“In joy or sadness flowers are our constant friends,” wrote Kakuzō Okakura in his 1906 essay “The Book of Tea.” Okakura wrote the essay for a Western audience, articulating his philosophy of “teaism” to Americans whose infatuation with tea from China, Japan and India had been growing for hundreds of years. “Teaism,” Okakura wrote, is “founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence.”
If it is a sordid fact of the current cannabis industry that companies must self-promote at recurrent conferences in corporate hotel ballrooms, then Kikoko embodies teaism’s ability to seep beauty into the mundanity of commercialism.
I first encountered the cannabis tea company Kikoko last October at a cannabis social event in San Francisco, where a friendly representative poured me a compostable cup filled with sweet, microdosed hibiscus-flavored Sensual-Tea inside a small trailer decorated with flowers and midcentury modern furniture. Later that month, the Kikoko team appeared at the New West Summit in Oakland, California, dressed in petticoats and ready to convince conference-goers to try on antique “tea party” costumes at their booth on the crowded exhibition floor.
“With this company, we’re doing something more fun and not conforming to any set way of doing business, but trying to be the sort of company that gives back,” said Chelsey McKrill.
(Keeping with the tea company’s playful attitude, McKrill holds the formal title of Kikoko’s business development sorceress.) “We created our own little tea house at the New West Summit. It’s really empowering and it’s fun – it brings some kind of whimsy to the company.”
Two women who have been friends for 20 years lead Kikoko’s team, and spent three years creating their four tea blends, which each prove themselves to be delicious innovations upon an edibles tradition that stretches back far back into legend. The first “known” medical application of cannabis came in tea form, at least according to the myth of Emperor Shen Neng of China, the patron deity of Chinese Traditional Medicine, who — as the story goes — prescribed marijuana tea for ailments such as gout and rheumatism back in 2737 BCE. And historical texts prove that on the Indian subcontinent, people have been drinking bhang — tea made from a paste of ground cannabis and mixed with milk — since around 1000 BCE.
But unlike traditional cannabis teas, or the more-recently-popular concoctions brewed to eke out every last drop of THC from leftover stems, Kikoko has the wonders of modern extraction science behind it. All of the tea’s source flower is sun-grown on sustainable farms in Humboldt and then extracted into a raw CO2 oil. The oil then goes through a proprietary drying process, turning it into a powder that is mixed with the tea’s organic herbs. The result is a cannabis tea without an oily sheen, without steeping time limits and without any of that “weedy flavor.”
“It took us working with three different science groups over three years to create this formulation,” said McKrill, as we sipped cups of Sympa-Tea, Kikoko’s 20 mg CBD/3 mg THC tea brewed with warm ginger and turmeric. “Our founders also looked at thousands of years of herbal medicine history and chose herbs that would target each of the four ailments we make teas to address, and then blended for taste.”
Besides Sympa-Tea and Sensuali-Tea, Kikoko also offers Tranquili-Tea — which combines 5 mg of the unusual cannabinoid CBN, 3 mg of THC, chamomile and lemon myrtle to help for sleep — and their most potent brew, Positivi-Tea, which has 10 mg of THC, 5 mg of CBD to take the edge off, some naturally occurring caffeine to heighten the high, and terpenes from lemongrass and mint.
There’s still debate around the popular terpene science that inspires Kikoko’s formulations and other cannabis products proselytizing the “entourage effect.” A 2011 study in the British Journal of Pharmacology suggests that different terpenes can create different cannabis highs, but there’s little else by way of definitive, peer-reviewed proof — yet.
And while the future might bring advanced terpene science, Kikoko is also hoping the next few years will witness their expansion into other markets around the world.
“As other countries slowly become more interested in cannabis — like Australia, Canada, parts of South America, we’re starting to think about expanding,” says McKrill. “But we’re definitely maniacally focused on California right now, because this is our home base, and we figure if we can do well in California, we can do well anywhere.”
So while Kikoko’s tea parties are now reserved for Californians already enjoying their fair share of free-spirited businesses and top-shelf cannabis products, the tea company might soon be spreading the philosophy of teaism for a wider audience. Okakura, it seems, might call Kikoko’s plans “a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing.”
Originally published in Issue 30 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE
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