January 28 2013
Warm jasmine petals, green twigs, cedarwood shavings… I
close my eyes and inhale again. The top notes are crisp and bright, reminiscent
of fresh leaves, but underneath I notice a musky sweetness. This complex scent
is so heady and rich that I imagine it in a perfume bottle, but instead it
blossoms in my cup of jasmine pearls tea.
Tea contains layers of flavours, and even a cursory
exploration is exciting. White teas blended from minimally processed buds smell
like white grapes and peony petals. Japanese green teas have a sparkling, verdant freshness, while Chinese lapsang souchong is the basso profondo of the tea
world; it reminds me of smoked pinewood and pipe tobacco. All of these
varieties are derived from the Camellia sinensis plant, but the processing
methods result in a diverse spectrum of aromas. Most of them smell good enough
to be worn as perfume.
As I brew cup after cup – to enjoy the scent as much as
the taste – I search for the tea notes among my perfume bottles. Many
perfumers find the complexity of tea inspiring, and some of the biggest
blockbusters (such as CK One and Tommy Girl) are based on tea accords. Perfumer
Jean-Claude Ellena was so moved by the rich aroma of teas at the Mariage Frères
boutique in Paris that he created Bulgari Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert (from £42 for 75ml). This radiant
perfume is based on woody violet and sheer jasmine, scents that are naturally
present in certain types of green tea. It opens on an effervescent citrusy note
before dying down to a velvety, warm finish.
Lancôme Aroma Tonic (£20 for 100ml) is a green-tea-inspired fragrance
that spikes its lemony beverage with cardamom and osmanthus – the apricot-scented
blossom of the Chinese olive. Soft and romantic, L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Thé pour un
Été (£55 for 50ml) is reminiscent of Le Palais des Thés
jasmine pearls tea. The perfume unfolds in sheer layers of jasmine, bergamot and
green-tea leaves, with a cool bite of mint lending it a crisp accent. A thin
cotton dress and a splash of Thé pour un Été are the staples of my summer
But on cold winter days, I crave warmer blends, in both teas and perfumes. A swirl of tea in Eau d’Italie Paestum Rose (€98 for 100ml) gives its roses a dark hue. Comme des Garçons Tea (Series 1: Leaves, £48 for 50ml, from Dover Street Market), an even richer blend, amplifies the smoky complexity of tea with incense and cedarwood. It has a tangy, leathery darkness that makes me crave a cup of Russian caravan tea. Add a warm fireplace and a sprinkle of snow, and my grey winter afternoon becomes a beautiful daydream.