DSH Perfumes Cafe Noir & Parfum de Luxe

Source: en.visitparisregion.com

Source: en.visitparisregion.com

Expresso, licorice, amber, cinnamon, leathered tobacco, and smoky resins lie at the respective hearts of two sibling fragrances from DSH Perfumes. Cafe Noir was inspired by the jazz cafés of Paris at night, while the thought behind Parfum de Luxe stems out of the Art Deco movement of the 1920s and the French Riviera. One fragrance begins as a golden, buttered gourmand before shedding its skin to turn resinous, dark, and chewy. The other has dark expresso and licorice on my skin, with a surprising touch of decayed florals lurking at its edges that is replaced by leathery tobacco. Both, however, have their darkness end on a soft finish of vanilla.

CAFE NOIR:

Cafe Noir Pure Parfum in the antique bottle. Source: DSH Perfumes website

Cafe Noir Pure Parfum in the antique bottle. Source: DSH Perfumes website

Cafe Noir is meant to evoke Paris jazz cafés at night. It is a 96% botanical eau de parfum that the DSH website describes as follows:

Cafe Noir is an oriental fragrance that harmonizes spice, floral, resin and wood notes with the beloved aroma of black coffee.

It is a Paris night.  Dark and sophisticated, it evokes late concerts in smoke filled rooms…sipping coffee and listening to jazz.  Captivating  and sensual, Cafe Noir fuses classical sensibilities with the flair of the artist.

The notes, as compiled from Fragrantica and the tags on DSH Perfume, are:

Top notes: bergamot, black pepper, cinnamon bark, and pimento berry;
Middle notes: Siam Benzoin, Bulgarian rose otto, grandiflora jasmine, and labdanum.
Base notes: coffee absolute, tolu balsam, and vanilla.

Source: mainstreamsochi.blogspot.com

Source: mainstreamsochi.blogspot.com

Cafe Noir opens on my skin with a delicious explosion of goldenness that is the furthest thing in feel from any dark, sultry café. Actually, it evokes Cinnabons, more than the world of Ella Fitzgerald in smoke-filled rooms at midnight. The opening bouquet is of boozy cinnamon with rich Bourbon vanilla, a touch of fiery chili, and the tiniest whisper of coffee. Cafe Noir is, first and foremost in these opening minutes, centered on a very powerful, buttered cinnamon note that really evokes a pastry dusted with spice, heavily buttered, and with a warm, fresh-baked bread aroma.

It’s a visual of gold and red in a scent that feels very comforting. Yet, for all its gourmand tendencies, nothing about Cafe Noir is sweet or cloying on my skin. The expected note is extremely muted, feeling more like a suggestion of coffee on the side. Oddly enough, there is a distinct Earl Grey tea impression that seems much more profound. The unexpected tonality undoubtedly stems from the very aromatic bergamot. I love the overall warmth and sweetness of Cafe Noir, the feeling of tea time centered around cinnamon buns.

Source: Dailymail.com

Source: Dailymail.com

The boozy cognac fades away within minutes, and its place is taken by other elements. There is a waxy, honeyed note from the labdanum. Vanilla swirls around now as well, but the central focus of Cafe Noir after 10 minutes continues to be the blend of hot, buttered cinnamon rolls with Earl Grey tea. The whole thing gently wafts 1-2 inches above my skin in a deep, concentrated cloud that initially feels very airy.

The coffee soon vanishes entirely, and its place is taken by the occasional suggestion of abstract florals. Sometimes, I think I can smell ripe jasmine; once, I thought I detected rose; another time, there was also a fruity nuance that popped up. Yet, all of it is hard to pinpoint and lurks in the far corners of the background. For the most part, there is merely a sense of something vaguely “floral” that lurks about, but it is too nebulous and too well-blended into the other notes to be a significant part of the fragrance. The same story applies to the pimento chili pepper which appears once in a blue moon in a visible manner, but is generally subsumed into the overall bouquet.

Much more noticeable are the growing presence of dark accords. There is honey that feels syrupy and, often, quite burnt. There are also the labdanum and balsamic resins. The tolu in particular feels smoky, chewy, and almost masculine. By the end of the first hour, the three notes combine to wipe out the golden, gourmand, cinnamon haze of Cafe Noir, blanketing it with darkness that is a little bit smoked and singed. The sticky, burnt honey comes fully to the foreground, followed by the labdanum. It continues to emit the tiniest touch of honeyed beeswax, but its primary aroma is of a very dark, slightly masculine, tough amber. It feels dusted by pepper and a suggestion of pimento. Following the labdanum is the smoky tolu as the third main player on Cafe Noir’s stage.

Photo: naldzgraphics.net

Photo: naldzgraphics.net

Cafe Noir’s second phase is fundamentally different than its opening. Cinnamon continues to blanket everything, but this is a dry note now that feels almost woody at times. All suggestions of hot, flaky, buttered pastries have disappeared, while the Earl Grey tea is a mere blip on the horizon. At the end of the 2nd hour, Cafe Noir is a very dark, resinous amber with almost a smoky nuance. It is dusted by spices, then lightly flecked by vanilla and by the tiniest, muted touch of jammy roses. It is a skin scent by this point, but deep, concentrated, and very strong when sniffed up close.

Photo: sitnica.

Photo: sitnica.

Cafe Noir doesn’t change much for the rest of its life. The core of darkness merely reflects different secondary notes on the periphery, like occasional lingering touches of beeswax, spiciness, vanilla, or cinnamon. For the most part, it simply turns into a blur of smoky, resinoid darkness with an undertone that almost verges on tobacco’d leather at times. Cafe Noir continues to have a very concentrated, dense feel up close, but it’s also an increasingly sheer in weight. With every passing hour, the tolu balsam takes over more and more on my skin, adding to that leathery impression in the haze of smoky darkness. I’m really surprised by the complete 180 turn from Cafe Noir’s opening stage.

In its final moments, Cafe Noir is merely a wisp of something resinous and dark, with the tiniest suggestion of sweet, almost tonka-like vanilla mixed in. All in all, the scent lasted over 8.5 hours on my skin. The sillage was soft but generally decent for the first few hours, helped by the very dense, chewy feel to the notes. Even when Cafe Noir turned into a skin scent, it still was easy to detect up close until the start of the 6th hour.

Source: Pinterest and lattelisa.blogspot.com

Source: Pinterest and lattelisa.blogspot.com

The lovely Victoria at EauMG had a very different experience with Cafe Noir, but she loves it, calling it a “beatnik” chypre that conveys exactly the jazz café atmosphere that it intended. Her review reads, in part, as follows:

Cafe Noir is a moody, rich fragrance. I love it. I call it “beatnik in a bottle”. It’s smart and sophisticated and a bit counter-culture (if a perfume can be described as such). It reminds me of a classic French perfume created for the kind of gal that spends late nights/early mornings reading Lawrence Ferlinghetti by the fireplace, sipping on midnight black coffee. […][¶] This scent reminds me of “beat” poetry.

My first impression of this fragrance creates a bit of confusion in my mind. I know that I like it but I find it very odd. It hits as if it is a spicy, mossy, dirty, chypre. It smells a bit wild and untamed and actually hot. It reminds me of all of those classic Guerlains like Mitsouko but Cafe Noir is much dirtier and grittier and with a kick of spice. It reminds me of moss and Atomic Fire Balls. You just know like beat poetry, that this is a fragrance with so much to say. Once my mind finally gets that this is a dirty, spicy chypre, I get an unexpected “shot” of bitter coffee beans. To add to even more complexity, I get lovely “classic” perfumey. I get rich, thick Parisian florals of rose and jasmine. But, it isn’t classic because of the bitter coffee. The dry down is moody and fairly simple. It has smoky incense like copal rich sweetness with grounding notes of vanilla, labdanum, and balsam. It is like being in a room where incense was once burning. It is slightly smoky but mostly you get the sweetness of the smoke floating through the air. I can not imagine my perfume collection without Cafe Noir in it. This one is very special.

Photo by Satr via This Blog Really Stinks.

Photo by Satr via This Blog Really Stinks.

For This Blog Really Stinks, Cafe Noir was a romantic, sexy, cozy fragrance that was also about more than mere coffee:

Sure, there’s a beautiful coffee note present, but that’s not all! Let’s talk about the coffee, though, for a minute. Where New Haarlem (Bond No.9)  was a bracing double-shot in a styrofoam cup, Cafe Noir is richer, softer coffee in a cup and saucer. The barista sprinkled some cinnamon in it, a spicy-sweet twist. […][¶]

Once the nose acclimates to the steaming coffee and delicate spice, it’s free to venture further. With the cinnamon coffee always present, a sexy floral blend wafts in. Jasmine and rose dance softly but distinctly, reminding me a bit of twin snakes of smoke and steam spiraling upwards from lit cigarettes and hot mugs.

Labdanum, a note I’m learning more about (and love), is probably what’s responsible for the somewhat creamy, ambery facet to this perfume. It’s the slightest bit like warm skin kissed by smoke.

Source: tomsguide.com

Source: tomsguide.com

On Fragrantica, however, a number of the commentators found Cafe Noir to be all about the cinnamon. One person detected no coffee at all, and hardly anyone talks about floral notes. Some of the range of opinions:

  • Straight up, I get an unexpected blast of alcohol, specifically brandy, followed by the strong cinnamon that puts me immediately into a Christmas state of mind. Soon this settles and then the other notes mingle to create a comfort, feel-good scent. I don’t get strong coffee here, but it IS gourmand. It is more coffee bun dusted with cinnamon[….] In a way, this is also reminiscent of a BPAL in that the scent is so evocative and strong, you could be in the moment in that coffee shop…. with that bun.
  • Source: davidwarkentin.blogspot.com

    Source: davidwarkentin.blogspot.com

    Well the way I would rate the notes would be: 1. Cinnamon 2. Pepper/Pimento 3. Benzoin 4. Coffee 5. Vanilla 6. Tolu [¶] This to me is all about a nice hot latte with a heavy sprinkling of cinnamon on top of the foam while you sit quietly eating a warm cinnamon bun. This is gorgeous, warm and creamy but really for me the cinnamon is what takes center stage. A beautiful addition for fall and winter. This is just the perfect amount of spice without becoming a total spice bomb. I agree with the others, I don’t smell the flowers but I am sure they are helping the spices to stay grounded and not get too carried away!!! [¶] For a real caffeine kick I will stick with Ava Luxe’s Cafe Noir.

  • As a rule I have liked all the DSH perfumes I have sampled, however this one is very disappointing. I don’t smell any coffee at all, just cinnamon and amber. It’s also extremely sweet, almost sickeningly so. In its favour it lasts a few hours on my skin.
  • Cafe Noir is exactly that–a deeply aromatic, rich elixir that gives you a caffeine kick merely by absorbing it through your skin. [¶] The opening is piquant and dark and takes some time to diffuse, which is no surprise considering the viscosity if this natural blend. [¶] The flowers are not overt but deliver a roundness and subtle sweetness in combination with the vanilla. [¶] Labdanum, benzoin and tolu balsam give an exotic, ambery richness and a long lasting layered complexity. [¶] Incredibly indulgent and a well composed perfume which I think is suitable for both men and women. It makes me long for a cup of Turkish coffee with a piece of lokum on the side. I also find this a great natural alternative to Opium.

I find zero resemblance to my beloved Opium, but I do agree that Cafe Noir is a very unisex fragrance that both men and women would enjoy. I think some appreciation for cinnamon is in order, and, ideally, you wouldn’t have great expectations of a very coffee-dominated scent (or a floral one). If you are looking for a very resinous, balsam-heavy amber infused with spices, some smokiness, and varying levels of sweetness, Cafe Noir may be right up your alley.

PARFUM DE LUXE:

Parfum de Luxe in the more expensive Art Deco bottle, I think. Source: DSH Perfumes website

Parfum de Luxe in the more expensive Art Deco bottle, I think. Source: DSH Perfumes website

Parfum de Luxe was inspired by the Art Deco movement of the 1920s and ’30s, but it feels very much like Cafe Noir’s sibling. It too is an eau de parfum that is dark, resinous, smoky, and faintly leathered. To my surprise, it, too, manifested a coffee note on my skin. In fact, it was a substantially stronger one than the tiny blip in Cafe Noir, and was centered around bitter expresso.

Parfum de Luxe is a 94.5% botanical fragrance which the DSH website describes as follows:

A vintage style chypre-tabac perfume with subtle surprise praline and leather nuances in the drydown.  It is eclectic and yet fabulously suave.

On the Riviera, I was overwhelmed by the charm and grace of my surroundings. The Perfume in the air was magnificent. Inspired by the Art Deco movement of the 1920´s and ´30´s, Parfum de Luxe is rich, pure and confident.

The notes, as compiled from a comment on Fragrantica and the general tags on DSH Perfume, include:

Top: bergamot, clary sage, neroli, petit grain and violet.
Heart: Bulgarian rose absolute, Centifolia rose, Chinese geranium, honey, iris, tuberose and ylang-ylang.
Base: amber, Siam benzoin, brown oakmoss, labdanum, patchouli, sandalwood, tobacco absolute, musk, and vanilla.

Source: free-hdwallpapers.com

Source: free-hdwallpapers.com

Parfum de Luxe opens on my skin with crisp bergamot, herbal clary sage, leathered tobacco, and geranium, all on an earthy, musky base. The latter is infused with patchouli, dusty spices, what smells like cloves, a hint of oakmoss, and the tiniest touch of bitter, woody petitgrain. Then, for reasons that I absolutely cannot explain, something in Parfum de Luxe starts to strongly radiate bitter expresso on my skin, as well as black licorice and anise. I’m guessing that it must be some aspect of the tobacco, perhaps impacted by one of the other notes, but I’ve never had tobacco absolute turn to either expresso or licorice on my skin. Regardless, I’m rather keen on it.

Licorice. Source: Dylanscandybar.com

Licorice. Source: Dylanscandybar.com

The licorice grows more prominent with every passing minute, evoking hard, chewy, black Twizzler sticks. The bergamot and oakmoss quickly fade, leaving a scent that is primarily centered on dark accords. After 10 minutes, a whisper of tuberose creeps in, though it too is infused with the expresso, licorice and tobacco. The whole thing is an extremely strong, rich, dense scent that initially hovers an inch above the skin with 3 large smears.

There are very few florals at first, apart from the bitter geranium and that whisper of tuberose. The latter frequently disappears, only to reappear ten minutes later, in a ghostly dance that goes back and forth. Once, I thought there was the faint suggestion of iris, but it too darts away every time I try to pinpoint it.

Source: SnapperOne Blogspot.

Source: SnapperOne Blogspot.

Parfum de Luxe slowly starts to shift. There is a honeyed nuance which appears, mixing with the licorice to create the impression of burnt caramel. Then, to my surprise, a very ripe, brown floral element arrives. It smells primarily like a decayed gardenia, similar to that in Serge LutensUne Voix Noire, and is mixed with the tiniest, most minuscule touch of an over-ripe ylang-ylang. Both flowers are blanketed by the licorice-like accord and the sticky, toffee’d, burnt honey, then lightly flecked by an earthy muskiness. Bitter petitgrain and geranium dart about throughout the top notes, but what fascinates me is the mushroom aroma in the background.

It is something I’ve encountered with gardenia, but never with tuberose, no matter how ripe or indolic. Then again, most “gardenia” notes are derived from the combination of other florals, like tuberose, so perhaps that is the explanation. Either way, the mushroomy earthiness is extremely muted and even more brief, lasting only about 10 minutes before it fades away. However, it leaves in its wake a little bit of funk to Parfum de Luxe’s base, which joins the leathered edge from the “licorice” that I cannot explain. None of it is what I was expecting from the notes, but it all works very well as a licorice-expresso fragrance with a touch of dying gardenia. I like the richness and depth to the scent, as it feels quite hefty despite the airiness of the bouquet.

Photo: stonecontact.com

Photo: stonecontact.com

Parfum de Luxe hovers just above the skin after 25 minutes, smelling primarily of licorice, sticky honey, expresso, and dark resins, followed by a decayed floral, musk, and the tiniest hints of tobacco. Vanilla creeps in from the sidelines 45 minutes into the perfume’s development. The floral elements melt into the background around the same time, letting the dark, resinous, and burnt honey accords dominate center stage. They are joined there by the first suggestion of something vaguely ambered and golden at the end of the first hour. There is a dense stickiness to this dark heart which is really appealing. It’s also very well calibrated and balanced, as it never feels cloying or like a saccharine overload on my skin, thanks to the bitter elements which help to keep the sweetness fully in check.

Parfum de Luxe turns into a skin scent on me shortly after the 90 minute mark, losing some of its resinous density and turning somewhat thinner in feel. However, it is still extremely strong when you sniff your arm up close. Interestingly, the tobacco finally starts to emerge in its own right, though it’s quite muted at first. Parfum de Luxe is now primarily an expresso and licorice scent, infused with burnt, caramelized honey and an occasional ghostly pop of vanilla.

Source: texeretrade.co.uk

Source: texeretrade.co.uk

The notes slowly start to overlap each other, losing their distinct, individual edge at the end of the 2nd hour. Parfum de Luxe feels like a blur of darkness, dominated primarily by expresso with growing touches of an abstract tobacco. The scent feels almost leathery at times. On occasion, an abstract “floral” tonality pops up in the background, but it is nebulous and hard to pull apart. Sometimes, I think I can detect a subtle strain of a jammy rose, but other times I think I’m just imagining it. The dark, resinous, somewhat bitter mass has only momentary hints of sweetness, but they always fade away. About 3.5 hours into Parfum de Luxe’s development, it becomes even harder to separate the tobacco and expresso from the general sense of a bouquet that is simply dark and balsamic.

Photo: stonehousetiles.co.uk

Photo: stonehousetiles.co.uk

The one big change in all this is the role of the vanilla. It begins to grow more prominent, especially at the start of the 6th hour, and occasionally takes on a soft, powdered undertone reminiscent of tonka. It helps to soften Parfum de Luxe’s sometimes sharp, bitter edge from the expresso and tobacco, but only to a small extent. In its final moments, Parfum de Luxe is a simple smear of darkness with a hint of vanillic sweetness. All in all, the perfume lasted just over 6.25 hours on me, with generally soft sillage throughout.

I haven’t read of anyone experiencing black licorice or bitter expresso with Parfum de Luxe, but the core essence of a resinous, dark scent has been talked about by a few people. Victoria of EauMG has a lovely review of Parfum de Luxe which reads, in part, as follows:

This fragrance contains many, many notes. They all play off of each other nicely. However, when worn on my skin, I pick up sweetness. I get rich, raw honey. It’s sexiness verges on vulgarity. I love it. Yeah, at the initial wear I get a bit of the balsamy, purifying sage. But, that is blended with rich old-fashioned roses. (DSH uses the finest rose absolutes that I’ve ever sniffed). These roses are hard for me to identify because they are soaked in sticky, raw honey. They smell gourmand, candied, sticky, and sweet. Throughout the wear the honey really sticks on me (no pun intended). I do get buttery, creamy orris mixed with the honey. Sometimes when I wear this, I get the rich white florals but they have been baked into a buttery, honey cake. I must add that the orris and honey combo is lovely. It inspires me to add orris root to my next honey cake. (Perhaps toasted orris root?) I think it would be quite amazing. Anyways, back to this fragrance. The base still has sweetness. The honey doesn’t vanish but it does get quieted down by rich, resins and unisex mosses. This is the stage where I would definitely call Parfum de Luxe a chypre. It’s woodsy and mossy but still sweet with amber, tobacco, and vanilla. I want to call it a gourmand chypre if there is such a thing. Regardless if there is or isn’t such a thing, I know I like it. It’s delicious, rich, sensual.

Caramelized sauce amber

Like I said, this fragrance wears very sweet on me. It’s all honey, candied/edible flowers, and rich, gummy resins. I find it very sexy and it is one that I love to wear in the fall/winter. Its richness warms me up on cool, damp, classic Western Washington days. [¶][…]

It is long-lasting and it smells expensive. I think this would be a nice replacement for Tom Ford Private Blend’s retired Moss Breches [….][Emphasis to name with bolding added by me.]

Source: posterpal.com

Source: posterpal.com

Perfume-Smellin’ Things has a brief comparison of Cafe Noir and Parfum de Luxe, at least in terms of their feel and visuals:

Café Noir is meant to re-create the vibe of a Paris night at a club during the Jazz Age. It has a very vintage feel, with a bit of Habanita’s decadent soul in it, and it is definitely one of those “handle with care” scents that are better suited for a hot date than a job interview. It has Black Pepper, Coffee Absolute, Tolu Balsam and Vanilla Absolute, among other things. Its “sister scent” is Parfum de Luxe and I am pretty sure she is the older sister. Café Noir is the intriguing gamine with the short dark hair, but Parfum de Luxe is a Cool Blonde with lots of money and spends her summers on the Riviera. It is meant to bring to mind the Art Deco movement, and it smells very French indeed[.][Emphasis to names with bolding added by me.]

On Fragrantica, there is only one review for Parfum de Luxe. “Sherapop” writes:

I’ve been celebrating the arrival of cold weather for its most notable virtue: the sudden suitability of labdanum amber-based oriental perfumes!

DSH Parfum de Luxe is a dense and rich blend of a variety of oriental base elements and flowers which ends up smelling somewhat dirty to me. Perhaps the oakmoss and clary sage are somehow producing an animalic effect? I do not believe that ambergris (as opposed to labdanum amber) is present here, but the overall effect is slightly naughty smelling.

Whatever the source of the dirtiness of this scent may be, Parfum de Luxe is clearly brothel-ready and probably a good choice also for those who find straight-up labdanum amber perfumes too boring. I would place this composition in the neighborhood of such creations as Cartier Le Baiser du Dragon and Must. A very heavy scent. [Emphasis to names with bolding added by me.]

The particulars of my experience may differ substantially from those of other people, but I think all of these other reviews fully capture the feel and mood of Parfum de Luxe. Even the talk of dirtiness makes sense, though I don’t think Parfum de Luxe is skanky, and it definitely isn’t ripe like a brothel scent. The one area where I sharply disagree is with Perfume-Smelling’ Things’ comparison to a blonde, for Parfum de Luxe feels quite as dark as its Cafe sister. Actually, substantially darker, since it lacks Cafe Noir’s golden, gourmand beginning.

"Fire Storm" by Marina Petro. Source: marinapetro.blogspot.com

“Fire Storm” by Marina Petro. Source: marinapetro.blogspot.com

I think both scents are strongly unisex and could be worn by anyone who appreciates dense, resinous Orientals with amber and various levels of sweetness. Both Cafe Noir and Parfum de Luxe have substantial heft, and a heart of darkness. One is more smoky after a gourmand start that focuses on cinnamon, while the other is more bitter with expresso, licorice and burnt honey, but both turn into a very resinous, dark, ambered scent with a slightly leathered or tobacco’d nuance. That said, the differences between the two are significant enough to warrant trying both, if you’re interested, especially given how other people experienced significantly more floral or chypre accents from one fragrance to the next. In both cases, however, Cafe Noir and Parfum de Luxe are very well-done, interesting, and rather sexy with moderate to good longevity that could probably be increased further by generous spraying. So, if you’re tempted, give them a sniff!

Disclosure: Perfume samples were courtesy of DSH Perfumes. That did not impact this review, I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Cafe Noir and Parfum de Luxe are both Eau de Parfums that are offered in a variety of different sizes, as well as in a pure parfum concentration. All versions are sold on DSH Perfumes’ website. Cafe Noir is offered in: a 1 dram miniature size flask of EDP for $27; a 10 ml EDP for $63; and a 1 oz EDP for $135. The Pure Parfum Extrait version in an 10 ml antique Art Deco bottle costs $125. Samples are available at $5 for a 1/2 ml vial of EDP. Additional Parfum Extrait options are available as well. For Parfum de Luxe, the pricing is as follows: 1 dram mini of EDP for $27; a 10 ml decant of EDP for $63; and a 1 oz bottle of EDP for $135. The Pure Parfum Extrait starts at $125 for a 5 ml antique bottle, and goes up in price from there. In general, all orders over $10 will receive free samples of fragrances, with the number depending on the amount of your order. If you are outside the U.S., international shipping is available if you contact DSH Fragrances. As a side note, Cafe Noir is also offered on Indiescents in the 30 ml EDP size for $135. Samples: in addition to the samples available on DSH perfumes, Surrender to Chance offers Cafe Noir starting at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial of EDP. Parfum de Luxe is available for the same price.

La Via del Profumo Milano Caffé

Source: hqdesktop.net

Source: hqdesktop.net

Have you ever tried a perfume, took a sniff, then almost fell over yourself to spray on more? That’s what happened to me with Milano Caffé, which led to an actual “ohhh” out loud, then a frenzied application all over. It is a visual plethora of dark colours from the blackness of bitter expresso and licorice, to the mahogany of deep woods, the green-blackness of patchouli and smoky vetiver, and the darkness of black chocolate. Subtle hints of goldenness flit about from amber and vanilla, but on my skin, they are mere fireflies in the dark forest.

Dominque Dubrana via the NYT. Photo by Domingo Milella.

Dominque Dubrana via the NYT. Photo by Domingo Milella.

Milano Caffé is the creation of the perfumer, Dominique Dubrana, who also goes by the name “AbdesSalaam Attar.” His perfume house, La Via del Profumo, focuses on all-natural fragrances, many of which have a Middle Eastern flair or subtext. I’m utterly fascinated by Mr. Dubrana, a man who some consider to be a genius and magician and who was the focus of a fantastic, gushing article in The New York Times  entitled “Smellbound.”

In 2013, he debuted an “Italian Series” of fragrances which sought to pay tribute to his adopted homeland. Milano Caffé (which I’ll just write without the accent as “Milano Caffe” for ease and speed) is the first of the line, and is classified on Fragrantica as an “oriental vanilla.” Personally, I would categorize it as a Woody Oriental. On his Profumo website, AbdesSalaam Attar describes Milano Caffe as follows:

This first fragrance, named for Milan, is centered on the omnipresent and most characteristic smell of the city, the aroma of coffee. It pervades the streets and workplaces; it is part of every event and encounter, professional or leisurely; and is present in every social occasion.

I have blended coffee with chocolate because that is the Milanese way: the residents of that marvelous city add Cacao powder to cappuccinos, and place a single square piece of chocolate next to your cup of coffee.

The combination of coffee and chocolate is your introduction to the city of Milan, but it is merely the start.  The original blast of coffee- chocolate melts quickly into woody-spicy notes. The body of ‘Milano cafè’ is an elegant male fragrance worthy of the sophisticated fashion that characterizes the city: Warm, dry, woody, sober and at the same time rich, with a determined, confident character.

A subdued spicy accord alludes to the multi-ethnic aspect of the city, as manifest in the Somali and Arab restaurants that have flourished there in recent years.

Milano caffè is not your usual masculine, composed of trite notes to appeal to a mass audience. It is, instead, a new and unexpected accord that will appeal to people who make trends, not those who follow them.

Milano Caffe via The Perfume Shrine.

Milano Caffe via The Perfume Shrine.

Fragrantica provides the succinct list of notes:

coffee, cappuccino, chocolate, iris, woody notes, spicy notes, opoponax [sweet myrrh], tonka bean and amber.

There are a lot of unspecified, uncategorized notes on that list, and on my skin, they dominate. What appears on my skin, after quite a few tests, would be something more like this:

Patchouli, vetiver, cedar, expresso coffee, dark chocolate, cocoa powder, licorice, sweet myrrh, iris, something phenolic and tarry that might be birch, then tonka and amber. Possibly also: coriander.

I meant what I said at the beginning about my initial reaction to Milano Caffe, but it is significant for another reason as well. In my eagerness to spray on more, I applied Milano Caffe to my second arm, instead of just to my main testing arm which is the left one. I noticed an immediate, and quite substantial, difference in smell. Perhaps it is a pH issue, or perhaps my skin is even stranger than I suspected, but there was a very different version of Milano Caffe on my right arm than on my left one.

As a result, I’ve tested the fragrance three times in all, on both arms simultaneously. The same differences occurred each time during the first few hours. The perfume’s drydown is largely the same, but one arm gives a significantly darker, drier, woodier, smokier version of Milano Caffe. The other (my main testing left arm) reflects more vanilla, amber, warmth, and sweetness. One version is slightly more unisex, the other is hardcore masculine, though I think the fragrance skews very masculine in general. So, I’ll give you both versions of how Milano Caffe appeared on me.

VERSION 1:

Source: Sodahead.com

Source: Sodahead.com

Milano Caffe opens on my skin with an intense darkness, along with earthy, woody and smoky notes. There is smoked vetiver, something that resembles smoky Lapsong Souchang tea, cedar, earthy but green patchouli, sweet green grass, and spices. There is also a whisper of sweet muskiness that smells natural, as if you’re smelling it on a flower in nature or from the earth. It’s iris, but done in a way that may be the very first time I’ve ever loved the note. It’s delicately floral, but also infused with woody and smoked tonalities. A minute later, the bitterest of expresso coffees floods in to add a truly original, intense touch to the whole combination.

Patchouli. Source: womenworld.com.ua

Patchouli. Source: womenworld.com.ua

There is zero doubt in this patch head’s opinion that Milano Caffe contains a lot of patchouli, and I love every bit of it. It’s not the revolting modern version with its purple, syrupy fruit-chouli characteristics, but the real, hardcore, original stuff. In fact, the patchouli manifests itself from the top of the plant to the bottom: there is the green, pungent, medicinal edge of the leaves, but also the sweet, wet, damp earthiness of the soil around its base. At first, it is a subtle touch, but it takes maybe 2 minutes for the patchouli to become one of the main players on my skin, injecting both a medicinal greenness and a peppermint note to the proceedings.

This is no spicy, ambered, brown-red patchouli, but a very green one. Yet, despite that, it is as chewy and dense as the common labdanum-infused, boozy patchoulis on the market. The black-green kind in Milano Caffe also sometimes reflects a distinct boozy cognac touch that appeared in a few of my tests in the opening minutes, but that aspect is incredibly brief. As a whole, the patchouli in Milano Caffe in all tests and on both arms spans the green end of the spectrum from metholated and medicinal, to peppermint.

Licorice. Source: Dylanscandybar.com

Licorice. Source: Dylanscandybar.com

Other notes are perfectly blended within. There is a definite, very strong element of licorice that appears every time I’ve tested Milano Caffe. It’s black and very chewy in feel. It counters the floral element that, in some tests, was quite noticeable in the opening minutes, but very muted and muffled in others. The same thing applies to the sweet myrrh which adds a nutty quality, but also a quiet, subdued touch of smokiness. In some tests, it was initially quite noticeable, but, in most of them, it was the tiniest of notes that barely registers.

Black chocolate via bioshieldinc.com

Black chocolate via bioshieldinc.com

Much more significant, however, is the chocolate. At first, it’s just a whisper that feels like unsweetened, black chocolate that lurks on the sidelines or under the expresso. About 20 minutes in, it grows stronger, thoroughly infusing the expresso and the patchouli’s peppermint, until the three notes are essentially one. At the same time, there is also a feeling of dusty, semi-sweetened cocoa powder sprinkled on everything.

Lurking far below in the base is something that feels distinctly phenolic and tarry, with a very leathered, smoky feel. It’s not like the birch tar in some leather fragrances, because it’s hardly animalic, fecal or raw, but there is something of birch’s smokiness about it. It’s subtle, more akin to tiny tendrils blown from a campfire in the distance, but there is definitely something deeply dark, leathered, and smoky in Milano Caffé’s base. Milan and Italy are as famous for their leathers as for their expresso, so it wouldn’t be surprising if an olfactory ode to the city gave a nod to that element.

Source: brookstone.com

Source: brookstone.com

The overall combination and effect drove me wild. Coffee’d patchouli with black chocolate, licorice, smokiness, and dark woods. Genius, pure genius. Why has no-one ever done that before? How come no-one has ever thought to mix the darkness of patchouli and its peppermint qualities with something like bitter expresso and chocolate? I haven’t had such an instant, immediate reaction to a fragrance’s opening since my Paris trip, and the perfumes I bought or singled out for samples to test on my return. I wrote in my notes, “so happy, I could scream.” You have to be a patchouli addict to understand and relate to that, because I don’t think Milano Caffe’s dark, bitter, smoky, woody opening will be for everyone. Most definitely not, and especially not for most women, in my opinion. But I loved it.

Twenty minutes in, Milano Caffe is a seamless, rich, decadent, endlessly dark blend of notes. There is woody darkness, smoky vetiver, green patchouli, bitter black expresso, iris, smoke, licorice, black chocolate, and damp, sweet earth. Only the subtlest touch of warm amber lurks about, the iris is fading away, and both the sweet myrrh and cedar feel indistinct. In the background, there is an amorphous, indistinct touch of spiciness. I keep wondering if Milano Caffe has coriander in it because I occasionally pick up on the oddest nuance of something lemony, but dry. The whole bouquet feels incredibly dense and chewy, but Milano Caffe’s projection drops from its initial intensity to something that is only moderate at this point.

From a distance, the main bouquet is of bitter coffee infused with patchouli peppermint, licorice, chocolate and green, medicinal pungency. I’m fascinated by the interplay of notes, especially the ones you can smell if you go in close, because the notes sound like such a crazy combination. And, yet, they work so well here. The subtle ambered heart helps to counter the forcefulness of the elements, and to provide some warmth, but it never verges on sweetness.

Source: chaoswallpapers.com

Source: chaoswallpapers.com

As a whole, on my right arm which I don’t usually use for testing, Milano Caffe is a very dry, woody, greenly dark fragrance that is bitter-sweet at best. In truth, I would have preferred more of a counter-balance to that aspect of things, because my skin takes the base notes and runs with them to quite an unrelieved extreme. About 1.75 hours in, Milano Caffe is primarily a peppermint patchouli-vetiver combination. I wish it weren’t quite so dominant, as it has far overshadowed the coffee and other elements. While my skin normally amplifies sweetness and amber, it hasn’t done so here. I have to admit, this vetiver-peppermint stage was a little disappointing for me, not only because it lacked the complexity of the opening, but also because its darkness was a bit too constant for my personal tastes.

Peat bricks in an outdoor fire. Source: freeirishphotos.com

Peat bricks in an outdoor fire. Source: freeirishphotos.com

In fact, in one of my tests on this arm, Milano Caffe turned even darker. There was much more smoky woodiness, from the vetiver, the cedar, and the mysterious tarry element. The latter definitely evoked an outdoor bonfire in the way that birch tar or cade can often do, while the vetiver takes on a peaty tonality. The overall combination repeatedly called to mind Jovoy‘s Private Label, another fragrance with blackness, peppermint, woods and smokiness. There are big differences, however, as Private Label took all those elements to an extreme, while Milano Caffe is significantly better modulated and balanced. Plus, it has coffee, licorice and dark chocolate, while the Jovoy fragrance is centered on hardcore smoked vetiver and birch tar smoke with leather.

Perhaps it’s merely an odd idiosyncrasy of the skin on my non-testing arm, but Milano Caffe flattens into a patchouli peppermint with dark woods scent for the rest of its duration. I wish it hadn’t, as it was too much of the same thing for me, and the necessary counterbalance of ambered warmth was far too inconsequential on my skin to have much effect. Milano Caffe turns into a skin scent at the end of the third hour, and, in its final moments, Milano Caffe is merely dry woodiness with a vague suggestion of something patchouli about it. All in all, it lasted about 10.75 hours with 3 small sprays. Thankfully, Milano Caffe is consistently better balanced on my other arm.

VERSION 2 – MAIN TESTING ARM:

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

Milano Caffe opens on my skin with boozy, rich cognac and amber, followed by patchouli’s green notes and expresso. Seconds later, a chewy, black licorice appears, along with dark, bitter chocolate that is simultaneously like the solid slab as well as the dusty powder. The coffee initially has the bitterness of expresso, but also the smoother, milder aspects of regular coffee. The main notes are subtly infused with earthiness, smoky vetiver, a hint of dusty cedar, and the nuttied undertones of labdanum amber. The overall combination is much warmer, less bitter and dark than it was on my right arm.

"Green and Maroon," by Mark Rothko. Source: ArtTribune.com

“Green and Maroon,” by Mark Rothko. Source: ArtTribune.com

As the minutes pass, Milano Caffe continues to evolve and darken. The licorice grows much stronger, as does the pungent, medicinal sides of the patchouli. It’s not camphorated and doesn’t smell extremely mentholated, but it is very green, bitter, cool and chilly. There isn’t the musky sweetness or damp, wet earthiness of the first version, nor any of the iris floralacy either. Though there is the same smoky, woody greenness from both the vetiver and the patchouli, there is also the feel of some vanilla that was lacking the first time around.

The cognac booziness fades ten minutes into Milano Caffe’s development, and something else takes its place: peppermint. The patchouli’s green side loses its medicinal pungency, and the peppermint takes its turn on center stage next to the coffee, dark chocolate, and amber. Once again, there is something phenolic and tarry in Milano Caffe, a black, almost leathered, smokiness that appeared in both versions and in all the tests. Here, however, it is only a subtle, light touch, and far outweighed by the coffee.

Mark Rothko, ":'Magenta, Black, Green on Orange', 1947. Source: studyblue.com

Mark Rothko, “:’Magenta, Black, Green on Orange’, 1947. Source: studyblue.com

At the end of the first hour, Milano Caffe turns softer and a bit sweeter. The peppermint patchouli smooths out, as it is infused by the growing amber element. The vanilla rises to the surface and mixes with the other accords to create the impression of a dry caramel, infused with coffee. It’s an odd caramel though, as it has limited sweetness and a touch of bitterness. At the same time, the coffee and chocolate blend together to create a dry mocha accord. The patchouli is laced throughout it all. It is still primarily like peppermint, but it’s a much softer, warmer, earthier touch.

By the 3.5 hour mark, Milano Caffe is a soft coffee fragrance with slightly powdered vanilla and peppermint patchouli, nestled in a woody dryness and dusted by cocoa powder. There are lingering traces of both bitterness and smokiness, but they are subtle. The combination feels chewy in its notes, but the fragrance itself is a skin scent by now that is only hefty when you smell it up close. The notes remain easy to detect for another few hours, though they slowly lose their richness.

Mark Rothko, #20 or "Black,brown on maroon." Source: artsearch.nga.gov.au

Mark Rothko, #20 or “Black,brown on maroon.” Source: artsearch.nga.gov.au

At the start of the 6th hour, Milano Caffe is a soft, dusty cocoa powder with woodiness that vaguely translates to patchouli and a hint of something pepperminty. At the end of the 8th hour, it feels almost gone, but Milano Caffe clings on tenaciously. It finally dies away 10.25 hours from the start as a blur of cocoa powder and dry woodiness.

ALL IN ALL:

Regardless of arm or test, Milano Caffe never evokes an urban city for me. Instead, it takes me to the darkest of woods filled with endless vistas of patchouli, vetiver, and greenness. In a clearing at the heart of darkness is a table for two, set with an array of café treats. The scent of freshly brewed, bitter expresso fills the air, as you chew on a selection of peppermints, dark chocolate and licorice on a chair made of vetiver and cedar. A tiny cup of vanilla sits at the far side of the table, next to thimble of cognac. Fireflies of amber act as candlelight, but they are tiny vestiges of warmth in the dark forest.

Zucca coffee shop, Milan on The Perfume Shrine, via the virtualtourist.com

Zucca coffee shop, Milan on The Perfume Shrine, via the virtualtourist.com

Other bloggers, however, were taken to the heart of Milan, and experienced a scent that was driven primarily by coffee and dark chocolate, with only minor degrees of woodiness or patchouli. Take, for example, The Perfume Shrine who describes Milano Caffe, in part, as follows:

The pervading and intoxicating scent of freshly ground coffee is one small part of [the Italian sybarite’s] luxury of letting time slip by. The mingling of chocolate in the composition of Milano Caffé recalls the dusting of cocoa powder on the white “caplet” of a hearty and filling cappuccino, drunk leisurely with a view of the impressive Duomo before taking a stroll down the Via Montenapoleone for some serious window shopping. The Milanese are nothing if not sticklers for detail, from their dog’s collar to their impeccable shoes, and I can feel in Milano Caffé the vibrancy of the elegant woody and spicy background which hums underneath the culinary notes of the top. Coffee is naturally a complex smell, comprised of caramelized & smoky/acrid facets on one end, of woody, like freshly sharpened pencils, on the other.

The dry quality of the fragrance despite the tonka bean and ambery richness elevates the composition into classic resinous-balsamic level; one mistakes smelling Milano Caffé for a full-bodied vintage that peels layer after layer after layer. In fact, what is most surprising is finding a hint of the cocoa-facet of orris and something which reminds me of the fluff, the flou quality of the resin opoponax, amidst the proceedings. This caress under the dark and bitterish flavor of coffee only serves to consolidate the infiltrating appeal of that highly prized bean, that elixir of life, the coffea arabica, cutting its slightly acidic character. Although the spicy woodiness might make Milano Caffé more conventionally masculine in direction, its richness and cuddly chocolate note makes it a great choice for the woman who doesn’t follow trends but rather sets them herself.

Kevin at Now Smell This also experienced a coffee-chocolate dominated scent, though he detected the patchouli as I did. In his review, he wrote:

Milano Caffè opens with a pleasantly discordant mix of espresso beans, bitter chocolate…and perhaps a touch of real patchouli. Next up is the scent of an expensive bar of dark chocolate, scented with cinnamon/clove, and an accord that reminds me of cardamom, something “sage-y”/green and a dark, almost caramelized sweet note (the “spirit” of opoponax followed me as I wore this perfume). Milano Caffè’s character in mid-development is of an off-kilter amber fragrance, with its bits and pieces not quite fitting together. I love the fact that this is NOT a smooth, predictable, culinary take on coffee and chocolate, but more of an herbal/spice-coffee-chocolate perfume “tonic.” There is a woody vibe in the extreme dry down, and the perfume gets a tad incense-y (benzoin?) the longer I wear it. (There is also a phase that reminds me of Thai iced tea, with its cream and star anise aromas.)

On first sniff, Milano Caffè went to the top of my favorite coffee-chocolate perfumes list, and I like it more each time I wear it; the fragrance would be great to wear in autumn and winter, even on a chilly spring day. [¶] La Via del Profumo lists Milano Caffè as a masculine fragrance, but, to me, it’s unisex. Milano Caffè’s lasting power is good for an all-natural fragrance (around four hours on me); sillage is minimal.

Obviously, the patchouli wasn’t as dominant on his skin, and I clearly had a much longer time-span for Milano Caffe as a whole. In fact, the length of time for all the Profumo scents that I’ve tried thus far is quite astonishing, given that they are all natural. I consistently experience 10 hours or more, and given my wonky skin, that says something.

Basenotes‘ official listing for Milano Caffe has no reviews yet, while, on Fragrantica, only two people have provided an actual description of the scent. The first is from “Oscar_84” who talks as much about the vanilla and amber as the coffee:

As soon as I spray Milano Caffè on my wrists, the coffee aroma and the sweetness of chocolate feel kind of intoxicating, pervading my senses. It’s very much like entering a café in a cold morning and ordering a cappuccino… the comforting aroma of freshly ground coffee that blends with the dustiness of cocoa powder over the soft and creamy drink will instantly warm you and make you feel good even in the grayest day. After top notes, that still remain perceivable through the following stages, Milano Caffè reveals its truest oriental vanilla nature with a smoothest but pretty masculine accord of vanilla and woody notes, while iris nuances provide the scent a delicate elegance: in its drydown the fragrance reveals oriental accords of amber, spices and balsamic hints that provide the fragrance it an unexpected fresh vibe. As for longevity-projection, the fragrance has a moderate lasting power (about four hours) and a pretty good sillage.

In my opinion Milano Caffè has very detectable, warm and discrete features that make it perfectly suitable not only for casual wear but also for job meetings, evening dates and any other events when one may need both an energetic and kind of cuddling scent.

The second review is from a woman who experienced a bit more of the medicinal aspects that I encountered from the patchouli, though they didn’t last long on her:

This has a very vintage feel to it, especially in the beginning. The first initial spray smell is not my favorite, it’s very harsh almost medicinal and not very pleasant. But after about 5 minutes it turns into a bitter coffee chocolate, latte smell, but not in a sweet way sugary way. This perfume is definitely not sweet, but it has a very Italian feel to it. It’s very complex, the coffee, bitter chocolate, latte smell stays around for about 1 hour, then it gets more woodsy but a bitter chocolate note shines through here and there. I also get a bit of Shalimar similarity in it, somewhere in the beginning. I wouldn’t wear this out, but I love this in the morning with when I’m having my coffee. I would say it’s a perfume for your self, and it grows on you over time. I’m glad to have it in my collection.

I suspect it is the patchouli’s green side that she finds medicinal, while the Shalimar comparison may stem from the subtle smokiness and leathery undertones in Milano Caffe.

Obviously, skin chemistry makes a difference to how Milano Caffe will appear on your skin, but I think anyone who loves coffee and real patchouli scents should try it. I don’t think the fragrance is for everyone, though. Those who love gourmands will struggle with the dryness, and I think the fragrance will feel very masculine for women who don’t enjoy the boldest and darkest of scents.

I also agree with the female Fragrantica commentator that Milano Caffe grows on you with time, so I would recommend trying it at least twice. While I loved its opening bouquet from the very first time, the subsequent drydown took a few tries for me to appreciate quite as much. One thing I’ve noticed is that Milano Caffe is perfect for layering with a warmer, sweeter scent. I sprayed Arabian Oud‘s Kalemat for a honeyed, richly ambered foundation, then applied Milano Caffe over it, and I loved the overall combination of the two.

There is something else that I think is critical to keep in mind when trying not just Milano Caffe, but every scent from La Via del Profumo. You have to keep in mind who Abdes Salaam or Dominique Dubrana is himself. In my opinion, he is very much in the vein of visionaries like Serge Lutens, perfumers who follow the beat of their own drum, with visions in their head that differ from the more conventional, approachable, easy things created by others. Regular readers know my worship of Serge Lutens, the man, so this is one of the highest compliments I can give someone. Both men have complicated depth, an intellectual nature, a fiercely passionate, unique approach to perfumery, and a deeply poetic soul.

In fact, Mr. Dubrana’s website, Profumo, is subtitled in one section as “Scents of the Soul.” If you read his writings, from the holistic and perfumetherapy parts to his blog, if you look at his calligraphy, or if you observe his beautifully philosophic quotes from Rumi in his Twitter page, you will find a complex, fascinating intellectual who stands apart. I should also state that I’ve interacted briefly with Mr. Dubrana via email correspondence, and find him to be the epitome of an Old World gentleman, in every sense of that word. I’m fascinated, enchanted, and determined to explore more of his line.

As with Serge Lutens, some of the Profumo fragrances are intensely different and perhaps rise to the level of art that is to be admired. It doesn’t mean that every scent is always approachable, wearable, or versatile. Serge Lutens’ creations aren’t always so for me, though his fragrances dominate my collection. I think Profumo scents are the same way. Mecca Balsam didn’t work for me given how badly my skin distorted it, and I don’t think Milano Caffe is for everyone either, though I personally enjoy it a lot. In all cases, however, they are fragrances to respect. They stand out with their boldness, originality, and intensity.

The average perfumista may be overwhelmed, just as many are by Serge Lutens or Amouage, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expand your horizons and try them. When you do, keep in mind that they are meant to be different. Mr. Dubrana has sent me samples of a few of his scents, so I shall cover one or two more in the upcoming days, with the jasmine-centered Tawaf being next. I can tell you that a mere sniff of the scent in the vial blew me away, and its opening is the most beautifully intense, lush, narcotic jasmine I’ve tried in recent memory. After that, I’ll review the cool, austere, incense fragrance, Hindu Kush, the almond-leathered desert scent, Sharif, and the tobacco, Tabac.

As for Milano Caffe, it is a complicated, dark beauty. It is also quite affordable at prices that start at $44 (or roughly €37 with VAT) for the smallest size. A little goes a long way, so I definitely encourage men who love expresso or true patchouli to give it a sniff. Women who enjoy bold, very woody or dark scents may enjoy it too.

Disclosure: My sample was courtesy of AbdesSalaam Attar. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, my views are my own, and my first obligation is honesty to my readers.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Milano Caffe is an eau de parfum that comes in a variety of sizes. It is available exclusively from the Profumo.it website which ships its scents world-wide. All the following prices for Milano Caffe are in Euros without VAT: €32,73 for 15.5 ml, €70,82 for 33 ml (a little over 1 oz) and €97,20 for 50 ml/1.7 oz. At today’s rate of exchange, the USD prices roughly comes to: $44, $96, and $132 for the 50 ml bottle. The site says: “Prices are without VAT and are valid for USA and all non EEC countries[;] for shipments in the EEC 22% VAT will be ADDED to the amount in the shopping cart.” There is also a Mignon Discovery Coffret which is available for any 5 fragrances, each in a glass 5.5 ml bottle. The price depends on which perfumes you pick, as the choice is up to you. The 5.5 ml bottle of Milano Caffe is €12,30. On a side note, I received my samples from Mr. Dubrana incredibly quickly, less than 4 days after he sent it. Additionally, I have the impression that, with all purchases, Profumo provides free 2 ml samples, especially of any new fragrances that he is developing, since AbdesSalaam is very interested in feedback. In short, if you’re ordering fragrance, you may want to ask for a sample of something that strikes your eye. Samples: you can order a sample of Milano Caffe from Surrender to Chance which sells the perfume at $5.99 for a 1 ml vial.

Perfume Reviews: Montale Intense Café & Chocolate Greedy

Source: Zedge.net

Source: Zedge.net

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!

INTENSE CAFÉ:

Cocoa roses, via Kew Gardens at Kew.org

Cocoa roses, via Kew Gardens at Kew.org

Source: Fragrantica

Source: Fragrantica

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.

pink-roseIntense 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.

Source: Saveur.com

Source: Saveur.com

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.

Source: Sivmui C. on Yelp.com

Source: Sivmui C. on Yelp.com

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.

Source: eBay.com

Source: eBay.com

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 LutensSantal 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.

CHOCOLATE GREEDY:

Source: cakechooser.com

Source: cakechooser.com

Montale Chocolate GreedyDespite being an utterly scrumptious, decadent chocolate dessert in a bottle, Montale puts Chocolate Greedy into the vanilla category, and describes it as follows:

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.

Molten Lava Cake. Photo & Recipe: Spicie Foodie. (Website link embedded within photo. Just click.)

Molten Lava Cake. Photo & Recipe: Spicie Foodie. (Website link embedded within photo. Just click.)

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.

Black Forest Torte. Photo/Recipe by Mark F. Weber at Clean Me. http://tinyurl.com/mb2j6rh

Black Forest Torte. Photo/Recipe by Mark F. Weber at Clean Me. http://tinyurl.com/mb2j6rh

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.

"Bleeding Rose" by April Koehler. Source: redbubble.com

“Bleeding Rose” by April Koehler. Source: redbubble.com

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.

Source: frederickschocolaterie.com

Source: frederickschocolaterie.com

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.

Amour de Cacao Eau de Toilette. Source: Luckyscent

Amour de Cacao Eau de Toilette. Source: Luckyscent

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.

Choco Musk perfume oil. Source: Al-Rashad

Choco Musk perfume oil. Source: Al-Rashad

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.

Source: Cakechooser.com

Source: Cakechooser.com

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.

 

DETAILS:
INTENSE CAFÉ Cost & Availability: Intense Café is an eau de parfum and comes in two different sizes: 1.7 oz/50 ml for $110; or 3.4 oz/100 ml for $160 or €100. It is available on the Montale website where a 3.3 oz/100 ml bottle retails for €100. (They don’t offer the cost in other currency units.) There is no smaller size offered there than 100 ml, but Montale offers a free 20 ml mini-bottle of the fragrance at the time of purchase. Discount Prices: Unfortunately, the fragrance is too new for it to be available for less at the discount retailers. In the U.S.: Intense Café is available in both sizes at Luckyscent. It is offered only in the large 3.4 oz bottle at Parfums1 and MinNY (though they’re currently sold out at the time of this post). All the sites sell samples. Outside the U.S.: In Canada, Intense Café is available at The Perfume Shoppe‘s Vancouver site which sells the 3.4 oz/100 ml size for US $160. Since the site is originally a U.S. vendor, you may want to contact them about Canadian pricing. In the UK, I couldn’t find any sellers. Germany’s First in Fragrance sells Intense Café and ships all over the world. The price is €139, which is higher than through the Montale website. For all other locations from Italy to Bahrain, Poland, the Netherlands, even Uruguay and elsewhere, please check the Montale Distributor page. There are even more stores all over the world from Japan to Africa shown on Montale’s Store PageSamples: I obtained my sample of Intense Café from Surrender to Chance which sells 1ml vials starts at $4.49.
CHOCOLATE GREEDY Cost & Availability: Chocolate Greedy is an eau de parfum
and comes in two different sizes: 1.7 oz/50 ml for $110; or 3.4 oz/100 ml for $160 or €80. It is available directly through the Montale website, but only in a 3.3 oz/100 ml bottle that retails for €80. (They don’t offer the cost in other currency units.) There is no smaller size offered, but Montale tosses in a free 20 ml mini-bottle of Chocolate Greedy at the time of purchase. Discount Price: Chocolate Greedy is slightly discounted at Parfums Raffy which offers both sizes: the 50 ml/1.7 oz for $105, and the large bottle for $155. You may get a better deal for the latter from the Kuwaiti vendor, Universal Perfumes, which sells the same 100 ml bottle for $129.99, but shipping may take a little time. Chocolate Greedy is also discounted from LilyDirect which sells the large 100 ml bottle for $140.80 instead of $160. The site was planning to start shipping to Canada, so you may want to check to see if that has taken place. Rakuten sells the perfume for a similar price, $140.80, via LilyDirect. PennyLane has two bottles of Chocolate Greedy left for $140, with an additional 25% off taken for even greater savings. Chocolate Greedy is also discounted at Beauty Encounter which sells the large 3.4 oz size for $150. In the U.S.: Chocolate Greedy is available for normal retail price in both sizes at Luckyscent. It is also sold in the large 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle at MinNY and at Parfum1 for $160. Outside the U.S.: In Canda, Chocolate Greedy is available in the large 3.4 oz size from The Perfume Shoppe for US$160. The site is the Vancouver branch of an American company, so you may want to email for Canadian prices. In the UK, I couldn’t find any sellers. Germany’s First in Fragrance sells Chocolate Greedy and ships all over the world. The price is €94, which is higher than through the Montale website. Samples are also available for sale. In Russia, Chocolate Greedy is sold at Orental.ru in various sizes. For all other locations from Italy to Bahrain, Poland, the Netherlands, even Uruguay and elsewhere, please check the Montale Distributor page. There are even more stores selling Montale all over the world from Japan to Africa shown on Montale’s Store PageSamples: I obtained my sample of Chocolate Greedy from Surrender to Chance which sells 1 ml vials starts at $3.99.