Choco Poeticus

This started as an idea to build a fragrance blend around coffee flower absolute, an underrepresented ingredient in perfumery. It smells a bit like pink champaca (which is sweeter) or jasmine sambac (which is more… floral), but it’s dry and green compared with these better-known flowers. Initially, I thought I could enhance it with cool woods like hinoki and elemi (OK, this is an oleoresin) and play up the green with violet leaf absolute. However, violet leaf turned out to be a diva and wouldn’t let anyone else be heard (smelled).

It wasn’t a stretch to start pairing coffee flower absolute with coffee bean extract, despite my previous failure at working with coffee in perfumery. The two go hand in hand quite well—it’s the other ingredients that make things difficult! Attempts to brighten the blend with neroli, blood orange, or sweet orange (not at the same time); or to darken it with cypriol, opoponax, and birch tar (at the same time) did not work out. Coriander essential oil had a run, for its strange affinity with coffee notes. Pandering to the green facets with styrallyl acetate and vetiveryl acetate was ill considered.

In the fourth mod, narcissus absolute was added. This was a pivotal decision because the original star ingredient, coffee flower, would soon be abandoned, and the working name of this blend became “Coffee Flower (–)” in the fashion of the web comic (and later book) Garfield Minus Garfield. The heady, pollinated richness of narcissus seemed like it would complement the darkness of coffee naturally. In a wave of optimism, I also introduced osmanthus absolute and jasmine grandiflorum extract, but this turned out to be like inviting all your alpha friends who don’t necessarily get along to a party.

The mods went through a phase of relying on various woody aromachemicals—methyl cedryl ketone, Cashmeran®, Iso E Super, Ysamber® K,… before shifting to a more leathery mode with permutations and combinations of Suederal LT® and isobutyl quinoline (IBQ).

Somewhere in between (mod #13 to be exact), I started adding roasted cocoa extract to pair with the narcissus. I also started using musks and removing Hedione®, which didn’t seem to be serving the blend well.

Cassis base 345B deserves a special mention, because it was included in almost every mod by virtue of its smelling of such delicious blackcurrant bud on its own and playing so well with other ingredients as long as it could be distinguished separately. It would make a lovely couple with any of the leather notes.

The blend has been progressively pared down. By the last mod (#21), the only ingredient that had been present since the first formula was pink pepper essential oil, which I used to provide a fruity, spicy kick to the opening.

The name of this labor of love and frustration is Choco Poeticus, for the cocoa and because the Latin name of narcissus is Narcissus poeticus.

  • Top: bitter yuzu, pink pepper
  • Heart: roasted cocoa, narcissus, saffron
  • Base: Suederal LT, Pretty Oud (a Firmenich base), Zenolide

In the first few seconds after spraying, each ingredient has a chance to sparkle, as though they are dancing in a circle taking turns intercepting the spotlight. The bitter yuzu, pink pepper, and saffron each enhance a facet of the leathery undertone, but they don’t last long. The cocoa note is very dry, like a dark chocolate without sugar added, but it pales next to the dominating narcissus, which itself seems to sink into the synthetic leather and “oud” bases. They, too, eventually fade, leaving the light, fruity musk Zenolide behind to tell the story.

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