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Judging a Cannabis Contest at Coachella

Judging Cannabis at Coachella
PHOTO Carl Nenzén Lovén

Industry Events

Judging a Cannabis Contest at Coachella

This past weekend, Cannabis Now’s Senior Editor Ellen Holland and I headed south from the Bay Area to the Coachella Valley to judge a plethora of California’s best cannabis flowers, edibles and concentrates, and here is the tale of how we did it.

There are few things in the galaxy I enjoy more than a good old-fashioned cannabis competition and trying strains for the first time. Whether it’s helping out one of my homies by giving an opinion on their latest propagation efforts in a hunt for new genetics or whether it’s High Times giving me a bag of 40 sativas and a week to judge them, I love it all. Nothing really compares to a group of good friends — hell, even acquaintances — sitting around a table covered with jars looking for the best of the best. So, when the opportunity popped up recently to help coordinate a cannabis competition in conjunction with the famous Coachella Valley Music & Art Festival, I jumped at the chance.

A couple of months back, the publisher at LA Weekly asked me if we could put together some kind of cannabis contest for Coachella. My reply was “1000%.” The decision was almost instantaneous. I’ve had hands-on experience or a front-row seat to the judging processes for every elite cannabis contest on the planet besides Spannabis; I personally visited the final day of flower, concentrate and CBD judging for the 2018 Emerald Cup and sifted through the Chalice judges’ pack, admiring every detail. So when the opportunity presented itself to host LA Weekly’s first ever incarnation of a pot contest, I jumped on it.

The author (left) with Ellen Holland at the cannabis competition in the Coachella Valley.

I started by getting the judges together. The first person I hit up was Ellen Holland, senior editor of Cannabis Now. Apart from being my boss, she has previously taken part in multiple event weed walks — that’s when we start at one corner of an event like the Emerald Cup or Cannabis Cup and proceed to travel the length of the event, smelling every jar in our path. This has been my go-to method for searching out the best buds at any given event for years. Plus, I knew Holland had judged the solvent concentrates category for Chalice in the past, judged the edibles competition for the Emerald Cup — and she puffs tough.

I headed to the desert a day early. I knew from previous experience that the judging process in many cases can go for weeks to a month. We would not have that much time. So, I went down and tried to get everything as organized as possible before folks started showing up to help judge. Holland was the second judge to arrive (after myself), and we immediately dove in on the flower.

“When it comes to judging flowers, a dry hit is a crucial component of the judging process, as you are able to ascertain the flavor profile and see if that translates over to the taste of the flower when it’s being smoked,” says Holland. “A visual assessment of the buds — are they tight or loose? Covered in trichomes? Dry? — starts the process. The scent of the cannabis should be noted in the jar, as well as when the flower has been ground.”

The judges prepare to crack open a new jar of cannabis to review.

With the quality of flowers we were dealing with, it was the little things that made any given entry stand out among the pack.

Throughout the competition weekend, we dabbled into exploring the other categories. Apart from the flower category, the most competitive category was definitely the concentrates, as previous champions of the Emerald Cup, Secret Cup and High Times Cannabis Cup vied for our affections.

“I found judging the concentrates to be the most approachable part of the exercise, as I was able to test a small amount on the Puffco Peak and experience the flavor,” Holland says. “Concentrates are the distilled essence of the flower and should really represent the best smell and taste a strain has to offer. The winning concentrate entries had a noise that translated through to the taste profile.”

We also put all the dabs through Puffco Peaks for consistency.

In the end, the competition was a great time and a success. The weekend served as a snapshot of the current state of the elite cannabis market in California, and it was a pleasure to be one of the people taking the picture.

To find out the winners we picked, check out the full event coverage in LA Weekly coming soon.

TELL US, what is your favorite cannabis strain to smoke at a festival?

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