What perfume is to me, coffee is to my husband: a passionate hobby that has taken the shape of a collection, one that hails from all parts of the globe. We have an entire cupboard dedicated to organic green coffee beans, and though the collection waxes and wanes like the moon, at various times it has contained beans from the Chiapas region of Mexico, the Blue Mountains of eastern Jamaica, the Republic of Yemen, the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and the list goes on: Papua New Guinea, Ethiopia, Colombia, Costa Rica.

He has the requisite equipment, too: a professional-grade coffee grinder that allows for 15 different grind sizes; a coffee roaster (that he no longer uses, as he enjoys the process of hand-roasting the beans in a pan); and a rather low-tech looking device called the Aerobie® AeroPress Coffee Maker, which allows one to brew an incredibly strong cup of coffee (or espresso) with none of the bitterness in about 30 seconds.  I completely pooh-poohed the AeroPress when I first saw it—a plastic, syringe-like cylinder with plunger that produces just one mug of coffee at a time and

August 13, 2008:

requires the user to boil water first and to manually press one’s cuppa. Now, however, I’m hooked: the AeroPress produces coffee that is infinitely better than anything I’ve had served to me by a barista, and I’ve got the process down pat now, so I can do it lickety-split.  It’s not an economical way to make coffee (making a single cup of espresso-strength coffee requires a heaping amount of ground beans), but, you know, some habits are worth the expense. Sounds like I’m saying that in a Heather Locklear, Loreal-hair-commercial kind of way (“because I’m worth it!”), but I'm actually being sincere. My husband and I are thrifty at heart—we live in a small, older home, we share a car—but we do love our coffee! Not to mention our coffee perfumes.

I’m now on my second bottle of Bond No. 9 New Haarlem, but I also have Ava Luxe Café Noir, which is equally delightful and very similar to New Haarlem. In fact, they are so similar that I almost can’t resist writing about them as if I were the Glamour magazine writer who does the “splurge vs. steal” column. Both fragrances share notes of coffee, lavender, cedar, vanilla, and patchouli. If lavender sounds difficult to you, have no fear: both fragrances employ a gentle, almost gourmandy variety of lavender that imparts a deliciously licorice-like feel to the scents; in fact, the lavender is essential to these fragrances—it is the note that keeps things interesting, that ensures these scents won’t stray into the too-sweet category, or even into the too-coffee-ish category. What I like about both New Haarlem and Café Noir is that there is no reminder of Starbucks here—of obscenely big lattes in paper cups.  Instead, there is just enough of a coffee note in them that they spark the mind to dream of places like the French Quarter—of having chickory coffee and beignets at Café du Monde—or Milan, where sipping espresso in petite ceramic cups is not just fashionable, but a delightfully civilized ritual. It involves sitting down to a table, people watching, or if you’re with someone, intimate conversation.

Anyway, here is how the scents are similar: both New Haarlem and Café Noir have their dark notes of coffee at the beginning of the scent, soon softened by undertones of caramel and a light licorice quality (from the aforementioned lavender). Both fragrances also have a nice amount of woodiness to them as the base notes develop, thanks in large part to warm, enveloping cedar. How they differ is that Café Noir has a bit of spiciness and mocha in its top and middle notes, lending the fragrance a hint more darkness than New Haarlem, whereas the Bond scent takes a creamier route that I like to describe as “butterscotched.” After quite a bit of side-by-side (opposite wrists) testing, I find that New Haarlem is much longer-lasting, and the cedar in it is of extremely high quality: it reminds me of the really fine cedar accord that you find in Andy Tauer’s scents. On the other hand, while Café Noir doesn’t last as long and it’s cedar note is not quite as expensive-smelling, it does have a fabulous sandalwood note that is scrumptious.

There is difference enough to warrant owning both, but if forced to choose between them, this might help:

Bond No. 9 New Haarlem falls into the “splurge” category, at $125 for a 50 ml bottle (this is an eau de parfum, by the way)—and if you like your coffee scent on the creamier and longer lasting side—with an exquisite dose of cedarwood—this one is for you.

Ava Luxe Café Noir falls into the “steal” category, starting at $45 for a 30 ml bottle of the eau de parfum.  (Café Noir also is available in a parfum extrait form, but my review is based on the edp concentration.) If you prefer a slightly darker, slightly spicier coffee scent with a hint of mocha, this is your ticket.  For someone with “scent-eating” skin, Café Noir probably won’t last as long as the New Haarlem, but both fragrances have enough heft that longevity shouldn’t be an issue.

New Haarlem can be purchased at either BondNo9.com or BeautyCafe.com.  Café Noir can be purchased from Ava-Luxe.com.

Image is from Viator.com, a travel website.

Coffee Conoisseur

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