Imperial Tea is the latest addition to the Asian Tales collection from niche line By Kilian. It is being launched along with Sacred Wood, and the duo made me sit up and take notice: I'm not always a huge fan of the By Kilian line, and the earlier scents in the Asian Tales series — Bamboo Harmony, Water Calligraphy and Flower of Immortality — pretty much left me cold, but jasmine tea and Mysore sandalwood? Theoretically, at least, I'm in.
I'll talk about Sacred Wood later (possibly on Thursday); today's focus is the Imperial Tea, inspired by the Asian tale of "The Big Red Toga Tea" (you can read versions here and here), and promising "the olfactory impression of authentic Jasmin tea".1 Jasmine tea is one of my favorite smells in the world. I drink a cup of Yin Hao jasmine nearly every morning, and while there are fancier (and more expensive) versions of jasmine tea, few of them can beat a really top quality Yin Hao. The smell from a freshly opened pouch or tin is exquisite, and the taste is about as close to a drinkable perfume as you are likely to get.
The Imperial Tea fragrance was developed by perfumer Calice Becker, and it's 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. And if you've never found a perfect jasmine tea fragrance, Imperial Tea is very much worth sampling.
You can find a more glowing review at The Black Narcissus.
Other possibilities for jasmine tea include L'Artisan Parfumeur Thé Pour Un Été (sheer and summery, and also clean, but less overtly so, and lighter on the jasmine than Imperial Tea) and Jo Malone White Jasmine & Mint (even less jasmine, and pretty clean as well). Fragonard launched Jasmin - Perle de Thé last year, but I have not smelled it. If you know of others, do comment!
By Kilian Imperial Tea features notes of jasmine tea, jasmin sambac, tea accord and white musk. It will be available in April, in 50 ml Eau de Parfum ($235 with fancy box, $135 for refill) or in a 30 ml refillable travel spray ($145).
1. Quote via press materials.
2. To my nose, nothing quite captures the real tang of dried tea leaves like Hermès Osmanthe Yunnan.
3. Again, via press materials.
Note: top image of Jasmine Yin Hao Green Tea via Rishi Tea.