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

Are you a Perfume Extrovert or Introvert?

When asked about their perfume hobby some people admit that they are open and outgoing about it, others are secretive – not to be ridiculed, get disapproval or just because they are very private. I’m not sure if personality types are directly connected to how we communicate our love of perfume to the world or if it has a more complex correlation but there are definitely Perfume Introverts and Perfume Extroverts. I am the latter.

Rusty "extrovert"

I was sharing my love for perfume long before I discovered Perfumeland or started this blog. I would talk about new [mainstream] releases with friends and co-workers who expressed any interest in perfumes. I would be finding best online deals when somebody was looking for something (that was in pre- and early-Google times). And I would always try to recruit more followers into this not so secret society.

My tally? Not counting minor wins here and there, I have three success stories.

Two friends – one of whom has never worn perfumes before (because they all were too perfume-y) and one who did it very sporadically – under my influence and with my help found perfumes to love and wear. Interestingly, for both of them those were Jo Malone‘s perfumes – Nectarine Blossom & Honey, Vanilla & Anise and Black Vetyver Café for one of them and Wild Fig & Cassis and French Lime Blossom for the other. That’s why I’m persuaded that Jo Malone is a great “starter house.”

My best friend L., who lives half the world away from me, for many years stayed faithful to her signature scent – GF Ferre Lei-Her. After it got discontinued for a while she was able to find another bottle. When she couldn’t find it any longer, she started exploring the current offerings (very-very mainstream), got completely disappointed (who wouldn’t!) and almost swore off perfume. Last year when I visited her I brought with me more than a dozen samples and decants. That was the first time L. realized that there was something beyond pink fruitchulies that invaded the market. After that we went together to the high(er)-end perfume store (the one she was too intimidated to visit on her own before). There L. surprised me: while she did like some of the perfumes I suggested her to try – Prada Infusion d’Iris, Guerlain Champs-Élysées and Cartier Baiser Volé – she absolutely loved Juliette Has A Gun Midnight Oud and a couple of Montale‘s perfumes – not the most obvious choice for a newbie. She keeps exploring and I’m sure she’s on the right track now.

During her recent visit Suzanne (Eiderdown Press) told me one of her success stories. I liked it so much that I asked Suzanne to write it up to share with you. She did:

My friend M is someone I met in a writing group. It wasn’t even a group, there were only three of us, so we got to know each other fairly well in the space of a year—our literary tastes and styles, first and foremost. M wrote both fiction and poetry, and while her fiction was a poignant lens that allowed one to gain insight into the workings of a person’s mind (into the minds of characters who represented the baffling array of human behaviors), her poetry was different: it was more personal and sensual and often seemed to speak of “home”—of the rites of passage that sisters go through together, or the memories of a stepmother who’d been in Europe at the end of World War II, for instance. Given the nature of her writing—its private turning-point moments that hinge on such things as the remembrance of her stepmother giving M her first ‘perm’ (the smell of the hair perming solution, the fitful way she felt about it, and how it became an anchor for stories her stepmother told during this session)—I was rather surprised at the disinterested reaction I got from her when I first started talking about perfume.

By this time, our writing trio had disbanded because our other friend had moved away, and I was taking a break from fiction to start a perfume blog. I remember M’s puzzled look as she questioned how one would go about writing about perfume—and the look of even deeper puzzlement (the slight snicker and firm wave-off of her hand) when I asked if she’d like to sample some perfumes. I forget her reasons for declining my offer, so perhaps it’s unfair of me to surmise, but I got the distinct feeling that she saw perfume as something that would clash with her professional image (as a senior lecturer at the nearby university, teaching women’s studies and writing). Maybe because I was in the early stages of perfume infatuation … well, I’m not sure why I felt this deep conviction, but I did: I felt that anyone who wrote as M did would have to love perfume—would understand its deep connection to memory, to sensuality, to individuality. If she’d been a science fiction writer, I wouldn’t have bothered to try to convert her, but in November 2007, just before Thanksgiving, when the first snowflakes were floating in the air, I decanted some Chanel Coromandel for her, calling it “an early Christmas present” when we met for lunch. She accepted it graciously but skeptically—and I made sure to be nonchalant. I told her she could give it back if it didn’t suit her—that I simply thought it had a beautiful frankincense note that might appeal. In my head, though, I was convinced that it would be airy enough not to frighten her, and at the same time, have a sense of gravity that would appeal to her serious side—and I was right. M fell deeply for Coromandel and within a few days was requesting other perfume samples. Now, six and a half years later, she has a few other favorites (Montale Black Aoud is one) but Coromandel is pretty much her signature scent.

Hajusuuri, a guest writer on my blog, also agreed to share her success story:

Many years ago, more years than I care to remember, my sister and I went to Boston on vacation. For two shopaholics, there was no better place to window-shop than posh Newbury Street where we chanced upon a small perfumery. While we were not into perfumes, we browsed around anyway. If memory serves me right, that shop sold only custom-blended essential oils, which were available only in roll-on bottles. My sister bought several while I left without purchasing anything. Year after year, she would call the store to place an order to replenish. In 2008, she said that the perfumery moved to Colorado but that she was still able to call Dawn to place her order for China Rain blend and French Lily.

I fell down the rabbit hole around 2010-2011 and have grown a too-big collection of mainstream and indie/niche perfumes. In 2011, I somehow managed to convince my sister that she should expand her perfume horizon and consider checking out better mainstream perfumes because her little perfumery probably moved to Colorado due to a business slow-down, that it probably could not afford to stay in Boston and who knows for how much longer it will be open. Since then, she had acquired Elie Saab, Jo Malone Black Vetyver Café, Jo Malone Peony and Blush Suede and Cartier Baiser Vole Essence – a pretty decent collection, don’t you think?

But wait! There’s more!

When Undina first suggested a Success Stories post, I immediately thought of my sister as my success story. Curious as to whether or not I could figure out the name of the perfumery that moved to Colorado, I googled “Newbury Perfume Colorado”. The first entry from that search yielded “Essence Studio – Boulder Colorado”. Clicking through to the entry and then the Visit Website link, I was shocked to be redirected to DSH Perfumes. The “Dawn” my sister spoke with to place her orders turned out to be none other than American perfumer extraordinaire, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz!

Now excuse me while I go sit in the timeout corner…

Rusty "introvert"

Are you a Perfume Extrovert or a Perfume Introvert? Have you converted anybody?

Share your success stories in comments (or give a link to your posts on the topic).

 

Images: my own