Welcome to Steepster, an online tea community.

Write a tea journal, see what others are drinking and get recommendations from people you trust. or Learn More

Chinese Tea and Incense Culture...

I got to spend quite along time in China, studying many facets of the “tea lifestyle.” Gongfu tea is a true reflection of the scholarly culture of China, and a ritual of beauty-appreciation. Many artifacts not directly related to tea tend to show up in tea collectors tasting rooms. For example:
Beautifully carved cricket cages, and implements
Fans made from rare bamboo
Buddhist prayer beads, figurines, etc
Calligraphy supplies
Musical instruments like the zheng

I got to study a decent amount on how these all fit in to tea culture, but one subject I am really interested in (which I will devote some time to when I go to China this autumn) is incense. There are incenses so fine they go for $10-$20 per stick. There are beautiful objects around incense burning. People use it for meditation, and for smell appreciation parties. I think incense in this context would help give a tea drinker new vocabulary and understanding to take back to the aroma of tea.

Long intro, but my question is this: Is anyone on Steepster involved with incense or perfumes? Does anyone know of incense culture forums, info sources, recommended online vendors? I am familiar with the basics, but looking to learn about incense as another vehicle for pure aesthetic appreciation like tea can be.

Any thoughts, other questions or resources? Does anyone have ceremony-grade incense? What is it like?

12 Replies

Try contacting Afterlier Perfumes – Mandy – the owner is really nice! She does Perfume Teas! I’ve tried 4, I believe, they are really unique…if you search our Sororitea Sisters Site you can find some reviews of them on there, too! Hope this helps :)

Thanks! I will look them up and read your reviews for sure.

Login or sign up to post a message.

Azzrian said

David I am an essential oil perfume blender and also use to make my own incense. I get all of my Essential Oils from New Directions Aromatics online.
Be mindful when ordering any sticks to put your oils on. The sticks unless you make your own from your own resins are like a tea base, good or bad. A bad stick (base) will give poor results to your incense.
Unfortunately I do not have a good vendor to recommend for sticks as I have not made incense for several years now.
My perfumery business gave way to other ventures and now I only blend for family, friends, and myself now and then plus I had to shift my blending room to a physical therapy room for my daughter.

Thanks Azzrian,
I am very intrigued that you did perfumes and incense. I have recently been captivated with the idea of capturing the unique smells of teas like fresh Tieguanyin, or aged sheng pu’er as essential oils. I don’t know what would necessarily come through once extracted, but I am interested in experimenting.

I will check out New Directions Aromatics.

Login or sign up to post a message.

Here is a cool resource I just found. Somebody has a review blog devoted just to incense: http://olfactoryrescueservice.wordpress.com/

I want to play around with tea and incense pairings now.

Login or sign up to post a message.

Azzrian said

In some ways it would be like tea and food pairings.

Login or sign up to post a message.

Aiko said

I hope this isn’t thread-hijacking too much, but I used to burn a lot of incense until I suspected it was killing my birds, so I stopped, worried about possible health risks from inhalation. But I have always missed it; I wondered if those of you that burn incense regularly can tell me if health risks are just naturally present any time the inhalation of burning stuff is concerned, or if using certain (possibly higher-grade) materials can reduce or eliminate these risks.

That said, I’ll admit I’m a little hesitant to jump at the idea of mixing tea and incense, especially since incense seems to be so overpowering and tea is often so delicate. I would be very interested to see if they can really be balanced in a manner in which they really enhance rather than detract from each other.

Tea-scented incense, on the other hand… if that could truly be pulled off, it would be amazing.

Kiaharii said

I took a class on companion animals, and I can’t remember exactly but I know birds are have a very delicate respiratory system. It’s probably best that you stopped. As for people, I’d have to do some more research. You got me curious though as I used to burn inscense.

Login or sign up to post a message.

Batrachoid said

Well, Aiko’s spot on with whether or not incense is damaging-it is. Any smoke cause some respiratory damage. But incense and bonfire smoke do very little, and the psychological benefits of aromatherapy could arguably make up for it. I remember ready about incense smoke and studies done on aged monks who breathed it in thick plumes all day didn’t have lungs as bad as a cigar smoker…

Of course that’s the pure, simple resins and oils they use to make their own. Most scented products in the west are loaded with chemicals that are never safe to burn.

I’m not familiar with the Chinese tradition of what I know as kodo/koudou (香道) in Japanese culture but they sounds similar. I have an rakuyaki kogo (incense carrier) shaped like a cowering oni. It was used to store admire the crumbled chips of incense before burning. Kogo are often whimsical and I think styled to contrast the more serious aspects of kodo. Artistic embellished aside, the ten or so scents people need for a basic game easily cost more than $300. o_0; Given the affluence of kodo enthusiasts, a wealth of objets d’art is not surprising.

But tea scented incense would be wonderful! Many incense makers have “green tea” scents but I’ve never found one that actually smells like green tea. The interaction of incense smoke and tea taste would be interesting-taste is mostly reliant on sense of smell, after all.

Login or sign up to post a message.

Thanks for the great info Batrachoid. It sounds like you have a lot of experience with Kodo. I ordered several different Aloeswood incense sticks to try. They are all fascinating. The Japanese incense I have tried in the last week is all so subtle. It feels like smelling a place, not a thing. As for pairing with tea, it actually makes sense. Choosing to drink tea in a library or out in a garden will dramatically alter the flavor because of the smell in the air. Subtle and expertly crafted incense seems like a way to intentionally pair tea and places even when you cannot travel.

Login or sign up to post a message.

Batrachoid said

It is more subtle than other incense. The same scents in Indian or Thai incense seems stronger and more directing than guiding.
Tea/incense interaction could honestly justify scientific study and. Genetics influence preference of herbs and spices. A loathing for cilantro was traced through family lines in 10% of Norway, I believe, or Sweden. Some Scandinavian country. [^_^;] From personal experience everyone in my family gets nausea from smelling cloves.
I use incense as natural insect repellant. Vetiver seems to enhance green tea but make Indian ed tea taste off. Today Dragon’s Blood incense seems to pair well with black tea but not yerba mate. It’s funny, I’ve been pondering this half-heartedly this summer and now from this thread I’m paying attention, I realize I might’ve been ruining my tea from lack of awareness! Rather contrary to chadou, ha ha.

Login or sign up to post a message.

Hi David, how long did you spend in China?

Login or sign up to post a message.

Login or sign up to leave a comment.