Sunday, September 20, 2009

Beautiful, fragrant tea

Scents and Sensibility

London's best parfumer has opened an inviting tea salon, reports Susan Kurosawa
September 19, 2009
Article from: The Australian

A TINY salon-style setting at the rear of a shop in ever-so-posh Mayfair is the venue for London's most fragrant place to take tea.

Lyn Harris has one of Britain's best noses; this young French-trained parfumer has gained a reputation for her range of unusual fragrances -- she even produces a perfume based on the sharp smells of the salt marshes of Normandy -- and she has branched into the aromatic world of tea leaves.

Harris says drinking "rare and beautiful teas has always been an essential luxury" for her. So combining a discerning palate with that fine nose, Harris has collaborated with a leading "teasmith", Tim d'Offay of Postcard Teas in Mayfair, to source a selection of black, white and oolong teas from "the finest tea gardens in the East".

She has blended these precious leaves with her favourite comestible natural essences, including bergamot and warm spices, to create the Fragrant Tea by Lyn Harris range of three blends, which was launched in September last year in her Miller Harris stores. The beautifully packaged teas seem to have acquired a natural home alongside fragrances, candles, single-note oils and bath and body unguents. Surely anyone who walks into a Miller Harris store must instantly twitch their nose in joy.

On a spring morning I take tea with Harris at her serene Bruton Street flagship store. There are just a few tables in a setting of bentwood chairs, banquettes and fabrics with buttercup-yellow botanical prints. From Royal Albert porcelain teacups of the flowery design best used by dainty ladies I sample her three signature blends. No milk or sugar entertained, of course, as such additives sully the pure taste.

She tells me that experimenting with food-grade versions of her perfume ingredients, such as bergamot and rose, started "as a fun thing". We start with bergamot, Harris's bespoke version of classic earl grey. "Pure bergamot can be too harsh," Harris says, so she has added tangerine vert and, "to give it a final twist", the base has "a pinch of vanilla". The tea is so deliciously heady it's hard to know whether to drink it or dab a bit behind the ears.

We progress, via baby cupcakes with rose icing, to Petales, which has a core of white tip oolong tea from Taiwan and geranium bourbon from the Reunion Islands off the west coast of southern Africa. In itself that sounds like an aromatic recipe but Harris has tempered the blend with notes of vanilla from Sri Lanka and rose absolute from Turkey. It is like drinking a bouquet.

Third in this epicurean range is Fume, a smoked variety that I imagine could be a cross between my favourite teas, russian caravan and lapsang souchong. It is and it isn't; Harris has used vanilla bourbon from Madagascar and cinnamon and cardamom from Sri Lanka blended into a black tea smoked over cinnamon wood. Now I am out of the garden and into the spice dens of the Orient. It is simply delicious, like a smoky, complex chai elevated to a sublime level.

Harris has been working on her second range since my May visit and she will launch a further three blends this month. The trio consists of bigarade, a full-bodied breakfast affair of second-flush Assam perked with Sri Lankan vanilla, while Violette, as its name roundly suggests, fuses this flower (and blackcurrant buds and green mulberry leaves) with the "sweet muscatel notes" of second-flush darjeeling.

The third, Sauvage, uses rare Tong Mu Mountain tea blended with accents of rosemary, French lavender and "the sweet, malted notes" of pekoe.

Harris is widely considered the leading independent parfumer in Britain and in her domestic laboratory has been experimenting for more than 10 years; she set up the Miller Harris brand in 2000 and regularly releases new fragrances. Her latest is Fleurs de Bois, which she says has been inspired by "walks through the secret garden in London's Regent's Park". The scent is green and woody, like dewy grass on a cool morning. Like her teas, its smell is utterly transporting.

Fragrant Tea by Lyn Harris costs pound stg. 16 ($31) for a 50g caddy; refill, pound stg. 9.95. The Miller Harris Fragrant Tea Room is at 21 Bruton St, London W1J 6QD (off New Bond Street, near Mayfair and Piccadilly). Open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 5.30pm. The new Fleurs de Bois perfume costs pound stg. 70 for 100ml eau de parfum; Miller Harris also designs bespoke fragrances for clients. Products are available online. More: www.millerharris.com.

2 comments:

Jason Witt said...

I'm not in doubt about the talents of a perfumer in creating the right tea blends. The only concern I have about it is that it sounds like it leans more toward feminine scents. I'd like to see some exclusively masculine tea blends offered here. --Spirituality of Tea

Pinky said...

Yeah, nice point. Who says tea is only for girly types? I wonder what a masculine tea would taste like? For some reason I am thinking licorice root.