Picking Flowers for You
Since the first Rose Festival in 1907, Portland has served as a haven and exhibition for some of the world’s most beautiful cultivated roses. The city’s test gardens magnetize millions of visitors a year, and despite being non-native to Oregon, the rose has become a symbol of Portland’s vibrant and collaborative character.
As a tea company born and raised in the City of Roses, it's no surprise that we’ve woven this beloved botanical into some of our most iconic tea blends—but selecting and sourcing the highest quality rose isn’t always a walk in the park. Rose is a familiar, evocative flavor, which can easily overpower or underwhelm, but when blended with care, a hint of rose can be truly romantic.
Our creative philosophy is always to showcase the best of every ingredient—this is challenging with a lightweight element like rose petals, which usually constitutes just 2-3% of a blend. To ensure that every cup is its own bouquet of flavor, we source all our rose petals from India and Pakistan, where the best culinary roses in the world are grown. Even so, our tea buyers reject more than 80% of the samples that come through our door, for reasons including flavor, aroma, size, consistency, defects in harvest, and improper storage. In the end, we often land on only 2-4 lots to get us through an entire year of blending.
The great Gertrude Stein said that "a rose is a rose is a rose," and while we hesitate to argue, we doubt she was tasting them side by side like we do. Just as the roses in Portland’s iconic Peninsula Park vary in size and shape, we employ different varieties of rose to bring life to a blend. Pink rose petals have a tender, ethereal flavor and silky aroma that melds wistfully in blends like Meadow, while red rose tends to have a deeper, more savory quality, and a nose that’s as strong as it is sweet. We rely on both of these ingredients to create a symphony of flavor like Rose City Genmaicha.
It’s worth noting that rose petals aren’t the only botanical we source with such care. Our lavender, for example, is grown in France, and is chosen for its weight, complexity, and freshness, and for seductive hints of caramel and menthol. We source full-flower chamomile from Egypt, where the dry climate and bright sun imbue the flowers with notes of honey, apple and sunshine not found anywhere else in the world.
We think the little things add up in a big way. When the first roses were planted in Oregon, there was no way of knowing how central they would become to Portland’s identity. The gardeners who tended them did so for the love of the task, and the beauty of the garden. In the same way, we at Smith find delight in the details. We choose all our ingredients with the highest standards of flavor, texture, and consistency, so the next time you open a sachet of our Valentine's Day seasonal blend, Lover’s Leap, you see it as a love letter to gardens and roses and faraway places—and as a bouquet of hand-picked flowers that reminded us of you.
Written by Jeffery Miller