Forgive my unintentional pun on the great Bowie track, I do of course mean the aromatic, caffeinated child of the Arabica/Robusta plant.
“No coffee can be good in the mouth that does not first send a sweet offering of odor to the nostrils.”
~Henry Ward Beecher
Inspired by my time travel episode with the Unreal City Audio Company, I thought a visit to ‘Coffee’ botanical notes would be in order. The smell of freshly brewed coffee, that initial hit of aromatic molecules setting your neurons alight in anticipation of the caffeinated buzz your body will shortly receive – THAT we all get, but to have it emanating from our skin – as a perfume? Not as crazy as you would think.
It may take a leap of faith for the uninitiated to overcome a natural resistance to some of the Culinary Notes that we are so used to in everyday eating and drinking and to imagine them working in a fragrance – but they do! For example, let’s take Mint/Peppermint – (banish the foot lotions and toothpaste images that leap to mind), simply a trace of this fresh herb, Mint Absolute, lends a freshness and radiance and enhances any ‘green’ note in a ‘spring flower bouquet’ composition. So, let’s explore our Coffee mates; the plant generously offers not one but three botanical ingredients that we can incorporate for our sensory delight:
Coffee Absolute – Coffea arabica
For me, coffee conjures up images of richness, sophistication, depth, a cosmopolitan air and a sort of expansive smoooothness.
Off I went to rootle around in my perfumery stock to find my Coffee Absolute – (Coffea arabica), mine is a CO2 extract. It’s a thick, dark brown, viscous oil, with an initial rich, warm roasted, nutty hit, a bit earthy (like the used coffee grounds) but softened by a dark toffee/caramelised woody undertone.
On its own, (my smell strip beside me as I write) I find this a really ambient, comforting and rich scent, like being wrapped up in blankets, in front of a fire while winds are buffeting outside. It soothes my senses, like being sated without eating, weird.
I think if I were a woman I’d wear coffee as a perfume.
~John Van Druten
In natural perfumery it’s a beautiful note to include, adding a small amount would enhance and give a rich nuance to a variety of compositions such as:
- Blending with: Benzoin, Cocoa absolute, Honey, Raspberry absolute; spices, such as Clove, Cardamom and Anise
- Blending with: Jasmine, Rose, Aglaia absolute, Ylang ylang
- Blending with: Oakmoss, Angelica, Vetiver, Patchouli
- Blending with Tonka, Benzoin, Cistus, Birch, Cade
It is ripe for experimentation!
I think this Coffee absolute would make a wonderful ‘ambient’ fragrance for room candles, as an oil diffuser or a room spray, perhaps with an Amber accord and woods, such as Cedarwood and Sandalwood. I once had a synthetic room fragrance oil that I used in my burner called Bois de Cafe. It was pretty fab, with very smooth, old wood and wooden car interiors- vibe, or a well-loved library desk mingled with coffee hints, berries and a fig-ish, green note. It was addictive. If I can find the bottle and remind myself of it, I quite fancy having a go at recreating it – naturally of course.
Coffee Flower absolute
The coffee plant not only yields the intense, recognisable Coffee absolute from the bean, but also a delicate, heady floral absolute from the Coffee Flowers resembling jasmine flowers somewhat, in their tiny star-like shape. Coffee flower is quite rare, therefore difficult to get hold of, but I have a supplier who should be getting stock in so I hope to place an order soon (claps hands in glee). In the meantime, I searched out some information on its aroma and how it might be used in Natural Perfumery.
Of Madagascan origin, the absolute is extracted from the fresh, white blossoms of the Coffea arabica shrub. It is a golden-amber liquid and according to White Lotus Aromatics possesses:
“an intensely rich, sweet, ethereal floral bouquet with a spicy, chocolaty, vanillic undertone of good tenacity”
“It is used in high class florals, oriental bouquets, exotic spicy notes, garland perfumes, tropical bouquets.”
There were also some comparisons to other indolic flowers such as jasmine sambac and orange blossom with a dash of fig-like green, perhaps giving this narcotic blossom a ‘cool’, ethereal quality. I need to get that order in, pdq!
In my search for Coffee flower images, I did come across this piece on the Illy Coffee site; it may go some way to explaining the rarity of the Flower absolute, if it only flowers for a very short time. An ephemeral beauty indeed:
According to Illy:
“The coffee plant, a shrub of the Rubiaceae family, is tropical by nature and requires a hot and humid climate to thrive. Three to four years after the coffee is planted, rains trigger the blossoming of brilliant white flowers with a sweet jasmine or orange-like fragrance. Dense clusters of flowers grow at the base of dark green, oval leaves, enriching the entire plantation with their perfume.
The coffee flowers are short-lived and wither after a few days, bringing forth the fruit, or cherries, which change color from green to red as they ripen. Arabica cherries take about seven months to reach the optimal stage of ripeness while Robusta cherries average 10 months. The cherry is a drupe (a fruit containing one or more seeds surrounded by a fleshy layer of protective tissue) that usually contains two grooved, semi-oval cherrystones (seeds) lying with their flat faces together—the future green coffee beans. Each bean is surrounded by a silver-colored membrane and enclosed in a tougher skin called the parchment. The small, grooved seeds are the only part used for producing coffee: the future green coffee bean.
The blossoming cycle and maturation of coffee plants is not determined by the seasons; rather, the coffee plant blossoms after each rainfall and therefore a single plant can contain flower blossoms, unripe fruit and ripe fruit all at the same time.”
The Coffee oil is obtained by cold process of the coffee beans. This is then hydrogenated to produce Coffee Butter.
I purchased a small pot of this for sampling and and to mix with other butters for body creams etc. When I first opened it you really do get that ‘cafe-latte’ type of coffee smell, then a very faint green hint – (Perhaps how I would imagine ‘green’/unripe coffee beans would smell!)
Mine has butterscotch-like colour, is silky to touch and once applied sinks into the skin without any greasy residue – divine. It is gives a very smooth feeling on the skin and once applied leaves a faint aromatic scent of freshly roasted coffee, which fades nicely. You do not smell like you have accidently split the cafetiere on you – promise.
This would work really well in a solid perfume, of a gourmand/ culinary/candy composition. Perhaps mixed with a selection of floral waxes, lotus has a delicate, but earthy note to it, tuberose a fat, buttery and rich floral … I think I might need to have bit of ‘lab time’ to explore some perfume concoctions. I have only made body butter with this, combining it with coconut and shea butters, very simple and supremely gorgeous and softening on the skin. I think it would be useful for Soap makers too and also combined in a lip balm formula.
Coffee does seem to be a little in vogue at the moment, judging by this new candle from Jonathan Ward, ideal to light just before a dinner party or the morning after the night before!
Johnathon Ward – Coffee Candle
Jonathan Ward has collaborated with the historical Douwe Egberts to produce this Coffee inspired candle to grace your home, office or a third space. Check it out here, combining ingredients such as Patchouli, Saffron, Sandalwood, Cinnamon, Roasted Coffee, Molasses, Cardamom, Caramel, Cashmere Musk.
MMMM … I think it will be a rich, smooth, spicy gourmand delight!
“Coffee smells like freshly ground heaven.”
~Jessi Lane Adams
If this has whetted your appetite for going to the ebony liquid for perfume inspiration, why not check out the following:
Jo Malone’s Black Vetyver Cafe
Bond #9 New Haarlem
Ava Luxe Cafe Noir
These ones have very differing reviews on Fragrantica.com, just goes to show how unique and subjective wearing and describing perfume is!
If all this talk of coffee has got you a buzzing, why not work of all that caffeinated energy to Bowie himself (any excuse to get a music clip in).. here you go: Jean Genie …..