Incense in Philadelphia

I've got less than a month left in Philadelphia so I thought I'd give it a whirl at figuring out the good incense spots in the city.  The short answer is that like most places in America, there aren't many good ones.  It's very difficult to find any places that sell incense at all. 

Philadelphia's famous South Street

Where is there incense? Well it looks like Philly's famous South Street is the only place you can consistently find SOME incense.  It's not up to par for the selection and quality that I would like, but at least you can find a smattering of incense sticks to choose from.  South Street's collection of Rastafarian and Bohemian shops are to thank for the presence of any incense at all.  These shops dominate the general vibe of the street and boast a wide selection of apparatuses used to innovatively smoke whatever anyone could possibly want to smoke.  However, there is only so much shelf space that these contraptions, cool hats and multi-flavored tobacco can take up.  Enter incense.  Incense helps fill out the product offering in these laid back, quasi-spiritual Rastafarian-Philadelphian shops, and I am quite certain that it is used to fragrance more than a few of these shops.

At "One of a Kind" on South Street, I found a meager selection which included a few titles by mainstream heavy-weight, Hem, but came away with a couple of incense stick packs from lesser known fragrancer, Blunteffects.  Yes, I said Blunteffects.  I tried the scent "Black Love" by Blunteffects, and well, it was quite good.  It has a light, fruity undertone which doesn't dominate the space but leaves you feeling relaxed and at ease.  You could almost say happy.  I'm not entirely sure if "Black Love" refers to the black color of the incense stick or to something else entirely...or maybe both!  I also picked up a pack of "Jamaican Fruit" by Blunteffects.  I thought these were decent but not quite as good as "Black Love" (let's face it, not much is).  Decidedly more overtly fruity than "Black Love", it nevertheless had a harsher, smokier body to it.  In the grand scale of things, I would not necessarily call it overly smoky, but it didn't possess the balance of "Black Love".  Winner Black Love.        

Non-descript store selling incense on South Street in Philadelphia

In a random, non-descript market store, I found the most substantial shelf dedicated to incense, but was generally disappointed by the selection.  It was basically all Hem (see for yourself below).  I picked up a zip lock packet of "Gardenia Type" by Madina, and was somewhat excited by the promise of a more niche Brooklyn-based brand.  Some promises are left unfulfilled however, and Madina's "Gardenia Type" is one of them.  I found disappointment upon burning it, as it proved to be nothing to write home about (or write a blog about).  The Gardenia scent evident before lighting all but vaporized upon burning.  It proved to be nothing more than ordinary.  

Incense shelf at non-descript store in Philly (below the souvenir bells)

Hope this helps any Philadelphia incense lovers!           

Reed Diffusers - Fragrancing the Bathroom

Reed diffuser feeling the flow, keeping it fresh

So I was chilling at the Good Karma Café (I wonder how many cafes in the U.S. are named this? I bet a lot) in Center City, Philadelphia just soaking in well, the good karma...when I noticed that they had had a pretty cool system for keeping their bathroom smelling good.  They had several reed diffusers located inconspicuously throughout the small single seat bathroom.  One was on the window sill (pictured), two were perched high up on a cabinet and one was on the tank.  The reed diffusers were transparent but simple in their design and innocuous in their placement.  They provided just enough of a scent to keep the bathroom fragrant without hitting you in the face with it, courtesy of the slow-rolling perfuming system provided by the reeds.  It struck me as a novel yet easy way to perfume the bathroom.  Simply refill the diffuser when it gets low and let it permeate slowly through the reeds and into the air. 

For those of you who have never heard of a reed diffuser, it's simply a container with fragrant solution in which several wooden reeds have been placed.  Over time, the fragrant solution is soaked up slowly at the base of the reeds, passed through its length and out into the air.  It paints the air with the subtly of the fragrant solution. 

Giant Buddha watching over patrons of the Good Karma Café bathroom...

Kudos to the Good Karma Café on a novel bathroom perfuming system which stays true to its Zen roots and also on the giant Buddha keeping watch on the bathroom patrons.  That's cool too.    

Burning Incense at Buddhist Temple in Japan

Burning incense at the Kiyomizu temple in Kyoto, Japan

This next picture comes courtesy of a friend currently touring Japan.  It shows Buddhist temple go-ers lighting incense at the famous Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto.  The temple is without question one of the premiere edifices erected in reverence to Buddha in the world.  Burning incense is a popular practice in Buddhism and is prevalent at many of the world's shrines and temples.  Incense is generally burned in reverence to Buddha, to show respect for ancestors and for purification of the human form through incense's scented aroma.  Buddhist temples frequently have large, ornate (yet still simple) incense holders in which worshippers will leave their burning incense sticks in an offering to the Buddha being worshiped.  The Kiyomizu Temple has undoubtedly created a pure, transcendental environment for practice. 

Herbal Incense - Fresh, Dried Lavender for Incense!

Dried Lavender from the Farmers' Market

Dried Lavender from the Farmers' Market

Was casually walking by the farmers' market when I came across bunches of straight from the farm, dried lavender, perfect for incorporating into incense or just leaving in vases as air freshening decoration.  A girl bought a bunch to make earrings out of which is a cute idea.  The potency of the aroma was literally unbelievable and inspired an uncanny feeling of being "in the now."  That just goes to show you how freshness and quality go a long way to improving our experiences.