Anyone who already likes perfume is likely to like tea. They’re both fragrant brews, it’s just that one is evanescent and disappears out of your cup in a matter of minutes, and the other can sit on shelves for years at a time, only to be released into the wilds of the atmosphere.
Tea is always vaguely contemplative, and perfume is only intermittently so.
This having been admitted, most tea scents are not sensual, alluring or animalic. By their nature they can’t be. If your best ally in any endeavor is porcelain, then you can’t expect wild parties. At best you’re attending tea parties, or tea ceremonies, and that means that a modicum of formality is going to prevail.
In this connection I smelled two perfumes this year that I simply have to mention together. The first is Ineke Ruhland’s Poet’s Jasmine from the Floral Curiosities series she released, and which you can find at Anthropologie.
Poet’s Jasmine is supposed to be a jasmine perfume, and like anyone else who has nosed around perfume bottles for a few decades, I can smell out one of those fast enough. This one has a jasmine note under a slight citrus opening, but the jasmine here is not animalic.
Now, a disclaimer. When it comes to jasmines, you takes your picks and you takes your chances. I’ve grown jasmines for years (two actually; Jasminum officinale grandiflora, and the fancier-pantsed Jasminum sambac ‘Maid of Orleans’) though managed stupidly to kill my last vine through inattention. The jasmine did, however, flower pretty reliably for two years, and the scent of it was worthy of all the superlatives you find attached to the flower’s perfume.
(By the way, the animalic part of the smell never appeared on the first day of any flower’s bloom, only on the second day did the indolic aspect appear, and then the flowers would turn purple and fall.) It’s this first day’s scent that Poet’s Jasmine manages to convey, and for a mid priced perfume, this Ineke Ruhland scent does so pretty well. Then the fragrance turns into a tea scent.
Jasmine tea in fact, is what you’re smelling, and if you’re like me, you slap your forehead and say, “Of course!” but in the interim the perfume has been evocative, charming, dry and suave, rather like the conversation of that poet who came to tea. Not Pushkin, because sadly, the tea there would have smelled like Gunpowder Tea, nor yet Keats, because his tea choice would have been Constant Comment. No, no, Shelley, at a guess, is your jasmine tea drinker.
Then there is another tea fragrance altogether, Guerlain’s Tokyo from Guerlain’s Voyage Olfactif series (I’ve written about it before in a Nun and a Geisha at Mardi Gras). Tokyo is similar to Poet’s Jasmine – being also a fragrance based on jasmine and tea – but the fragrance is a Guerlain, and that of course implies a hemisphere’s worth of contradistinction.
The chief difference is that the tea in Guerlain’s Tokyo is green (naturally enough) and the base is vanilla and Hinoki wood, but the connection between all this, the ornamental bridge from one end of the perfume to the other, is violet. The result is austere and yet elegant. Tokyo’s the sort of fragrance that I fear for in the Guerlain line because of the greenery. Tokyo is a delicate green floral, and a refined one, but that will probably not save the scent from the gourmand preferences of the Guerlain customer.*
Speaking as one of the oddball buyers who have always sought out the jade Guerlains (Chant d’Aromes, Vetiver Pour Elle, Plus Que Jamais, Sous le Vent finis) I thought Tokyo a treasure, and find it a haunting fragrance. Here there’s no tea table unless the one employed in tea ceremonies. But somehow, the effect is more atmospheric and evocative than you might expect. Japanese gardens come to my mind, which runs on flowers nearly as much as on perfume. This Guerlain was so good that out of heaven knows how many scents I tested this year, Tokyo sticks out as one of the most arresting and innovative. The perfume was also graceful and understated. No sillage to speak of, just a soft mist rising off the cherry blossoms and that cup of perfect green tea.
*By which warning I mean that a dollop of extra vanilla may have over-sweetened this tea fragrance before long.