On vacation in Morocco years ago, I spent a week inexplicably pronouncing the French word for “mint” (menthe) as “mountain” (mont). During that week, in Fez, Marrakech, Casablanca, I ordered lots of ‘mountain tea’ (thé à la mont) before I realized my mistake. I turned red as I remembered all the waiters and café owners who had looked at me strangely as I ordered mountain tea (no such thing!) when what I really wanted was a glass of thé à la menthe. I recall one café proprietress — in the Atlas Mountains of all places — her eyes lined in kohl, shouting at me maniacally (between hearty guffaws) when I asked for some mountain tea:
ME: Thé à la mont, s’il vous plaît.
SHE: (eyes opened wide, shaking head from side to side) Non.
ME: (a bit louder) Thé à la mont, s’il vous plaît.
SHE: (frowning, shaking head from side to side and moving arms up and down) Non!
ME: (emphasizing each word) Thé à la mont, s’il vous plaît.
SHE: (hands on hips, eyes almost popping out of their sockets, spittle flying) NON! NON! NON!
At this point, I left the shop — thirsty, confused and a bit scared; the woman’s other clientele became silent during our exchange and they gave me pitying looks as I left the café.
Thankfully, most Moroccans were “understanding” of my inadequate (WRONG) tea orders and figured out immediately that I wanted a pot of spearmint tea. I drank gallons of sweet mint tea on that trip and was so enthusiastic about the national beverage of Morocco I came home and planted several varieties of mint in my back yard so I could make my own mint tea. When I make mint tea, using green tea and handfuls of fresh mint leaves, and, yes, handfuls of sugar too, I always remember Morocco; I loved the fields full of fragrant mint and it was always a pleasure to smell the aroma of spearmint in the countryside (or in the city) when a large truck would drive past loaded with huge bundles of bright-green mint. (And don’t get me started on the cute big-eyed donkeys munching wads of mint — a sight I saw often.)
Perfumer Stéphanie de Saint-Aignan’s Un Thé au Sahara perfume was inspired by Morocco and her love of Paul Bowles’ writing. In The Sheltering Sky, we read of three women, Outka, Mimouna and Aïcha, who dream of having tea in the Sahara Desert. One day they pool their money and join a caravan heading south and when they finally reach the sandy dunes of the Sahara at sunset, they take their teapot, tea tray and three glasses and walk into the desert. All night, with the bright moon above them, they search for the highest dune with the best view on which to prepare tea. Night turns to day, it becomes hot, and the women, at last, on top of the tallest dune of all, decide to sleep before making their tea.
I not only love to drink tea, but I love tea fragrances. Un Thé au Sahara contains tea, mint, incense, wood and leather; it is not an attempt to recreate the aroma of a cup of hot mint tea. Un Thé au Sahara opens with a lightly sweetened and milky citrus-mint-tea accord, then one detects a bit of smoke, a drop of patchouli and a faint leather note. Un Thé au Sahara develops quickly and its aroma stays close to the body. Un Thé au Sahara becomes “talcy” in the dry-down; overall, it’s a subtle, smooth, and quiet fragrance.
I like my tea perfumes STRONG: give me powerful scents of black tea leaves or tea “syrup” and if the tea is “smoked” — let the fragrance smell as if logs of dried tea are burning in a fireplace. I prefer Comme des Garçons Series 1: Leaves, Tea and Parfumerie Generale L'Eau Rare Matale to Un Thé au Sahara, but if those perfumes are too strong and “rough” for your tastes, give Un Thé au Sahara a try; also, if you are one of the many people who loved Nasomatto China White’s dry-down, but had trouble with its opening, Un Thé au Sahara may please you.
Un Thé au Sahara smells feminine to me, and it has a drowsy quality; it also makes me a bit “sad” — like the ending of Bowles’ tale of the women whose most pressing wish was to enjoy tea in the desert:
Many days later another caravan was passing and a man saw something on top of the highest dune there. And when they went up to see, they found Outka, Mimouna and Aïcha; they were still there, lying the same way as when they had gone to sleep. And all three of the glasses…were full of sand. That was how they had their tea in the Sahara.*
Stéphanie de Saint-Aignan Un Thé au Sahara is available in 50 ml Eau de Toilette. For buying information, see the listing for Stéphanie de Saint-Aignan under Perfume Houses.
* The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles, HarperCollins, 2000; 50th Anniversary Edition, p. 31.