Review Information

I’ve written this page to detail how I approach reviewing incenses and to give information to those who would like to send incense to me for evaluation or who are just curious to my methods.

Incense, like any other form of art, lives in the memory of its appreciators. This means that there are a number of other elements beyond the incense that can come into play when evaluating an incense including your environment, relative mood, and the expectations one brings to a new scent. Environment is a large factor, as any incense, particularly those of quality and subtlety, will have qualities more or less evident depending on the size of the room and how well a room is ventilated.

Aromatic fatigue is another very important factor in evaluating an incense. Depending on your environment, it is possible to experience aromatic fatigue very quickly. What this means is that it’s very possible (and one must add allergies, colds and other elements that reduce one’s sense of smell) that one’s sense of smell may be muted under a number of different conditions. It’s my opinion that most of the finest incenses have levels of subtlety and aromatic complexity that are often lost very easily via aromatic fatigue. Even one powerful incense that manages to irritate one’s sinuses will likely make it very difficult to detect these qualities for subsequent sticks.

The way I account for many of these factors is to evaluate over time and in various conditions in order to mitigate for those times where senses aren’t quite as acute. It’s almost impossible for me to say anything useful about one stick. On the other hand, the best most complex and quality incenses are those I continue to grow with. With these I feel I’m comfortable when I can get to a point where I can recognize the scent’s potential, after burning 3-5 sticks, in order to try and detect the many subtleties finer aromatics, particularly aloeswood, bring to it. While I may not be able to describe anything of this complexity in full, after a few sticks if the potential of further experience is inherent, it’s largely considered a positive.

I also like to get at least one or two experiences where the scent surprises me and that’s usually by trying to experience a scent when I’ve forgotten what I’ve started burning, something not always easy to do. I can do this under busy conditions sometimes, and when it works it gives me a sort of minor revelation and usually introduces me to a quality that I hadn’t noticed when consciously evaluating an incense. So I like to engage the subconscious in this work when I can and feel that intuitive evaluation is as important as practical and emotional evaluation.

I take notes, although these are much more useful when I am evaluating from a sampler or a limited quantity of incense. If I’m not and I’m evaluating something out of personal use, my review will generally be written after I feel like I’ve “gotten” the incense and by that point I don’t usually need notes. This is obviously the best way, but it’s not always a feasible approach. When I review from samplers, I consider the reviews more “Sampler Notes” and don’t consider the reviews fleshed out (yet).

Companies or entities who would like to see incense reviewed in these pages or who have any questions can use the contact information given on this page to contact me:

http://gnosis2000.net/ratermike.shtml

Some notes:

  • I will review almost every style of incense except charcoal blanks or other generic incenses that are dipped in oils. I may make some other exceptions.
  • Send 4-5 sticks per scent. If these are premium or price is an issue, please contact me. Generally it’s my opinion if price is that much of an issue, it’s probably going to be great anyway.
  • Incense/resin blends created for heating or burning on charcoal will likely take longer, but generally a review would be available 3-6 weeks after receipt. Feel free to write me any time if you need an update on my progress for something you’ve already sent.
  • My personal preferences (which I also try to mitigate for in reviews) are generally inclined to spicy, dry and woody scents (I like certain resins a lot as well). Like most Japanese incense appreciators, aloeswood makes a big difference in my world, but I won’t judge incenses without this ingredient against those that do. A review should evaluate something for its own ambitions and not those of the reviewer.

16 Comments

  1. Josh Matthews said,

    August 18, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    Why won’t you review oil-dipped incenses? A friend of mine has a small business making and selling these style using only natural essential oils and some of his are fantastic.. Are these the lowest grade or something?

    • Mike said,

      August 23, 2014 at 8:44 pm

      Josh the essential oils aren’t usually the issue, it’s usually the stick that is. I’m not alone in finding charcoal-based incenses to be highly unpleasant. Each to their own of course…

      • Josh Matthews said,

        August 24, 2014 at 11:28 am

        Ah ok – I asked my friend about this and he says his sticks are made out of a sort of cow dung/sawdust mixture rather than charcoal – is this something you would be open to reviewing?

        These are very lush and gentle smelling incences he makes – I used to not like incense before his because the ones I bought at the store smelled like burning perfume or something – except the old Satya Sai Nag Champa that is so ubiquitous – that was used to be really good too..

        • Mike said,

          August 25, 2014 at 11:55 am

          I have to say that just off the bat I’m not inclined to go for a stick made partially out of cow dung, I think I’d just be hesitant to burn something like that. That doesn’t mean, of course, that I haven’t already done that with other incense without knowing. 🙂 I’ve also tried other dipped sticks that I’ve picked up at farmer’s markets and fairs that aren’t charcoal and go for the same base, different oil mix and I’ve not really found anything I could rave about. Honestly, I’m just trying to save time here because I’d hate to check them out, dislike them and then have to share that information. Maybe there’s a web site or more information I can look at first?

  2. piers said,

    November 12, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    Hi Mike, would love to send you some of our incenses for review – do send me your address and we’ll put some in the post. Awesome site by the way,
    piers

  3. barb sobel said,

    June 3, 2010 at 6:52 am

    hey folks!

    i sent an email re: reviewing Bhutanese incense (we have some great new fragrances) to Mike’s Gnosis email several weeks ago, and haven’t obtained a response. if someone could drop me a line so that i can get these out to you, that would be great!

    thanks again.
    barb @ sensia

    • Mike said,

      June 3, 2010 at 10:55 am

      Barb, I’m sorry your e-mails aren’t getting through, I seem to be having a lot of problems with the Gnosis page and Comcast. If you can send the request again through sigil23 [AT sign] comcast.net, that should reach me directly. I’ll also try to remember to write you when I’m at my home e-mail next.

  4. Alan said,

    April 5, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    I love this website! If the following has not already been noted somewhere,
    it should be..When relying on freebies from manufacturers, it is inevitable
    that at some point someone is going to send you better incense than they
    actually sell. It’s also not unheard of for items in sampler packs to be a little
    better than the bulk. Aknowledging this can only increase your credibility.
    Keep up the good work and don’t let those “punks” push you around!

    • Mike said,

      April 6, 2010 at 9:37 am

      To be honest Alan, we don’t review from as many freebies as the article might suggest (we receive more samples via the distributors than the manufacturers, but most of our reviews, especially on high end incenses, come from our own pockets), but at the same time I agree with your point about sampler pack quality being better than bulk backs, I’ve know it to be true occasionally as well.

      • Alan said,

        June 3, 2010 at 2:50 am

        Are those cool, custom-looking Japanese samplers from
        Essence of the Ages assembled in Minnesota?

        • glennjf said,

          June 3, 2010 at 3:11 am

          Hi Alan,

          This page will help you get an understanding similar to mine. I believe Beth assembles some of the samplers she sells using the plastic incense tubes shown on the page. I imagine she sources in other samplers which probably come ready for sale having been put together by the Incense companies wholesaling them.
          She’s a tireless one that Beth 🙂

  5. Steve said,

    April 10, 2008 at 7:49 am

    Just lit Ikaruga. Good example – I can “see” what you mean about a strong oil note on top…

    Steve

  6. Mike said,

    April 10, 2008 at 6:46 am

    I think of the oil note somewhat metaphorically but it’s basically the part of the incense that contains aromatics that smell more intense than the natural woods and herbs would, which usually indicates the presence of an essential oil (or maybe a fixative?). It’s usually an element never listed in the ingredients of an incenses except as “other spices.” It’s sort of like the intense top note of an incense that isn’t about the wood usually, although with some of those higher end Tennendo incenses like Kuukai or Tensei, it can be. Ikaruga’s a good example of a sandalwood with a very strong oil note on top.

    I don’t have any specific pattern of evaluation as I do like to experience the incense under various conditions and moods, to sort of develop a relationship with the scent based on the memories they evoke.

  7. Steve said,

    April 10, 2008 at 4:14 am

    Mike – could you give us an idea how you smell incense? By that, I mean is there some standard approach, say like wine tasting? Do you “look” for a base note and a top note or are there other common layers or components that are always part of the whole which you seek out and describe? I think I’m still confused, too, by descriptions of the wood versus the oil notes. I’m not sure how Japanese incense is usually made, but I have a notion of finely chopped wood chips, a binder, and some spices being mixed into a nice paste, extruded into pasta-like sticks and dried. Do some actually have oils/perfumes added or is the “oil note” just a term for an aroma component (i.e. not literal)? Look forward to any insight you can give on your approach and helping us develop our own evaluative capacities!

    Steve

  8. Mike said,

    April 9, 2008 at 6:57 am

    Thanks Ross. This is sort of in response to already getting some requests, but also because after you get an idea of what you like, eventually some of your exploration money ends up as restock money, and at times I wonder when I’m going to get to a lot of things, particularly all the smokeless, fruity, and modern sorts of scents are available. I’ll get there eventually on my own I’m sure, but wanted to leave the door open.

    I definitely agree about the samples. It’s akin to walking into Amoeba records without a list, every idea you might have had gets lost at the front door. 🙂

  9. Ross said,

    April 8, 2008 at 8:30 pm

    Hello Mike
    I was hoping that you would go this route. There is, at this point, no other real place one can go to to at least get a clue before you and your wallet go diving in. Even asking for samples can be over whelming because first it helps to have an idea of what to sample.
    If one is lucky then there is a good shop nearby ( thank you JI)and you can go in and really check out a selection. But if that is not happening in ones neck of the woods, well my man, tag, your it:0 ) Thanks again

    Ross


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