In the Search for the Perfect Coffee

Ally McBeal is one of my all-time favorite TV shows. I loved it deeply and thought that the first two seasons were just magical – funny, romantic and witty. I stopped watching it at some point in the Season 4, when, in my opinion, the magic was gone. But I keep going back and re-watching some of my favorite episodes and scenes. One of such scenes is dedicated to coffee; not just to coffee in general but to drinking a first cup of the day. If you watched that show, most likely you remember the scene. For everybody else in short: one heroine (Ally) teaches another one (Georgia) how to drink coffee. Here’s a link to a 3-minute video clip (questionable quality but it’s the only one I could find) and a transcript of the most important dialog (if you’re not in the mood to watch):

Ally: You were about to drink this cappuccino like most men make love: skipping over all the foreplay. Now just… just hold it in your hands. Just knowing that it’s close.
Georgia: Yeah, I see what you mean.
Ally: Now, close your eyes. And just think about tasting it. Now, smell it. Just a little.
Both: Mmm…
Ally: Now, pull it away. Just tease yourself a little. Up, and down. And up. Longer sniffs. Now, you see that foam on the plastic? Lick it off.
Georgia: I have to drink it!
Ally: Now, bring it up slow. Don’t rush it. It only happens with the first cup. Slow. Slow. Slow. And drink.
Georgia: Mmm…
Ally: Mmm…

This scene made a strong impression on me: not as much because of its sexual references but because of the idea of savoring the experience and engaging all of your senses. I can’t say that I treat every cup of coffee like that but from time to time…

Coffee art - Heart

Smell from a freshly brewed cup is a big part of the enjoyment I get from drinking coffee. But it’s different when it comes to an “unattended” coffee smell (when a cup is not present).

One of the offices where I used to work was strategically placed in a short walking distance from two coffee shops. Since there was no proper lunch room in the office, my co-workers would go to either Starbucks or Peet’s Coffee, dependent on to which camp they belonged, for lunch or during breaks. I didn’t have taste preferences (latte tasted very similar in both places) but after a while I noticed that after I would spend 15-20 minutes at the Peet’s, my clothes would reek of sour and burnt coffee grounds. I didn’t observe the same effect from visiting Starbucks – so given a choice I would go there.

Years later I figured out the mystery: back then that particular Starbucks shop had been just freshly built and Peet’s had been around for a while; nowadays if I sit inside of that Starbucks café I get the same unpleasant odor absorbed into my clothes and hair.

Coffee & Truffle

So, do I like coffee note in perfumes? I like some perfumes that feature this note but my gripe about most of them: I get a toothache just smelling them – so sweet they are. But while I do not put sugar in my coffee, I do (or would, if I had them) wear some coffee-and-sugar perfumes.

Montale Intense Café gives me such a perfect coffee aroma in the opening, that I can make my peace with its sugary development. I will never need a bottle of this perfume but a nice decant that I got with my Scent Bird subscription will keep me satisfied those days when I need an extra shot.

By Kilian Intoxicated smells very nice on my skin though I cannot say that I get much coffee from it. Testing Intoxicated in parallel with Thierry Mugler‘s A*Men, I could miss neither the similarity of the two perfumes, nor the difference in the refinement and materials of the Kilian’s creation. The bottom line: I won’t wear A*Men because now I know how harsh it is compared to Intoxicated, the price of which I cannot even consider paying knowing how similar it is to A*Men.

I liked Jo Malone Black Vetyver Café enough to snatch a bottle of it on eBay after it had been discontinued. Unfortunately, I think it was too old when it got to me and now it is turning. But I still have a decant that is in good health, so I should probably start wearing it more often – before it also turns. Black Vetyver Café is much less sweet than other coffee scents that I’ve tested and vetiver adds a nice woody note. I could easily find 2-3 other Malone’s scents I would rather see discontinued but the brand probably knows better.

Coffee Art

I tried several more perfumes with this note but they weren’t my cup of … coffee.

EnVoyage Perfumes Café Cacao is nice but too sweet for me. But if you like sweet scents, give this one a try.

In Plume Perfumes Coffee & Cedar, which isn’t too sweet and has a nice coffee note, I can’t stop smelling an oil base and it completely kills the perfume for me (and it’s probably for the best since I don’t think this brand is still alive).

But the biggest disappointment for me was Tom Ford Café Rose: I can’t say that it’s “too much” of anything; I don’t find it unpleasant; but as a Tom Ford perfumes fan I wanted this perfume to be much more interesting. I can’t remember how it smells the next day after trying it.

Have I found the perfect coffee though? I have! It’s Jamaica Blue Mountain that I freshly grind every weekend morning and make on the stove in jezve from my favorite designer Michael Aram. Mmm…

Rusty and Michael Aram Jezve

Images: my own

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33 thoughts on “In the Search for the Perfect Coffee

  1. I think that the only coffee-infused scent I like is Yohji Homme, which is a semi-regular wear for me. But I *love* the smell of coffee, in coffee. (And not the horrid over-roasted and old-grounds smell of a Starbucks.) There are a couple of blends from my favourite coffee shop (and roaster), Artisan in Edinburgh, which smell as good as they taste. (I use an aeropress at home, but drink perfect, tiny, not-too-hot, not-drowned-in-milk cafe lattes when I’m there.)

    • I tried Yohji Homme but I don’t remember how it smelled. I think I still have a shower gel in that scent so I’ll smell it if I can locate the bottle.

      I buy my coffee online but it is roasted in small batches and comes freshly roasted. I just got a new batch today and it smells divine!

  2. I’m definitely more tea person. I almost don’t drink coffee and I don’t really fancy a smell of ground coffee beans. So coffee perfumes are a pass for me

  3. As you know, I am a tea drinker, but by a spooky coincidence, I happen to have a friend’s coffee cup very similar to the one in your main photo as the lock screen on my phone, as I loved the pretty pattern on it! I wish I could get into drinking coffee – it would be such a useful social habit.

    I did, however, love Ally McBeal – I even wore the same MAC lipstick as her, though I don’t think it suited me now – and have recently said that my kitten likes a ‘fresh bowl’ in both the food and original lavatorial sense. ;) Ah, your post is bringing back such great memories. I agree the series went a little ‘off’ towards the end.

    And while I have tended to actively avoid coffee-containing perfumes, I do have a decant of Cafe Rose, which is spectacularly forgettable, I agree.

    • I’m especially pleased that we share fondness for that TV show!

      I like tea a lot myself and in my native country it was considered a good pastime but I agree that liking both beverages is more… versatile socially.

  4. Hi Undina! I’ve heard many good things about Montale’s Intense Cafe. I shall endeavor to find a sample at some point. Have you tried Olympic Orchid’s Cafe V? I found it to be a spiced coffee – almost like a chai coffee, and it never got particularly sweet for me. I’m slowly working on a review of it, but if you’re interested in trying it and haven’t, I can send you the remainder of my sample.

  5. “…but they weren’t my cup of … coffee” HA! Love it. And that Alley McBeal quote, well, it’s how it IS! The first sniff and sip… I don’t mind saying it; I’m a coffee addict. Anyway, we seem to be about the only two around :-)
    Intense Cafe was a bit milky for me, and like you I didn’t get much coffee from Café Rose. In general I find that most coffee centric perfumes have this really synthetic coffee scent and are often too sweet and gourmand-like.
    Really funny that A*men and Intoxicated should smell so similar on you, they don’t on me, although yes to the plasticy A*men in comparison to the much finer By Kilian, even if neither of the two are more than meh! on the coffee front.

    • Ooh, Asali, I’ve been specifically seeking out milky scents lately so now I am even more interested in trying Intense Cafe! :) I’m sorry it doesn’t tickle your fancy though.

        • I’ve been seeking a sample of Noir Exquis – although I didn’t realize it was particularly milky (it was the chestnut/coffee notes that intrigued me) and I’ve never even heard of New Harlem! Thanks for the heads up! *squeals with delight*

    • It’s funny: while planning this post I thought of opening it with: “Hi! My name is Julia, and I and a coffee addict” but then I thought that I wasn’t sure how recognizable this phrase would be for my European readers: I don’t think I knew anything about it before I came to the U.S. in my late 20s.
      I need one cup of coffee in the morning. Sometimes I would have another one during the day but that one is because I like the taste, I do not need it. But that first morning cup… I will get a headache if I don’t have it. Luckily, I almost never have to go without it – so it’s not really a problem for me.
      As I was smelling a package with freshly roasted coffee that arrived today I was thinking that, as much as I enjoy the scent, probably it wasn’t something that I need that prominent in my perfume… But you are right: “being a picky perfumista and a coffee-snob” (I’ll join you here if you’ll have me) isn’t easy.

  6. Coffee is my choice of drink in the morning and another cuppa, usually cold, in the afternoon. I drink quite a bit of Starbucks coffee such that I get an average of 4 free coffees per month; when I use the freebies, my goal is always to get something above $10.00 and I’ve done that 3x. As to perfume, I like the coffee note in Valentino Uomo and in La Via del Profumo Milano Caffee.

    And Rusty..what a handsome boy. He looks so sqeezeable!

    • One more coffee pal! Yay! BTW, do you know that they’re changing their reward program in 3 days? It will be much harder to get a free drink now. Only if now you spend $5.20 per visit (on average), you’ll be getting the same return on their rewards. If you used to spend less, the benefits become less attractive.
      I tried Valentino Uomo (since I knew that you liked it) and it left no impression on me… I’ll try it again the next time I see it at a store. The second one – I haven’t heard even about the brand! :)
      That jezve was a New Year gift (from me to my vSO and me), something new in our house – so Rusty just had to investigate what it was.

  7. I love both coffee and tea and I guess I drink at least 3 cups of coffee and 3 cups of tea throughout the day, every day. Although I love the smell of fresh coffee, I didn’t think I liked it in perfumes till recently. I kept avoiding them, you know. I don’t know if it can be classified as a coffee scent but I got to like Passion Choco by Nishane a lot. This one makes me feel so comfortable. Now I’m willing to explore even more of coffee perfumes. ;)
    By the way, should do tea perfumes next. Want to read it. :)

    • I’m glad to get one more person into our coffee-drinking tiny group! :) I will do a tea post at some point – I just need to pick a theme story for the post.

  8. I love coffee in all its drinkable form, espresso, filtered, greek, I love them all but, yes when it comes to perfume the note just doesn’t translate as well. Black vetiver Café is for me too the best I have encountered. If you come across Maître Parfumeur et Gantier Eau des Iles give it a try but be warned that this is a strange one. Mostly masculin, unsweetened coffee but with lots of other things going on, most notably green notes, some florals and a fecal not unaccountable for based on note listings

    • Hi Christos! It’s great to see you here again!
      I also like coffee in many forms! In the office I make it in a small coffee press. At home I use either jezve or an espresso machine. For a long while I even liked an instant coffee!

  9. Ally McBeal was ahead of its time with that example of mindful coffee drinking :) I loved the show too. I wish I loved coffee because you seem to get such a kick out of it. Tea is more comforting than thrilling. I like the aroma of coffee but can’t imagine wearing a coffee perfume. Too bad they are often so sweet.

  10. Hi Undina! I just finished an iced coffee, so this is perfect timing. I love both drinking coffee and trying coffee-themed scents. I’m still disappointed that Jo Malone discontinued Black Vetyver Cafe. Sadly, I never got the chance to snag a bottle of it. I like Tom Ford’s Cafe Rose but, I agree, there’s nothing terribly unique about it. (and to be honest, the coffee note isn’t very prominent!)

    From the ones you’ve listed here, I’m going to add Montale’s Intense Cafe to my list to try. It’s no secret that I love a good sugary scent, and that one sounds right up my alley!

    • I used to like a type of an iced coffee when I was a kid (it was done with the cooled coffee and an ice cream) but as I get older I stopped drinking it: I would rather have a hot coffee with something sweet than a cold one with sugar in it.

      Just FYI: ScentBird offers now 1 month free with subscription. So if you find in their store a perfume, for 7 ml of which, including delivery, you do not mind paying $15, you can get as a free month’s perfume this Montale’s one.

      • I didn’t know that about ScentBird, thank you for the info!

        I never put sugar in my iced coffee. The sugar just doesn’t dissolve correctly, plus I like the bitterness. Hot coffee with a touch of sugar is delicious. And I do love coffee ice cream if I’m in the mood for a super sweet coffee flavor!

  11. I love the smell of coffee….I try not to drink too much and stick mostly with tea as it has less caffeine but I do treat myself to a cup from time to time….I wish Jo Malone would bring back their coffee scent! And one of these days I am going to try the bond no 9 coffee fragrance…New Haarlem? Have you ever tried it?

      • wow! thanks for sharing this with me! Well, they won’t be getting my money either…there are enough perfumes out there to like that I don’t need to buy from them.

        I think Sweet Milk and Black Vetiver Cafe should be brought back….are you listening Jo Malone? They are distinctive enough to add to the line up.

        • I just realized that my bottle of Noa has coffee in it as well as peony….I am also looking at Intense Cafe as a possible future decant purchase.

  12. Pingback: A Month of Roses: Week 3 – Undina's Looking Glass

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