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Monday, April 18, 2011

Jo Malone Tea Collection

By Mackenzie Reilly

I’ve been hooked on perfume ever since my mother let me wear a drop of her Shalimar on my wrists. I was five and fell in love with the story behind the fragrance, named for a garden in Lahore, India – built as an ode of love from an emperor to his wife. I am most passionate about the stories behind the scents, their histories, memories, evocative abilities and cultural implications. I am fascinated by the concept of fragrance design as architecture, the truth and scientific clarity of fragrance chemistry, and the olfactory mysteries that the world has yet to solve.

I come from an academic background in olfactive anthropology, and earned my bachelors studying the use of scent in various tribes throughout Africa, gaining a unique perspective on the cultural and osmological role of fragrance around the world. My favorite perfume is Dzing! by l’Artisan Parfumeur.

The cultivation and consumption of tea is a cross cultural-global phenomenon, its presence traced back thousands of years to China. Today, cultures worldwide are known for varying and often elaborate tea customs, like the Japanese who are known for their formal tea ceremonies, rich with ritual and heritage. Moroccans take their tea green with mint leaves and sugar, while India’s teapots are full of Masala Chai and intoxicating jasmine. On the Kohs of Thailand you’ll find tea with condensed milk and an unparalleled syrupy sweetness, and in Nepal and Tibet, tea is served with yak butter and salt. Americans tend to enjoy their tea iced and heavily sweetened, while the Turkish favor black tea with beet sugar.

It’s not surprising then, that following water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world. The English are among the world’s top tea drinkers, where the beverage functions as an integrative part of British culture- one that has inspired the new limited edition cologne collection from celebrated fragrance house Jo Malone.

High Tea at the Palm Court. Photo © The Ritz London.

This five-scent tea collection serves as the perfect compliment to Jo Malone’s creative philosophy of fragrance layering – a way to customize your scent by determining pairings and ratios, allowing you to develop a signature scent or try a different combination every day. As fragrance is experienced aromatically, it is fragrance before taste. These teas, developed by perfumer Christine Nagel, are Assam & Grapefruit, Earl Grey and Cucumber, and Fresh Mint Leaf, as well as Sweet Milk and Sweet Lemon.

The tea-infused fragrance is certainly not a new idea (Bvlgari, l’Artisan Parfumeur, and Hermes among the obvious pioneers), but it has never been done like this before. Each of Jo Malone’s tea scents is sheer enough to benefit from the addition of another, though complex enough to be enjoyed on its own.

Assam and Grapefruit: This has the strongest “tea” note, smelling vividly of black tea leaves with a bit of an aldehydic soapiness to it that is indolic yet still clean. The grapefruit here is more vivid on blotter than on my skin, but I love the idea of an effervescent citrus to balance out the malty Assam. For this reason the Sweet Lemon is a perfect compliment to this fragrance. A muted patchouli emerges in the base, with a damp, musty quality reminiscent of wet stone.

Earl Grey and Cucumber: The trademark, signifying note of Earl Grey, bergamot, shines through a watery cucumber, conjuring up images of afternoon tea in London, with bright, aromatic Earl Grey tea and dainty cucumber finger sandwiches. A musky vanilla appears at the end to round out the fragrance into a smooth finish.

Fresh Mint Leaf: I am a big fan of mint tea, putting freshly picked mint into a French press, pouring boiling water over the bright green, serrated leaves... the way they pour steaming mint tea over sugar at the souks in Marrakech... the way the steam rises to clear your sinuses, and opens your chest. This is the only tisane, or herbal tea, in the collection and, in my opinion is best on its own. A masculine blend of cedar and basil add some strength to an otherwise transparent scent. Refreshing at it’s core, this is almost aroma-therapeutic – nice both in the morning, or as a calming element before bed.

Sweet Milk: This is my favorite of the collection - with creamy, milky lactones and a sweetness that recalls pure, white sugar in such a literal way it’s almost unusual. Sweet Milk hits a nostalgic note with me, reminding me vividly of the very simple, but perfect breakfast of oatmeal, milk and sugar that my mother made me when I was small. Sweet Milk is also a bit like Indian kheer - creamy, cold rice pudding dosed with sugar and cardamom. With a somewhat rice-y quality to it, the fragrance provides a pleasantly satiating feeling all the way to your core and has excellent staying power. This is a fragrance that blends into the skin seamlessly, the way a musk might. I imagine this soothing scent on warm skin on a sleepy Sunday morning, tangled in clean white sheets.

Sweet Lemon: This is my second favorite to Sweet Milk. Perfect for the summer and a beautiful addition to Assam and Grapefruit, the citruses complimenting each other creating a spectrum of lush, tangy summer fruits. The sweet lemon, though, gains its sweetness from a fairly assertive pineapple note - one that actually overpowers the lemon. Alongside the pineapple, contributing to the fragrance’s bright quality, is a juicy peach and fresh, dewy freesia.

…and if this doesn’t satisfy your tea cravings, British tea company Tetley has even come out with a scent cheekily called “Le Brew.”

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Blogger Flora said...

MacKenzie, I really have to try these soon! With summer coming that Earl Grey & Cucumber might have my name on it, but perhaps I will fall for a different one instead. Your reviews have really highlighted this line and they sound irresistible!

I would love to get some of the Tetley perfume! I drank a lot of that when I was younger - the tea, that is. :-)

12:06 AM EDT  
Blogger Vanessa said...

Great review! I love the sound of the Sweet Milk especially, but as a chain tea drinker, I should really give them all a spin.

5:17 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, MacKenzie, and welcome!
What a fascinating field, please write more about it in future blog posts! These tea scents sound lovely for my new tropical climate/habitat.

11:11 AM EDT  
Blogger Tama said...

Alas, my Neiman Marcus is already out of some of these - I still have a couple of Malone counters to visit. I never tried the milk or lemon ones, but loved the Earl Grey.

Thanks for the review! I think I'll go make a cup of tea now...

11:42 AM EDT  
Blogger Tammy said...

Welcome, Mackenzie, and thanks for a great review. The Earl Grey and the lemon one sound like the two I'd enjoy most. And like everyone else, I am off to have a cuppa now! ( I also want to second Marla in hoping to hear more about your field)

1:36 PM EDT  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thank you all for the kind feedback! I am so happy to contribute to such a wonderful blog. Flora, if you try the Tetley fragrance let me know what you think! :) Mara and Tammy- I definitely hope to write more about scent in Africa and look forward to hear your feedback on it!

11:24 PM EDT  
Blogger a.k.a. Warum said...

Great reviews!
Sweet Milk is my favorite, too, I loved your take on it. Everything you said is true for me as well.

Assam and Grapefruit was my second favorite, I do get the tea note when I spray A LOT. Unlike Sweet Milk, with this one I need to spray and then to spray again. And it does not overwhelm.

I did like the Earl Grey, but mostly I liked it over sweet milk.

Sweet Lemon did not work for me and neither did mint -- oh, mint smells gorgeous on paper, but on me it disappears waaay to fast.

I hope they will bring this collection back some time. They are out of Sweet Milk and Lemon already, I believe.

1:09 AM EDT  
Blogger lovethescents said...

I tried these on vacation back in February...but to be fair, I tried most on paper. Of what I did try on skin, I really loved Sweet Milk and the Mint. Thanks for sharing!

10:07 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you should try Champaca by Ormonde Jayne - it has a very true tea note (as well as basmati rice & bamboo) but the green tea note is one of the most authentic & hauntingly beautiful i have ever smelt.

4:55 AM EDT  

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