No, but that's a very good question...
After being a 'lurking' member for a long time I've decided to post my first question to Basenotes. It was prompted by me wearing Jo Malone's Black Vetyver Cafe yesterday but relates to any fragrance with coffee notes in it.
Coffee beans are sometimes used as a 'cleanser' in order to refresh the olfactory system during intensive sniffing/sampling sessions.
I guess my first question is this: why coffee beans? Do coffee beans have special properties that can cleanse the olfactory system? Or is it just because they are a pleasant, strong smell that distracts the olfactory system, and it is possible that something else strong-smelling and distracting could just as easily be used in their place (e.g. er..laundry detergent! - sorry not a good example)?
If it is the former reason (coffee beans specifically have special cleansing properties), this prompts a further question: does coffee have a similar cleansing affect when it is actually one of the ingredients within a fragrance?! Therefore, actually affecting the way the fragrance is perceived?
For example, 'Black Vetyver Cafe' as mentioned above. Perhaps it isn't real coffee beans which are in the fragrance, but assuming they are... Does the coffee ingredient act as a cleanser throughout the wearing of the fragrance, continually refreshing the olfactory system and regenerating the awareness of the other notes, preventing olfactory fatigue, etc.??
No, but that's a very good question...
As always, disregard most of what I say. It's not worth your heart health to actually worry about what a 23 year old guy from Kansas thinks. Even if he is really ridiculously good looking.
The SAs tell me that the coffee beans work mainly because they are such a drastic change from most fragrances. Many fragrances use the same or similar ingredients, and the nose gets fatigued after a while. The coffee is such a different smell that it has the effect of resetting the olfactory capacity, essentially refreshing the nose.
I don't know for sure, but I doubt that coffee notes in a fragrance itself would achieve the same effect, acting as a cleanser. I don't own any fragrances which contain coffee notes so I have no experience with them. But I would think that the nose, constantly smelling the coffee, would get accustomed to it just like it does with any other note.
So if I get tired of smelling Bond no. 9 New Haarlem, I should go and smell a Serge Lutens bell jar ?
I think coffee beans are used because they are dry, small, and do not blow away like a powder, and most importantly, they retain their aroma for a long time. Also, the scent stays close to the beans, unlike a fume from a liquid.
Coffee beans just 'distract' the nose - like you said. If I'm somewhere and coffee beans aren't available, I always turn my face towards my shoulder and sniff my shirt (doesn't work when you're wearing tank tops though... ) It's a trick I learned when I was really 'into' wines & their smells, etc.
Our senses sense change in the environment and your brain will begin to ignore a stimulus that remains constant. That is why people are able to "grow used to" unpleasant smells, tastes, etc.; it is why people are able to "tune out" background office or environmental noise. Your brain eventually accepts the stimuli (fragrance in this case) as nothing to be concerned about and returns to concentrating on stimuli that is changing. Olfactory fatigue, which is so often mentioned here, is not your nose getting tired; it is simply your brain beginning to ignore a particular scent. Our brains would become overwhelmed if ALL the stimuli around us continued to register at maximum intensity. Any strong scent can distract the olfactory/brain relationship enough to "reset" it, but coffee is a strong, pleasant scent that is convenient to have in a fragrance shop, as purplebird7 explained.
I suspect that using coffee beens as the olfactory refresher, after sniffing a fragrance with coffee in it, would distort your perception of the fragrance a little. In the case of Black Vetyver for instance, after smelling the coffee beens, I imagine the vetiver note in the fragrance would seem more pronounced than it really is.
Madscientist hit it right on the nose.
(pun somewhat intended)