I thought I’d talk today about one of my favourite raw materials in perfumery, and that is black tea. It features heavily in one of the Art de Parfum fragrances, namely Excentrique Moi, which mixes a smoky, tannic black tea with red berries, hibiscus, dried fruits, spices, and patchouli.
Wearing black tea fragrances are so comforting and cozy, especially in chilly weather….of which we seem to have a lot in Britain. When I wear Excentrique Moi, I always feel like I should be curled up under a blanket with a good book on my lap and a slice of fruitcake and a steaming hot cup of tea to the side. Hmmm, actually, that sounds good right about now!
While there are many different types of tea – green, oolang, rooibos, white, Earl Grey, Lapsang Souchong, and so on – my favorite is the plain black tea. For me, the flavour of black tea strikes the perfect balance between smoky and fresh. The smoke part comes from the process of drying out and then fermenting the tea leaves before they are shredded and put into boxes.
One of the things that inspired me to use a black tea note in Excentrique Moi was my little morning ritual. Each morning, I would come downstairs, close to dawn, and while the water was boiling, I would take down my little tin of loose black tea leaves and breathe its divine aroma.
Black tea leaves smell like leather, tobacco, smoke, tannins, and citrus peel. Smelling my tea leaves every morning allowed me to just take a moment for myself and reflect on my goals for the day. You know the expression, wake up and smell the coffee? Well, for me, it’s wake up and smell the tea!
Thinking back, I have always been drawn to smoky, black tea fragrances. One of my first ever bottles of niche perfume was Tea for Two (L’Artisan Parfumeur), which smells a bit like a spicy cup of chai with a bit of Earl Grey mixed in at the start. But it wasn’t black tea, exactly, to my nose, and I found the gingerbread accord a bit distracting.
Murdock’s Black Tea is also very good, although plainly masculine to my nose – I’m not sure I could wear it myself but I am sure it would smell great on a man.
So, for a long time, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted my perfect black tea fragrance to smell like….but I knew what I didn’t want.
The closest I got was by tincturing black tea leaves (Camellia Sinensis) myself in pure ethanol. It took a year of macerating the mixture to arrive at a smell that I was happy with – a pure black tea smell. But on its own, it was rather dark and plain. I was waiting for something to take hold – but what?
The breakthrough was when one of my best friends, who works for Medecins Sans Frontieres, came from a stint in Sudan with a big bag of dried hibiscus blossoms for me. As we made tea with it, she told me that Sudanese women use it to promote internal strength, mental acuity, and to relieve menstrual pain. Very strong and ripe with tart red berry flavours, I loved the taste.
The next time I brewed it, however, I mixed it 50:50 with my black tea leaves. The result? Heaven. The dark, smoky, but fresh aroma of the black tea gained a pleasing fruitiness from the hibiscus, and they each seemed to be playing off each other to create a rounder, fuller scent. And with this in hand, I was finally able to start creating my beloved Excentrique Moi……