Sunday, September 11, 2016

Berdoues Collection Cologne Grand Cru, Part One: Assam of India

When I first saw the new collection of colognes from the French House of Berdoues I will admit that it was the cleverly illustrated bottles that peaked my interest. Especially this one. How could you not covet a bottle with colorful little elephants lined up tail to trunk? And the name -- Assam of India -- conjures memories of the most exotic, exciting, and occasionally infuriating country in which I've ever had the privilege to live.

My only familiarity with the house of Berdoues was their perfume created in 1936, Violette de Toulouse, which is still a reference scent for violet perfumes today. Berdoues is a fourth generation family perfumery but it is incumbent for fragrance houses to keep reinventing themselves to remain relevant, so last year they introduced  a collection of Eaux de Colognes. Each of the six colognes reference a country and emphasize three materials or notes. The collection is titled Collection Grands Crus in a nod to the Grand Cru designation given to superior wines.

These elephants were calling my name so this was the first cologne I sampled from the collection. Berdoues Assam of India cologne is a citrus aromatic with notes of Menton Lemon, Assam Tea, and Mysore Sandalwood. The cologne imparts the idea of a bracing cup of Earl Grey tea, although in this instance it is lemon and not bergamot giving the citrus blast. Menton Lemon is a variety known for having a bitter and particularly strong essence which yields intense aroma. The lemon note is quite strong in Assam of India and it melds with the rich black tea note beautifully.

The discovery of a single native tea plant in 1823 in the wilds of Assam by Scottish explorer Robert Bruce led to the British developing a huge tea industry in the fertile soil of the country. Tea crops were sent back to England to meet the growing desire for this beverage. One hundred years later, after India gained independence, the tea industry met with even more success and today Assam contributes about 25% of the world's tea. Assam tea has been described as bold, malty, and intensely black. To get the full flavor it is worthwhile to avoid cheap mass produced tea bags and go for the quality larger gold tipped leaves.

I remember going as a young girl to visit my grandparents who farmed a small plot of land and always had a cow or two roaming about. On our arrival my grandmother would brew up a bowl of inky black tea and pour two heaping cups of sugar in it to dissolve and cool. My mother had raised us to drink non-sweet tea flavored with fresh mint, so my grandmother's ice tea always tasted so intensely sweet that it made my teeth ache. But I can still remember the pungency of the black tea leaves as they hit the steaming water, and how the sugar somehow only seemed to intensify the black tea aroma. This was the black tea fragrance from my memory that  Berdoues Assam of India conjured.

Assam tea is distinctive because it is grown at lower elevations than are many teas, and it often planted along floodplains, which consist of fertile and nutrient rich soil. Because of these conditions Assam black tea is renowned for its briskness, which holds up well when taken as the British do with milk, or as the Indians do with added milk and spices to make chai. The briskness of the tea note is a distinct component of the Assam of India cologne  and pairs well with the sharp pungency of the lemon note. Mysore sandalwood is used as a basenote but I find it to be very faint. The strength of the tea note throughout hours of wear and its longevity is pretty amazing compared to other tea perfumes I've tried which tend to be fairly fleeting. However to enjoy this cologne you must love tea because it is the main story here. I find that when wearing the tea note as a cologne it can have a similar effect to a bracing cup of tea, whether you take yours iced or hot. I enjoyed wearing this cologne and I consider it a pretty good value as it comes in a 100 ml bottle for a reasonable price.

I will be reviewing the rest of the Berdoues Grand Cru colognes this week.

Sidenote: The Indian state of Assam is on the far eastern border of India, connected to the country by a narrow band of land  bordered by Bangladesh and Bhutan, with China and Myanmar as nearby neighbors. Border disputes with other Indian states as well as immigration issues led to the banning of foreigners visiting the area for many years. For an interesting account of a tea aficionado determined to view the Assam tea plantations in the mid 1990's read here. The author does an excellent and amusing job of relaying the challenges travel in India can entail if you depart from the five star hotel circuit.

For other reviews of the Berdoues Cologne Grand Crus see Part Two. Part Three , Part Four and Part Five.

I purchased my samples from Top photo from Berdoues website. Assam tea photo from

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