Are you a tea or coffee drinker?  I am both, but whereas coffee is the habitual beverage with which I start my days, tea is a ceremonial drink for me. I don’t drink it everyday—in fact, I can go for a couple weeks without drinking it at all. Then, out of the blue, there will follow a string of days when I want to cozy up to a cup every afternoon, not because I’m in the need of a caffeine pick-me-up but quite the opposite: I want to slow down and savor the hours in my day. Though I could savor those hours by treating myself to an afternoon latte instead of tea, such a thought rarely occurs. As much as I love coffee, it does not say leisure to me. Tea does. Hot tea and toast is what my mother would serve on those blissful days in childhood when I’d come down with a bug and was allowed to stay home from school. Tea, cooled and iced and served in tall glasses, is the beverage I associate with fine-restaurant luncheons and refreshing breaks from summer’s hot afternoon labors and, when heavily sugared, with everything that is sweet in this too-brief life. Perhaps my association of tea with leisure is born from language, too: we have coffee, but we take tea. We take, make or steal time for this ritual, and thus, for ourselves. 

I’ve already alluded to my love of the afternoon tea ritual in my post on L’Artisan Parfumeur Tea for Two, but, inspired by a post that Kevin from Now Smell This wrote, I find myself waxing enthusiastic about tea and tea-based perfumes all over again. Last week I pulled two favorite tea scents from my samples pile and have been wearing them exclusively. The first is Yerbamate by independent fragrance creator Lorenzo Villoresi (who, in 2006, became the first Italian perfumer to receive the prestigious Prix François Coty). Yerbamate is a green fragrance based largely on the maté note.  (A tea-like drink popular in South America, maté is an infusion made from the dried leaves and twigs of an evergreen shrub related to holly.) The top and middle notes for this fragrance read like a garden description and include citrus, herbs, maté, tea, verbena, new-mown hay, tomato leaves, lavender and green notes. The base notes include galbanum, labdanum, maté, vetiver and “sweet, powdery and green notes.” 

In the opening moments of Yerbamate, the fragrance is sharply green, but that sharpness falls away rather quickly. On its heels ensues the kind of green that smells like a spring pasture of tender grasses and sweet clover. Such delicate herbalness might remind you more of the outdoors than of tea, but even this stage does not linger long: wispy tendrils of smoke combine with the springy greens, and the fragrance’s actual tea note, while not pronounced, also begins to insinuate its way into your consciousness. In Lorenzo Villoresi’s listing of notes, I don’t see anything that would account for this smoky quality, and yet it is nevertheless present. (Or is it some acrid aspect of the greens that registers as smoke to my nose?  I don’t know, but I like it.)  As the scent dries down, it becomes more like dessert tea, or tea with dessert. There is an ambery, powdery, sweetness that is as light and fluffy as a dusting of powder sugar. It’s not overwhelming, but it does alter the fresh herbal notes, turning them into drier, fluffier, hay-like notes. That’s not a problem for me. 

Overall, the experience of wearing Yerbamate is like returning to the time and  place where I enjoyed the best tea service of my life: August 15, 1997, at Jordan Pond House in Acadia National Park in Maine. I was on vacation with my husband and our two close friends, and we had just finished a leisurely hike through the carriage trails (wide paths established by the park’s benefactor, John D. Rockefeller) when we came to a clearing in the woods and emerged upon the lovely and historic Jordan Pond House (also a gift to the National Park Service from Rockefeller). There at the edge of the Maine woods, with a view of the pond and the two mountains known as “the Bubbles,” we partook of the Jordon Pond House restaurant’s tradition of tea served outside on the lawn with freshly-baked popovers and strawberry jam. We stumbled on this quite unexpectedly, and so it seemed surreal and, therefore, quite special. Had we read a guide book, we would have known of the famous tea lawn, which dates back to the late 1800s when the restaurant was established to serve Bar Harbor, Maine’s vacationing aristocracy, and which continues today to serve vacationing commoners like us. (Making it all the more special, when you think about it).

 

Lorenzo Villoresi Yerbamate is nicely affordable compared to many niche perfumes. Here in the U.S. you can find it at NewLondonPharmacy.com, where a 50 ml bottle can be had for $75, plus shipping. 

Later this week, I’ll post about another tea scent I’ve been craving: Sweet Nomad Tea, from Comme des Garcons “sweet series” of fragrances.

Suzanne's Perfume Journal

March 31, 2009:

Lorenzo Villoresi Yerbamate: Tea Alfresco


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