Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The ABCs of Essential Oils: Coffee


Coffee (Coffea arabica L.)

There are so many good essential oils that begin with C, it's hard to choose just one. Cinnamon, cardamom, and clove are wonderful spice notes. Cedarwood, be it Virginian, Atlas, or Himalayan, is a great addition to any perfumer's tool box. And then there are cocoa absolute, cypress, and clary sage (or would that be under S, for sage, clary?). I would recommend most of these to a beginning perfumer over coffee.

So why coffee?

Because it demonstrates the importance of sampling oils.

Chances are you know the scent of coffee, whether you like to drink it or not. And many people who don't like to drink it do like the scent. For me, coffee has many positive associations and memories. Getting my first coffee in high school (and by coffee I mean something with a bit of coffee and a lot of calories) and going to Starbucks somewhat regularly by the time I graduated. In college I spent some time volunteering at a late night coffee bar, where I learned to make a few drinks. On my honeymoon, my husband and I visited Seattle and tried coffee from as many places as we could. I eventually learned to drink my coffee black, and now I enjoy all its subtle nuances. And trying all the fussy coffee machines at my previous job, and learning which floors had better coffee.

The day before my wedding I got coffee with my friends. Coffee=Happy Memories

The problem with coffee essential oil? It's often pretty lousy. Essential oils often don't smell exactly like plant, but the problem with coffee EO is that it smells kind of like coffee, just not coffee that you'd want to drink. Sometimes I'll see it sold as coffee oil, a fixed (or carrier) oil pressed from green or roasted coffee beans.  Fortunately, coffee is also available as an absolute and CO2 extract, which gives you more options.

While I recommend sampling before buying large amounts of any essential oil, sometimes the difference in cost between a sample and an ounce is small, it seems worth it to buy the larger size. But with coffee, it is important to sample, because having a bottle of unusable essential oil is sad. Try purchasing samples of each type (essential oil, CO2, absolute) so you can compare how they smell. Buy the one you like best, or that best suits your needs.

What do you do with coffee? It's great in bath and body products, including lip balms. Add it to a soap or body scrub with some coffee grounds. It's easy to blend it with other foody scents, but experiment with other essential oils as well. Before mixing it in the bottle with something unusual, take a blotter with your coffee and one with the other scent and smell them together. Some oils are stronger than others, so build up the notes slowly. In perfumery you can use small amounts to modify the perfume without creating a coffee fragrance. A drop of coffee can dirty up a blend and add some interest to an otherwise bland floral.

And if you do end up with a bad coffee oil? Mix it with a few other essential oils and make a big batch of soap.


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