Perfume Note: Tea

How would you describe the scent of tea? In perfume, there’s a wide range of possibilities within the idea of a “tea” scent—smoky, vegetal, nutty, milky, fruity, floral—and the texture can range from watery and refreshing to dry, even astringent. Some tea perfumes live in the sphere of wood, paper, or leaves, while some are soft florals. Many tea perfumes don’t smell like tea so much as the ambiance we associate with tea: delicate florals, chilly refreshment, chai spices, whispers of fruitiness, cleanliness, leaves and fresh cut grass, a relaxing spa.

tea perfumes 3
Nez Magazine’s new Hong Kong Oolong scent has me revisiting tea perfumes.

What, exactly, is the common denominator? The best tea perfumes I’ve smelled are broadly characterized by a subdued disposition: compelling, yet restrained, calm, and collected.

My favorites so far are the classic Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert by Jean-Claude Ellena for BVLGARI (this was released in 1993 and was, to my understanding, the original tea perfume), Comme des Garçons’s simple and refreshing Series 7: Sweet – Nomad Tea, and Nishane‘s Wūlóng Chá, a crisp lychee oolong. Zoologist’s Elephant is a stimulating, astringent black tea nestled among big green leaves. Masque Milano’s Russian Tea is atmospheric, with hints of sweetness, hints of smoke, and a leather base. Le Labo’s Thé Noir 29 is tea-adjacent: smoky, robust, with vetiver, cedar, bay leaf, and the idea of black tea, while CH I Hate Perfume’s Russian Caravan Tea is as accurate and straightforward a black tea perfume as I’ve smelled.

Do you have a favorite tea perfume?

Perfume Insights from Raw Materials

Sometimes smelling a raw material feels like discovering a Rosetta Stone—it unlocks a perfume that until then I couldn’t quite decipher.

flouve1Recently I had this flash of recognition with flouve absolute (see description below), which was entirely new to me, but upon smelling it I suddenly understood what’s going on in Oriza L. Legrand’s Chypre Mousse. Similarly, when I smelled a gorgeous fir absolute, it felt like I could more deeply understand Slumberhouse’s Norne and its dense, sweet, “jammy” forest character. I don’t know if this material is in the perfume, but when I smelled hydrocarboresine (made from the gummy resin of labdanum) my mind instantly went to Bruno Fazzolari’s Ummagumma, and the chewy quality of its smoky leather made more sense, like I could see the through-line from incense to chocolate.

Have you had this experience with any raw materials and perfumes?

flouve2book
From Steffen Arctander’s Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin.

Perfume Material: Frankincense

I’ve been having fun burning frankincense and other resins as incense lately. Frankincense specifically is one of the more light, “clean”-smelling resins with notes of lemon and pine.

Trees of the genus Boswellia ooze the resin “tears” from “wounds” that harvesters cut into the bark.

My favorite frankincense perfumes are Avignon by Comme des Garcons which perfectly evokes that high church blend of frankincense and myrrh that Catholics will remember from their childhood; Passage d’Enfer by L’Artisan Parfumeur, which showcases the cleaner side of frankincense, somewhere between freshly showered and cool & cavernous; and Camel by Zoologist, rich and warm with incense and sweet dried fruits. Do you have a favorite incense or incense perfume?

Perfume Note: Lily

My love gave me a bouquet of lilies and roses a couple of fragrant weeks ago. The lilies’ aroma overpowered the roses from the start; our apartment has been filled with their scent.

For the first few days, my primary experience of it was my association with funeral homes. After a while I moved past that and was surprised by how animalic they smelled, almost savory, like a floral ham. The scent seemed stronger from a distance—it asserted itself in the room, but when I stuck my nose into the bouquet, it became shy and I smelled the softer scent of petals.

I found this spread about lilies in Nez Magazine issue 6, which was fun to read alongside my experience.

Perfume Material: Lavender

lavender

Lavender is a polarizing scent, surprisingly to me! It’s one of my first scent loves, but when I ask people about the smells they like or dislike, a lot of people declare that they hate lavender. In perfumery, lavender comes in two distinctive forms: essential oil (steam distilled), which is a top note that has a more medicinal, herby aroma. This is what most people think of when they think of lavender. Then there’s lavender absolute (long story short: dissolved), which is a middle note with a softer floral aroma. It smells more like the actual flower—which is all over the place here in the PNW. 💜