Saturday, 23 April 2016

Bloome Insense Garden Strawberries

I've been fairly quiet on my incense blog recently - hoping to get reviewing again soon as I have a huge backlog of reviews to do. But even though I already have more incense in my house than I know what to do with, I saw this and some other Bloome incense in my local 99p store yesterday and grabbed them as I like to encourage the selling of incense in general stores, and also I was curious. I expected them to be pretty poor, as they are 99p for 80 sticks, and there is a wooden incense holder included with each pack. But they're not bad. This is not sophisticated incense, the scent is basic and uninspired - this one is strawberry, others are cherry and apple. Anyway, regardless of the simplicity,  the scents are fresh and lively, and brighten up a room.  This one does have a garden strawberry aroma both on the stick and while burned.

I've never seen these before, and on looking on the internet I find they are available all over the place in online 99p stores (as well as the usual Amazon and eBay, though at much higher prices). Here's a typical outlet, the Just99p site. They are distributed by a company called OTL, who are based in Yorkshire, and offer a range of goods for discount and 99p stores. No indication of where they are made, but they are a basic charcoal paste hand rolled round a long stick, and then coated in a fine coloured powder which contains the fragrances, such as linalool, which is found in plants such as lavender, and which produces what we typical call a "floral" aroma; and citral, which is found in lemongrass, and gives, yes, a lemon aroma; and is then dipped in perfume chemicals such as limonene which gives an orange scent; and benzyl benzoate, which is used in the perfume industry as a fixative, plus having a sweet balsamic aroma of its own - a kind of modern version of  halmaddi, which is both a fixative in traditional incense, and has its own aroma. I should image the sticks are made by one of the modern Indian incense companies such as HEM, GR International, or Sarathi.

Not sophisticated, interesting, or in any way uplifting, this is bargain basement everyday incense. And it works fine. I burn a lot of incense. I will typically get through 15 sticks in a day. I like to have pleasant scents around me, and use incense for a variety of purposes, and to help create various moods. This incense is not for any special occasions, but works perfectly well as an everyday room freshener, and to give a lift to a tired room. I like it. And I think it's the best value incense I have ever bought. I wouldn't normally think of buying such cheap incense twice, but I'd be happy to buy this again. 99p for 80 sticks that actually smell sweet, fresh, and attractive. I'm surprised and impressed. Nice one.

Score: 33

See also

GR International Strawberry
HEM Cherry Vanilla
GR International Tangerine
Match Incense: Daisy, Kiwi, & Pineapple
GR International Greenapple cones
Joie Peach
Joie Green Apple
Joie Orange

(I hadn't realised I had rated so many fruit fragranced incense - I think I should start a page just on fruit fragrances!)

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Goloka Nature's Rose

There's a sultry and heady aroma on the sticks which emerges immediately the pack is open, and grabs the attention. It's very honey sweet yet prickled with camphor which prevents it becoming cloying.  On burning, the damp wool notes of halmaddi come forward, perhaps a bit too sharply for my taste. As the aroma settles there are some very attractive notes that come forth - a sort of tangerine jelly, fresh cut grass, spearmint, damp leather, fresh rain. A range of  shifting and mesmerising aromas - some that tease, just out of reach of recognition, yet so familiar. A memory of pleasing aromas. The more this burns the more I love it.

Score: 39


Goloka Nature's Meditation

I haven't blogged on incense for a while, partly because I've been burning a fair amount of unexciting incense recently. But today I picked up Nature's Meditation to perk up the house and my spirits as I did some housework (in our house I am the house parent, and my partner is the one who goes out to work). Now, I love Goloka, and there's a reason for that. They are a non-profit charity who support poor women and children in India, so I know that my money is going to a good cause when I buy their products. But mainly it's because they do some awesome incense. As soon as I took the sticks out of the box I couldn't help myself, the scent captured me and made me sit down. It's a gorgeous blend of apples, mint, candy-floss and roses. Fresh, exciting, and yet beautifully flowery. My daughter loves it as well! So I had to blog it!

There's so much going on here, and it all balances and blends creating a unique scent. On burning there's a hint of a backbone of halmaddi, but that is used to underscore the main scents rather than to be the main aroma itself. And that seems to me to be the best use of that resin. Apple and mint are again to the fore, along with violets, roses, lavender, sandalwood, musk and patchouli. It's like walking through garden with some woody incense burning, so you get all the fresh air and the floral notes of the flowers, and the drifting undertones of patchouli and halmaddi.

This is a great daytime incense which is restful and soothing, and yet also spiritually and emotionally uplifting. Great for improving your mood, and for welcoming friends and guests.

I love it. It's going in my Top 10!



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, and while it doesn't live up to its promise, it is an inexpensive and reasonably pleasant air freshener.
Score: 22

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: 22

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