In various fragrance boutiques and department stores, you’ve perhaps come across little bowls and jars of coffee beans and wondered what these are for. Perhaps you’ve even been told by well-meaning staff (or fragrance-loving friends) that these are to ‘refresh’ your nose after smelling too-many scents? So: do coffee beans ACTUALLY help ‘re-set’ your sense of smell, Read on to find out…
The coffee bean conundrum: The answer is short and sweet: sniffing coffee beans does NOT help ‘cleanse’ or ‘re-set’ your sense of smell – and this was proven by Dr. Alexis Grosofsky of Beloit College in a scientific study. Smelling coffee beans is just adding another strong smell for your nose to be dealing with! Our sense of smell constantly re-sets itself, naturally, but if you’ve over-stimulated yours by spraying on all of the perfumes, or to give your nose a bit of a rest in-between scent sample spritzing; the best way to do this is simply by smelling your wool sweater, or an unscented bit of your own skin. This is how perfumers ‘re-set’ (if they need to) while they are smelling hundreds of differing ingredients, or preparing a new fragrance ‘mod’ (modification) of a perfume’s formula.
The blog air-aroma.com puts this whole coffee bean theory to bed really clearly, saying:
‘Stop in any perfume shop, and you’re bound to find small bowls of coffee beans set between various fragrances. A salesperson may advise you to sniff the beans in between smelling multiple scents. It is commonly believed that the smell of coffee beans creates some sort of palate cleanser for your nose, allowing you to continue to smell fragrance after fragrance.
But why would someone need to do that? Olfactory fatigue, or olfactory habituation, is a real thing, and it deserves some attention. Essentially, the olfactory glands in your nose begin to recognise smells after a period of time (like the perfume you’ve been wearing all day), and will stop alerting you to them, making you think there’s no fragrance there. It is an example of sensory adaption; the body becomes desensitised to stimuli to prevent the overloading of the nervous system, thus allowing it to respond to new stimuli that are ‘out of the ordinary’. Do coffee beans have some magical little molecular component that resets our palate, allowing us to continue to smell things? Turns out, the answer is no! ‘
– If you’ve over-sniffed too many scent samples in a row (we empathise!) and smelling your clothing / a scarf / your own skin isn’t enough to ‘re-set’ your nose, just step outside for some fresh air for a couple of minutes.
Instead, if you’re looking for the best ways to smell lots of fragrances at one time, here are some top tips so as not to get in an over-olfactory-stimulated scent muddle…
Give fragrances TIME. So many of us spray, sniff immediately (that’s just the alcohol you’re smelling, with perhaps a mere whiff of top notes) and either make a snap purchase or walk away. Those opening notes can disappear in mere minutes, you really need to let it settle for twenty minutes or more to smell the middle or ‘heart’ notes. The ‘base’ notes are made from ingredients with the heaviest molecules, so these can take several hours to warm and then evaporate on the skin.
If possible, try the fragrance on a blotter first (also known as a perfume ‘spill’). Make sure to write the names of the perfumes on the blotters! Otherwise you end up with a whole stack of them in your pockets or bottoms of bags, and no idea which is which…
Allow a few minutes for the alcohol and the top notes to subside, and then smell the blotters. At this stage you may be able to eliminate one or more, if they don’t appeal – but it is really the heart notes and the lingering base notes which you will live with, and which are crucial. Remember: blotters are a useful way of eliminating no-hopers and lining up possibilities, but they’re not really enough to base a perfume purchase on. You really need to smell a scent on your skin to know for sure that it suits you.
Try not to smell more than about four or five at a time. It’s not really your nose that’s the problem, it’s our perception of smells that take time to be properly considered (and allowing a scent to develop both on the blotter and then on our skin as it warms).
Jot down a few words to describe how you feel about each fragrance. These should be emotional words or things it reminds you of (a fabric / musical instrument / colour / place / time of day). They might sound abstract, but are a true reflection of how a fragrance is melding to your personality (or otherwise). Come back to the blotters several hours later and smell again – see if those words have changed.
By Suzy Nightingale