Lobhan is benzoin resin but Lobhan Agarbatti from Mysore Sugandhi Dhoop Factory doesn’t have that characteristic vanillic smell to my nose. Oddly it’s a bit acrid up close, but as it wafts around it teeters on the edge of likeability with a resinous-floral element I can barely make out at the edges of my perception. Strange. I’m going to have to smell more of the lobhan class to try and understand this perplexing incense a little better.
Happi Hari Queen of Lotus is a unique take on the lotus flower. Unlike traditional incenses of this type, Queen of Lotus skips the woods and spices and opens up into a distinctive floral creatively supported by an accord I can only describe as “expensive skin cream”. Whimsical and hypnotic by turns, this is an eye opener.
It’s very difficult to pick out exactly what is at play in the floral section of Queen of Lotus due to the expert blending. I can just make out magnolia and jasmine and perhaps rose but that doesn’t begin to describe the complex fragrance. I can only say that it’s unlike any floral blend I’ve smelled.
Adding to fanciful quality of the incense is an accord of expensive skin cream. I’m sure most of my female readers will be familiar with the scent: luxuriously creamy-fatty with a delicate perfume. Naturally every brand and line is different, but they all almost always share that creamy, rich tone. It’s incredible that Queen of Lotus is able to capture that $150 skin cream note, but this is an incense that delights in surprising.
While I’m more of a traditional incense girl, Queen of Lotus has me charmed. It’s so unusual and playful that I really enjoyed “listening” to it even tho it’s not a style that normally go for.
You can get Happy Hari Queen of Lotus incense online at Absolute Bliss in the US and world wide from either the Happy Hari website or from the Happy Hari Etsy site (ships from the UK and they take PayPal). Prices start at around $4.00 for a 10 gram packet (about 4 or 5 sticks)
***This review was based on samples sent free of charge by Happy Hari.***
EDIT: I made a big mistake in my first edition of this post. Happy Hari does not do charcoal punks of any kind. Queen of Lotus is a masala that is machine rolled… to my untrained eyes it looked like a charcoal stick– whoops!
At last! Finally I’ve broken my chain of misses with this unusual incense from Tulasi. Vidwan is a very sweet incense with fruity flourishes and touches of patchouli. However, what makes it so unique is the decadently creamy musk note. This musk note is the center of the incense. Thick and rich in texture, it has real depth and personality.
The musk is supported by a soft counterpoint of patchouli– clean and only mildly earthy. I’m not a big fan of patchouli but I enjoy it here as an accent to the musk as it gives complexity to the blend. This note is quite mild tho, and would not be enough to satisfy real patchouli hounds. Again, the creamy musk is the real star here.
Adding a playful, light touch are fruity notes that remind me of the “pink amber” style incenses. The fruity notes aren’t any specific fruit, rather they are an allusion to fruit with plenty of fresh and sweet nuances. In case you thought a creamy musk with a dash of patchouli would be a dense, dark affair, the fruity notes elevate and brighten the entire incense into something delightful and happy.
All together, Vidwan is a cleverly designed incense. The plush musk is lifted by modern fruity notes and given texture by a dash of patchouli. It has a cheerful impression, perhaps not something you would expect from a musk centered incense, but charming none the less.
The scent strength for Vidwan is average.
You can get Tulasi Vidwan online for about $2.00 for a 25 gram box.
I had high hopes for this one but apparently I’m on a loosing streak: crude oil again. This time I couldn’t smell anything over the petrochemical notes. What a disappointment.
Baykeri’s Shivranjani smells like crude oil to me. I’m sad because it was otherwise a pleasantly musky-honey incense with floral touches. As the oil smell pretty much covered up the other scents for me I can’t really say much else about it.
Incense from India’s Green Durbar is a soft, mild incense with a honeyed edge. It’s not green in the herbal or galbanum-y way we think of green smelling in the West. Rather it’s a gentle floral with honey, a little spice, a touch of musk, and a hint of wet clay. In the end it’s somewhat mediocre but certainly not bad by any means. I apologize for the brief entry but Green Durbar did not make much of an impression on me.
I had high hopes for Divine Flora because it’s well liked by Mike over at ORS. Unfortunately my finicky nose could detect what was to me a rather strong crude oil note mixed in the delightful florals. I’m really saddened by this because Nandi Divine Flora is otherwise gorgeous: a sweet and soft bouquet with a gentle touch of sandalwood.
You can get Nandi Divine Flora online, in several different sizes starting at around $2.15 for a 25 box.
I can’t say much about the sandalwood that Balaji Chandan is supposed to smell like because a heavy crude oil note ruined the incense for me. I think I got thru about 15% of the stick before I had to put it out. The petrochemical smell was just too much! Additionally, Chandan was quite smokey. What a disappointment!
After experiencing Shroff’s spectacular dry masala Red Sandal, I knew I had to try their other offerings. Greedily, I ordered 6 more of their dry masalas. The first one I tried captured my heart. It’s Shroff Sandal Flora and like Red Sandal, it is a MUST!
As is typical for a quality masala, you can tell the base from the perfumed oil . Sandal Flora features a classic dry sandalwood base with a crisp edge, that is something like a blank sheet of paper: the perfect thing on which to layout something beautiful.
One of the first things I noticed about the oil in Sandal Flora was its unique creamy quality that is similar to Mysore sandalwood, but not quite. While I can smell creamy sandalwood in the oil, the creaminess I refer to is something different. It’s sweet and only slightly woody, with rich, plush edge to it. I assume it’s a synthetic since I can’t think of any natural that would smell the same, but whatever it is, it’s magnificent and gives the incense real texture and personality.
Paired with this creamy note is an exquisite blend of florals. The composition is so masterful that it’s near impossible to pick out any particular flower but I smell hints of rose, jasmine, and perhaps just a touch of fresh lavender. Soothing and smooth, it gives the impression of an extravagant bouquet of richly scented flowers.
The synergy between the lush creamy notes and the luxurious florals is absolute perfection. This incense is so finely judged and so harmonious that I’m astonished that Sandal Flora and Shroff in general is not more popular.
Shroff Sandal Flora is available at a small number of retailers. Prices for a 25 gram bundle start around $3.75 at Incense on the Way.
Satya Sai Baba Nag Champa (it’s the one that comes in the classic blue box) is in a miserable state. It seems like everyone complains about a dizzying dive in quality and general lackluster scent. However, there are other nag champas out there and Shanthimalai Nag Champa, which comes in a red box, is often cited as a good alternative.
Unfortunately, I can’t say that I like it very much. It has a odd chalky tone that is quite pronounced but is otherwise short on fragrance. I can detect some gestures in a floral direction but they are washed out and overwhelmed by the chalk. Very odd. As the fragrance is so faint I wonder if I may have a bad box.
A big disappointment.
Shanthimalai Nag Champa is widely available. Prices start around $1.50 for a 15 gram box.
I’ve been curious about Chinese incense but haven’t been able to try any yet since no one really seems to stock it. Mysterious, since it seems like you can get just about anything from China… At any rate, when I placed an order with Incense On the Way, I noticed they had a small selection of Chinese incense, one of the few in stock being a packet of sticks listed simply as “Jasmine and Sandalwood” with no maker mentioned. Since it was “HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!” in the description and only $2.95, I figured I’d give it a try.
Jasmine and Sandalwood is mostly a dry wood base with a touch of sweetness and hints of sandalwood and jasmine floating in and out. The sandalwood is much easier to detect than the jasmine. It has a soft vanillic tone but is only mildly sweet. The jasmine is very very delicate and present only as the slightest floral lilt. It’s there however, if you look hard enough.
Overall, this simple and subtle combination is quite nice. However, because I prefer incenses that are more heavily scented I don’t think I’ll be repurchasing.
One interesting note…. the sticks for Jasmine and Sandalwood are super long and thin. I was worried that the scent of the bamboo splint might come though but it doesn’t.
You can get Jasmine and Sandalwood only at Incense On the Way. A packet of 32 long sticks costs $2.95.
Kyo-zakura is another selection from Shoyeido’s Daily Incense line. Like Nokiba I would prefer it better if the fragrant materials were stronger and the base less so. However, Kyo-zakura is a bit more fragrance heavy than Nokiba.
The scent is delicate and light– as you would expect of a incense dedicated to the ephemeral cherry blossoms of the Old Capital. Shoyeido says they use rhubarb, clove, cinnamon among other things to create the fragrance, but Kyo-zakura does not have a spicy impression. Rather, it is more cool and softly sweet, like springtime. The rhubarb is supposed to give a tart feeling, but I don’t think I would have noticed it without it being mentioned in the add copy.
One thing I like a lot about Kyo-zakura is they way it shifts thru various phases. The fragrance comes in and out of the base, being sweet one moment, faintly spicy the next, then woody, then fresh and then disappearing completely!
I’m not quite sure how they manage to get the sweetness in this stick because oddly, it recalls aloeswood for me. Very beautiful and an interesting trick, but ultimately because the incense overall is not strong enough for me, frustrating.
Shoyeido’s Daily Incense line is widely available. Prices for Kyo-zakura start at $4.95 for a 35 stick bundle.
Shoyeido’s Nokiba or “Moss Garden” is part of their Daily Incense line, a series of lower priced but still traditional Japanese incenses.
I can’t say I’m a big fan of Nokiba… it’s mostly burning wood to me and short on the sandalwood, patchouli, and benzoin that are supposed to make up the stick. Nokiba has elements fragrance (I can smell moments of green patchouli and touches of vanillic benzoin) but on the whole it’s quite weak and unsatisfying. More campfire than moss garden.
I suspect that because Shoyeido only uses natural ingredients in their Daily line, rising costs may be forcing the company to cut back on the amounts (and perhaps the quality) of aromatics. A shame because when I could get brief whiffs of the aromatics in Nokiba, it was quite nice. The patchouli was very restrained and seemed to contribute a green quality to the blend rather than being dusty. I’m not a big patchouli fan, but here it was gentle and soft and paired beautifully with the sweet vanillic tones of the benzion.
If the prices for naturals don’t come down (and I bet they won’t!), I hope Shoyeido considers doing a premium version of Nokiba because the composition is very nice… it’s just hard to “find”.
The more I burn Pure Incense’s Amber Absolute the more I love it. While it initially struck me as rather dry, I’ve begun to really fall in love. More and more I appreciate the contrast of the rich but reserved amber-y notes with the dry/crisp sandalwood base.
The sandalwood is soft and has a subtle sweetness of it’s own but it’s kiln dried woodiness is the strongest element. The use of oils in Pure Incense’s Absolute line is minimal, so the stick is only lightly perfumed with amber. Mild and delicately sweet, this amber has touches of powder, resin, and vanilla and a more traditional feel than the playful and sugary pink ambers. It wafts in and out, carried on the dry smoke of the sandalwood.
Remarkably smooth and comforting, this is a great choice for winding down and relaxing. Work today was particularly brutal (as Mondays have a habit of being) but as I write this with curls of fragrant smoke drifting past my monitor I can finally feel myself decompressing. Ahhhhh!
Like a number of manufacturers, Kikujudo makes an incense for the Awaji Island brand. As far as I can tell it’s exclusive for Awaji Island Koh-shi and not the same thing as Kikujudo Wacha (a green tea incense) but I’m not 100% certain.
What I am certain of is the delightful, fresh nature of this incense. It seems a touch counter intuitive to use smoke to carry the fresh and delicate notes of green tea, but it works perfectly here. Interestingly the incense seems to recall powdered green tea, or matcha which has a sweet, almost malty edge to it and a rich full flavor that quite substantial.
To provide a light, playful counterpoint, there are gentle citrus tones that smell closest to grapefruit to my nose (yuzu perhaps?). The light tang of these citrus notes enhances the creamy-sweet elements of the matcha and create a unique experience. Incense rarely features such a beautiful and clear citrus element.
All together the matcha and citrus create an elegant, soft feeling of quietness. The scent isn’t very strong and it doesn’t linger very much but the mildness and ephemeralness is part of the charm. If you’re looking for a delicate matcha incense this is perfect.
This is one HUGE cinnamon incense: big, spicy, and powerful. The aroma is extremely intense, almost brutal at times. I thought I liked cinnamon but Spicy Cinnamon with Clove was too much for me. It lacked complexity and I didn’t enjoy the relentlessness of the spice. Every time I sniffed, it was a big huge blast of raw, woody cinnamon. There was no refinement and overall the notes came across as harsh and insistent. I hate to be negative, but I just did not like this incense. I’m starting to think my nose maybe out of sync with the Fred Soll aesthetic and I am now dreading the dozen or so sticks I have, but have yet to try.
To be frank, I am not entirely sold on smokeless and less smoke incenses. While I really like Baikundo Lavender for its fantastic air freshening abilities, I find most of them to be simply too weak.
Sadly, that seems to be the case here as well with Baieido’s Bikou Smokeless. The fragrance is very fine, but it’s so light I can barely smell it.
What I am able to make out is a elegant blend of sandalwood, spice, and a suggestion of aloeswood all done in that wonderfully soft Japanese way. The notes are blended so skillfully and smoothly that they flow together perfectly and give an impression of a seamless whole. Beautiful, but so weak… However, there is good news: Baieido makes a regular version of Bikou and I plan to try that as soon as I can.