Shop Notes on Incense

by Leimomi Bong

Listening to music is a full sensory, sometimes spiritual experience. Whether we're listening on the go, or at home with the stereo on, we take in our environment as we listen. The noise, movement, light, taste, and smell all play their respective roles in creating memories grounded in music. Scent is deeply tied to memory, and something worth exploring as you might genres to create mood and ambience.

Incense Basics

Ingredients

Incense are often made with:

  • Stick incense require... a stick! Usually made of bamboo.
  • Natural binders like gum resin hold things together, and help with even burning.
  • Wood or bark powders can be the carrier of scent of the scent itself.
  • Essential oil and/or fragrances are sometimes used. They can be pure, natural, blended, or synthetic perfumery.

Uses

Beyond scenting the air incense have cultural and spiritual uses. Knowing the story or origin of an incense is important if you're deciding to use them for specific purposes. Notably incense play a role in ceremony, smudging, and warding off negative energy. A perspective that resonates with me comes from the Ten Virtues of KOH, a list of the benefits derived from the use of incense dating back to 15th century Japan.

  1. Brings communication with the transcendent
  2. Purifies mind and body
  3. Removed uncleanliness
  4. Keeps one alert
  5. Can be a companion in the midst of solitude
  6. Brings a moment of peace in the midst of busy affairs
  7. One never becomes tired of it even if there is plenty of it
  8. One is satisfied even though there is little of it
  9. Does not change its efficacy
  10. Does not harm if used daily

A Note on Local Incense Makers

In our quest to carry locally produced incense, we found there are more folks making aromatic oils than incense. Generally not much of an industry yet, but a handful of crafters making small batch products. There's a rich history surrounding sandalwood in the islands, but one that would take an entire blog post to uncover. Check back for that in the near future!

An Overview of Incense Brands We Carry

For the shop we decided to bring in a handful of scents to try out. Our focus was to find makers with a fresh outlook and approach. Down the line I'd like to create an index with more details on scents, sourcing, and pairing. But for now I'll give a brief overview of what we have available in store.

Agaric Fly from Melbourne, Australia

  • Hand dipped in aroma molecules + natural oils
  • Each stick burns for 30 minutes
  • small supplies for future life enhancements

Various scents include:

Earthship—balanced, musky, grounding. Made from Balsam Peru, Tonka, and Lilly.

Makorori—Soft, earthy, but not musky. Made from Seaweed, Oakmoss, and Earth (blended note).

Uhuru Sasa—Resinous and woodsy, yet sweet and spicy. Made from Oud, Grapefruit, and Cassia.

Arzach—Perfumy, yet fresh. Set a ritualistic cast. Made from Clary Sage, White Tea, Labdanium.

Vetiver from Vetiver Farms on Hawaii Island

Vetiver Farms is a farm focused on preventative cliffside erosion using vetiver. All vetiver and other green-engineering plants are cultivated using natural farming and permaculture methods to leave a positive agricultural impact. These come in bundles, and last a long while.

Notes—sweet, woody, and smoky–emitting a strong, earthy scent. Most closely related to Sorghum, it shares morphological characteristics with lemongrass, citronella, and palmarosa.

BauBau produced in Indonesia

  • Incense line create by Christine Lafian, founder of SUKU HOME
  • Scents evoking memories of home provoking grounding and comfort

Smoko Memories—

clove, cigarettes, warmth. Made with Sandalwood, Clove, Cedar wood, Black pepper, nutmeg, lemon, fennel...

Fresh Sheets—

Indonesian detergent, and fabric softeners. Made with aqua, white musk (blend), and other aromatic oils.

Incausa from Brooklyn via Brazil

  • Pronounced /in'kouza/

Breu Resin Bundles, various blends

Each stick burns up to 1 hour.
Breu Resin: sharp, pungent, spruce or pine like
Palo Santo: contains terpenes, sweet, earthy
White Sage: herbaceous, woodsy, and slightly astringent

Breu is a resin extracted from the Almacega tree of the Amazon rainforest. Used in healing rituals to ward off dark spirits and invite good energy. Also known for being used in Ayahuasca brewing ceremonies.

Makko Boxes (machilus thunbergii)

Makko + White sage / Palo santo
Makko + Cedar / Palo santo
7 incenses per box / 50 minutes burning time

Makko or Japanese Cedarwood. Elemental base ingredient in Japanese incense making. Reutilize off-cuts from products mixed together with fine ingredients. A line that conceptualizes sustainability.

Espiritus del Ande Collection Boxes

Pine + Palo
Pure Palo
Copal + Palo

Handcrafted near Cusco, Peru on a small farm committed to community development and Quechua traditions. Offers natural mortared Palo Santo wood, and Wiracoya shrub in five blends. We carry three of them.

What Incense Do You Burn at The Shop?

All of them really! We use different scents for different reasons. In the mornings we burn Smoko by BauBau to set an inviting, comfortable tone. Our shop is located at a hectic crossroads with a bus stop out front, so this scent helps us to ease into the day. In the afternoons we burn Uhuru Sasa (freedom now in Swahili) by Agaric Fly. The cassia is invigorating when we're feeling a bit sluggish.


Listening to records is a ritual with little modern "convenience". You really have to set yourself up for "success" by creating a space for it. Incense help us to create that space, and can serve as a timer for mindful listening. There's lots of options out there too. Check the online shop to see what's available!