tea: 27 posts

Reading Tea Leaves: Best Tea Perfumes in 10 Different Styles

The scent of tea leaves is created by hundreds of aroma-molecules, and each variety has its unique fragrance. Terroir plays a role as does the method of curing the tea leaves. For instance, steamed Japanese teas like sencha and matcha have grassy, spinach-like aromas thanks to hexenal, while mildly oxidized oolongs share aromatics with lilac blossoms, roses and jasmine (nerolidol, cis-jasmone, linalool). The smoky profiles of teas like lapsang souchong are created by molecules like pyrazines, longifolene and guaiacol. In an interesting twist, guaiacol, along with certain types of pyrazines, is what gives roasted coffee its distinctive scent, which is why smoky teas are recommended to coffee drinkers wanting to expand their horizons. With such a rich palette of aromas, the tea accord is a fascinating exercise for a perfumer.

In my recent article on the development of Bulgari’s Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert, I described how Jean-Claude Ellena discovered a novel accord and created a modern classic. Since Bulgari launched the perfume in 1992, it became the green tea of fragrance. However, tea accords aren’t limited to delicate green blends, and when I began researching my article, I realized how many fragrances successfully incorporate a tea effect, both light and dark. I decided to make a list of the most interesting examples, in 10 different styles.

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Blue Butterfly Pea Flower Tea

Imagine tea the color of lapis lazuli and sapphires. The intense hue of butterfly-pea blossoms is the subject of my recent FT column, The Allure of Blue Flower Tea. I describe a traditional potion popular throughout South East Asia and give several suggestions on sampling these flowers.

“Would you like to try butterfly pea flower tea?” asked a friend, as we were getting ready to order drinks at a small restaurant in George Town. After several days eating and drinking my way through this charming town on the Malaysian island of Penang, I knew that I had to say yes. George Town’s legacy as a trading entrepôt is its blend of cultures — Malay, Chinese, Indian —that results in a diverse and vibrant cuisine. A standard hotel map will organise the town’s sightseeing locations by the different delicacies one can taste around its neighbourhoods, from noodle soups and seafood curries to coconut-scented cakes and dim sum. Of course, I had to try the butterfly pea flower tea. To continue reading, please click here.

Previously I also wrote about another blue-tinted tisane, this time from Estonia: Blue Mallow Tea.

The tea in my photo is brewed from Thai butterfly pea flowers. The image is in no way retouched–that’s really how vibrant the color is!

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Lapsang Souchong Tea : Smoky Harmony

A heart of darkness. Andy’s homage to lapsang souchong tea.

Intensely smokey, tarry, beguilingly dark…It sounds like the description of a fragrance I’d like to spray on my wrists, but instead these words are about Lapsang Souchong, perhaps my most beloved tea. It’s rare I select a singular favorite, but there is something so intrinsically satisfying about brewing a cup of broodingly dark Lapsang that I can’t help but come back for more.

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Upon opening a tin of Lapsang Souchong, the aroma of spent ashes permeates the air, like smelling last night’s bonfire lingering on your clothes. Once hot water saturates the tea leaves though, the impression is that of a fire reincarnated—the fragrance rising from the cup is unmistakably that of fresh woodsmoke and crackling flames slicing through the flinty chill of a winter’s night. Lapsang Souchong is the tea equivalent to film noir, with the mysterious femme fatale, disconcerting plot twists, and menacing darkness and shadows condensed into a mere cup.

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Jasmine Pearl Tea

Weekday mornings are frequently humdrum and rarely exciting. To take them to the level of exquisite takes an imaginative mind. Such as that of my mother. One of her solutions is to set aside time at the start of each day for tea or coffee in her favorite cup, and so devoted is she to this tradition that every member of the family, including the cats, now has a designated “favorite cup.” I don’t have a single favorite, because whenever I pass by one of the dusty antique stores in Sablon, I come away with yet another mismatched vessel bearing a green chinoiserie pattern, garlands of tiny roses or a faded landscape of windmills and meadows. But I too am a believer in adding a dose of exquisite to every morning. Since jasmine pearl tea is one of the most perfect things in the world, it’s my panacea for the monotony.

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Everything is beautiful about jasmine pearls–the shape of the fuzzy tea buds rolled by hand into neat pebbles, the gold amber of the liquid in the cup, the sunlit aroma of flowers. The latter is the reason why I prefer this jasmine tea variety to any other. Think of your most blossom festooned fantasies, and here you have them–in a cup. The richness of flavor and aroma comes from the complex process that approximates the ancient technique of enfleurage. Tea leaves and jasmine flowers are arranged in alternating layers and the blossoms are replaced every four to six hours. The scenting is repeated up to seven times for the highest quality of jasmine pearls, which are made with young tea buds.

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Estonian Blue Tea

The tea in my cup was bright blue. The friend who gave me a herbal mixture for what she called “Estonian Blue Lagoon Tea” promised lots of color, but I still didn’t expect a shade of aquamarine. The taste was refreshing and minty, perfect as both a cooling summer drink and a morning pick me up. I wondered what the famous devotee of herbal teas, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, would make of it. What was this mysterious blue herb?

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Poirot’s detective skills weren’t needed to discover that Estonian tea, or more properly tisane, since it contains no true tea leaves, is made of blue mallow or hollyhock. It’s the same plant that the Roman scholar Pliny recommended for so many ailments that it became known as an omnimorbia, or cure-all, while the feisty Japanese lady-in-waiting Sei Shonagon found its beautiful flowers most unsuitable if worn in frizzled hair. All of this only added to the appeal of my Estonian discovery, which I loved as much for its gorgeous color as its soft floral taste.

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