Rose Milk Tea

This is a project I’d been working on for a while, on and off this year. To my own surprise, upon reading some old notes, I had started on it back in January and alluded to it here as well, although the current ingredients are quite different from those I’d tried initially.

Rose milk tea was one of my favorite beverages as a teenager and young adult, not least because of the allure of rose anything; and milk tea was already a firm love in my book. I indulged on it—iced, of course—for many summers, before I learned that the “rose” was simply flavored syrup and the “milk” was powdered creamer. Even after the disillusionment, I remained loyal to this drink, and went so far as to make it my moniker on the now-extinct chat app MSN (remember that before Microsoft took over Skype and Skype took over the world for a while?).

On occasion, I was treated to proper teas with real milk and rose buds floating in the teapot, which I eventually tried to recreate with some success (except that I was always tempted to eat the floating rose buds in my cup, a deed that was neither tasteful nor tasty).

In my youthful ignorance, I also tried to substitute rose with grenadine syrup, which more often than not turned my milked tea into a curdled mess.

Naturally, I wanted to dedicate a perfume experiment to this wonderful drink.

I started the somewhat obvious way, using actual tea aroma materials on hand: Paul Kiler’s black tea base and mate leaf extract. However, these were too potent in the direction of sweeter jasmine (the former) or earthy (the latter) teas, and not the effect I wanted, which was that of a simple, black tea background. I was also limited at first in my supply of lactones, so I tried jasmolactone and lactoscatone, but they were more like buttery biscuits than milk. Various synthetic musks may have made it muskier, but not milkier.

I was also infatuated with Himalayan cedarwood, which has a carnal quality more overt than Atlas cedarwood, and I used it in several mods before realizing that it was a jealous lover that smothered other ingredients. I tried other woods (methyl cedryl ketone, Australian sandalwood) and a bit of leather, but these quickly took the blend into other directions away from the intent of rose milk tea.

The rose I was using was rose Kazanlak, a Bulgarian tea rose that seemed most appropriate for the job. Rose Damask was too dark and fruity here.

An apartment move later, I picked up the experiment again, this time equipped with milk lactone. By now I had also realized that rose absolute had a rounder quality that brought more sweetness and bridged well with milkier materials, although I kept the rose Kazanlak in a smaller proportion.

The tea part would have to be implied. I added osmanthus absolute, which I love, and titrated it so it would not be astringent. I kept pink pepper as a bosom companion to rose, and added elemi for its woody, slightly lemony, pepperiness. Glycolierral, though it smells like freshly secreted body odor on its own, bridges green notes nicely with milky notes. For the darker, roasted aspect of black tea, I used cypriol and guaiyl acetate. Finally:

  • Rose: rose absolute, rose Kazanlak, pink pepper EO
  • Milk: milk lactone, ambergris
  • Tea: osmanthus absolute, elemi EO, Hedione®, cypriol EO, guaiyl acetate, Glycolierral®

It might need some imagination, but it sort of does what it says on the tin, except that one’s not quite sure what’s in the tin. There’s some of the withered petal smell that I don’t like in rose scents, but then again, you get that from rose buds soaked in hot water as well. It seems too milky at first, but soon the rose and osmanthus become dominant, supported by the darker materials that stay in the background.

At the end of the day, the scent of Rose Milk Tea—like the beverage—is all about the rose, after all.

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