A celebration of tea lies at the heart of Kilian Hennessy’s latest fragrance, Imperial Tea. To be specific, jasmine tea, right down to its delicate greenness and its “moment of purity.”
Imperial Tea is an eau de parfum created by Calice Becker, which the Kilian website describes quite simply:
A Moment of Purity
IMPERIAL TEA is the most accurate possible reproduction of the note that you can inhale from a freshly brewed cup of tea. The unique scent of Jasmin tea is so well-known that it is difficult to distinguish between the green tea notes and the delicate Jasmin bud notes. Kilian wanted to fully translate the exquisite and delicate sensation of refreshment that one experiences with this timeless beverage.
Calice Becker, who authored most of the By Kilian line-up, is a self-confessed tea fanatic. Unconvinced by tea notes in fine fragrance, she set out to compose her own. The result is an Oh-my-God-this-is-it!, jaw-droppingly realistic rendition of the steam rising from a fresh cup of the finest jasmine tea. Kilian Hennessy found it so perfect for his Asian Tales collection that he included the blend as is, an unusual step since he is usually the one who provides perfumers with a storyline.
[Notes:] Jasmine sambac, bergamot, guaiac, maté, violet note.
Imperial Tea opens on my skin as a potent jasmine bomb infused with green tea, Lapsang Souchong black tea, and a strong dash of very crisp, fresh bergamot. It smells as though a ton of jasmine sambac was poured into two kinds of tea and then brewed. The black tea is the nicest part, but it’s far from being a dominant element on my skin. Not even a secondary one, in fact. A few seconds later, a very clean, white musk appears which is quite strong and sharp. It adds a certain crispness to the jasmine, along with a very definite cleanness. Unfortunately, it’s also strong enough to give me a headache whenever I smell Imperial Tea up close for too long. A tiny note of violet temporarily lurks in the background, fully bulldozed over by the jasmine.
Imperial Tea is very intense in its opening moments but also extremely airy, thin in feel, and gauzy. 2 small spritzes from my decant gave me 3 inches in projection, though the numbers began to drop after 30 minutes and the perfume lay just an inch above my skin by the end of the first hour.
It takes roughly the same amount of time (90 minutes) for Imperial Tea to devolve. The bergamot retreats to the edges, the jasmine loses its distinct shape and form, and Imperial Tea turns into a nebulous blur of clean, sweet jasmine with tea tonalities and sharp white musk. It’s totally characterless, bland, and indeterminate, except for the white musk which has the most oomph out of the whole thing. The whole thing is very well-blended, but also so hazy on my skin that it’s hard to pick out even the most dominant elements. Sometimes, the jasmine seems in command, occasionally it is the tea. The latter now smells primarily of green leaves, thanks to the maté, and has lost a good portion of its Lapsang Souchong black tonalities.
At end of the second hour, Imperial Tea is nothing more than simple jasmine tea on my skin with clean musk. The jasmine’s potency and sweetness have vanished, and that, in turn, makes Imperial Tea feel positively translucent in its lightness. The white musk continues to be a nuisance, but the bergamot has completely vanished. The black tea sits weakly on the sidelines, largely gagged and muted in the face of the general jasmine greenness. And that’s really about it in terms of substantial development for the next few hours. The perfume turns into a skin scent 2.25 hours into its evolution. An hour later, Imperial Tea becomes increasingly hard to detect.
By the middle of the 5th hour, the jasmine starts to fade away, as does the white musk, and I’m left with green tea. The maté doesn’t even have its usual herbal aromas or strong character. All that’s left is green tea infused with some vague, amorphous floralacy and an occasional touch of dryness. I suppose the latter stems indirectly from the guaiac wood, but no real woodiness ever shows up on my skin. We’ve gone from a clean jasmine bomb with varied tea notes, sharp musk, and bergamot; to hazy jasmine with green tea and musk, to simple green tea blandness. That is the sum total of Imperial Tea’s excitement on my skin. To my relief, the perfume packs up its bags entirely after 7 hours, and vanishes.
Imperial Tea is a simple, relatively pleasant, wearable fragrance. And I would certainly reach for it gratefully if I were ever on a deserted island with only salt water as an alternative. That’s about all I have to say about the perfume which inspires no emotion in me at all. Not even disdain. Imperial Tea has so little personality after the jasmine bomb of its opening moments that, to all effects and purposes, it felt invisible to me. I can’t even summon up the energy or interest to dislike it. It was simply… there.
At best, I’ll say that the jasmine intensity of the opening hour was pleasant, and the muted black tea was very nice. That’s about as complimentary as I can be, especially as the white musk feels wholly unnecessary. I had quite a bit of tea in China — including some lovely jasmine ones where flower balls bloomed in hot water — but not a single one was ever accompanied with sharp, white, clean musk. So, I can’t agree with Mr. Hennessy’s claim that Imperial Tea is “the most accurate possible reproduction of the note that you can inhale from a freshly brewed cup of tea.” Not unless the Chinese have suddenly started injecting their brews with clean synthetics.
I’m not a tea drinker, so perhaps my complete boredom stems from that fact. Maybe one has to adore both tea and jasmine tea, in specific, to get the appeal. Robin at Now Smell This certainly loves it, seems to be a bit of an expert on the subject, and drinks the beverage every day. She generally liked Kilian’s Imperial Tea, though she found it too clean when taken as a whole. For her, the perfume’s opening was “close to perfection,” ruined only by the eventual dominance of the white musk which almost verged on dryer fabric sheets. Her review reads, in part, as follows:
The Imperial Tea fragrance …[is] darned close to perfection. Bright and intensely fresh at first, it settles into a beautiful blend of green tea and jasmine. The jasmine is close to that in Kilian’s Love and Tears, rendered here just a tad cleaner, so that it has a satisfying depth but is neither rich nor indolic, and again as in Love and Tears, it’s clearly blended with other floral notes. The tea note verges on photorealistic — it’s not quite as tangy or aromatic2 as real jasmine tea leaves, but it’s reasonably close to what was promised, especially in the early stages: “the note that you inhale from a freshly brewed cup of tea”.3 The base is a clean, clean, clean blend of pale white musk + light wood notes. Imperial Tea feels summery, and slightly less feminine than Love and Tears.
Verdict: Imperial Tea is tantalizingly close, but in the end, no cigar. To my (admittedly finicky) nose, it is too synthetically fresh in the top notes (the opening blast is uncomfortably close to an air freshening product) and too clean in the dry down (not quite dryer sheet, but close). It’s pretty and I enjoyed wearing it, but the more I wore it, the more the clean ‘n fresh aura at both ends of the scent’s development bothered me, especially in the far dry down, when the jasmine and tea begin to fade. If they’d toned down the clean a notch, though, it would be a must buy, and it’s a shame Kilian never does flankers — I’d buy the unclean version of Imperial Tea in a heartbeat.
For another tea drinker, Neil of The Black Narcissus, Imperial Tea was a stunning, spectacular, and very sensual creation. In fact, his review is entitled “Sex Bomb in China.” He found the boldness of the opening to be positively “carnal” and the jasmine to be “hypnotically sexual.” He thought it was “paired beautifully with an equally no-nonsense fresh tea leaf accord, well tempered, the tea calming down those fierce jasmine blooms, the jasmine bolstering the tea[.]”
For similar reasons, The Smelly Vagabond took one sniff of Imperial Tea and practically “swooned,” right there and then on the floor of Harvey Nichols. He did so despite disliking prior scents from the Asian Tales Collection, and having some issues as an Asian when faced with “reductionistic views” of the region by Westerners making “Asian-inspired perfumes.” Yet, for all that, Imperial Tea blew him away:
The moment I sprayed it on, I was greeted with a bitter, smoky oolong tea infused with sweet, fragrant jasmine flowers and rounded off with a smooth and creamy milk. YES! I dare say I swooned and went into convulsions of pleasure there on the marbled floors of Harvey Nichols. Paying homage to historical and cultural heritage? Check. Creating the perfect blend of tea and flower? Check. Not Lipton tea? Check. Originality? Check check check check check. It’s been such a long time since any fragrance has tickled my cerebral fancy whilst moving me emotionally AND satisfying my ‘wearability-on-a-long-term-basis’ criterion. Imperial Tea does all that and then more, and thankfully never veers in the direction of the sticky, syrupy, sickly sweet jasmine marshmallow concoction that is also known as Love by the very same brand.
There isn’t much development in Imperial Tea, aside from a fading of the initial bitterness of the tea and sweetness of the jasmine, a dialing down of the volume. You’ve inhaled the glorious aroma of your tea and you’ve reveled in the complex sensations as you tasted it and drank it. And now you’re left with the aftertaste of those beautiful moments, and you are still, quiet and meditative. Perfect.
It must be a tea drinker’s thing. I suppose that big bang opening in the first hour justifies all the rest, even the sharp white musk and the speedy descent into blandness. More likely, I’m simply missing something from start to finish.
So, I suppose if you really love tea, and if you love jasmine tea in specific, you should go give Imperial Tea a sniff. I’ll be sitting in a café having a double expresso, and wearing a jasmine fragrance with a very different personality.