I apologize for all these negative reviews and hate to add yet another one to the mix but Amber from Triloka is a miss. It smelled promising unlit and was hand rolled very evenly– always a good sign– so I was a bit surprised that the fragrance turned to cardboard once I lit it. I could hardly make out anything at all besides the cardboard-y smell. I’m starting to feel like I need to take a break from Indians and start smelling more Japanese stuff. I just got 2 Japanese samplers from Gladmo– one aloeswood, one sandalwood– so I think I’ll start cracking into them for my next reviews.
My order from Exotic Incense came today so I picked out Sandal Flora from Sree Gajanana Perfumery Works to try out even tho it’s late and I’ve got a stuffy nose. Sadly even with my cold the only thing I could smell from this one was petroleum/crude oil. Smelled fine in stick form but you know how deceiving that can be. Currently burning Baikundo Lavender (less smoke) so my room doesn’t smell like a refinery.
Kokonoe from Baieido is comes in both a regular and a smokeless version. Tonight I am burning the regular Kokonoe and I can’t say I’m enjoying it. I’ve never been fond of the smell of daffodils or narcissus which are the inspirations for Kokonoe. Oddly pollen-y and musky-musty, the scent which in China is strangely called “the fragrance of a thousand heads” as has always been challenging to me.
While Kokonoe fails to resemble the peculiar scent daffodils directly, apparently just the association with the flower was enough to put me off. It is more wood smoke than anything else, but there is an unattractive Band-Aid element lurking around that I do not like. I think I will have to revist this one once my nose has become more educated. At the moment I’m not getting much of anything.
Such a disappointment! Reader Terra warned me that she had a bad experience with The Mother’s Nag Champa line– and now so have I. Yajna Nag Champa smells great as an unlit stick– forestry and cool with a slight lit of spice and a dash of earthy fresh patchouli. Once it’s lit tho, that oily, petroleum smell which I have a sensitivity to comes out and ruins the whole thing. What a shame. I was really looking forward to the The Mother’s Nag Champa line but it looks like they may be formulated differently from the Golden Line.
When I was ordering a few of Natural line incenses, I threw in Satya Supreme Vanilla just to see what it was like. Vanillin, which is the primary chemical that makes vanilla smell like vanilla, is pretty cheap so I thought there was a good chance that this incense would be ok despite the low price point. Spoiler: I was wrong!
The Supreme line that Satya puts out is cheaper than the already very inexpensive Natural line (of which Chandan and Lavender are ok, but Jasmine is not). Mysteriously named Supreme Vanilla, this is an oddly cardboard-y and powdery floral-ish flop that is blessedly weak. I let it burn for a good five minutes before I couldn’t stand it any longer and put it out. It’s like a bad aftertaste in stick form… unpleasant and bland at the same time. There is no vanilla in this to my nose. Again, it is a vague mash up of faded floral notes and dusty cardboard that manages to be distinctly repellent. Oh well.
This is the first Satya incense that I’ve reviewed… a little surprising because the Satya company makes some wildly popular incenses like the famous blue box Nag Champa and Super Hit. The reason I’ve stayed away from Satya is because I keep hearing how bad their quality control is and the general cheapening of their products. However, After reading a glowing review of their Natural Chandan on Reddit I got too curious and picked a few boxes from the Natural line.
Floral incenses can be difficult because it is tricky to balance the fresh smell of a flower with the smokiness of incense. In Satya Natural Jasmine, the makers appear to have attempted to cover up the incense section entirely with a huge amount of synthetic jasmine. This synthetic jasmine is not bad. It’s realistic enough with a fruity nature and a soapy edge. In low doses, it is very appealing. I hear such jasmine oils are very popular in India where people know jasmine (you can get garlands of the real flowers in any market place, it blooms in countless courtyards etc etc).
The problem in Natural Jasmine is that it is so suffocating, so dominating that the incense is impossible for me to enjoy. The intensity of the jasmine oil makes it seem more synthetic than it actually is. Like music that is played too loud, it becomes distorted and even painful. Additionally, the woody base has an inexplicable cigarette smell. This is not present in Natural Lavender or Natural Chandan so I wonder if the cigarette note is from the burning of the synthetic jasmine oil. Whatever is going on, it smells like an ashtray to me. Ugh.
You can get Satya Natural Jasmine from a number of vendors and it retails for a few dollars per a 15 gram box.
King of Amber by Happi Hari is not a Western style amber in the labdanum/rock rose vein or an Indian “pink amber”. I’m having hard time connecting this to amber at all but King of Amber immediately reminded me of a perfume oil (now long gone because of sourcing issues related to the botanicals) called Henna. Like Henna, it has a rich soapy-musk base overlaid with what I can only call an exotic floral because I’ve never smelled anything remotely like it. Very unique and in keeping with Happi Hari’s surprising, uncommon style.
The sticks are very heavily scented, even by Indian standards, and saturate the air quite quickly with scent. If you like strong incenses that really pack a punch, King of Amber (and the whole Happi Hari line, really) is for you. For me, King of Amber was too potent but it’s hard to criticize anyone for being extra generous with scented materials when so many manufacturers are skimping.
Since I’m not a fan of soapy florals in any format (incense, perfume, soap etc) I didn’t really connect with this one but it was exciting to burn because it’s really an unexpected thing to have a soapy smell wafting on smoke! A very cool thing to smell.
Posted in incense, India
I was interested to hear that Rose Sawayaka from Baieido actually uses rose attar, something I would have expected to be at odds with the Japanese concept of rose given how intense and dark it is*. Unsurprisingly ,the amount used is almost non existent. The rose that I smell here is familiar to me from Japanese bath and body products: fruity, fresh and sweet with a clean, tidy feeling. There is very little complexity here and the fragrance feels a bit jejune or even childish. Instead of decadent, lush roses Rose Sawayaka is all about the prim, light pink variety– girlish and naive in the extreme with no depth or mystery.
This is not a strong or assertive incense by any means but it is much more fragrant (and true to the flower) than its sister incense, the pallid Baieido Lavender Sawayaka. Sadly tho, it’s not something I’m particularly interested in smelling.
*The strange thing about real rose attars is that they do not smell like fresh roses. Rather the distillation process works all kinds of chemical magic and the essence that comes out is dense, jammy, and thick– a total 180 from the delicate fragrance of a dewy rose petal.
I’m not giving these their own posts as they do not deserve to be mentioned outside of a warning to not buy them. These are some truly awful incenses. They all smell like bad, dirty campfires but each has a special twist:
Gum Damar– dirty campfire with a flaming toupee
Gum Copal– dirty campfire accented with a faint hint of tar
Frankincense and Myrrh– gross enough to merit its own, more in depth review here
Sandalwood– dirty campfire x2
Frankincense– dirty campfire paired with a turpentine soaked rag
Siam Benzion– FILTHY campfire
Gum Benzion– staring into a dirty campfire and thinking of brunt cookies
In spite of this extraordinary lapse of quality I am not giving up on Auroshikha. They have a line that comes in marbled paper packaging (mysteriously similar to The Mother’s packaging) which have bought and will try in the near future as soon as it is shipped to me. I can’t imagine it would be any worse than the Natural Resin line!
Despite being inexpensive The Mother’s Golden Amber is terrific. It’s not a resinous labdanum/rock rose smell (which is what amber normally means in Western perfumery) but rather a sweet, warm, almost creamy smell without any resin at all. Mike over at Olfactory Rescue Service has referred to certain Indian ambers as being “pink ambers” and I can’t think of a better term. Pink amber is the perfect way to describe this sugary, cheerful incense enriched with a touch of soft, creamy musk and a hint of vanilla.
While Golden Amber is not particularly layered or complex, it smells delightful just the same. It’s easy to enjoy this sweet and playful incense and it in many ways exemplifies the best aspects of good Indian incenses: affordable, accessible, and agreeable.
It’s easy for anyone to enjoy– you do not need to be an expert or have an experienced nose to appreciate Golden Amber. It immediately charms with a sweet aroma enriched with a mild, velvety musk. There is a floral undertone that has a faint touch of rose, but it is the rich, smooth musk that is the most dominant, after the the sweet pink amber. There is also a very small suggestion of cool cinnamon, but again the focus is the unique pink amber note accented by creamy musk.
It’s incenses like this that make the $5 a stick and up Japanese stuff seem pretentious and exhausting.
Baieido says that their Lavender Sawayaka contains French lavender oil but mysteriously it has no presence in the incense. Like Baikundo Lavender, it smells pleasant but I’m left wondering why they decided to name it lavender.
Instead of the refreshing, vibrant scent of the flower, there is a classic mix of woods with an indistinct floral element and a touch of cool camphor. The woody base makes up the largest part of the aroma and is generic in tone but still enjoyable. The floral notes have an oddly fresh-synthetic twist that I don’t like, but you can only smell it when you but your nose right above the burning stick. Otherwise it’s just vaguely floral. I think the incense would have benefited from a larger dose of camphor– the little bit thrown in here left me wanting more.
Based on the aroma alone I would not recommend Lavender Sawayaka. It’s not a bad incense, but there are just so many wonderful ones out there that it’s hard to justify burning ones that are merely ok.
Additionally, this incense is very lightly scented and virtually smokeless. This may or may not be a drawback depending on your taste. Personally I found it too light.
You can get Baieido Lavender Sawayaka from a number of online retailers. A 30 gram box (about 45 sticks) retails for around $12.
Silver Jubilee by Mysore Sugandhi Dhoop Factory is a mild musk incense. The sticks are hand rolled, thick, and a little soft. They put out a fair amount of smoke so they seem to be designed for larger, perhaps public spaces. I think most people would find them too smokey for regular sized rooms.
While the smoke output of Silver Jubilee is impressive, the scent is less so. Silver Jubilee is a pleasant but bland musk on a standard base of woods. Not much going on… the musk approaches the creamy, uniquely Indian “pink musk” style but is too undistinguished, too weak to make much of an impression beyond being nice but insipid. It’s not used heavily so the base woods make up a large portion of the scent which contributes to its beige tone.
Silver Jubilee isn’t bad– but in a world with so many wonderful, transporting incenses it’s not worth burning.
Balaji’s Chandanam is a disappointment. Unlit, the wood powder coated stick is very smelly: creamy sandalwood with a big lime based toilet cleaner accord… Yikes! Burning of course did not improve things. I got that greasy petrochemical note I often find in some Indians (and a bunch of Fred Solls which are American) and gave up.
Oh well, they can’t all be Shroffs 😉
Auroshikha Natural Resin Incense in Frankincense and Myrrh does indeed smell natural. Unfortunately the quality of the resins is very poor and the resulting incense smells awful. It consists of mostly of bad frankincense which I would describe as being very acrid with touches of turpentine. I cannot detect any myrrh unless I am mistaken in attributing a bitter, bile like element to the frankincense. These sticks must be comprised of the absolute dross and dregs of resin manufacture… smokey and harsh, they have none of the loveliness of good frankincense. Miss me with this one.
The last time I reviewed Shroff Vanilla Balsam, it struck me as dry and didn’t really appeal to me. Now I find it delightfully light and crisp with a subtle sweetness and soft vanilla presence. The wood base is still the most apparent element in the incense but it takes on a pleasingly austere quality when paired with the mildly sweet vanilla. There is an almost Japanese like tone in the simplicity and spareness of this blend.
The vanilla used in Vanilla Balsam is not a gooey, sugary type. Instead it has a dry timbre and is used with a restrained hand. Pleasingly free of boozy, caramel, or fruity notes, this plain, modest vanilla creates an airy, open feeling with fleeting glimpses of soft sweetness. It reminds me of an impossibly thin wafer cookie that shatters in the mouth: crisp, light, not too sweet, and wonderfully delicate.
Normally I don’t like incenses that are strong on the wood base, but here it’s done with such excellent judgement and refinement that the impression is elegant and mature rather than weak or under scented. Vanilla Balsam is an unexpectedly minimalist take on vanilla and shows the amount of skill and discernment the incense makers at Shroff have.
As much as love sweet things, I have always had a soft spot for myrrh which like coffee, has a kind of delicious bitterness. The smell of myrrh is sophisticated and balsamic-resinous in addition to being aromatically bitter. It’s gorgeous but in an era of Pink Sugar may not appeal to everyone.
So I was quite surprised when I lit up a stick of Happy Hari King of Myrrh to find that this austere resin had been married to a high quality cinnamon! Unusual and innovative, this blend is not for those seeking a straight myrrh incense. Rather I would recommend it to those who love cinnamon as the grade used here is top notch and having it paired with myrrh is particularly unique.
The cinnamon in King of Myrrh is rich and plush, having that distinctive spicy coolness and total lack of barky/woody notes– hallmarks of the finest cinnamon varieties. It mixes beautifully with the fragrantly bitter myrrh. There are also some floral notes in this which are hard to identify individually but add a unique flavor. If you’re looking for a surprising cinnamon, this is a must try.
Happy Hari King of Myrrh Incense starts at around $4 for a packet of 4 to 5 sticks. You can buy Happy Hari world wide from the Happi Hari website or Etsy store. US buyers can also buy from Absolute Bliss Incense.
At last I can smell again! I thought I would get back into the swing of things with a soft incense: Forest made by Shorindo for Awaji Island.
The first thing that stuck me about Forest was the absolute lack of smoke. None of the incenses in the Awaji Island series are smokey, but this is the first one I’ve tried where I could see nothing coming off the stick.
As is typical with low smoke/no smoke incenses, the fragrance is light. It has a traditional feel to it with gently woody notes, faintly floral touches and maybe a hint of patchouli. The effect is mild and and somewhat bland as there is nothing in particular that stands out. It’s pleasant enough though but I would have a hard time recommending to anyone when there are so many other outstanding and interesting incenses out there.
Awaji Island Forest retails for around $19 for a box of 100 sticks. Several etailers stock it.