A perfume house known for its intense, extensive line up of potent ouds seems to be doing some lovely things with gourmands as well. Last month, the Paris niche house of Montale released a new fragrance called Intense Café (or, as my head always reads it “Café Intense”), and it seems to be a great hit with everyone who has tried it. So, I decided to try it along with another Montale that always caught my eye, Chocolate Greedy.
It turned out to be an apt choice, as Intense Café feels like a cocoa-dusted vanilla latte with rose, while Chocolate Greedy is a dark, bitter chocolate ganache cake sweetened by dark fruits and a jammy rose liqueur. The two faces of a chocolate-rose Janus, if you will. Neither scent is complex, both of them carry the Montale trademark of ISO E Super to the nth degree, and, yet, they’re both quite addictive fragrances that I actually liked. If they weren’t so ISO E Super intensive, I would enjoy wearing either one. Consider me pleasantly surprised!
Montale puts Intense Café into the rose category, and describes the perfume as follows:
A truly enticing fragrance. Brillant Floral Notes reveal a surprising heart made of Delicate Rose and Sensual Coffee. This perfect duo leaves a very beautiful sillage of Vanilla, Amber and White Musk.
Fragrantica classifies the scent as an Oriental Vanilla, and lists the notes pyramid as:
Top note is floral notes; middle notes are coffee and rose; base notes are amber, vanila and white musk.
Intense Café opens on my skin with a jammy rose and bucketfuls of ISO E Super, followed quickly by a café au lait aroma, and a creamy, warm, very rich vanilla. The ISO E Super dominates everything in its path for about 40 seconds before it retreats to skulk broodingly in the corner and around the edges of the rose. For all its name, Intense Café primarily focuses on a rose that is dark, rich, syrupy, and infused with vanilla bean concentrate.
Though the coffee nuance is not paramount, it’s definitely noticeable, especially after 5 minutes have passed. Actually the “coffee” might be more aptly described as “cocoa beans” processed into different things. I struggle to place the note with precision because it varies so widely from minute to minute. Sometimes, it seems like actual coffee or, to be precise, milky café au lait. Frequently, I’d swear that the aroma was actually that of a vanilla milkshake. At other times, it feels like a Chai or soy latte sprinkled with white cocoa powder. Whatever it is, it’s very pretty, but not particularly strong. What’s more interesting is how it fluctuates throughout the first two hours, almost like a wave that reaches a peak, crashes on the shore, ebbs, and then returns to do it all over again. At times, the cocoa variation feels very noticeable in its own right, but, at others, it ebbs away to become a more delicate nuance to the vanilla latte.
Either way, the primary aroma of Intense Café for the first hour is variegated shades of cocoa and coffee powder dustings on a vanilla latte or milkshake. The thick, creamy vanilla is the dominant note (besides the bloody ISO E Super), and its beautifully decadent lushness sits atop a thin layer of dainty roses. Visually,the colours are all pink roses, creamy vanilla, and pale, dusky cocoa. It’s very airy bouquet, though it has Montale’s trademark potency in terms of sillage and strength. As for the prodigious amounts of ISO E Super, Montale has always worshipped at its temple, but I will say that the amount in Intense Café seems far less than in many Montales and it didn’t give me a headache. The aromachemical sometimes takes on a rubbing alcohol, astringent facade, while at other times, it’s merely peppered and synthetic in feel. Either way, since few people seem to ever detect ISO E Super, I wouldn’t worry about it unless you know you’re one of those who always gets migraines from it.
If you smell Intense Café from afar, it’s truly delicious. At the start of the second hour, it’s a delicious cocoa-y vanilla, but soon, the rose starts to become much more prominent. At the 90 minute mark, Intense Café is cocoa-dusted rose with vanilla and it calls to mind an extremely similar note in Serge Lutens‘ Santal Majuscule. Of course, the Lutens is supposed to be primarily about the “sandalwood,” but the most beautiful part of that fragrance for me was the chocolate-dusted rose. It’s equally lovely here, in Intense Café, only it sits cocooned and embraced by the creamiest, richest vanilla essence. At the end of the second hour, Intense Café softens, fades a little, and loses a bit of its forcefulness. By the start of the fourth hour, the fragrance is a discreet, soft cloud of sweet, dusty cocoa-infused rose with vanilla with only the barest hint of coffee. It sits right on the skin, where it proceeds to get more muted, abstract and blurry. Finally, it fades away as a nebulous, amorphous blur of sweet but dusty rosiness.
All in all, Intense Café lasted under 9.75 hours in a really distinctive manner, and about 14.25 as a whole if one counts the fact that a tiny patch on my arm continued to emit a small burst of roses. Part of the problem is that ISO E Super can create a ghostly note that seems to vanish to one’s nose due to the large size of the molecules, before it reappears. Another thing is that I applied about 2.5 large smears. As a general rule, a perfume’s strength, longevity and potency are increased by spraying (and by synthetics), and given the normally prodigious longevity of some Montales, my numbers are obviously lower than what others may experience through aerisolization. Still, the numeric votes at Fragrantica indicate that Intense Café’s duration is generally “moderate” for most people with that category receiving the largest amount of votes (5) thus far, followed by 3 for “long lasting” and 4 for “very long lasting.”
On Fragrantica, the commentators compare Intense Café to a few other fragrances. A handful of people bring up the new Mancera perfume, Rose Vanille. Others mention Rochas Man. I haven’t tried either fragrance, so I can’t comment, but I can discuss a third reference: Tom Ford‘s Noir de Noir. Quite a few Fragrantica commentators mention how the opening of Noir de Noir is very similar to that of Intense Café. I think it’s only the very jammy, beefy rose which the fragrances have in common, and not much else. On my skin, Noir de Noir opened with spices, in addition to that dark, baroque rose. There was saffron, the merest suggestion of oud, and the earthiness of black truffle. Absolutely none of that remotely resembles Intense Café!
What’s interesting to me about the Fragrantica comments is that a few people seem to think Intense Café has oud in it. It doesn’t, but almost all of Montale’s Aoud line has a blisteringly high quantity of ISO E Super in it, and I think people are so highly conditioned to that smell (or so unaware of the existence of ISO E Super) in the Aouds, that they’re confusing the two notes here. Another point that I found to be curious was the 3 or 4 references to musk in Intense Café. One chap even said that musk was the dominant note in the fragrance, and that Intense Café was not particularly distinctive from any other Montale musks. I blinked at that because, on my skin, there was no musk at all. Still, clean, white musk is listed as one of the notes, so it clearly depends on skin chemistry.
As a whole, I liked Intense Café during in its first two hours when it was quite a rich, nuanced scent. The subsequent blur and haziness was still pretty, but a little too redolent of ISO E Super for me personally. The perfume is sweet, delicious, and obviously gourmand in nature, but it’s a lot drier than you’d expect thanks to the cocoa powder. If you’re expecting a pure coffee scent, however, you may be disappointed.
The delicacy of the Tonka Bean lightly toasted and flavoured with dry fruits, Orange and Vanilla.
The full notes, as compiled from Luckyscent and Fragrantica, are:
mocha bean, coffee, bitter orange, cacao cream, vanilla from Madagascar, tonka bean and dried fruits.
Imagine the darkest chocolate lava cake or, as it is sometimes called in Britain, chocolate fondant pudding. Now imagine slicing into it, and seeing a gush of warm, rich, oozy, thick, heated warmth that is at once bitter and sweet. A mere hint of juicy, zesty orange lurks underneath. Sweet vanilla wafts all around, like the delicious crème anglaise sauce used to go with lava cake.
That’s the opening of Chocolate Greedy on my skin. It’s lovely, quite heady, and very appealing — even to someone like myself who doesn’t normally go for gourmand fragrances. Unfortunately, as always with Montale, there is also that massive dose of ISO E Super mixed into the delicious mix. Even more unfortunate, it has a nuance of bug spray that quietly lurks underneath. Thankfully, it’s subtle and leaves after about 15 minutes.
What fascinates me, however, is the orange element which takes on an interesting characteristic after a few minutes. It actually smells a lot like a very jammy, fruited, syrupy rose. With every passing minute, the dark fruits grow more noticeable, creating an impression of dried cherries in some instances, and of dark rose liqueur infused with zesty orange in others. When it’s the former, it calls to mind Black Forest Cake with its rich, dark chocolate, sweetness, and candied cherries. Either way, the overall result is quite delectable.
The cocoa in Chocolate Greedy is equally complex and layered. At first, it’s merely dark, molten chocolate, but, later, it varies between: mocha; dusty, dark cocoa nibs with its dry, slightly bitter aroma; something more like dark fudge syrup; and expresso infused with both dark chocolate and cherry syrup. It’s beautiful, especially when the very fruited, jammy, almost plummy, rose liqueur swirls into Chocolate Greedy’s dark bitter-sweetness. Not even the final, dying whispers of bug spray chemical (just before the 15-minute mark) can ruin the heady, potent, decadently rich, delicious bouquet of dark chocolate ganache with boozy rose liqueur, dark fruits, and vanilla crème anglaise. The aroma is especially intoxicating from afar where it’s a swirl of beautiful notes. For my nose with its sensitivity to ISO E Super, it’s better not to sniff Chocolate Greedy too closely due to the aromachemical’s powerfully peppered, rubbing alcohol, facial astringent characteristics.
Like all the Montales, Chocolate Greedy is a simple fragrance without much nuance, complexity or layers. It’s linear, and continues on the same trajectory for hours and hours. But it’s a lovely, compulsively sniffable linearity. Oddly, about 3.5 hours in, Chocolate Greedy turns primarily into a rich, beefy, meaty, dark, damask rose followed by chocolate in second place. The floral element isn’t syrupy or cloying, thanks to the effects of the dry, bitter chocolate, even though it’s more like dark chocolate powder now instead of molten ganache lava cake. The rose is still also flecked by a rich vanilla essence, but it is no longer the rich warmth of vanilla custard sauce. Instead, it’s merely a background note, third in line behind the rose and chocolate twin-ship, and it soon fades away entirely. Montale may classify this fragrance as a vanilla one on its website, while placing Intense Café into the rose category, but I think the fragrances should both be in the rose group.
As time passes, Chocolate Greedy becomes hazier around the edges, and the notes all blur into one another. Around the fifth hour, the perfume is a nebulous, hazy, soft cloud of chocolate powder tinged by rose. The chocolate has returned to far overtake the rose element, and I really like its dusty, dark quality with a smidgen of milk chocolate mixed in. Chocolate Greedy becomes a skin scent about 6.75 hours in, creating a delicate, discreet veil that caresses you with dusky cocoa powder and florals. Eventually, hours later, it fades away to nothing more than a whisper of dark, dusty cocoa powder. All in all, it lasted a whopping 12 hours on my skin in a very noticeable way. However, like the Intense Café, those synthetics and ISO E Super’s ghostly characteristic helped create small patches on my skin where Chocolate Greedy continued to linger. On those tiny, dime-sized areas, I could detect the faint traces of Chocolate Greedy well past the 14th hour. If I had actually sprayed the fragrance, and a large amount of it, I have no idea what longevity numbers I’d get, but they’d be huge. It’s one of the benefits of Montale’s signature touch.
Unlike the brand-new Intense Café, Chocolate Greedy has been around long enough to receive quite a few reviews. On Basenotes, a lot of people really love the fragrance, with one commenting excitedly that Willy Wonka must have made it. However, there are quite a few detractors, too, though they still rate Chocolate Greedy with three stars out of five. Their primary issue seems to be that the chocolate is too sweet, and that the “sticky/thick vibe can be cloying.” I think the latter is definitely a possibility if Chocolate Greedy were sprayed in a large quantity; this is one fragrance where less is more, especially given the Montale potency.
On Fragrantica, 64 people said that the fragrance was similar to Comptoir Sud Pacifique‘s Amour de Cacao. I haven’t tried the fragrance, but a number of people argue that there are quite a few differences, small though they may be. For one thing, they say that the CSP has a significantly stronger orange zest note at the beginning, while Chocolate Greedy focuses on the dark chocolate. Others find the CSP doesn’t last long and has little projection (undoubtedly because it is a weak eau de toilette), but such comments are rarely said about a Montale fragrance. A few think that the CSP is milder, more linear, and less complex, while some others argue that it is better value for the money. Luckyscent certainly sells it for much less than it does the Montale, but the reviews for the fragrance there seem highly mixed with talk about how Amour de Cacao smells synthetic, resembles “cocoa puffs,” doesn’t have a good vanilla note, or doesn’t emit a lot of dark chocolate.
Another fragrance that is brought up by a number of people on Fragrantica is an Arab perfume oil called Choco Musk from Al-Rehab (Crown Perfumes). Apparently, it “not only smells better than this but you can find it for about $3-$5 online and in Arabic stores[.]” I’ve never tried it, but the cost issue did make me curious, so I looked it up. Yes, it really is that inexpensive. Choco Musk is sold through a supplier in Ohio and 6 ml (.2 oz) of the concentrated perfume oil costs $3.20. The three reviews on the company website are all positive, and talk about how long the fragrance lasts. As a further plus, the company also ships to Canada and worldwide, with all mailing costs dependent on weight (which can’t be much given the amount in question). In short, Choco Musk may be a definite option for those of you who are tempted by the Montale, but don’t want to spend a lot of money. I can’t vouch for the smell, and I find it hard to believe that it’s more than mere chocolate musk, just as the name states, whereas Chocolate Greedy’s nuances vary from the orange zest to the dark fruits and rose liqueur. Still, at that fabulously crazy price, the Al-Rehab is absolutely worth ordering to find out!
ALL IN ALL:
Given my prior experiences with Montale, I know it will surprise regular readers to the blog when I state that I truly enjoyed both Intense Café and Chocolate Greedy. And that actually brings me to another point. I’ve sometimes slammed Montale for having fragrances that smell extremely synthetic, and I know a few other perfume bloggers avoid the house like mad for the same reason (and, also, because the fire-extinguisher bottle). I will maintain until my death that Montale’s Aoud Lime is the perfume equivalent of Chernobyl, and should be used to exterminate cockroaches in a post-apocalyptic world. Actually, most of Montale’s Aoud line — which is how they made their name, after all — smells chemically artificial to me, and not solely due to the galloping bucketfuls of ISO E Super. Real, genuine agarwood is extremely rare these days, and a number of perfume houses use a synthetic, lab-made version of the wood to create the scent of “oud.” Guys seem to go absolutely nuts for Montale, but for me, there are better brands with more complexity and better quality ingredients.
Yet, despite all that, I think Intense Café and Chocolate Greedy are actually lovely and smell delicious. I mean it. Perhaps the inherent nature of a gourmand fragrance makes it easier to avoid the pitfalls of an Oud one. After all, how can you go wrong with chocolate and vanilla mixed with roses? Whatever the case, I think the synthetic Montale signature has been really minimized in each fragrances. (The exception is that blasted ISO E Super, but since most people can’t seem to detect it, the issue doesn’t apply.) Are Intense Café or Chocolate Greedy complex, edgy, revolutionary, or original? Of course not! How many gourmand perfumes are? Yet, if you’re looking for something very cozy, comforting, wholly unisex, and extremely versatile with a massive bang for your buck in terms of projection and duration, then you should consider Intense Café or Chocolate Greedy. The latter, in particular, has been around long enough to be offered at discounted prices on some online perfume sites as well.
For me, personally, I preferred Chocolate Greedy. The reasons are its greater layers, nuances, richness and depth. The chocolate is infinitely deeper, darker, and more interesting than the more café au lait cocoa in Intense Café. If the latter had a more noticeable, actual coffee note, as opposed to the light chocolate powder that dominated on my skin, the roles might be reversed. Or, perhaps not. I’m a sucker for dark molten chocolate, especially when mixed with dark fruits and a jammy liqueured, almost boozy rose. Chocolate Greedy was essentially like the best part of many desserts, only without the calories and weight gain. But if you’re one of those who lives at Starbucks and adores their soy lattes, then you may want to opt for the new Intense Café instead. Either way, you’ll smell delicious.