If you had told me, in the nineties, that I would become a wearer of tea, I would never have believed you. Although I immediately recognized the iconoclasm of Jean Claude Ellena’s groundbreaking Eau Parfumée Au Thé Vert when it was released in 1992, and admired the aura it gave, at the same time there was always – and still is – a slightly bourgeois, smug, almost passive aggressive ‘zen’ to its ‘just back from yoga and off to the farmer’s market’ nonchalance that made me feel it was definitely more ‘them’ than ‘me’. In London you would smell it on yawningly predictable people of a certain class: it felt wan and slightly brainwashed.
Yet I still like it, and sometimes crave it. It’s just….relaxing. Easy. Like taking things down a notch when you need to detach. Irrevocably pleasant. So yesterday, on the way to my school in Hiratsuka – a hill-surrounded, ‘uncool’ city plagued by the yakuza with wide streets and a retro, red-lanterned vibe I am far more drawn to than the mall-infested pristine hell of ‘Center Minami’ in the north of Yokohama where I worked last year – I couldn’t resist a quick dart into Wattmann’s, a recycle emporium that has a locked glass perfume cabinet and sells contemporary, and occasionally vintage, perfumes at very reasonable prices. I was delighted to be back. The first thing that immediately caught my eye on the shelf was a brand new, unopened bottle of Bulgari’s Eau Parfumée Au Thé Bleu for about £22 that I knew I had to have even though I had never smelled it: the white tea variant is a Bulgari I sometimes reach for after a night shower – the most masculine of the tea collection with its crisp white musks, Himalayan white tea and cardamon, coriander and artemisia : almost numbing, depressive (but in a pharmaceutical, good way) – and D really likes it on me. I thought I should definitely add the blue edition to my collection.
The idea of ‘blue tea’ is rather alluring and removed. Tea itself is somehow dreamy and more ‘experiential’ than coffee, which I ultimately possibly prefer for the delicious jolt it gives- but tea always has the upper hand when it comes to that sinking above or below the membrane of consciousness to a momentary awareness, which is why Japan, with its culture of ‘appreciation of small things’ and the highly stylized ceremonies based around matcha, not only reveres its own traditions connected to how green tea is presented and imbibed, but the drink itself is deeply embedded in the conscious and subconscious : cold, bottled green tea from vending machines the most popular consumer item in train stations. If Japan adores its own tea, it also almost fetishizes other teas from around the world. Tea is a ‘hobby’. A luxury, and a rip off: ironically, the very best tea I have ever found here is also the cheapest: a rather unattractively packaged (in aluminium foil), not individually paper-sachet-wrapped Darjeeling, Ceylon Dimbula (D’s of choice) and Earl Grey from Sri Lanka that you can buy for about ￥150 from my local supermarket. It is ideal. Perfect. A friend came round the other day and actually asked what it was and I laughed, because the same, or actually inferior tasting ‘English’ tea dressed up in British Colonial trimmings à la Fortnum and Mason or any other of the fancy imported brands you can purchase from luxury mecca Seijo Ishii will cost you ten to fifteen times more, (but, admittedly does look much prettier on your shelf). Chinese tea – the most ancient of the tea traditions – of course has its own speciality shops and sometimes tea houses here; French tea the most ludicrously expensive of all (the most extortionate pinnacle of tea worship in Japan to my knowledge probably being the legendary Mariage Frères, which actually does sell a Fujian blue tea that can be sampled at its chichi little upscale den in the centre of Shinjuku if you are prepared to wait in line.
A brief inhalation from the Bulgari box before arriving at school, where the students this year are fascinatingly unfashionable and ‘pure’ – once you cross that river on the train you know you are entering a different zone further south that is ‘not Yokohama anymore’ – told me that this would in many ways be similar to Thé Blanc: and both perfumes do in fact share the same zoned out tea and Bulgari musk base, which couldn’t possibly be more innocuous if it tried (and this is why I like it: sometimes I just want unthreatening and safe). After an evening of teaching, though, with hot, unfresh skin – this time of year, the beginning of term, requires a phenomenal amount of effort on the teachers’ part in order to get the students on your side, to ease their nerves – all of Japan basically has a huge complex about English and thus so many of the students are literally terrified on meeting me in case they are shown up, humiliation being the worst thing imaginable here; this requires me to totally behave as the key force in the room and the instigator of it all to rev them up and be on my Greatest Showman best, ringmaster Chapman, and it is exhausting, but thoroughly necessary to pave the way for the rest of the year; everything is based on this foundation, of establishing a positive atmosphere: it kills me but I jusr have to do it.
Clearly, though, a rather peculiar, unusual combination of very pervasive grey blue lavender, mint, shiso leaf and a Guerlain Lavande Velours-like striking powdery violet note on top of the tea and musk were smelling very odd indeed on me (if slightly mesmerizing) as I sprayed some on just before boarding the train back home last night :compelling in a weird way, but not entirely me. Vestiges of diaper and baby powder, at least on that occasion. Also cold: robotic. Do I regret buying it? No, because I love just owning it – the box is lovely too- and this morning, more importantly, it smells very different. Perfumer Daniela Roche Andrier, the creator of Prada’s Infusion D’Iris and Guerlain’s Angelique Noir among many other gentle, neat, designed to be wearable perfumes but still with a certain enigmatic twist, has a recognizable signature, and in fact, traces of her star iris perfume for Prada are recognizable somewhere in the mix here, lending the heart a certain familiarity: looking on Fragrantica I see that many seem to worship this scent for having captured the ‘smell of calm’, and in a matinal, ironed shirt kind of way, I think this could be quite nice as a work scent. The dry down is very laundresque, dry; like a new bar of soap.
While perfume at home and when going out are a much more extravagant affair, Work Scents are also extremely important to me. Now that in Japan it seems that people will be permanently masked for the foreseeable future (where you are, they just haven’t worked; people refuse and pay the consequences: here, they are de rigeur not only inside but also out, in the fresh air; all the time :only when in restaurants bars and cafes are they removed, briefly: it is a horrible thing to have to get used to but better than being bombed or shot in the head). You can never entirely breathe. From the perfumaniac perspective though, it does mean that, with windows largely open, I feel it is fine for me to go to work scented. Not excessively, but this carries me through the day and makes my – I was going to say ‘borders secure’ but that might be overdoing it – delineates my sense of self in a way I find ‘approving’. Right now it is Parfums De Rosine’s Roseberry, but as the weather gets warmer I might move into tea as I always do in summer with Roger & Gallet’s Thé Vert, a summer staple, but it is always nice to refresh the palette a little, branch out to pastures new, and at Nose Shop Yokohama, Turkish cult brand Nishane’s Ode to fruit-laced Chinese oolong tea seems to be at number one or two in their popularity list whenever I go (things are always ‘ranked’ here to make it easier to choose and be swayed by the greater herd). And I also rather like it. Plus the fact that there is also a lighter, bigger, and less expensive bottle of ‘hair mist’ available which might be nice as an overall spritz when things get muggy has also caught my attention. I am not sure that this scent is 100% suited to me – it is quite multi-levelled;: an ‘experience’: a bracing tea and nutmeg heart; a fleshier fig and musk base, but also a very florid and fresh upper parapet of bergamot, orange and litchi. It might end up being too much, but I think I am going to investigate further, as it attracts me.
Tea is astringent: revitalizing, uplifting. And I think that my prime reason for being drawn to tea fragrances is their clarity (yet also their ruminative hint of melancholy). They bestow a certain dignity. A quiet rectitude. Which is sometimes what you need. Yet : they can also, of course, veer into the gourmand and the gooey – like Chai by Baruti, which is too much for me ( I don’t take sugar and not too much milk), or Five O Clock Au Gingembre by Serge Lutens, which never quite lit my candle. Likewise, though fascinating, with its potent central note of an almost lurid green tea extract set like a jewel amid a sea of gummering sweetness (vanilla, amber, heliotrope, spices, rose, ylang ylang, thyme), Ananda Chai, which came originally in a hideous brown bottle but which I am hoping has been replaced by the one pictured above) is great for doing the dance of the seven veils perhaps, but not really something I could ever wear myself. It is so insistent and needy. On the other hand, this perfume is so unusual and so perfectly rendered, that smelling it makes you wish that more people in the world were experimental and nose-literate or at least interested, so that you could spend your day being stimulated by different individuals wafting by in indecipherable and head-turning fragrances such as this. I am glad that it exists.
One of my favourite ‘standout’ fragrances, those that mystify and intoxicate, of recent times is Meo Fusciuni’s Odor 93, a fungal, powdery tuberose that is amazing and which I love on myself but would also have loved to discover on someone else : that whole oh my god what is that phenomenon where you are immediately smitten. The new release from this extraordinarily passionate Italian perfume house, a small bottle of which I received in the post the other day, is Encore Du Temps: a rich floral green tea scent with masculine leanings based on the founder’s travels in Laos and particular the city of Luang Prabang.
This is indeed a glorious place. I have amazing memories of being there myself – in fact, if you look up my reviews of Shalimar and a strange piece I wrote there called Tropical Malady, I was also in a state of bliss just sitting in our bungalow by the Mekong watching the water go by and writing; the scent of frangipani petals falling at the temples: the sheer slowness. Meo Fusciuni also seems to have been completely transfixed by being in Luang Prabang, and the new fragrance is his capturing of certain sensations and feelings he felt while in Laotian reverie. A distinctive, deep, green tea note is matched with a slightly animalic absolute of osmanthus here (with other flower notes of magnolia and champaca), with a resonant note of maté tea extract, sandalwood and benzoin in the base that is quite compelling. For me, though, I must admit, this scent is more ‘sexy man in business suit’ than anything conjuring a particular spirituality ( like the brand’s own Varanasi). D wore it last Monday, when we met after work in Yokosuka for a late showing of Leos Carax’s prize-winning bizarro film Annette so I was able to experience it in proper close-up. Getting lost by somehow taking the wrong turning in the road, we ended up encircling the outskirts of the entire city like mini automobiles carving out new scalextrix tracks in space, walking miles against the clock and quickly wolfing down an Indian when we finally found our bearings – which only made D even more disorientated – and got to the (empty except for one other person) Multiplex just in time. Encore Du Temps was the constant soundtrack to these shenanigans, and it is an extrait, so quite potent – and perhaps he sprayed on too much. But the musky, synthetic final accord was very persistent, too much so – next time he will have to wear less, I think this was three sprays – and I was in a certain state of vague anxiety despite my pleasure at being out because it was just before the busiest week of my entire term and we really shouldn’t have been out in truth, it wasn’t sensible. And the film…….well we walked out. Quite a rarity. On the one hand, it was darkly captivating and aesthetically quite exquisite at times, like nothing else I have ever seen (a musical about a violently toxic male comedian – Adam Driver, who falls in love with an opera singer – Marion Cotillard – who then fall out of love while co-parenting a……..marionette). With odd, monotonous but occasionally riveting songs by 70’s group Sparks, some ear-worming their way into the dark recesses of your brain, others just plain repetitive and annoying, I immediately found the too-obvious French philosophizing (look! we are drawing your attention to the artificiality of the process! This is not real!) extremely irritating and each time I looked at my other half in the seat at the back of the cinema beside me, reeking of Meo Fusciuni, his blank expression with glazed eyes – you could see the film going on in his retina with no reaction inside as he had closed off : this told me that we should abort. And so with one hour and twenty minutes still to go, we headed home, depleted, not talking and headache-induced by all the almost laughable nonsense.
What touched me deeply about this episode, though, I must say, was the fact that even though D had absolutely hated the film (neither of us could remotely tolerate the animatronic and deeply ugly and boring puppet child, like some nightmareish mix of Pinocchio and Pan’s Labryinth, nor the theatricality), I am pretty sure that D would have stayed until the end for my sake nevertheless if I had been enjoying it. I am not sure I could have returned the favour, and so I really appreciate his sweet unselfishness. Granted, it was a naturally precarious choice to begin with ; We both detest musicals, although I loved Dancer In The Dark – he didn’t – butin truth, had I been alone, and it been earlier in the day, I probably would have stayed until the end because a part of me was pulled in. Adam Driver was kind of spectacular. And just to see what happened. And because actually, afterwards, I kept thinking about the pitch black neon LA uncanny atmosphere of the film, which penetrated into my inner mindstream despite the deliberately goonish artificiality. I think I may actually have liked it. There was something quite emotively unsettling about it, and I would like to see it again: alone. I am pretty sure, also, that the bottle of Encore Du Temps, still in a pocket in D’s workbag, when I smell it again, will stir something in me, fused immediately with that night’s experiences. With its pungent, almost haunting and reverberant note of osmanthus oils and green tea. I look forward to Meo Fusciuni’s take on Japan…
26 responses to “IN SEARCH OF TEA……..ANANDA CHAI by MICALLEF (2017) + EAU PARFUMÉE AU THÉ BLEU by BULGARI (2015) + WÛLÓNG CHÁ by NISHANE (2015) + ENCORE DU TEMPS by MEO FUSCIUNI (2022)”
Lovely reading as always!
My partner recently sampled Chris Collins African Rooibos and is quite smitten. It’s simple but a standout.
Tell me more !
I adore rooibos as a drink and it worked ok in the red Bulgari, but have often wondered how it could be treated as a note in perfumery.
I have smelled only Wūlóng Chá out of all these, although I hope to get my nose on a sample of Encore du Temps. Several of my favorite perfumes smell tea-like to me without tea being the dominant note: Parfum d’Empire Osmanthus Interdite, Ormonde Jayne Montabaco, Masque Milano Ray-Flection (mimosa, mandarin, violet, cedar…) I definitely want to try more perfumes with tea notes.
Yes they are quite tranquillizing I always think. Not exciting as such, but pleasing ( I tried the Nishane oil – it wasn’t a spritz ) and found it quite pleasing so might have to get some. Ray-Flectiom I have a sample of but it didn’t make much of an impression. I should hunt it down to revisit
I wear Bulgari Bleu in the summer when the heat and humidity of Connecticut overwhelm me. Although air conditioning does make a huge difference. The crispness of the lavender tea adds to the “ I can survive this weather” mindset. I personally prefer snowy cold winter, unless I am at the beach.
I am a summer person and am wondering if the powderiness of the violet note might cloy, but am planning to try it out in the coming weeks as I can really imagine it being nice have a very soapy shower. I like the Bulgari bottles as they let you spray a tiny amount if you want: something more perfume houses should think about as the volume spritzed forth can really make a difference to how you perceive a fragrance I think. The tea musk finale in this is hardly challenging but I agree that the overall vibe of the scent is: “I can survive this”.
I love tea. So versatile, it can be quite brilliant and bracing or tranquil and cozy. Sipping on my morning milky chai right now- a very floral black Assamese loose leaf pepped up with black pepper and raw ginger. Water buffalo milk gives the mix an unexpected tang.
I love Bulgari’s white tea, I find it very comfy and calming.
My fave cheapie green tea for Spring is Pacifica’s Tahitian Gardenia. It’s a very simple composition of green tea, mandarin orange, and a pastiche gardenia of jasmine & orange blossom.
I like their perfumes a lot actually butt sometimes they give me headaches – that California Star Jasmine is also nice but I had to stop wearing it
Star Jasmine has been discontinued. Star Jasmine is a common landscaping plant in California that gives everyone headaches. My 2 faves from Pacifica are the French Lilac and the aforementioned TG.
Wow, lots to digest here! I am addicted to tea these days: Hugh and have turned into my parents by downing at least seven cups before bedtime. But have never tried a tea perfume. (Should I?) They sound refreshing, cooling and calming for summer. I am also truly intrigued by Annette and despite your misgivings, feel I might like it. xx
I would LOVE to go and see it with you.
In fact, D had a hardcore. seismic row on Saturday night / Sunday morning and one of my responses, bruised and battered the next day was “ I AM GOING TO SEE ANNETTE !”
( in the end, I didn’t and we made up and then some, but I do still strangely crave it).
PS : this WAS one of my more indigestible zombie posts – I was aware of that as I was writing it
“I’m going to see Annette!” belongs in a 70s Alan Ayckbourn play. I’ll stick to citrus and flowers for now (loving Sisley no 1 right now. So perfect and simple). x
SO annoying – the other day I saw a bottle of that in a cabinet and was tempted, and went back last week and the entire shop is closing down!
Might have to go to Takashimaya and test it out. I have a real soft spot for Sisley (they had two reduced bottles of Eau D’Ikar, which I love (try that one as well – really odd green scent) and I was hoping to make it a full Sisley pay day sweep with a bottle of Eau De Campagne as well which they also had.
Glad you have found a new staple – I love that feeling!
You and tea fragrances : I half like the idea, but there is always, for me, even though I wear them myself, something icky therein
Very interesting read.
I am quite fussy about tea fragrances, some work, some don’t. When Eau parfumee au the vert first came out it smelled so different, I had to have it! I went to Bloomingdale’s and immediately purchased a huge bottle of it and doused myself. On my drive home I started to become horrifically ill from it and ended up pulling over and was physically ill on the side of the road. Needless to say I got rid of the fragrance post haste. Since then I am very cautious with tea scents. I have one from Parfums de Nicolai called Fig Tea which is exquisite. also Lancome’s Orange Bigarade has a strong tea note, but it is lovely.
I am glad to have read about your experience with Annette. I was planning on watching it, but it sounds a bit too out there for me. I am the type who would just keep watching, even if I detested it. I am a completionist, so you saved me from that.
You might have loved it. I would still go back as am still haunted!
I am very interested in your Bulgari tea episode. What was it precisely that made you feel so terrible? I definitely think and have always said that there is an almost ‘bilgey’ note to green tea that makes it intrinsically weird as a perfume core note ;something almost mildewey, which makes the idea of freshness a contradiction in a sense. And yet there is also a strange sexiness – Fig Tea is sexy and is popular in Japan in the niche world: to me it smells like osmanthus.
Maybey I will give Annette a chance then, it is on Amazon, which we have. I’ll let you know.
The Bulgari just overwhelmed me with a sickening aura that was inexplicable. It was as if the oxygen was being sucked out of me and I was light headed as well. Definitely not a sense of freshness, more like claustrophobia. “Bilgey” is an excellent adjective to describe green tea scents.
My Fig Tea is osmanthus, and I adore that.
It’s funny because I do like the Bulgari, as I wrote in the piece, but at the same time I know EXACTLY what you are talking about : ‘a sickening aura that was inexplicable’.
PS. Are the films good and recent on Amazon prime? Or do you have to pay per view? We only have Netflix or I still rent DVDs!
Amazon Prime has some really good recent movies, and a majority of them are free. It comes with the Prime membership.
I might have to join as an extra option!
If I had to mimic your move, and choose a tea scent to unwind, I would pick “Voyage’ EDT.
(Or “pure perfume”, or even “Declaration”). There’s something so good when the cardamom is still fresh in these perfumes, and not beaten down as often it is with the tester bottles.
On real tea, to set a meditative mood, I veer towards the twig tea, the kuki cha for kid.
Because I like the hazelnut flavor of it. It reminds me of the argentinian yerba tea. And as yerba tea, it seems to provide the good mix of chemicals to me. It’s weird, but for many peoples, the slow-paced cafeine is part of the choice in favor of tea, opposed to coffee.
I enjoy more smelling tea than drinking it. I love jasmin tea. (We both love “Imperial tea” by Kilian). Lotus tea is weird one that I love too (as with saffron, the etamine of lotus is the part used to flavor it).
From Bulgari, it’s the “thé noir” EDC version, that I bought un-sniffed.
(Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez are to bl… thank?)
I love the shape of the bottles, so I would have done the same as you.
As for “Lavande velour”, you remind me that I spared a bottle, and should try it more often.
The “thé noir” is a curious beast. It transforms back and forth between a prim “N°5” EDT, and a gauzy oud.
It’s a two-in-one perfume, and both perfumes are highly finished.
From the “N°5”, there is the fake magnolia of n°5 imitations (lotions), but there are also the same ingredients as the real thing : fresh aldehyde, true rose, and powdery tonka and musk.
The oud is a perfected vision on its own, too. Dry, smoky and transparent, leathery, lapsang souchong smoked tea, a bit of red rose and good earthy patchouly, and maybe a hint of blackcurrant buds and honey absolute,
Despite being pleasant and light enough, it’s hard to pull off, because it’s strongly feminine AND masculine, and because leather perfume are rarely easy-going. But this smell would be spot-on on a man, as surprise on the collar of a black shirt, because it’s oddly black yet deep and colorful.
Usually I dislike Jacques Cavallier’s style, that I usually sort out as too commercial. (I think the same about Bulgari, so I’m truly surprised for each smart perfume they pull off.)
To my nose the rendition of his perfumes border on synthetic and cheap, despite his allegations on natural extracts.
But here the finish, the elegance and the muted luxury is on par with the best Dominique Ropion’s niche perfumes.
And it’s odd to think that the tea line (coming from different composers) is surprisingly good, while the few perfumes from the gemme line -that I could try- bordered on being scams. Strangely, it’s “Kobraa” that I deeply liked, because it being a metallic fougère at start (a style that I strongly dislike). It has an embroidery of mineral undertones, incense and sap à la “Timbuktu” from L’artisan parfumeur.
An interesting take, as always. I don’t think I have tried the black tea by Bulgari – and I know that anything leather or oud would irritate me greatly on my own skin, even if you have intrigued me with it.
I can’t stand any of the Cartier or Hermes Ellena fragrances: just instinctively something bugs me about them. Standoffishly fresh and unappealing, though I would love to smell them on someone else!
Thank you, for your answer and its compliments 🙂
I prize your sincerity. Because I also like mine. I’m not a big fan of J.-C. Ellena either.
I have mixed opinions for each of his creation, interview and personality trait. Ellena seems over-glorified in the blogosphere. It’s rather that, most of the time, there’s more fun at writing about his creations, on an intellectual level, than wearing them. (Also, Parisians could make it a game to follow the new creations, report nuances, and get generous free samples, especially for the exclusive line. That made money less of a problem, and people less critical as a result).
In the past, I knew a tester bottle seller, on a flea market. Any bottle was around 40$, and new. His bottles were more fresh that those in the shop, and the price made them more worth it.
So, in the shops, light and heat destroy the tester bottles. It’s an issue when most perfume are based on some freshness, and faint illusory illusions.
I like “Voyage” for the price I got it, because it’s a sum of the accord I like from Ellena, and it reminds me of a stroll on a beach of Normandy.
Cardamom, roasted cumin as in “Epices marines” (smelling like iodine and algae), a clever use of violet, a faint nutty iris – vetiver thingy, and a frame of tea accord. It’s smart and undemanding.
(I also love his big floral, far from Hermès, and his “Bois d’iris” from The different company).
About “Declaration”, for a long time I felt it as fully wishy-washy (diluted water with cumin). I did not understand the praise, at all. Till I tried one with a great cardamom inside.
The usual tea accord is a weird thing.
From what I guessed while reading, there are true hesperidic notes, some fizzy green synthetic ones, and a use of hidden violets.
This “earl grey by proxy” is mainly used as a frame, rather than the center of the composition.
The remnant of citrus can smell like dish-wash gel (“Pamplelune” by M. Laurent), and the fizzy green notes like shampoo (Calice Becker’s signature for J’adore and its spawns).
It smells quite the same whether you put a few or a lot of it. So it can feel as hypocritical, because despite being easy-going, the dose is sometimes heavy on one’s nerves and monotonous.
(And tea fragrances do not age well after a decade, they are the exception. I guess it’s some green notes that disappear. Without them, the composition feels flattened, like a soda that has lost its bubble).