It’s National Tea Day – but we’re declaring it ‘National Tea Fragrances Day’
OK, a bit of poetic licence, here.
But – as well as being our favourite brew – tea has become a key ingredient in perfumery, in the past couple of years. Perfumers love it – because it offers an innovative alternative to the widely-used citrus notes in their fragrant arsenal, offering a ‘lift’ to a perfume without the sharpness.
We thought this was the perfect day to revisit an article which featured in our beautiful, award-winning magazine The Scented Letter, when we paid a visit to the tea-tasting studio of Henrietta Lovell, purveyor of the finest teas to some of the world’s top restaurants through The Rare Tea Company, which she founded in 2004 (rareteacompany.com).
NB The online magazine The Scented Letter is free in the UK as part of our VIP Subscription package – here – but we now also offer an eight-issues a year international subscription. If you love perfume, we’re constantly told: it’s a must-read…!)
Now, if you’ve been lucky enough to eat at Denmark’s Noma restaurant – for several years in a row voted ‘world’s best’, before it closed for a makeover recently – you might have found yourself sipping on a Rare Tea blend, along with along with some of your 20 or so courses. Swagger into the Chateau Marmont for an iced tea on a hot Hollywood afternoon, meanwhile, and you’ll slake your thirst with an iced Rare Tea, devised specially for André Balazs’s hostelry.
Ditto: you can might have enjoyed Rare Teas at Fergus Henderson’s St. John, The Chiltern Firehouse, new City hot-spot The Ned – or Claridges, where Henrietta was enlisted to work with the head chef to give the afternoon tea menu a ‘makeover’, to complement her very special infusions.
So The Perfume Society set The Rare Tea Lady a challenge: to pair some of the tea-infused launches which have landed on our desks in the past year or two with her own blends. We’re delighted to revisit the magazine feature and share it to you on this tea-themed day.
So put the kettle on – and enjoy…
Annick Goutal L’Ile au Thé
‘A confession, first: this is the tea fragrance I wear myself – so I know it very well. It really does have a very recognisable tea scent – not an English breakfast, but a note of a beautiful, hand-crafted oolong. To complement this I’d go for our Jasmine Silver Tip, which is made from only the leaf buds, with their silvery, downy hairs. After harvest, these are layered with jasmine blossoms; the downy hairs “trap” the jasmine scent while they spend the night together in a humid, closed room. This is repeated for six nights so what you end up with is a scented tea rather than a flavoured tea. The layering and pairing of those two elements is exquisite. And personally, I’d wear this – and offer Jasmine Silver Tip – to seduce a man last thing at night…’
Bulgari au Thé Vert
A little bit of scent history: this shareable Cologne-style scent kicked off the tea trend, way back in 1992. ‘It’s beautiful,’ notes Henrietta, ‘although I struggled to make out the green tea in it… It’s fresh, it’s clean, it’s got lots of citrus notes – which means that if you tried to drink green tea alongside it, the tea would be completely overpowered. Instead, what I’ve chosen is Satemwa Spearmint Tea. This particular African spearmint is deep and elegant and soft, not toothpaste-y or chewing gummy at all, and would sit really well with the punchy, clean, bright citrus, giving it an elegant background.’
Atelier Cologne Oolang Infini
‘This is an incredibly complex and nuanced scent. The Atelier Cologne fragrance needs something a little soft, subtle and elegant to work beside it. It’s that intriguing contrast rather than competition that we always aim for. So I put it alongside a light, White Silver Tip Tea – which has aromas of freshly-cut grass and hay, and a vague, vague hint of peach: a completely heavenly combo. It’s thought this was first produced in Fujian Province in south-east China, and we still source from this “champagne” region of white teas in the early Spring. It is entirely hand-crafted. I drink this tea every morning when I wake up, before I start my day – and I’d be very happy to spray Ooolang Infini on my pale pink linen pillowcase as I drank it…’
Terry de Gunzburg Thé Glacé
‘To me, this smells just like California: it’s got the wonderful citrus sunshine – deep palm tree shadows in the late afternoon, with warmth in the air, a hummingbird, maybe a little whiff of gasoline. But there’s a sweetness, too, which makes me think of candyfloss, popcorn – and it needs something with a little tang, to contrast with it. Although it’s called “Thé Glacé”, I’d drink this with a warm – not hot – tea, in order to really enjoy the aromas: my bespoke blend for The Chateau Marmont. Americans don’t want sweet iced tea any more, so I created something with an amazing anise mint I import from Mexico into California, and then blend with lemon-y herbs.’ (Alas you can’t purchase The Chateau Marmont Tea – but you can taste it at that hotel, on Sunset Boulevard, rubbing shoulders with the movie stars and deal-makers who like to hang out and party there.)
Bulgari au Thé Rouge
‘When you look closely at tea leaves, they’re actually quite red – as is the infusion itself: a sort of orange-red if it’s the good stuff (as opposed to the industrial teabag brown-y grey). In China they call it “red” not black tea. Thé Rouge actually smells like it has black tea in it – like a good Darjeeling. In this case, I’d actually match it to a black tea but something more extraordinary than we are used to – our Rare Tea Company Cloud Tea, from a tiny tea garden in the forest region of Meghalaya known as the “Abode of Clouds”. You get these beautiful floral notes with a warm chocolate undertone which would bring out the depth of this tea, as you sip.’
Bohdidharma Black Lapsang
‘This is where I tear up the rule book and put smoke with smoke. I probably wouldn’t do that on a restaurant menu, but here it works perfectly. A genuine Lapsang is very different to high street smoked teas, which use a flavouring rather like smokey bacon crisps. Ours is a black tea smoked with pine wood from a UNESCO World Heritage site – Wuyi Shan – and you get a lovely caramel taste, with elegant smoking on top. If you add the bark, you get what we call Tarry Lapsang, which has a patchouli earthiness to it. I’d go the whole hog and wear the scent and drink that tea, following it with a smokey whiskey – Lagavulin – by a smoke wood fire, in candlelight.’
Creed Acqua Originale Asian Green Tea
‘In the same spirit as Bulgari au Thé Vert, this offers the same bright, clean citruses – but is slightly softer, more masculine: an elegant, balanced gentleman’s scent. It has a touch of mint in it, to me – but that would be too obvious a pairing here. What I’d drink alongside it to bring out those citrus notes would be lemon verbena – a herb which is deliciously citrusy but with no acidity; we get ours from Provence and this would be a fabulous scent and tea association.’
Creed Mountain Silver Water
‘This has a milky sweetness on the skin – so it needs something elegant, smokey and masculine behind it. There’s actually a smoke note in Mountain Silver Water, but to bring it out I’d suggest a Keemun tea. This is a good, old-fashioned black Chinese tea made in a wok over a charcoal fire: it’s not tarrily smokey like Lapsang, but it happens to pick up some of the smokiness, giving a masculine, almost tweedy undertone.’
‘This is quite a heady, heavy scent, quite spicy and deep and pungent and sweet – so I think it needs a bit of tannic “depth”. What seems perfect to me is to pair this with a really good Earl Grey: quite light and elegant, made with real bergamot from Calabria, rather than using a synthetic flavouring as so many Earl Greys do. Malabah does have a little bergamot in the top notes – not dominating, not overpowering – and this really accents that.’
Written by Jo Fairley
Photos by Tom Duke