The Sambac Affair: The Smell of Jasmine and Coffee

I start each day next to my Jasminium sambac plant with a cup of coffee delighting in a few of life’s simple, aromatic pleasures -- but it wasn’t always this way.

For over 25 years I sipped my coffee on my commute to the lab where I worked as a professional perfumer. Instead of sitting next to a fragrant potted vine, I looked to the shelves lined with amber bottles for my daily dose of flowers.

Types of Jasmine

Many varieties of jasmine grow wild. And there are several that are cultivated, mostly for commercial use in perfumes.

The botanical name for the most common commercial grade is Jasminum grandiflorum. It’s grown primarily in Morocco, France, and Egypt. Its rich, dark color and texture, along with a heady floral profile are characteristic of this classic floral perfumery staple. Because it adapts so nicely with a multitude of fragrance compositions, it is the natural go-to variety for perfumers looking to add that finishing touch of sophistication to a fragrance composition. It’s also the grade typically used in fragrances.

Jasminum sambac, (commonly referred to as Arabian jasmine) on the other hand, as equally bold, rich and velvety as grandiflorum, has an additional facet that’s fruity, tart, and unexpected. Its character is more pronounced, immutable, and its unique signature lingers after other notes have faded away. Because of its pronounced character I consider it an outlier amongst the varieties of jasmine that I work with.

The sambac variety hails from the far and middle east and is cultivated in India. I’m thankful to have discovered that it grows splendidly in Southern California.

Ingredient Selection

With my own brand, I carefully choose each ingredient that goes into my products and fragrances. I spend endless enjoyable hours comparing grades, following their “drydowns” (the scent that remains on a paper blotter after the volatile facets dissipate) and working closely with suppliers to make sure I’m choosing the best one each time.

Because I believe that we do our best work in pleasing environments I do a lot of my evaluation, conceptualization in what I call my “garden oasis.”  Lucky for me, jasmine happens to grow and bloom year-round here in California, so my garden—complete with the smell of jasmine—is always a source of inspiration for my work.

Despite spending decades evaluating the most precious essential oils from the world’s most prestigious suppliers, it still delights me to no end when an unexpected breeze, carrying the scent of jasmine, reminds me of the true origin of this intoxicating scent.

There’s Nothing Like the Real Thing

Creating the ideal garden oasis, like composing a scent, takes a lot of time. Finding the perfect plant or flower for the precise location has led me to become a regular at a half dozen (or more) local nurseries.

That’s why it wasn’t surprising when I ended up at a nursery in the middle of the desert a few months back while taking a break from the city.

It was a business-as-usual jaunt through rows of plants until a familiar–yet unexpected–scent hit my nose.

I thought (or quite possibly said out loud), “Wait… What? No… It can’t be.” And sure enough I turned to see the real thing—a tropical looking and wildly aromatic Jasminium sambac—for the first time in person.

I was overjoyed at this “coincidental” series of events and, as I drove back home with my new treasure securely fastened in my backseat, I fantasized about its perfect location in my oasis.

Perfect Placement

Want to know the best thing about having the real thing in my garden?

My fragrance-loving self has developed an even greater appreciation of perfumes composed with thoughtful placement of precious ingredients.

Now I pause even longer when applying fragrances that include precious essential oils in their composition… savoring the first few moments of its interaction with my skin.

The Best Jasmine Perfume

It may come as a surprise to learn that I don’t regularly wear fragrance, especially when I’m in development mode working on fragrance formulations. I make an exception though when it comes to my heritage brand, Sebastian Signs No. 44 and No. 35. They both contain just the right amount of jasmine—specifically Jasminium sambac.