Floral Tea Notes

Camellia Japonica, Tsubaki, originally uploaded by ROSS HONG KONG.

Although tea flowers are not used in perfumery for their fragrance (something I cannot comment on since I am yet to smell a true living tea flower), there is a surprising number of flower notes that closely resemble tea or have a dominant tea note in their evolution. Than there are the less conventional flowers that may not be universally perceived like tea, but have a honeyed, hay-like black-tea aspect that can be utilized to create a a dark tea ambiance.

Tea-Like Florals:
Floral tea-like notes include flower notes that closely resemble tea or have a dominant tea note in their evolution (interestingly, a significant portion of these contain ionones):

This flower, rich with carotenes, has an aroma reminiscent of apricots, leather and green tea. A beautiful scent from the tiny white flowers from a Chinese tree from the olive and lilac family. Osmanthus has a rich and complex scent, combining green tea, leather and apricot notes – sweet, fresh and leathery all at once. The yield of Osmanthus is pretty low – 3,000 kilos of flowers yield one kilo of absolute, and it is therefore one of the more expensive materials in perfumery. Osmanthus is rarely used in mainstream perfumery; you're more likely to find it in niche perfumes and very upscale ones i.e.: the dense 1000 de Patou, the sheer, peppery tea veil of Hermessence Osmanthe Yunnan, and the even lighter Osmanthus by Ormonde Jayne.

Rich with ionones, boronia has a scent reminiscent of yellow freesia, green tea and raspberry.
My first creation with boronia, a soliflore I named "Eau de Tinkerbell" (it was very bright green in colour and with a cheerful character, hence the name) relied on tea as the base note. The two definitely enhance each other. If osmanthus is rare, boronia is even rarer. You won't find it in many perfumes at all, and you're more likely to find it among the creations of natural perfumers.

Linden Blossom
Not so much floral as it is green, honeyed, woody and reminiscent of both tea and hay with a hint of fruitiness. Just like tea, it stays cool and quiet. It is not a coincedence that the first theme for my perfumed teas was linden, to accompany the launch of Tirzah. While linden blossom is not so popular as a single note (Tilleul by Roger et Gallet and Lime Blossom by Ormonde Jayne are the only two I can think of that put linden blossom in the limelight), it works really well within tea-like compositions in general (i.e.: in Kinmokusei).

Tea Rose
Originated in China and usually orange in colour, Tea Roses have beta carotenes and ionones which make them smell fresh and dewy and tea-like. I just recently came across the essential oil of such rose (Rosa odorata) and created a scent inspired by that - Tea Rose with ionones derived from osmanthus, and with the added accent of green tea.

Dark Tea Flowery Notes

And the following herbaceous, spicy, honeyed, somewhat earthy florals:

The golden-glow of this Indian magnolia is not only in its colour but also in its backdrop of cured black tea leaves. Champaca evokes simultaneously red ripe berries, orange blossom, spices and dark fermented tea leaves. Champaca is an exotic note and quite foreign to Western perfumery in general and French perfumery in particular. Also, Champaca prices are rocketing sky high these days, (well over 5,000 a kilo) and so you can imagine it’s rarely found in mainstream perfumery. But it seems to have been finally “discovered” by niche perfumeries with perfumes such as Ormond Jayne’s Champaca, where it also paired with tea and rice, Tom Ford Champaca Absolute which highlights its berry, wine-likenotes.
In my attempt at a champaca soliflore (which turned out more complex than what one might expect from a soliflore), The Purple Dress (schedule for launch in winter 2010) is decidedly reminiscent of chai spiked with star anise and underlined with black tea notes.

Broom is a rare note as well. The flowers have to be hand-picked in the wild (when I was in Grasse I learned this is one of those tasks reserved for Grassoise children as a way to earn their pocket money). The bushes grow wild on the mountains and have a heady, intoxicating pollen and scent that fill the air in the springtime. Broom absolute is reminiscent of bees propolis and is vaguely orange-blossom like with undertones of tobacco and leather, and what I can see also as similar to black tea.

Henna Flower & Leaf
Extracted by solvent from the henna (Lawsonia inermi) leaf, henna has a dark, earthy-muddy, tea-like scent, very much like the paste for Mehendi. The flower is also extracted in India, but I can’t comment enough about its scent because I’ve only tried the attar, which is very subdued and not as heady as I expected. I don't know of any Western perfume that uses that note, and it's not surprising - there's nothing "pretty" about it but it adds substance and depth, and a certain powdery-woody-floralcy.

Jonquille & Narcissus
Definitely not identical, but both white florals, which in real life have a very heady note become very animalic and indolic upon extraction. Jonquille is softer and more powdery and also similar to broom; Narcissus absolute is more indolic and also with underlining notes reminiscent of coffee and hay. I think both to be ideal for dark, black-tea composition – if you want to add a floral edge but without breaking down the abstract tea atmosphere.

Tea and Perfume: Time is of Essence

Mariage Frères, purveyors of Tea, originally uploaded by maralina!.

Although tea and perfume both have a deep connection in the history of mankind through medicine, rituals and the magical species in the plant kingdom, it was not until recently that tea made its way as a note into perfumery.

Both tea and perfume are art forms and ancient rituals that take place in time: the many aspects of tea take place in time. Time is of essence in every aspect of tea: The art of growing, harvesting and processing the tea (i.e.: fermentation, oxidation, roasting, etc.) and than of course the preparation for brewing a cup of tea – waiting for the water to reach the ideal temperature, steeping the tea, and finally, sipping it in perfect harmony with the leaf, oneself and the company involved.

Perfume also requires time for preparing the raw materials (growing, harvesting, and distillation or extraction) and than there maturation – the magic that happens in the beaker when all the molecules connect and mingle and marry. It takes time to make a good perfume, not to mention the planning that goes into it on behalf of the perfumer who designs it (and the same goes for the ancient wisdom that evolved into the sophisticated tea cultures we can see today).

But more than that, perfume also changes over time. From the moment it escapes the bottle and lands on one’s skin, it morphs into at least 3 different stages, most commonly known as head notes, heart notes and base notes. And the pace and exact evolution that occurs on one’s skin makes each perfume a unique, unmatched experience.

Similarly in tea, there are different stages at which the tea can be enjoyed – the dry leaf or blend, before it has been brewed; the aroma of the brewed tea as it rises with steam from the cup, than the way it tastes in one’s mouth, and finally – the aftertaste that is left behind, usually at the back of the palette or the throat. My friend and tea master Dawna Ehman pointed out to me that these stages are very similar to the top, heart and base notes in perfume.

Perfumed tea is a term known mostly to true perfume connoisseurs and it’s a very ancient term in tea culture and is the ancient art of perfuming tea with fresh living flowers or plant matter. For example: rose congou is achieved by layering rose petals among black China tea. The process is very similar to enfleurage, only it is tea leaves that soak the fragrance of the flowers, rather than animal fat. Thousands of petals of Jasmine Sambac are layered between tea leaves and are replaced by new ones until the green tea achieves its distinct aroma. And a similar process creates other more rare floral teas such as magnolia oolong or pomelo blossom green tea (the one used in Charisma).

And while perfume made its way into tea thousands of years ago, it is strange perhaps that it’s only in the past 15 years or so that the one can hear of the notion of tea within a perfume composition. Why?

We said it earlier: tea is subtle. And so is tea absolute (both green and black). It doesn’t give the hit that an essential oil of grapefruit would have, for example. It really is not that impressive raw material. My guess is that tea really needs the chemistry that water gives it to open up. And so it is not really surprising to find that tea as a note did not make it to perfumery until the early 90’s. The 90’s were marked by the craving of fresh, clean, gender-neutral scents. At the same time, as is usually the case with trends, it all starts with a fad of one innovative individual who’s either stubborn to death or very intuitive about what everyone else is secretly craving. In the world of perfume, that person happened to be Jean-Claude Ellena.

The story goes that he had the idea for a “tea” scent for a few years before it finally got accepted as a perfume by the jewelry house of Bvlgari. The inspiration was none other than Mariage Frères shop in Paris – a tea shop that even I can attest to its magic as an olfactoroy experience alone. They seem to have hundreds of different kinds of tea, and the atmosphere there is pensive as if time stops once you’re in. Monsieur Ellena did not try to capture the real-life aroma of tea, nor did he want to brew any specific type of tea. He created the abstract suggestion of un-steeped tea leaves by pairing two molecules: hedione (a component in Jasmine) and ionone (a component in Violet Leaf). And voila – he made tea. The only problem was that no one was interested in it as a commercial product, perhaps it seemed to avant-garde, or simple or strange; until the house of Bvlgari commissioned him to make a perfume to scent their shop, which became a perfume, which became very popular. And from than on, tea has become the craze of the 90’s and early millennium – as part of the trend for fresh, light, inoffensive, unisex, non-perfumey fragrances.

The copycats of Bvlgari’s Eau Parfumee au The Vert (that was the name of the perfume when it was finally released to the public, not just the Bvlgari jewelry boutique customers) are too many to count, but among the most significant and successful of them, we must mention Elizabeth Arden’s Green Tea (1999, by Francis Kurdjian). Later on, other types of tea entered the perfume counters: Lapsang Suchong in Bvlgari Black and l’Artisan Parfumeur Tea for Two (2000, Olivia Giacobetti), the South American Mate (Villorsei’s Yerbamate, 2001), and most lately rooibos tea notes in Eau Parfumee au The Rouge for Bvlgari (and my own Immortelle l’Amour).

Tomorrow: natural raw materials with tea or tea-like notes.

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