Brewing coffee on Sunday morning, I caught a whiff of my leftover Lutens Fleurs d’Oranger (I can find leftover FdO for days) and I thought: wow, what a great combination of smells. The sweetness of orange blossom and the rich smoothness of coffee seem made for each other. It got me thinking about coffee scents in general, which lead to contemplation of tea scents. Let’s chat about both today.
Coffee shows up as a note in all kinds of fragrances. In some of them it’s the focus; in others it’s part of the orchestra. Coffee’s richness and its affinity for woody notes lends itself to use in guy-fragrances. I wish Mugler A*Men Pure Coffee, with its strong coffee smell, was more widely available. A cheaper, easier-to-find coffee fix is Ralph Lauren Polo Double Black, which is pretty much dark coffee and woods. The coffee-spice-chest of L’Artisan Navigateur (not to be confused with their Navegar) is the Johnny Depp/Pirates of the Caribbean of coffee fragrances, maybe a bit lighter on the eyeliner and heavier on the rum. If you’re looking for a strong shot of coffee, it’s hard to beat Ava Luxe’s perfumista-cult favorite Café Noir, with a runner-up nod to DSH Perfumes’ scent by the same name. The Big Cheese cheerfully worked himself through a large bottle of Jo Malone Black Vetyver Café, which is easy to find and hits, in my opinion, the perfect balance between the richness of coffee and the rootiness of vetiver, smooth and not too bitter.
Tea in perfume’s a bit trickier concept. Tea, as I think of it, is as much about the mouth as the nose. We can conjure up the strong smell of coffee pretty easily, but tea’s more elusive and varied. Some teas, like Earl Grey or Lapsang Souchong or jasmine, have quite strong, distinctive aromas. In contrast, tea fragrances are often more abstract – they’re more like the concept of tea’s various facets – e.g., leafy, tannic, sweet, refreshing, herbal or citrus – than the smell of a bag of, say, Lipton in a mug. Tea scents may be less about “tea: the smell of” and more about “tea: the feeling of.” Tea scents often feature an additional citrus note, or an herbal hint of bergamot or mint, the way we’d doctor it up before drinking it.
Bvlgari’s iconic Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert, done by Jean-Claude Ellena, is a fun place to start – who knows what green tea smells like? Well, I do (there are a number of varieties) and, news flash, none of them smell much like Thé Vert. Thé Vert is the perfect example of a Concept Tea. It might be described as both refreshing and luxe (Thé Vert was originally intended by Bvlgari as an in-store scent, basically an olfactory background, until … well, read the full story involving Mariage Freres and other fun plot twists here.) It doesn’t really smell like tea per se, more a citrus scent; it’s got all sorts of goodies in it – rose, cardamom, pepper, jasmine, woods – that flesh it out without making it seem heavy. While I’m thinking of it, here’s a link to Bois de Jasmin’s very recent review.
Bvlgari followed up with Thé Blanc and Thé Rouge, neither of which get tons of love in the blogosphere; I like them well enough to own a bottle of each, because I actually wear them. They, like other tea scents, lend themselves to our long, hot, humid summers. Again, they’re both conceptual – Blanc is herbal and woody; Rouge really does smell like roiboos tea to me, a smell I adore, but also musky and a touch of fruit while still being light and refreshing.
L’Artisan Tea for Two smells like smoky lapsang or dirty socks, depending. L’Artisan Thé Pour Un Ete is a lovely tea-and-citrus by Olivia Giacobetti that’s as evanescent as a summer shower, even on me, the Scent Sponge. The obscure-ish Comme des Garcons Series 1 Leaves – Tea is a great smoky, leafy black tea, as is CB I Hate Perfume’s Russian Caravan Tea. Hermessence Osmanthe Yunnan is a fine osmanthus tea for the twenty seconds the tea lasts on me, after which it’s a delicate floral. In black-tea world, no list (at least no list of mine) would be complete without the bargain-priced Speziali Fiorentini Black Tea (Te Nero) which costs $28 online and is, to me, a glorious, straight-up black tea, leaf and smoke and a dab of rubber, with maybe a hint of citrus. The EdP is longer lasting and a bit more complex than the body mist. Their White Tea smells more herbal than tea-ish to me (although I like it), and their Green Tea I haven’t tried. Finally, Jo Malone White Jasmine and Mint isn’t even a proper tea scent, but the combination of mint and jasmine feels very tea-ish to me.
While I love the smell of coffee, and (in theory) coffee scents, they aren’t something I reach for very often. In the winter I’m after other kinds of comfort, and in summer they feel wrong. Tea scents, on the other hand, I can’t get enough of. Perhaps they’re enough like colognes that they seem right both in high summer and in winter when I’m craving a cheery fix.
Okay, your turn. What are your favorite coffee and tea fragrances? Feel free to name the eleventy-million scents I’ve overlooked.
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