so far. In fact this seems like quite the lovely and complex incense with all sorts of things going on and it’s by far the least earthiest of five sticks. Perhaps if you have just tried the Supreme, this might be the one I’d recommend next.

Now the Meena Sambrani Stems are a completely different style of incense. Looking around on the net it seems like Sambrani Cups got a bit of notoriety for a bit when this style of using cow dung to heat up resins came to a bit greater attention and a search of these cups show some rather offputting visuals. However cow dung is not the only way to heat resins up and it looks like the outside of these dhoop-like cylinders are probably based on charcoal, although like any incense I can’t give a comprehensive list of what’s actually in these (and I can’t say I’ve every tried the straight up base note of cow dung to be informative). All I can say is this is possibly the most intriguing incense in this batch. Sambrani, like loban, is one of those terms that seems to shift in meaning depending on who is using it and both seem to be anything from resin mixes to specific resins like benzoin or frankincense). Ultimately the aroma is almost thoroughly resinous and intense with a lovely bit of spice and a touch of caramel. Unlike a lot of Indian masalas where the resins really get watered down with the stick base, the level of resin is really nice and strong here with a fruitiness you usually won’t find in a loban or other highly resinous stick. So yes this is a lovely batch of (sort of) cones, like many dhoops they’re really smoky and will fill up a large space fast.

So ultimately the new or casual browser is recommended to check out the Meena Supreme if you haven’t and certainly the Sambrani Stems and Siddanth next, but I enjoyed all of these. Nothing is quite like a Meena incense, they have a distinctive personal stamp to their style that is quite recognizable once you get to use. it. And we certainly encourage Everest Traders to bring more of this line to the west!

Kunjudo (Awaji Island) / HA-KO / Paper Incense / No. 1 Spicy Jasmine, No. 2 Agarwood, No. 4 Sandalwood

Japan Incense sent over these three beautifully designed paper incense leaves to review. Honestly as soon as I looked at their delicate construction, I had some hesitance in even wanting to burn them, the art and aesthetics seem so perfect (I love the delicate notches and details on the leaves). Second, I am getting to be of the age that if I’m burning incense and something else happens, like I get a call from work or there’s some sort of minor crisis to resolve at my place, etc., I can immediately forget what I am burning and come back with it depleted. I only had one chance at these really, so I needed to be ready. It’s one thing when you lose a daily stick, no worries, but man when that happens and it’s a kyara or something, it can be highly disappointing to be distracted. So, gulp, I took photos and wrote all of this before even lit a tip. Keep in mind as well that I am not sure if this qualifies as a “sampler notes” but since they all appear to be part of a five leaf set, one does not really have the luxury to try more than one without spending a lot of money. To me this feels like something of an aesthetic or artistic treat but at a bit over $5 a leaf it is obviously luxury priced. And it was paper so I was like how fast are these gonna go up? Also, I believe these usually come with a felt mat to burn them on. I didn’t have one so used a bed of ash. It must be said that you want to keep your eye on these when they burn as even the slightest draft can move the leaf from incense to fire hazard.

So I went in order and started with the No. 1 Spicy Jasmine. My first reaction was both that it burned a little slower than I expected (it still goes pretty fast) and that the aroma was definitely modern. As the leaf widens it gets a bit more smoky as well, unsurprisingly. But overall the paper they used is obviously formulated to not have much in the way of off notes (although after burning all three you can definitely get the “paper note” as well). Now I’m not sure I got much of an actual jasmine note out of this, although it certainly had some mild spiciness around the edges, but it’s still interestingly floral in a sort of wet way, a scent I might associate more with a perfume than an incense. In fact without the binder of a stick, it’s almost a bit purer this way. Overall the scent actually reminded me a bit more of something like peaches, but it did have a few subnotes in the mix which made it interesting. It’s hard to say with one leaf if this is something I would burn a lot more of if I had multiple leaves but it was an interesting experience. And I would think this could appeal to a more modern audience.

The No. 2 Aloeswood is probably a bit more over to my personal tastes and while this obviously isn’t wood burning, the creators have gone some way into making something reminiscent of an aloeswood scent, a perfume that is modern but maybe reminiscent of something like the Xiang Do aloeswood. It is still essentially a perfume on paper. Perhaps in this sense, having a leaf burning with a woodier scent is a bit more on point, almost autumnal in a way. I found this one particularly cooling in a way I wouldn’t have expected. Almost moody in its profile.

The No. 4 Sandalwood is perhaps a bit closer to the scent you know and love than the previous two although it feels like it’s mixed in with some perfume aspects, but in a way I thought was quite complementary with the wood itself. It is almost like the intent was to bring the spicier aspects of the sandalwood to the fore and like the Aloeswood, I found this to be somewhat autumnal. I liked the somewhat fruity aspects mixed in as well, I though these were a lovely touch. it’s almost like there’s a strong touch of apricot in the mix.

So overall one must think of these as an aesthetic experience, with scents derived from quality perfumes rather than the usual incense experience. Obviously these are not incenses you are likely to use every day, but would be something for special occasions or a nice aesthetic touch to plans. It’s like you actually want to watch the pretty leaf burn rather than leaving it alone for the scent. So anyway much thanks to Japan Incense for the opportunity to experience this novel form of incense, I found it quite fascinating and certainly the leaves are beautiful indeed.

Mermade Magickal Arts / Kyphis, Incense Cakes; Espirit de la Nature / Giroflee Ordorante

It seems like with the new kyphi mechanism in play that there’s been a substantial creative outburst at Mermade in the winter months. Combine that with ORS being in something of a downtime, it can be really hard to keep up and deeply go into some of these new and wonderful scents that Katlyn has been whipping up in winter months, so I thought I’d do my best to try and do some sort of overview to catch up on some things. As I’ve mentioned before, the catalog window for a lot of Mermade goodies is short and often ORS reviews can shorten them a bit more, and even when I start a review page in draft, I have to keep tabs on what is still live or not by the time I’m ready to publish something. And this too, of course, goes for the Espirit de la Nature incenses that show up. It’s often like watching a car zip by.

So let’s start with the Mermade kyphis. I covered Kyphi #2, Goddess Temple, here. I believe the #3 was the green Emerald Temple variant and the #4 was the Amber Kyphi (pictured left), all of which are now gone, at least for the present. If you read the #2 review then you will realize these are largely intriguing variants of the same sort of kyphi base with a new front. All of them are wonderfully etched in detail and I’m just generally of the opinion that if you see a Mermade kyphi go up for a sale then it’s a good idea to start planning an order. The amber variant did not last long at all and it is a really wonderful incense, with the back half connected through this kyphi lineage and the front a wonderfully perfect amber scent, distinct and almost definitive. And I think the #5 variant here (coming soon, will link when live) will be Goddess Temple with Oud (pictured right). I just have a few early samples of this one from Katlyn’s last package but I might have to separate this one from the “usually special and magnificent” to the “particularly special and magnificent” category. I love the way the oud in this one sort of tinges and modifies the kyphi lineage of all these previous incenses. It does so in a way that might create the most significant change of this line of incense. It feels less like it has a new top note and more like the oud has just deeply infused itself into all aspects of the scent. When you think of kyphi as this sort of aged melange of ingredients that all add up to something like an aromatic vintage, the #5 seems to be a really cool leap sideways that might make you feel like you’re trying kyphi all over again.

Another project Katlyn is working on is “incense cakes.” There are three different ones that are all very recent, Cakes for the Queen of Heaven, Rose of Isis and Dionysos. These are all essentially a mix of resins, woods, herbs and spices that are all formulated into small little discs with a stamp applied and mostly mixed in with another natural ingredient. The first blend is subtitled a Mesopotamian incense and includes cedar wood and essential oil; Suhul and Yemeni myrrh; Iranian galbanum; styrax – liquidambar; labdanum resin and absolute; black frankincense; and juniper herb and berries. Not sure if my botany is up to this guess and it’s not in the ingredients, but the cakes look mixed in with eucalyptus leaves or something visually similar. You can actually really suss out the specific ingredients in this mix and one thing I like about it is that a lot of these are not as common in available incenses so you really feel like the styrax and labdanum are quite forward here and the evergreens give it all a more herbal quality than a green one. It all adds up to a nicely mysterious mix that reveals a cool creative take on a regional scent.

Rose of Isis is a bit more straight forward a blend, with the rose and sandalwood mix out in front. The rose comes from three different absolutes, and the sandalwood is the quality Mysore, but in addition there’s Sahul myrrh, Saigon cinnamon, Hougary frankincense, and benzoin; the mix dusted with agarwood powder. I’ve long understood Katlyn to have a really deep connection with Isis energy and have experienced a number of her crafts in this vein both on and off the market to know she is a vessel for it. The rose here is lovely and powerful, redolent even in the fresh tin, in the way that a friendly rose absolute can lead to it being a bit like valentine’s day candy. But there’s not just that element, but a really genuine scent of the actual rose flower that is paired with that. As the heat continues the rose note will tend to fade into the background more, with the myrrh and cinnamon comng in louder towards the late heat. The sandalwood seems a bit milder than you might expect, mostly due to the powerful rose front, but it tends to tie everything together in the background.

Dionysos is something of an incense cake version of one of Katlyn’s older incenses with the same name. In fact this review is still probably fairly spot on in many ways and here you can get this almost vintage spirits sort of vibe just over the fresh cakes in the tin. Part of this I believe is the black currant bud absolute. As a kid who grew up in England in the 70s, black currant was almost ubiquitous in sweets and I loved it. Here it’s modified by some of the other ingredients into kyphi-like age, like a fine intoxicating spirit. There’s classic incense resins (undoubtedly part of what carries the currant), agarwood, juniper berries, sweet tobacco absolute, cassis (also black currant), galbanum and a pinch or two of sativa. I sort of roughly classify this kind of incense into Katlyn’s later summer blends, there’s this sort of feeling of heat and harvest at work, ripe berries, hay and herb. One you definitely would want to pull out at a party, an event much richer with the god of wine in attendance.

There were also a couple new Encense du Monde incenses in the Mermade catalog of late but one blew out incredibly fast and the other might be gone by the time I get this incense live (3 left! Going, going..). This last one left (well they both were!), Giroflee Ordorante, is naturally up to Bonnie’s incredible talent, an incense that boasts a very involved ingredients list: “Matthiola longipeta ssp bicornis enfleuraged [night-scented stock] while still on the stem into benzoin, palo santo and tolu balsam resins, propolis, rose extract, palo santo wood, sandalwood, rosewood, cloves, cinnamon, vanilla, patchouli. Bound with reduced organic honey. Powdered with monarde fistulosa- rose variety.” What I immediately notice with this Nerikoh style blend is the mintiness and balsamic qualities combined, but it’s sort of the layer a lot of complexity sits on, a complexity I am not sure I’d even have the time to get into before this very original blend disappears. I’m not even familiar with what appears to be the main note, the night-scented stock, so I can’t place it in the aroma exactly. So in many ways Giroflee Ordorante is certainly unlike any nerikoh style incense I’ve tried in a Japanese catalog, but it stretches the form in quite the innovative way. These little pellets pack both a massive and quiet aromatic punch with that almost trademark creative touch Bonnie has that feels like fractals disappearing into infinity.

And I’d be amiss to not mention that the latest batch of WildWood is in stock, and while I haven’t tried this latest one yet, it’s certainly in a lineage where I have loved every single one and it is something you’d have to consider a Mermade evergreen classic.

Mermade Magickal Arts / Goddess Temple – Katlyn’s Kyphi #2, Moon

There’s a virtual history of Mermade kyphis being reviewed at ORS going back to 2011 (and a much longer tradition of Mermade making them) if you take a look at our Reviews Index. The Egyptian Temple incenses known as Kyphi are not only some of the world’s most famous historical blends but they are some of the most involved, complex and fascinating as well. One of the things I find most fascinating about them is that in the right hands a kyphi incense can be both simple and complex, creating a composite aroma out of a large ingredients list. The amount of preparation that goes into one of these incenses can be daunting and based on Katlyn’s words at the incense link, she has devised a new way of blending Kyphis to save both time and energy, which will allow the incense to be made more available. Anyone who has tried a Mermade kyphi knows this is a very good thing indeed.

Reviewing a kyphi may not be as difficult as making one, but it’s a scent that is kind of hard to pin down. I’ve always used something like a fine wine or whiskey because the overall bouquet of a kyphi can be so rich and multi-faceted, usually with a distinct sense of age. It rarely feels like something you can just pick the elements out of, it’s more like the elements come together into something new. There are definitely similarities from one kyphi to another (usually for me it’s whatever the raisins and honey do, if they’re in there). However, I think this vintage, Goddess Temple – Katlyn’s Kyphi #2, is a bit different than previous years. It feels like this is more resin heavy overall. The ingredients listed are frankincense (Hougary, Black Sacra, and Honey), Yemeni myrrh, Pinon pine, labdanum, Chios mastic, Saigon cinnamon, Turkish galbanum, and styrax liquidambar, all dusted with agarwood powder. It’s interesting because this feels more like a modern reformulation of a kyphi, one I wouldn’t be quite as sure of if we weren’t in safe hands with a creator who has spun out years of brilliant kyphi vintages, not a one I didn’t love. While it does feel somewhat different from previous Mermade kyphis, and I’m assuming the #2 is marking the occasion, the feeling that this is still in the style with a lot of depth and creativity is still in place. The notes tend to loom larger than the listed mix with quite a bit of interesting floral activity and heavy spice content that becomes even more noticeable as the incense melts on a heater. I’m not sure if there are raisins or anything like that in the incense, but that sort of defining kyphi note is still in the mix somehow, it’s a scent that reminds me of anything from plums to prunes to raisins. I very much like the idea that this is now an “all year around” kyphi as if you’re a fan of loose incenses kyphi is really one of the first incense types I would recommend. So it is a very cool thing indeed that the availability of this has widened. It is still complex, releases all sorts of subnotes along the timeline of the heat, sings with really quality ingredients, and still has that lovely feeling of fine spirits about it.

Katlyn has done a lot of what I would call lunar blends as well (Temple of the Moon, Mermade Moon, Moon Goddess, and Luna all come to mind). These have what I would call western magical correspondences about them, which means they tend to have some up front jasmine notes. Mermade has done a lot of fine work with jasmine and you may not be surprised that Moon is another solid entry of the type. For this blend she has used Tamil heartwood sandalwood and Jasmine Grandiflorum in a base of Yemeni myrrh, kua, black frankincense, and rare okoume resin, with some Chios mastic drops mixed in. The sandal and jasmine mix is really what is out in front on this one, although it’s perhaps not quite as overtly floral as previous lunar Mermades, and I would guess the okoume resin is giving the entire scent an intriguing subnote, a little bit of a slight gravel that I might liken to some copals and that helps the scent not to get too safe. So overall it’s a bit of a different direction for a lunar, a bit more fruity floral overall with some intriguing wood and resin subnotes to top it off. But I think in the end you will want to visit it for the sandalwood and jasmine mix.

Oh and before I close, there’s great news on the “restock” front in that Sweet Medicine is back in stock. I know I’m incredibly happy to see this beautiful honey and sweetgrass scent become a mainstay, it is one of my favorites in a great line up of goodies, so be absolutely sure to pop off and grab some.

Sanbodhi / Incense Coils: Cold-Dissipation, Heat-Dispelling, Mind Soothing, Spirit Stimulation, Yoga

I have been trying to find other providers of this incense other than Amazon but Amazon seems to be the one bringing this Chinese/Tibetan company to the West. I have known of Sanbodhi for several years, as I keep trying to find more quality Chinese incense makers to showcase and discuss. Initially, I only had access to the Cold-Dispelling coils, which are among some of my favorite Tibetan Style smells. Currently, only a handful of these are left on Amazon but they tend to restock all five flavors so if you don’t see one, definitely check back. If I find a better source that keeps them in stock, I’ll edit this post. Also, as I find more information or even a website for them, I’ll update this post, but for now, Amazon lists them as operating out of China.

The can for Cold-Dissipation (no link due to out of stock) changes color as the first one was blue and the second was red. The incense inside has been the same. This is a formula I’ve encountered in different incense producers, and it often shows up as ‘Medicine Buddha’ or ‘Healing Incense’. It has a salty, woody front that reminds me a bit of a cheap aloeswood or a lower resin content aloeswood. There is a bitter-sweet follow-up of something medicinal, a smell that I recognize from multiple Tibetans, and I have always associated this scent with the ‘Medicine Nectars’ that Bosen lists in their ingredients. The marketing copy suggests that his is good for winter time, reducing the amount of dampness that cold causes (runny noses and phlegm). However that works out, I have always found this a nice cool temperature incense in that it tends to smell better when the temperature is cooler and more ashy and smoky when it’s warmer. As a result, I haven’t burned this as much in Hawaii but I used to burn it year-round in SF.

Heat-Dispelling seems very similar in scent to the Cold-Dissipation coil, but it seems saltier, less sweet with a slight juniper note. This claims to be good for dissipating the heat from summer, for preventing heat stroke and similar overheating types of conditions. As such, I imagined it was better to burn this when it was hot in the middle of the afternoon rather than a cool evening or morning. While I can’t speak much to the medicinal aspect, the smoke does seem ‘cooling’ in the same way mint or menthol can give off that cooling/refreshing feeling. This doesn’t have the same bitter-sweet center and instead it is more woody, reminding me of cedar/juniper blends.

I decided to hold off on reviewing Mind Soothing (no link due to out of stock) because I wanted to try it when things were getting rough. Well, it’s Monday afternoon and this was a particularly rough day with a lot of things breaking. So here I am lighting up the Mind Soothing coil and noting it’s a lot milder than the first two. It has a much more bitter presence, like more of the evergreen/juniper than the previous two and less of whatever the sweeter cedar wood used for the first two. I will say that it is kind of calming, just listening to the coil. I’m not sure if this is a cure-all for the worst day of your life but definitely more like a beer after work. As the wood scent builds up after it is about 20% into it, there is a note that wasn’t there at the start, and it is sort of like a breakfast cereal note. This is more like the smell of the inside of a box of breakfast cereal after you’ve removed the packaging. It’s part cardboard, part something sweet. It isn’t unpleasant, it’s just the closest parallel I could draw to what I’m getting off this note. While this isn’t going to be a strong room-scenting coil, it is definitely a relaxing companion and makes my recommendation list.

I decided to try Spirit Stimulation as a “first cup of the day”, before I have my normal tea. I wanted to see if it indeed stimulated me and got me going. I’m normally a morning person so perhaps this isn’t the best test but I do feel alert and focused. How does it smell? Well, I would say this scent is even milder than the Mind Soothing, so mild that I kept having to leave the room and come back in to really notice the difference because it’s subtle enough to just sort of ‘creep up on you’ and you don’t notice the smell as much because you’re in it. It is less salty and has more of a subtle wooden note with a few herbs. Almost like someone took a piece of pine and set a few aromatics on top of the pine and then it got set next to a old-fashioned steam radiator and the aromatics and wood smell subtly increase. Now I say pine but it is a kind of generic ‘warm wood’ smell as it smells like a sheet of plywood that is sitting in the sun, it doesn’t smell like combusting wood even though it is burning.

Yoga starts out with a much less mild and more spicy scent. I’m reviewing this almost immediately after Spirit Stimulation so compared to the previous, this has far more going for it. There is something like a hint of frankincense like you’d get with a good Lotus Ground. The salty woods are here but they take a back seat to the medicinal-frankincense type note that is in the foreground. The marketing copy on the side of the can says “This incense is prepared according to the Tibetan ancient incense formula to help the concentration in yoga practice. It is also used to relieve fatigue.” I feel like I agree with this statement and that while subtle, it is doing what it is supposed to all while smelling great.

The Mother’s India Fragrances / Oudh Nagchampa, Palo Santo Nagchampa, Sage Nagchampa + Herbal Sampler (Part 2 of 2)

Please be sure to read Part 1 of this review as this is really a continuation of that review and that context is somewhat relateable to how I continue below. I will also note again here that all incenses in this range can be found at Mere Cie Deux.

The issue with calling something an Oudh Nagchampa is different from a lot of other aromatics because oudh, of course, is an agarwood-based scent and oudhs can be stratospherically expensive, so one must lower one’s expectations for an incense that is only $3 for 12 sticks. We have certainly also had our expectations set by the Absolute Bliss/Happy Hari and Temple of Incense lines with sticks like Oud Masala and so forth that are still quite affordable while delivering very satisfying incenses with legitimate and surprisingly powerful oudh notes (although these are essentially 2-3 times as expensive if not more so). And so for me, I try to look at something like this new nag champa in the sense that does it live up to the name and if it doesn’t is it a good incense on its own? In terms of the former issue the oudh note isn’t the sort of rocketship it is in the previously mentioned lines, it does not sit about the champa base and dominate, it’s a much more subsumed and subtle scent. In fact it took me a bit less incense fatigue and a second stick to notice that it is actually in there as part of the mix.

So anyway, oudh expense to champa mix aside, how does it work out? Well the champa base comes out quite a bit in this, there’s a real sense of the gummy and halmaddi sweet. Most champa bases tend to be at least mildly spicy, if only from the sandalwood, so the oudh actually fits pretty comfortably next to it. For a note you often expect to be loud it ends up complimenting what is surprisingly one of the mellower incenses in this current batch. Its an odd one for me because it feels like the overall diffused aroma seems a bit more generic than when you get in there close and notice that it’s actually a pretty well balanced incense. There’s a bit of spice and tanginess to it overall that the incense gets from the oudh but overall the agarwood notes here aren’t as strong as you’ll find in a Happy Hari, Temple of Incense or Pure Incense scent.

The next two aromas, sort of like the Neem Nagchampa, strike me as pretty strange and experimental for a nag champa format as both palo santo and sage aren’t aromatics I think would match up well with a sweeter halmaddi sort of masala. The Palo Santo Nagchampa may then be the first of its ilk and it’s a very interesting match indeed. For one thing, the palo santo itself is quite good quality and very reminiscent of the finer wood itself, so it’s off to a good start on that front. The base seems to have some of the more chocolate and confectionary qualities of the Sweet Frankincense and Guna Nagchampa, although it’s certainly not quite as decadent as either. But it seems modified appropriately in order to actually make a palo santo nag champa and balance the Mother’s format against what is a very identifiable and unique woody aroma. Now you will either know or not know if palo santo is to your taste, but its surge in interest among lovers of Native and South American culture know that the aroma has made a significant dent in the new age markets with its popularity. I might caution one to try the wood out first rather than dive in here, but honestly the palo santo note here is completely legit and it is hard to imagine Mother’s could have done a better job with this one.

Sage, on the other hand, is a strange beast in that sage wrapped for smudging (or used in cooking) smells a lot different to my nose than oil distillations and then either one’s application to a masala can also end up varying in a whole lot of directions. Check out Stephen’s reviews of the Temple of Incense Desert Sage or White Sage for examples of variance. I also had a Designs By Deekay White Sage review up at one point that demonstrated its more smudge-like, resin-based approach. Japan Incense has a Minorien-sourced Sage stick. All of these really differ a lot. The Sage Nagchampa also does. There is certainly some level of sage like herb in this and maybe oil as well but it felt like the creators dialed it down a bit to mix with the champa base, because, let’s face it, you’d have to. It’s an interesting creative choice because unlike the palo santo where the wood tends to have spicier qualities that might roughly fit in a cinnamon, clove or copal category, sage is going to move more in a direction like the Neem Nag Champa except where that one is green and bitter, this has a sort of general cooking herb sort of scent to it, rather than feeling specfically sage. The Sage Nagchampa also has a very similar base to the Oudh Nagchampa in terms of having a bit of gumminess to it. The issue with a stick like this overall is that so much compromise has gone into balancing two almost opposing formats that even though the balance is successful, it also feels like maybe it’s created something a bit too generic and maybe not as reminiscent of sage or a champa in the end. I know of the seven incenses I’ve just looked at this might be the one that’s the muddiest and hardest to define. But at the same time, one must see it as a unique and interesting experiment for sure.

I was also sent what amounts two a two stick by three fragrance package of Mother’s new Herbal Incense range. I should probably mention another difference in the overall line in that many of Mother’s aromas now have mini stick options which is an even more inexpensive way to try some of their many incenses. Anyway the two mini sticks each here might come close to one regular stick so I’ll just give my initial impressions on these. Well I’m going to try to. I just realized that in order to get the wee packages out of the strange cardboard package you also have to loosen them from their moorings so I now have three incenses where I’m going to also play guess the incense (I’m on the second stick of each)! So here we go.

While nearly every incense in this new line seems to specifically be one note and so close that both cinnamon and clove are broken down into two different types, the masala mix does sort of alter the profile, so these aren’t the same sorts of aromas that you’d find in a charcoal. So the Rosemary actually kind of works a little like the sage does in the Nagchampa above. That is, this doesn’t really smell much like the kind of rosemary used in cooking lamb (for instance), it has a sweeter more distilled oil like scent instead. The masala seems to have some woodiness and sweetness in it to also change the profile to some extent. It hasn’t lost the spice qualities of the herb really, but it feels like its presented more like a floral than an herbal sort of incense. Overall it’s not going to be like most expect.

I actually had trouble telling which of the two sticks left was Clove Bud or Cinnamon Bark because they are so sweetened up that any clear note is kind of obscured. My best guess (in addition to finishing the second mini sticks) was based on the pictures at the site where the Cinnamon Bark shows the darker of the two sticks, but honestly it could have gone either way. The darker stick has a sort of Madhavadas family like base with a lot of vanilla in the mix and the spice kind of plays around the outside. It’s not at all like cinnamon candy you will often find in charcoal sticks (like the brash Fred Soll versions) but a lot more delicate. Once the aroma builds up, the cinnamon does as well, and I would guess there was no use of oils in this and only the bark. But to me the base seems a bit distracting.

Strangely the Clove Bud is even sweeter, almost confectionary like, in fact it reminds me a little of some Japanese moderns in a way. There isn’t really a vanilla-like base , but once again I am struck by how little this smells like the clove you would normally think of, which may very well be because the aromatics are distilled from the fresh buds rather than the dried ones ground for spice? I’m guessing mind you because this is very far away from what I normally associate with clove, a note that is fairly common in a lot of the Tibetan incenses I’ve been reviewing. Anyway I don’t see much more in the way of description to clue in a bit more on these (and Mother’s are actually pretty good with the info thankfully), but they’re an intriguing trio of incenses in how little they tend to resemble what you expect. A different take is OK for me, but I didn’t really have the inches to go into these to maybe do them more justice.

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