– a review of Aftelier Perfumes’ ‘Cacao’
Close your eyes and think of all the wonders Europe never knew until Hernán Cortés conquered the Aztecs.
Tomatoes, chiles, peppers. These are all fine, all good, but more marvels waited to slay the unsuspecting in the verdant jungles of the Yucatàn, and of them all, two in particular would have a lasting impact on the European culinary landscape. These nearly five hundred years later, both are so ubiquitous by now they’ve become bywords for opposite ends of a spectrum…one unassuming if pretty pale green orchid, whose fermented seed pods fired all our imaginations and that is vanilla, and the seeds of a small jungle tree that ignited passions, restored the mind, gave strength and stamina and was used as both currency and luxury tax. Say the word, and I can guarantee a whole onslaught of images in your mind…silky, smooth, sweet, sinful, and nearly impossible to resist…
Where would we be without this delicious marvel of the mouth? One story of the conquest of the Aztec declares that Moctezuma drank fifty cups of xocoatl – a bitter, frothy drink of cacao, chiles and vanilla – a day, but then again, he also had 300 concubines. Surely, they drank xocoatl, too?
Here’s what I know – botanist Carl von Linné was surely giving himself away when he invented the name for the cacao tree. He called it Theobroma. The food of the Gods. Von Linné was (also) a lifelong, dedicated chocoholic.
Some of us are addicted to chocolate in its many forms – or simply chocolate in any form.
But to wear in perfume? Once upon a time, I would have said…not so much.
Nothing against dessert, it’s just I’d rather eat it than wear it, and when I’ve worn it, I’ve found myself wanting to eat it.
So it was until friend and fellow perfume blogger Carrie of Eyeliner On A Cat sent me a decant of Guerlain’s magnificent Spiritueuse Double Vanille. Arguably one of the greatest vanilla perfumes ever created.
When next she murmured…iris and white chocolate, I had to own that one, too. Since then I’ve adored chocolate notes in perfumes, so long as they’re a) not combined with patchouli overdoses (Angel, here’s looking at you) or b) and done with all respect to the divine cocoa bean.
Carrie’s nudge sent this perfumoholic over the edge!
Chocolate is never just…chocolate. It can be amazingly complex, floral, fruity, and densely aromatic – if not outright narcotic in a way that no other food item quite is, yet if anyone at all could turn that complexity of aroma into perfume, it would be Mandy Aftel, who has a spectacular talent for defining ‘aroma’ in new, daringly delicious ways.
Cacao is nothing if not…delicious. For the alcohol base for this perfume, she macerated cocoa beans specially selected by master chocolate maker Steve DeVries with a floral Tahitian vanilla for a full year.
Just the alcohol base for this perfume, and already this chocoholic is drooling on her keyboard.
Cacao is a marvel of a perfume, not only for the dedication to craftsmanship and the concept of chocolate that waiting a full year for an alcohol base implies, but also for the way it opens with a bright, trumpeting, clarion call of citrus – blood orange and pink grapefruit, say the notes – which isn’t what I expected from something called ‘Cacao’.
I expected a full, dark, silky chocolate kiss, and what I got was a wake-up call. Hello!
Citrus and chocolate are old, familiar friends, but Cacao has yet more surprises in store, because some time later, the real surprise – and the real genius of Cacao – kicks in for reasons I shall presently explain.
I don’t know precisely what kind of cocoa beans were used for that alcohol base. The three varieties of cocoa bean, Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario, which is a hybrid of the first two, have very different flavor profiles. Most of the chocolate consumed today is Forastero cocoa, but truly dedicated chocoholics have a preference for Criollo chocolate for its ethereal, flowery nuances, and these are precisely what Mandy chose to highlight with the inspired addition of jasmine sambac and grandiflorum, elevating an already lush and sensual blend into the plush and downright decadent stratosphere of chocoholic gourmand heaven, and if that’s not genius, I don’t know what is. For all I know about jasmine (which is quite a bit by now), this combination of jasmine + chocolate was invented in some alternate universe where Willy Wonka’s Oompa Loompas sang into the blend in flawless harmony…‘What an inspired idea that is!’
As those glorious blooms fade into the twilight, the coup de foudre comes forward to take my breath away… the opulent, flowery wonder of Tahitian vanilla, those fatal, fragrant cocoa beans and somewhere along the way, my definition of ‘chocolate’ and my concept of ‘gourmand’ has once again been rattled to bedrock in all the best ways, and by Golly, I would so wear this to unnerve a fellow chocoholic, and by Golly, the guy wouldn’t stand an almond’s chance in a chocolate bath!
Cacao brought out the voodoo of Carrie’s inner child, and it brought out that gluttonous chocolate-loving side I usually try to forget. “All you need is love,” said Charles M. Schulz, before he went on “But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
Thanks to Mandy Aftel’s ‘Cacao’, it hurts even less, when this former gourmand-averse perfume writer wants nothing more than to swim this perfectly executed marvel and float in a fruity, flowery Xocoatl sea, where all the most delicious, decadent dreams always come true!
Disclaimer: A sample of Cacao eau de parfum was provided for review by Mandy Aftel.