Blast From the Past: Tea roses, not rose tea

Blast From the Past: Tea roses, not rose tea


While reading about roses, I kept coming across “teas” and wondered how roses and teas were related.

What are tea roses?  Not surprisingly, they are so named because the fragrances of some varieties resemble that of Chinese black tea.  Rose historian and author Brent Dickerson elaborates further by comparing the scent to “a newly-opened sample of the choicest tea”.   Tea roses originated in China and were introduced in the West in 1808, a year ancient enough to categorize tea roses as a type of “Old Garden Rose”.  The most interesting characteristic of tea roses may be their petals with their pointed tips and curly edges.   I thought my favorite crimson rose in the garden was a tea rose whose petals have a conspicuous pointed tip; however, through additional reading, I learned that tea roses should be in pastel shades of white, pink, and yellow.

And then there are the widely popular “modern” hybrid tea roses, which were created by hybridizing hybrid perpetual roses and tea roses.  All roses introduced after 1867, the year the first hybrid tea rose “La France” was developed, are considered “Modern Roses”.

rose gardenAt a rose garden, I discovered the dazzling “Rio Samba”, which seemed to exude a tea scent; however, after standing next to the bushes for a bit I realized the tea scent actually came from the foliage.  I asked the gardener which rose was, in his opinion, most fragrant; he pointed to a white rose with seemingly uncountable layers of petals, and I clearly heard him say “Jean Valjean”.   Later I searched for this rose on the Internet, but a rose with such a name appeared non-existent.  To me, this rose is more “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” than “Jean Valjean”.

I have not been too disappointed by not being able to detect the “tea scent” in the tea roses or other varieties.  Many rose growers actually characterize the scent of tea roses as fruity.  I will continue my search.

Originally posted in August 2009, written by Ifang Hsieh



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