If It Doesn't Make Me Smell Like a Teapot, I Don't Want It
The old adage goes, "write what you know," but I've proudly chosen to live my life in pursuit of "wear what you're hungry for." As someone who is always--and I mean truly, always--up for a cup of tea (green if I'm feeling virtuous, jasmine if there's a nice option available, and black if I'm staying true to my roots), I can't stop falling in love with fragrances that make me and my belongings smell like a freshly brewed pot.
By nature, tea is a warm, smoky, and even spicy note to add to your personal fragrance arsenal, which is why it's often characterized as an autumnal scent. However, as a person who thrives in the crisp, fleeting months of fall more than any other time of year, wearing tea scents year-round is how I extend my peak October energy to, say, July, when I'm sweating profusely out of every pore in my body.
Pour yourself a cup--I promise, it's a good time--and join me as my enthusiasm for these scents runneth over.
Le Labo Thé Noir 29
My signature scent in the genre, I first discovered Thé Noir when staying at the Edition hotel in London back in 2016. It's impossible to miss the smoky, bergamot-forward aroma as soon as you walk into that lobby, and while I unfortunately can't actually live there, I've repeatedly shelled out for this wildly expensive hotel candle. I buy a lot of candles, and nothing else I've used in my home has a comparable throw (you know, candle-nerd speak for "does it fill the room and hang out in there"). Trust me, you won't regret this one.
Now, for the fragrance itself: While the tea leaves themselves are obviously a core aspect of every bottle of Thé Noir 29, I believe that the true magic lies in the supporting act combination of vanilla, cedar trees, cinnamon, and pepper. It's the direct opposite of a simple scent, and while many poorly-made black tea fragrances can feel super strong and one dimensional, I consider this a fairly light, incredibly versatile option in the category. Wear it on a date, wear it to a work event you're regretting RSVPing to, wear it at home when you haven't seen anyone but your partner in three months (I have done all three, and am sad to report there is no prize, just good smells).
To buy: $83 at nordstrom.com
Byredo Mixed Emotions
When I first spritzed myself with Mixed Emotions, I blacked out and forgot about the pandemic. I was sitting in my living room in Brooklyn rocking coffee-stained sweatpants, but I felt like I was hanging out on a rooftop bar, wearing a new outfit, invincible. The woodsy tea core in Byredo's new-ish offering is balanced by an unexpected, healthy dose of sweet-yet-tart blackcurrant, which makes this a prime unisex fragrance; Go halvsies on it with your partner, save money, you can both smell amazing for one another. Mixed Emotions also has a staggeringly strong staying power (I swear I've gotten compliments on it six hours after spraying), and that has everything to do with the hyper-caffeinated maté, which is front and center. No matter how tired or hungover you are, a spritz of Mixed Emotions will fuel you all the way to the office, or brunch.
To buy: $190 at bloomingdales.com
Jo Malone Earl Grey and Cucumber Cologne
Let me preface this recommendation by saying a lot of Jo Malone fragrances are, frankly, too floral for my taste, which is why I didn't have high hopes about Earl Grey and Cucumber. Is it my absolute favorite? I can't lie to you. However! This is a very good example of a tea-based fragrance that straddles the line between floral and earthy. Bergamot is very noticeable here, and the cucumber adds an herbaceous, earthy vibe. While true tea fanatics probably won't get their fill here, I think there's a time and a place for a lighter touch in the genre, and Jo Malone clearly agrees with me.
To buy: $32 at jomalone.com
Heretic Dirty Grapefruit
The good folks at Heretic lean into their vices with admirable gusto, and I'm supportive in all of their endeavors. After tea, citrus is my favorite note to distill into personal fragrances, so I was quite thrilled to find that Dirty Grapefruit cited black tea as a base note. In this case, the tea acts as a grounding force for all of the forward fruitiness of lemon, grapefruit, and orange; it's rare to find tea acting as a back-up artist for another note in this way, and I appreciate the creativity. Be warned: rose petals are noticeably at play here, so if you're not looking for a true burst of springtime and sunshine, this might not be for you. But, if you're hoping to get beyond black tea's moodier reputation, then welcome.
To buy: $65 at sephora.com
Otherland Ultraviolet Candle
This isn't a fragrance! I know! But people who geek out about perfume (and have made it to the end of this story) tend to participate in group texts, message boards, and happy hours with people who geek out about candles. Plus, a truly good candle will impart some sweet scents onto fabrics, hair, and your soul. Otherland's Ultraviolet candle is part of their seasonal Garden Party collection, and before smelling it in a friend's home, I didn't realize how nicely jasmine tea and lavender--a scent I tend to avoid, because it just smells like soap--play together.
To buy: $36 at otherland.com