The Tea Squirrel visits The Aftel Archive of Curious Scents
“Much like music, a perfume is composed of notes that are blended into chords. Top notes are the most fleeting, establishing the scent’s initial impression, whereas middle notes give body to blends, imparting warmth and fullness. Finally, base notes define the perfume’s lasting character, its final perceptive aroma after the others have evaporated. Blended together, it is the structure of the chords that gives a perfume its innate complexity.”
Mandy Aftel, Aftel Archive of Curious Scents (from the description of one of the exhibits)
Flavor is a combination of taste and smell, which is why I believe that to be able to fully appreciate tea, training your nose is equally important as training your palate. Last year, my friend and fellow tea blogger Alexis Siemons (Teaspoons and Petals) had told me about The Aftel Archive of Curious Scents in Berkeley, just across the Bay from San Francisco. It had been on my bucket list since, until I discovered that my friend and talented soap maven Alana Rivera (Etta+Billie) had never been either, all the more reason for visiting together.
Mandy Aftel is a renowned natural perfumer and book author who also works in the realm of flavor (she co-authored 2 books with Michelin starred chef Daniel Patterson). The Aftel Archive of Curious Scents is a charming, interactive museum and the result of decades of work and collecting. The admission ticket includes a 1 hour long self guided tour, a kit with an information card “Making the most of your curious visit”, a strip of wool to revive your sense of smell (it will be overloaded), 3 letterpress scent strips to dip in the perfume organ scent bottles and a chocolate tasting.
Right by the entrance, a cabinet of curiosities and its exhibits immediately caught our attention. Throughout the museum, expect “Smell me bottles”, apothecary chests, taxidermy to help the visitor understand where the animalic notes come from (civet and hyrax for example), history of the materials, memorabilia, antique essential oil bottles, antique books and much more. I cannot even tell you how fascinated I was with everything and how satisfying it was to touch and smell roots, barks, resins, seeds, roasted shells...
The exhibit that reminded me of tea was the “Deconstructed Rose” and its aroma molecules (linalool, geraniol, citronellol, damascenone, phenyl ethyl alcohol). Last year, I attended a talk at the Global Tea Initiative Symposium at UC Davis about Taiwanese tea by Kai-Hsien Chen. He had brought a vial containing "tea essence", which scientists were able to reproduce thanks to fragrance and aroma analysis. His "aroma fingerprint" of tea included linalool and geraniol, some of the chemical compounds responsible for the floral notes in the tea. According to other sources, linalool is also responsible for sweetness, whereas phenyl ethyl alcohol is responsible for a tea’s fruity flavor. How exciting!
The centerpiece of the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents is the custom-made perfume organ. Here is where you can dip your scent strips in the little bottles that contain all pure, natural materials, the result of years and years of collecting. The scents are divided by top notes (bright and fleeting, primarily from citrus, herbs and light woods), middle notes (usually the most expensive) and base notes (darker, heavier notes, mainly from roots and barks). In the organ there were 2 tea essences, black tea and Lapsang Souchong. Somehow, I found myself attracted to flowers and woods. For my scent strips, I chose Black Mountain Sage (fresh, balsamic, deep, almost spicy), Magnolia (the essence of spring to my nose) and Mitti Attar (Indian sandalwood and baked earth, a very spiritual scent to me). We also got a chocolate tasting, two Valrhona dark chocolate pieces are sprayed with Mandy’s Chef’s Sprays (essential oils for food and drinks). I tried Peru Balsam (sweet and balsamic)and Pink Pepper. Yum!
But the excitement was not over because we got to meet Mandy in person!
Visiting the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents was a transformative experience and I'm so happy I got to visit! Thank you, Alana (Etta + Billie) for being an amazing adventure buddy for the day! Thank you, Alexis (Teaspoons and Petals) for mentioning the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents to me.
Disclaimer: I was not paid to mention or review businesses, products or services. This is my honest opinion.