Tea for Two

The smokiness of Lapsang Suchong makes Tea for Two a little quirkier than the name suggests, and not in the least dreamy Doris-Day-like but a little tongue-in-your-cheek instead. If this was an Earl Gray I'm sure it would be easy to find a partner to sip that concoction with. But this is a smoky tea, and as such it is more reminiscent of leather and the marvelous, gamey Dzing! than to what normal people expect from a cup of tea.

If it wasn't for the addition of sugar and milk – which in the perfume universe comes from sweet notes of honey and vanilla and the warmth from spices such cinnamon and ginger - it would be as difficult to put on as a leather jumpsuit. But these notes, and the barest hint of floral jasmine and rose help to round it off and accentuate the tea leaf while taking away some of the smoke. In fact, there is the barest hint of green leaf or honeysuckle once it settles on the skin. That is not to say that Tea for Two becomes floral or green, but these aspects certainly help give this perfume roundness and dimension without risk of straying off the tea-theme. The tea backdrop becomes more woody and subdued as it evolves on the skin, and the anise grows a little bolder with time.

Having elements of both spice and the leather genre, I find Tea for Two to be perfect for fall. It’s warm and cozy as a sweater and has a personality of its own too, in case you are in the mood for getting a new one for the season.

Notes: Smoked Black Tea (Lapsang Suchong), Ginger, Cinnamon, Anise, Honey, Vanilla

Flowering Teas

Beaut-Tea, originally uploaded by TangoPango.

Beaut-Tea, originally uploaded by TangoPango.

Although the term most often refers to hand-tied teas (see picture above), I would like to talk about notes that smell like infusion of dry flowers. Most of you are probably familiar with chamomile tea, with its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties. And there is also chrysanthemum tea, which I was only introduced to recently by my dear friend Tina. The latter has an earthy, herbaceous and both medicinal and floral note to it. It’s full bodied like a tea leaf, and a very interesting tea. And of course one can also infuse dried rose petals, lavender, etc.

Below is a short list of notes that remind me of these qualities of flowering teas (chamomile and chrysanthemum in particular).

Helicrysum Oil
The essential oil of immortelle is rarely used in perfumery because of its extremely high cost. It is more valued in aromatherapy for its healing properties, in treating rheumatic and muscular pain as well as various skin conditions. The scent itself is honeyed, herbaceous, sweet and floral – similar to marigold – and just a little earthy.

Manuka Oil
Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) is a flowering shrub native to New Zealand and Australia. The essential oil from the leaves and flowering tops has tremendous anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties (you can use it neat on the skin to treat fungal infections). But it also smells fantastic, the closest thing to chrysanthemum tea, herbaceous, earthy, fruity and peculiar.

Roman Chamomile
Roman chamomile has an intensely sweet, fruity and apple-like scent, and at the same time it is also slightly herbaceous. My friend Andrea is a sucker for chamomile tea; personally I find it too medicinal – I have too many association of bathing in it as a child (it is an anti-inflammatory so it helps soothe the skin). But it does make a beautiful, smooth infusion and it’s really nice with a little honey. The essential oil is rarely used in perfumes, perhaps more popular in flavouring. But it can be used creatively with other florals and herbs to create a very rich, honeyed, tea-like fruity floral.

Marigold (Tagetes)
This intensely fruity note is reminiscent of honey, berries and a brings to mind summer garden (it is a natural insect repellent and helps keep bugs away from tomato plants). It is steam distilled from these golden, brown and bright orange flowers and creates special effects in perfumery and flavouring – imitating berries.

Herbal Tea Notes

Energy Herbal Tea, originally uploaded by Thorsten (TK).

Energy Herbal Tea, originally uploaded by Thorsten (TK).

Although not strictly “tea” herbal teas are part of the tea experience – sipping plant-infused hot water. While the effect on the mind is a little different than with the energizing tea leaves (depending on the type of herbal tea), I have witnessed herbal tea drinkers turn this experience into a sort of a ritual. Therefore too me these notes are also strongly associated with tea.

Spearmint is the minty component in Moroccan mint tea. Fresh sprigs of spearmint are added to gunpowder tea, and generously sweetened with sugar. Perhaps it is by association as well that I chose to include spearmint as a tea note. But it really does register in my mind as “tea”. Comparing to peppermint, spearmint is much more round, sweet, smooth and warm. I never get bored with its fragrance, and find it perfect not only with tea and herbal tea notes, but also with florals. It really brings out the greenness and light heartedness in jasmine.

Lemon Verbena
Lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla/Lippia citriodora/Verbena citriodora) is one of the most uplifting and beautiful perfumes in the world in my mind, a scent I grew up with and always feel like home when I smell it. It scent had a profound impact on my life. It was through the experience of helping a family in my village in verbena harvest (they owned an organic herbal tea company) that I got my most significant inspiration to find my path in perfumery. Although native to South America, it has found it’s way to Spain and from there to North Africa (similarly to spearmint, lemon verbena is very popular addition to tea leaves in Morocco). Lemon verbena has a lemony characteristics (citral makes about 30-35% of the composition of its essential oil) but also floral and rosy due to the presence of nerol (neroli-like) and geraniol (rosy).

This tropical lemon scented grass will always remind me of tea because growing up in Clil, we always picked this fresh from the garden to brew our herbal teas (along with lemon verbena – see above).

Clary Sage
The shared characteristics with bergamot (linalyl acetate) may create an association with Earl Gray tea. But also, if used in very low dilutions, clary sage adds a green, tea-like nuance to light fragrances such as citrusy colognes.

Rosemary Absolute

Herbaceous yet warm and sweet, rosemary absolutes is about the closest you can get to fresh sprigs of rosemary brewed in warm water. It is not as camphoreous and sharp as the essential oil.

Rose Geranium
Although very floral, since these are the leaves, I decided to include rose geranium in this category of tea notes. Rosy and green all at once, with minty and even camphoreous nuances, rose geranium can add a full-bodied, fruity yet tea-like aspect in perfume. Of course the context is everything… Some like to brew the fresh leaves with herbal teas or in addition to black tea.

Next: Flowering Teas

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, Part II: Tea Notes

Black Coffee No Sugar Please Oh And A Little Bit Of Milk, originally uploaded by geeo123.

Unlike the many fragrant plants that are used in perfumery, tea is a subtle note without much diffusiveness. But if you think about it – it makes sense: tea absolute, concrete or extract are made from various kinds of cured tea leaves (Camellia sinensis). And tea leaves have a very subtle fragrance. It is really through the boiling of water that the tea’s complex characteristics of odour, flavour, texture and taste come out. And so it is the perfumer'’s greatest challenge to simulate a tea experience without the essential elements of tea present, and stimulate the wearer’s imagination by fascination with tea.

There are several raw materials that can be used to create the illusion of tea. Some are made of tea itself, some are notes of plants or flowers that are popular in their pairing with tea, and therefore are associated with tea even though they are not necessarily “tea-like”. And there is also a handful of floral absolutes that are reminiscent of tea. Lastly, there are herbs and flowers used to brew tisanes and are popularly described as possessing a tea-like aroma.

Essences from Tea:

Green Tea Absolute
This dark sticky semi-solid mass is not exactly what you’ll think of as impressive tea note. The diffusiveness if very low and even with dilution in alcohol it only opens up very little. It lends an underlining sweet, slightly fruity (apricot) note with a dry woody base. Its very dark in colour and will make the perfume dyed a very dark green.

Green Tea CO2
Of all the tea essences I’ve experienced, green tea CO2 is the most true to nature and accurate. It looks like matcha powder mixed with a little water into a paste and smells pretty close to that to. It is more diffusive, and has a certain herbaceous and nutty element to it, as found in matcha as well. It will dye a perfume only light green but also leaves particles that are non-soluble in alcohol behind.

Black Tea Absolute
More intense than green tea absolute, and a little more mobile (just a little – it still largely resembles dark black molasses). Black Tea absolute has a more diffusive scent but is still quite subtle. I don’t find it as distinctly black as black tea may be. Again, it’s really difficult to have the effect of hot water on the leaf in the absolute form it seems.

Maté Absolute
Just like the tea, this absolute is bitter, intense, and reminiscent of hay. It lends itself beautifully to Fougere compositions (I’ve used this in Gaucho in a high ratio along with the coumarin from Liatrix, and while there was no oakmoss in there, it still smells very Fougere).

Rooibos Absolute
This absolute from this South African bush is sweet and rich like pipe tobacco. The absolute is very rare to find produced commercially, so it is also possible to make a rooibosn tincture, which has a faint woody slightly sweet aroma but is very subtle.

Connected By Association:

Notes that are often used to scent teas have become so strongly associated with perfume that it’s hard for us to separate them:

The key essence in Earl Gray tea. To many people, the association is so strong that they think of Earl Gray whenever they smell Bergamote.

Jasmine Sambac
The jasmine that is used to perfume jasmine green tea. Jasmine sambac is less animalic and more green and fruity (almost gardenia-like) than the Jasmine grandiflorum variety.

Also used in Earl Gray tea as well as brewed as a tisane on its own.

Next: More tea-related notes

  • Page 1 of 2
  • Page 1 of 2
Back to the top