Saturday, 30 January 2016

Ancient Wisdom

Ancient Wisdom are a UK distributor of gift ware and incense, based in Sheffield. They import incense from Thailand and sell under their own name, or the brand name Dawn Of Time, or as wholesale bulk lots which are then sold on under names such as Ashley's Workshop.

Ancient Wisdom Red Dragon Incense Tibetan Musk

Score: 31

Dawn of Time Frankincense & Myrrh

Score: 28

Cinnamon Orange

Score: 20

Dawn of Time Of Persian Roses

Score: 20

Ashleys Workshop Dragon's Blood

Score: 20

Ashley's Workshop Nag Champa

Score: 20

100 Loose Cones eBay Mega-Mix 

Score: 20

Nose Delight Wizard Lavender

Score: 19

The Best Incense Makers

Ancient Wisdom Sensually Shaped Evocatively Scented Incense Cinnamon Orange

Reviewing Juicy Jay's Thai Incense Sticks earlier today made me look through my incense collection to see what Thailand incense I may have unused. I found this pack of Ancient Wisdom cinnamon incense moulded in cute star shapes. I don't like Ancient Wisdom, and resolved some time ago not to buy any more, so I must have had these for some time. The packet was sealed airtight and does have an attractive candy and cinnamon aroma. The shape is a little unusual. I decided to place it upright on a dhoop stick holder and ignite one of the star points. I should imagine it is also possible to lay it down, and perhaps light all five star points. The aroma is mildly pleasant, though the cinnamon quality is overwhelmed by the base material, and it soon smells like sawdust and assorted organic material rather than anything more refined or interesting. So, initially interesting and promising, but ultimately rather dull  - just like all the other Ancient Wisdom products I've tried.

Score: 20

Ancient Wisdom

Juicy Jay's Thai Incense Sticks

A few days ago while looking for some  Tulasi Vidwan online I noticed Juicy Jay's being offered at £1.99 for two packets, post free. The company was founded in America in the late 1990s to sell flavoured cigarette papers, and a few years ago - probably 2013, launched their incense series. The aromas have tempting names such as Orange Overload, Funkincense, and Apple Brown Betty. As they were cheap and made in Thailand, I suspected they would be poor quality, similar to the incense made for Ancient Wisdom,which are also made in Thailand, though as it turned out they were slightly better than that - but only just!

The packaging is top quality, with expensively printed glossy cardboard sleeves over double plastic sleeves, one with a zip lock. They look appealing, with attractive modern names, and the initial aromas are fresh, light, fun, and very modern. The sticks are not blanks, but dry extruded fragrant paste over a bamboo stick - similar to some of Happy Hari's incense sticks. So it all looks OK. And when you burn them they last for over an hour, with no nasty off-notes. The aromas, however, tend to be the earthy organic base material overlaid with a very basic and simplistic synthetic car air freshener scent. They are not bad as such, but they are not as interesting as they look, and the earthy aroma of the base organic material can contrast a little uncomfortably with the modern synthetic sweet aromas of the top notes.

As they are not refined sophisticated aromas, I'm simply grouping them here. They are cheap and cheerful, and would serve to cover up bad smells, or as a low cost everyday incense or room freshener. They wouldn't be used for anything meaningful.

Apple Brown Betty does have an awareness of apple to it - a slightly sweet, applie pie type aroma. But it is faint, and it is merged into the obscure organic material of the paste so creating a slightly duller aroma than it could have been. It's OK, but doesn't live up to its promise.
Score: 20

Strawberry Fields is the stick that is closest to its name. There is a distinct aroma of synthetic strawberry and cream. It's cute, and is the second most enjoyable of the five I tried.
Score: 22

Funkincense is my favourite as I love frankincense, and this does have some of the sultry, musky warmth of that incense, and there is something a little more spiritual about it than the others. But as a frankincense aroma it is fairly poor.
 Score: 23

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough is a little vague, but does have a pleasant sweet warmth about it, rather like synthetic vanilla. It reminds me a little of Tulasi Chocolate, and maybe I'm being a bit harsh with my scores here, as I gave the Tulasi a 26 - or perhaps I was being a bit generous with the Tulasi, which I reviewed two and a half years ago,  when I was less knowledgeable/experienced than I am now. I'm still learning and discovering, and there is much I still don't know, but I know more now than I did back then, and I hope that in two to three years time I will know more than I know now.
Score: 21

Orange Overload is the most disappointing of the bunch. The name promises so much and the stick delivers so little. There's a faint peppery aroma that is nothing like orange, and sure enough is not an overload at all!
Score: 18

 Overall score: 21

Sai Gold Sandal (dhoops)

At the same time as I bought  Sai Gold Sandal (sticks) I bought this little packet of dhoops. These are more oily than the sticks, with a deeper, richer sandal than the sticks, but with  less going on. This is more intense than the stick, partly due I suppose to the greater amount of incense being burned from the thicker dhoop. The sticks, though one-dimension compared to some of the other sandal incense I have been burning recently, are more varied and complex than the dhoops. They are sweeter, sharper, more prickly, and have a hint of halmaddi about them. The dhoops are smokier and more obviously sandalwood. I like both - they are decent quality with a natural feel about them.  As they have different characteristics with some positives and some negatives, neither emerges as better than the other. I'm happy to burn either. The dhoop is a more relaxing experience, covers a larger area of the house, and I love the swirls of silver grey smoke. The sticks are more invigorating and interesting.

Score: 34


Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Sai Gold Sandal (sticks)

I picked up this packet, and some hand rolled dhoops also called Gold Sandal, from a market stall in Oxford, when I was there for the Oxford Half Marathon in October. Some sticks were burning, and they smelled so lovely I bought some. The stall holder was enthusing about how natural they were, and that they were the real thing, but he also had some Hem products on his stall, so I didn't pay much attention. They appear to be from a cottage industry - there is a Sai Handicraft in India, but they deal with weddings not incense, so probably not the same company. There is an email address, so I may get in touch to see what else they have on offer.

The sticks are hand rolled with a charcoal paste and then rolled in a fine golden brown masala of fragrant ingredients. The masala dust has not been applied well because all the packets on the stall had loose masala dust inside. The aroma is sandalwood - it's a prickly fairly one-dimensional sandalwood, but it's sweet and musky, so I like it anyway.

I have a soft spot for sandalwood - well, the real thing, not the perfume dipped sticks which use the chemical IBCH. I have been burning a range of sandalwood incense since last night when I reviewed the strongly sandalwood based Tulasi Vidwan. I returned to one of my all time favourite incenses Nandita Wood Spice, and found I still loved it, and moved up its score a little; I also returned to Krishna Priya Chandan by one of my favourite incense makers, Goloka, and moved that up as well. Though on burning  GR International Sandalo this morning, an incense that has been in my Top Ten for nearly three years, I found it a little flat compared to the sandalwoods I have discovered since 2013, so I moved it out of the Top Ten, and below this one.

What the Wood Spice and the Krishan Priva have that this, the Vidwan and the Sandalo don't have, for all their sweet muskiness, is that there is more going on than just the sandalwood - there are balancing and contrasting aromas that weave in and create a magic spell that keeps your mind and senses alive - the Wood Spice especially.

I like this Sai Gold Sandal, especially as it informs the house and leaves a gorgeous lingering aroma, but I don't see it becoming one of my all time favourite incenses.

Score: 34


Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Tulasi Vidwan

I had written off Tulasi as a brand not worth buying any more as it is part of Sarathi International, the largest incense works in Bangalore, which just seemed to churn out cheap synthetic perfume dipped sticks en masse. But then I read a review on  Lesley's blog of Tulasi Vidwan, which caught my attention, so I bought some off eBay for £3.55 (inc postage) for 25g. The company market Vidwan as a Premium Incense, and looking at their catalogue they seem to have a few other products that may be work checking out, including the Sri Govinda range, reviewed by ORS, which doesn't appear to be available in the UK. 

I like the packaging. It's traditional, retro, simple yet classic, and has a feel of quality. From the company's (outdated) FaceBook page, you get a sense of the pride they take in their packaging. Not everyone is into packaging. I am. I like goods to come in packaging that shows the manufacturer takes a pride and a care. Poor printing, and sloppy artwork doesn't impress me. Packaging doesn't need to be expensive or flashy, but it should reflect some of the care and thought that went into the product. The name Vidwan means someone knowledgeable, such as an expert in Hindu philosophy or Indian classical music. On opening the gold foil inner packet the aroma rushes out - very sweet, like white chocolate and vanilla ice cream, with just a faint touch of fresh rubber, like rubber bands. Wonderful. The sticks are long with a hand-rolled charcoal base onto which a fine masala mix of natural ingredients has been rolled.

On burning the scent is quite heady and fairly strong with a faint sense of the damp wool and human sweat of halmaddi, but only faint. The base notes are patchouli and sandalwood, and that's pretty much where it stays. No real top notes. I like patchouli and sandalwood, but this one is a little harsh. Initially I was quite excited, and felt I would score this high, but when the aroma didn't develop and the harshness lingered, I could feel the score coming down. It's a good incense, miles better than the standard perfume-dipped Tulasi, but it doesn't quite live up to the promise of the initial aroma. However, I like it enough to consider buying again, and will play around comparing it to some of my favourite sandalwood incenses. Burning time is well over one hour.

I have been impressed. Even chemical factories can produce decent traditional incense!

Score:  34

More Tulasi reviews


Thursday, 21 January 2016

Song of India Aroma Temple Incense

A free sample of Aroma Temple by Song Of India, an American based incense distributor who started out in 1932 as an independent business called Mathur Perfumery Works hand-making traditional incense. Aroma Temple is Song of India's main brand, and is a machine extruded and perfume dipped incense with a volatile aroma of pine toilet cleaner. With the hype surrounding this, and the name, I had expected something a bit more traditional and better quality.  I had turned to this to lift my spirits after the disappointments of burning two Sage Spirit incenses that had very little fragrance left on them. To be fair this Aroma Temple is OK. It's a cheap, everyday incense with a robust, cleansing aroma - plenty of lemon and some bergamot. It is lively and sharp, and would be good to wake up the house, or to reinvigorate a tired room. Also useful for masking bad odours. It has its uses. It is not, however, spiritual or sensual or beautiful. It is plain and simple, but bold and lively. I quite like it. And it has perked me up!

Score: 32

Sage Spirit Totem Spirit Buffalo Abundance

As with other Sage Spirit incense, this is a charcoal paste stick sprayed or dipped in an all natural perfume. There is very little scent on the stick, though on smelling the plastic sleeve the sticks come in, there is delightful and heady aroma, quite buttery and floral, and with hints of dark fruit and candy sugar. It's a great scent. But it hasn't remained on the sticks. Perhaps in America folks can get these sticks fresh, and they work well, but by the time it gets to me in the UK, the scent has started to evaporate - especially if they have been stored in a warm place.

There is very little going on here. I can't give much of a review to the smell of charcoal and sawdust burning.....

Epic fail. Shame.

Score: 16

Sage Spirit

Sage Spirit Medicine Wheel Sacred Hoop West Shield Introspection Bear

Charcoal paste hand rolled onto a stick and then dipped or sprayed with perfume. Sage Spirit packets cost between £2.50 and £3.50 for a pack of 12 sticks that last approx 30 minutes, with a "gentle", "subtle" or "faint" fragrance, depending on your viewpoint. The scent on the stick is lovely - modern, fresh, and inviting. There are citric notes, hints of parma violets and iodine, spices and bees wax, underlined with warm musk. It is a very attractive and seductive smell - fairly sophisticated for a stick of incense.

Some of the more interesting and sophisticated aromas in incense do seem to come from the sticks which are perfume dipped, and I suspect that is because there is a greater range of aromas available to the manufacturers. These scents are comparable to eau de toilette or eau de parfum, though there is both an advantage and disadvantage to that, and it's each to their own on what they like. I like natural and traditional incense. I like that incense is made from ingredients that are found in nature. When the aromatic character comes from a perfume I wonder how natural it is - though perfume in itself can be  natural and traditional. Liquid scent has been made in a natural and traditional manner for as long as dried incense has - the two are related, and the aromatic ingredients come from the same sources. One is ground down into a fine powder and rolled onto a paste, and then burned, the other is ground down and mixed with oil or alcohol, and then allowed to evaporate, or - when used as an incense ingredient - burned, which causes a rapid evaporation. Perfume dipped incense in itself isn't in any way inferior to dry masala incense; it is the the perfume itself that needs to be queried. Is the perfume natural - as it is with Sage Spirit incense - or is it cheaply synthesised, resulting in a harsh, toilet cleaner aroma?

I blow hot and cold with Sage Spirit. The first time I burned some I got so excited. I loved the scent - it felt natural, it felt modern, it felt invigorating. I loved the idea that Apache Indians were making the incense - developing their traditional sage smudge burning into something modern and exciting and liberating. But then I got distracted with stories of how inferior it was to use perfume as a fragrance source in incense, because traditionally it should be dry ingredient, and doubt set in about the quality of the incense. And this, coupled with the very soft nature of the scent when burning, and an awareness of the charcoal and the alcohol present, led me away from Sage Spirit. Indeed, leads me away from even the best of the perfume dipped incenses. They smell so much better on the stick than when burned. I think the aromas are exciting, and when made well, perfume dipped incense can hold its head up high, but all too often the natural perfumes when burned are too faint, and can reveal too much of the combustible base and/or the solvent, or the perfumes are synthetic and don't feel natural.

This stick when burned is fairly meaningless and mediocre. The hope and promise of what is on the stick is not there at all when burned. I smell the stick and I get excited about Sage Spirit again. But I burn the stick, and my excitement is gone. I feel disappointed and cheated. Again.

Score: 20

Sage Spirit

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Sage Spirit Totem Spirit Wolf Teaching

When I started buying incense I got a couple of American Sage Spirit incenses to try them out. I really liked them. They are perfume dipped, so the scent comes from essential oils rather than a dried masala mix. Some folks look down upon incense that comes from essential oils or volatile scents, believing that only dried masala incense can smell nice. The belief comes from the success of Satya's Nag Champa, possibly the world's most popular and famous incense. As that incense uses dried masala ingredients, some feel that all nice smelling incense should do the same. Meanwhile, some interesting incense makers have been working with essential oils to produce some fascinating modern scents - such as Cha Cha Dum Dum who commission Mystic Incense Pink Sugar and Tree of Life Shalimar,  and Aromatika Ace of Scents who make Dragon's Blood and Opium. Added to that group are the Apache Indian tribe on a reservation in New Mexico who make Sage Spirit incenses which are a little different, and are more modern than most manufacturers in India. 

The scent on this Wolf Teaching  is gentle, and that is my main issue with all Sage Spirit products - the scent is not strong enough to make much of an impression. The scent on the stick is the volatiles, which are reminiscent of toilet cleaner, and a little off-putting, but there's also some pine and cedar along with some deeper notes. The scent is not making much of an impression, even though I have three fired up together to great more of a mood in the room, and I'm disappointed. The main impression if of the base sandalwood - whatever additional scents they've put on have been lost. This is a new pack just opened, so I'm not impressed. I have a few more Sage Spirit to burn, and I'm still favourably disposed toward them, but this incense is not doing anything for me.

Score: 20

Sage Spirit

Stamford Chakra Svadhistana Sacral

The Chakra range uses a traditional approach to incense making. The incense is a fine masala mix of resins rolled onto a bamboo stick with a charcoal paste rather than the charcoal pasted stick being dipped into a perfume. That's not to say that perfume dipping is always inferior - some modern incense makers use some high quality scents, and the results are sublime; nor is it to say that using a masala is by itself an indicator of quality - many inferior and foul smelling incense sticks are made from a masala. Sticks made in Tibet are always masala, and the quality of those varies widely. I think these sticks have also been dipped as there is a volatile chemical based aroma on the stick. This is not uncommon. Indeed, it tends to be only the cheaper sticks that are simply perfume dipped over a basic charcoal paste - the better quality perfume dipped are dipped onto a masala rather than just the charcoal paste. The aroma on the stick is - in addition to the volatile chemical notes - gently citric, with orange jelly and bergamot notes, with musky deeper notes, and some sherbet. When burned the scent is subtle and pleasant, though the chemicals do make themselves known, so there are sharp intrusive notes and sometimes a hint of burning wool or hair.

I enjoyed two other scents in the Chakra range back in 2013, which is why I bought the rest of the range to try.  But I have been burning them recently and have taken a while to come round to reviewing them as each time I burn them I enjoy the scents, but are put off by some of the harshness I experience. I wondered for a while if there was some  halmaddi in the masala, as that can produce a negative reaction in me, but I think it is more to do with the  volatile scent or essential oil that the sticks have been dipped in. 

Score: 30

Other ratings of incense by Aargee

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Aargee Rose (tube series)

Smells of toilet cleaner on the stick. Smells of vague chemicals when burning. Not a great incense this. I am rarely impressed with rose scented incense, especially when chemically created as here. Cheap, and while not offensive, not really a scent to enjoy.


Ratings of other incense by Aargee

Mysore Sugandhi