Perfume as an olfactory tea


Tea is a sort of internal perfume, a perfume that we drink and that ends up dwelling within us.

—Tea Master Yu Hui Tseng, interview in Nez magazine #06


I love that sentiment, although I am not a tea connoisseur by any means. With some mass-marketed, fruity, herbal teas, one could argue that they are also external perfumes, smelling much more flavorful than they taste.

I would also like to posit that the reverse can be true: that perfume is a kind of olfactory tea. An elegant treat for the nose that is…

  • Smooth
  • Complex
  • Layered
  • Refreshing
  • Uplifting
  • Delicate
  • Assertive
  • Telling a story
  • Simply beautiful.


Perfume, like tea, can be cerebral. And emotional.

It can be simple and basic. Or nuanced and take an expert to understand.

Everyday. Or highly ritualized.


The versatility, airiness, and complementariness of perfume are what make it tea-like, more so than analogous to coffee, food, wine, beer, or liquor. (Although I enjoy just as much the comparison of perfumery to cooking or baking recipes and the parallels with smelling and tasting notes in artisanal beverages!)

A tea ceremony emphasizes the practice of paying attention to every detail and appreciating it fully. Every movement is paced and deliberate. No item in sight is superfluous. You respect the ceremony master. You admire singly the curvature and the unique artwork of the cup. You turn it gracefully toward your companions to show them, and give them adequate time to study the aesthetic form, thus silently appreciating their presence by actively sharing a prolonged moment of zen. Finally, you lift the cup toward yourself and take a sip.

A multisensory climax.

I believe it’s fair to say that perfume warrants a similar level of care and thoughtfulness, and is capable of that kind of sensory symbolism. The intrigue can be elusive and reward those who take the time.






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