No longer just a morning boost, caffeine is increasingly used in skin care and now it's being bottled as scent, in part to conjure the experience of coffee shops that have sprouted up across North America and, hopefully, to replicate their popularity in another segment.
Given the continued rise of coffee-shop culture (and at-home capsule systems), the logic behind using the brewed note to energize the sluggish category is sound. In figures on the online research portal Statista's year of 2016/2017, Canadians consumed 4.55 million 60-kilogram bags of coffee – three-quarters of the hot-drinks market. Enough cups to keeps Lorelai Gilmore awake for a long time. I hesitate to quote a 2017 next-day study commissioned by the self-interested Coffee Association of Canada, a category marketing group, but it found that coffee comes ahead of tap water and even a classic cuppa (although that third one explains Jo Malone's Rare Teas cologne collection).
Cosmetics companies and market research have put two and two together – insert requisite double-double reference here – and coffee has made its way into fragrance, from the mass market to the department-store prestige counter and luxury niche.
Unofficial cologne compositions based on eau de Starbucks have been around for years – enthusiasts have been swapping their DIY recipes for candle and fragrance-oil versions of the Seattle chain's signature house blend. Initially, coffee notes in perfumes and colognes were barely noticeable. Stealth coffee notes in YSL Black Opium and L'Artisan Parfumeur Noir Exquis were ahead of the curve, before Lush Cosmetics created Cardamom Coffee Perfume. Then Demeter added Iced Coffee to its novelty lineup of unexpected literal singular scents such as Fresh Hay, Tomato and Kitten Fur.
It's now time to mention the m-word, because that much-maligned demographic is behind the surge in demand for the real thing; millennials are now the largest living generation (and a demographic that consumes more coffee than any other). And they started drinking coffee at a younger age – those born after 1996 typically started consuming it in their early teens.
That same 18-to-34-year-old demographic is a critical one for the fragrance market, and especially right now. In research firm Mintel's September report on the market category, the $3.8-billion (U.S.) American market was seeing sales decrease in the women's segment.
Add that to what we know of fragrance behaviour and triggers. The appeal of any specific smell works through olfactory association. They can be negative or, in coffee's case, positive and pleasantly familiar associations that reinforce the perception and processing of odour, and of taste.
There's nothing in the marketing of Carolina Herrera Good Girl ($115 for 50 millilitres at Hudson's Bay) that suggests a flat white – the carton is sleek and the bottle has the exaggerated cartoon shape of the snubnose stiletto worn by Jessica Rabbit. But since it's designed to attract a younger female shopper, its heart notes are coffee. In men's scents, it's often hidden under patchouli; in women's, it's paired with chocolate in gourmand compositions. Atelier Cologne's Café Tuberosa ($175 at Sephora) does both, with a heady espresso coffee accord (think a cold morning walking past a coffee shop emitting wafts of freshly roasted beans). Like bicerin, the traditional hot drink of Turin, the effect of rich coffee is achieved with dollops of vanilla, creamy tuberose and cacao to round it out.
And these three recent releases are, in particular, barista-worthy hits: There's the frothy cappuccino dusted with spices of Gallivant's Istanbul ($130 at etiket.ca). More luxurious still: Black Phantom Memento Mori by Kilian ($395 at Holt Renfrew) is like an affogato made even more decadent with rum. And Civet, the award-winning scent in Canadian creator Victor Wong's Zoologist range ($135 [U.S.], zoologistperfumes.com), is an animalic leather and dark coffee – black, no sugar.
Forget bean to bar, now it's bean to bottle.