Champaca Flowers vs. Nag Champa Incense
There is often confusion betweenchampaca flowers and the Nag Champa incense. A current project that involves the champaca as a note engouraged me to both look into the matter, as well as sample a few different champaca essences, and further deepened my intrigue by champaca. I hope you’ll find the following information useful.
Michelia Champaca, also known as “golden champaca” or “red champaca” is a flowering tree from the Magnoliceae family (magnolia alba is another species used for its essential oils in perfumery – from both the flowers and the leaves). It is native to India, Java and the Phillipines. Traditionally, Indian women would wear the buds behind their ears until the bud will open up and release its own scent.
Champaca is also related to Star Anise, and its scent in a way shares the spicy characteristics of star anise as well as the floral-fruitiness of magnolia. Unlike white magnolia, which is peach-like and very light, champaca has a penetrating, smooth and rich aroma that is reminiscent of tea, spices, and a floral note that is often compared to orange blossom. I personally think it is so unique it cannot truly be compared to orange blossom at all. Stephen Arctander describes champaca as similar to guiacwood (a waxy, smoky, tea-rose like wood from South America), yet at the same time mentniones that it is also used to adulterate champaca and therefore is not a very good way to describe champaca… I feel that until champaca is experienced, it is really difficult to describe it or imagine it.
I have experienced various champaca essences, including Champaca CO2, Champaca Absolute and Champaca Concrete. The champaca absolutes I have sampled varied a bit, one being more fruity and reminiscent of magnolia, and the other being more full-bodied, spicy and wine-like. In both cases they were intensely warm and rich but not in overpowering way. There is something really soothing and exoticly elegant about champaca in my opinion. Champaca CO2 is similar to the absolute, but with a less complex presence, and it feels a bit flatter, thin in comparison to the other essences. The lasting power and intensity was not to my satisfaction, but if combined with white magnolia and champaca concrete it creates a lovely champaca profile. The champaca concrete is by far my favourite, having a rich, complex tea-like undertones, a sweet body note, and minty-herbal-spicy overtones.
Those who are familiar with the Nag Champa incense may find champaca scent to be somewhat similar. The reason being that Nag Champa incense incorporates halmaddi, a grey, semi-liquid resin taken from the Alianthus tree, which smells very similar to champaca flower.
The champaca flowers may have been used in the traditional recipes for Nag Champa, but I doubt that any champaca flowers would be found in the myriads of champaca joss sticks that are sold at a very low price across the world. Considering that the going price for champaca absolute is between 3,000-5,000 a kilo, it seems very unlikely. The price is predicted to go only higher, as development in India is booming due to the growth of the high-tech industry there, making land more and more precious. Farmers of exotic oils in India are going to be asking for a much higher price for their fragrant goods to justify not selling their lands.
Because of its price, champaca is rarely used in mainstream perfumery. I have seen it mentioned as a note sporadically, i.e. in Calvin Klein’s Euphoria (can’t say I’ve noticed it though…), and in Patou most recent Sira des Indes. It is also found in a couple of niche fragrances, such as Commes de Garcons Guerilla 1, and of course the infamous Champaca by Ormonde Jayne. But it is most dear to natural perfumers, and I believe it is there where you will find the most intriguing use of champaca, as in the smoky Tango by Aftelier, or the sultry exotic beach scent Fairchild by Anya’s Garden. Over the course of the next few days I will do my best to review these perfumes.