I Went to a Cannabis Salon to Taste Farm-to-Table Weed
Cannabis startup Flow Kana has been hosting "tasting salons"—part farmer's market, part posh affair—to introduce consumers to their growers.
Photos by the author.
If you've never heard of farm-to-table bud, the idea is basically identical to the food movement of the same name. Instead of buying grass from one of California's dispensaries or collectives licensed to sell weed—the proverbial co-op grocery store—cannabis startup Flow Kana wants enthusiasts to get to know the people responsible for the primo crop. And so it's spreading the word at so-called "tasting salons"—part farmer's market, part posh affair with a nice spread of food, local booze, and enough weed to put a couple elephants to sleep.
The farm-to-table pitch sets the company apart in an crowded market where new entrants are now backed by the likes of Snoop Dogg and his millions of venture capital dollars. And Flow Kana CEO Michael Steinmetz is one of the first entrepreneurs with a farm-to-table approach, though competition is already starting to appear.
"We love bringing the community together, we love bringing patients closer to the farmers, and bridging the gap," Steinmetz said to a crowd of about 50 at a recent salon in the Oakland hills. "It's been our mission all along, and I think we've succeeded in doing that … We're excited about how cannabis can transform society, and our culture."
A passionate man, the quick-speaking Venezuelan has a vision for his company that goes well beyond its current incarnation as a delivery service focused on serving just a few communities in the Bay Area. (It's worth noting that California's veritable clusterfuck of weed laws make expansion into new communities a hell of a challenge.) Eventually Steinmetz wants to create something like the Whole Foods of cannabis, complete with an inspiration area and co-working section.
Before indulging in the bouquet of flavors at the salon, I asked a heavyweight in the Northern California cannabis industry, Swami Chaitanya, for a tasting lesson. He judges the Emerald Cup, an annual cannabis competition, and runs a farm, too.
The first thing to do is examine the hairs, or trichomes on the plant, "How long are the hairs? What's their color and length?" he asked, adding that a magnifying glass is helpful. Next, they look at the overall bud, assessing things like whether or not it's dry or wet; the shape will reveal much, as well as whether it's round, skimpy, or spongy.
Smell is the third criteria. Swami takes a really deep unlit inhalation and assesses the fragrance. Then he breaks it up, and takes another whiff. He's looking for what's called the terpene profile, and it varies considerably from flower to flower. Swami says that it's very important to grind it up again, and smell it all over. Once rolling it up—feeling how sticky or not the bud is—you want to take a dry hit.
Finally, smoke it, he said. "The winning joints are an excursion, you're going to different exotic locales you've never visited. It's about the mindfulness of smoking it, you take the journey through the joint. But we're also thinking about what it tastes like to inhale. Last year we had a lot of tangerine flavors."
The crop at the Flow Kana salon had a consistent theme, too: most jogged between lemon or citrus flavors on the one hand; on the other, all sorts of fruit—though there were exceptions I'll get to later.
Larry Dawg and Blue Ogre, offered by Swami Select and Happy Day Collective respectively, had strong lemon-citrus bursts right, which would work with a seasoned fish entree such as salmon, or maybe a farmer's market salad with notes of citrus in the dressing.
But what interested me was that after the first few puffs the weed began to settle into more of an earthy-pine flavor—which I guess makes sense, after the top layer is burned off. After the citrus hit, both sativa-dominant strains would probably go well with duck in a rich cream sauce, as well as a nice California pinot noir.
Another drink pairing I found was with a strain called Royal Salute, grown by House of Aficionado. It also has a distinctly fruity flavor—though not sweet, mind you. After a happy accident, I discovered it was a delicious with a glass of hard cider, so long as it's dry and rich like Boonville Cider House's Bite Hard.
To round out the fruit and citrus, one of Swami's strains called Pineapple Kush reminded me of the dried version of the fruit and would probably pair well with a pie, or an ice cream sundae.
Presidential Kush, also from Swami Select, provided a strong first wave of cinnamon and cedar flavor. The aftertaste wasn't woody either, and smelled like fresh-cut grass. Though it might sound unlikely, the President's Kush flavors would make a delicious indulgence with a thin-crust, pesto-topped pizza with black olives, mushrooms, and a salty Italian cheese like pecorino. It would also probably go well beef short ribs or tenderloin, seasoned with rosemary.
Though fruit and citrus were the dominant flavors here, I found at the few salons I've attended thus far that tastes great with weed is still an open question—Poitín and Kush anyone?—and one worth exploring. There's complexity and nuance in so many of these strains because, after all, the Golden State's cannabis cultivators have been farming for generations. Like any other ingredient, it's definitely worth experimenting with a few to figure out how to make them bring out their best flavors with food.