How to Find the Best Cannabis Products: Tips from the Pros
If you love cannabis, there’s nothing more satisfying than finding that perfect thing – perhaps it’s a gram of rosin with a terpene profile unlike anything you’ve ever tried before, or an eighth of flower a friend finally got you from his friend’s garden which you can’t help but burn down in a day or two. Most connoisseurs will tell you when asked that the finest expressions of the cannabis plant are not easy to find, and what is billed as “top shelf” at your average dispensary is not always or even often.
Further, what the “best” means is also pretty subjective. Best bang for the buck? Best flavors? It all starts with qualifying what you actually want and equally importantly what you’re willing to pay for, since premium products are likely to carry a commensurate price tag. While finding the best choices among hundreds or even thousands of options is not a simple task, this guide was designed with expert help to simplify the process for everyone.
Do Your Homework
No matter what type of cannabinoid product you’re looking to consume, taking the time doing your research on the companies you buy from is critical, according to Jillian Krall. Jillian is the former Director of Hash Production at Papa’s Select turned consultant who won top honors for her team’s ice water hash three years in a row at the Emerald Cup, so she knows a thing or two about great solventless and the flower that goes into it.
Jillian believes that when cultivators, extractors, and kitchens are forthright with their practices, they typically carry the day in terms of brands you’re going to consistently get great selections from. This means that if you’re willing to put a little bit of effort in to look at their Instagram page and read what they put online about their philosophies, you can usually spot the real ones from the rest.
Nick Tanem, better known as Nikka T, is the other industry leader we consulted for this piece, echoed Jillian’s sentiments. As the founder of Essential Extracts, the first licensed solventless-focused processor in the world, Nick is now the brains behind multiple cannabis ventures as well as a Ganjier, a sommelier-reminiscent training program for cannabis. Nick mentions that finding fire is often all about who you know, which can be a tall order if you aren’t well connected in the community. He suggests that consumers look for companies or producers that don’t cut corners and put out flavors or choices that speak to them, which usually requires some experimentation.
In our experience, it’s not usually the companies with the flashiest packaging or sizable marketing budgets that fit the criteria, Jillian and Nick describe. That doesn’t mean that bigger producers are out of the picture, but scaling quality is an incredibly challenging task that takes years to figure out.
The Cues That Matter
The sensorial cues pre-consumption vary widely between different cannabis product types. For edibles, there isn’t much to go on until you take a bite or five. Same goes for pre-rolls, because, well, it’s rolled up so there isn’t as much to judge as a pristine bud. Here’s what to look and smell for that will typically yield important clues as to whether what you’re about to buy or try is up to par or not.
Jillian talked us through what she’s looking for when it comes to great cannabis flower: fresh, resinous buds that have big, light colored trichome heads. The drying and curing process is notoriously tricky, so it should have a little give to showcase the natural structure of the buds. They shouldn’t be rock-hard either, which is usually indicative of specialized chemical fertilizers that are used by cultivators to pack on density. Aroma is also one of the biggest easily known indicators of quality. It should be rich and deep when you open the jar without any hints of grass, hay, or staleness.
Conversely, Nick said he tries to avoid that “Colorado crispy” which is about as apt of a name for over dried cannabis as we’ve ever heard. If it’s too tinging on brown or too dry, it’s best to pick something else. Nick feels that while all growing media can be used by growers to express genetics properly, specific terroirs such as those in California outdoor and organic, living soil can help bring out some of the most unique terpene profiles there are.
Visual consistency is key when it comes to rosin of all textures and cure types – how well homogenized the color blending happens to be is usually the best indicator of something great. Jillian believes that while most good rosin is often lighter in color, terpenes themselves impart color so that overly white rosins are usually lacking in the flavor department. This is often due to the growers pulling the plants before full maturity to get better bag appeal at the expense of the profile. Some amber color in the rosin can go a long way when it comes to aroma, but don’t be fooled just by how rosin might smell. How something smells and tastes are often tightly interlinked, but when it comes to hash rosin, that isn’t always the case.
Striations or white lines often indicate improperly filtered lipid content, which will affect the overall experience. Nick mentioned how he isn’t looking for specific textures or colors but is usually looking for grams that are consistent throughout. He tries to avoid rosin that’s crumbly on top and soft on the bottom, which is a common sign that the hash was improperly handled somewhere along the way before it got to the shelf which caused degradation.
Cannabis edibles tend to be the hardest to evaluate in advance – budtenders aren’t as keen to start opening up packaging so you can take a sniff or look inside (rightfully so). All you can really go from is what the edible itself is, the dosage, and how the packaging presents everything. What you can figure out though before trying any given edible is what they’re made of, so be sure to read the ingredient list and keep an eye out for any funky food additives. Make sure to triple check the production and expiration dates too, as edibles have among the longest shelf life of any cannabis products sold, so try not to get stuck buying old stock at the same price as something fresher.
Unique edibles outside of the mega gummy highway are not plentiful in most markets, but well formulated beverages can be quite enjoyable too. We believe that great edibles can be made with almost any type of input, solventless or otherwise, but great taste and consistency of dosage are king. You never know when you’ll strike gold with a chocolate or delectable brand, so asking a budtender in this case is never a bad idea to see what they’ve tried.
We’re partial to solventless vapes, and we think you should be too. If they don’t have them at your local dispensary, a great live resin cart is a good second choice that will be miles above your average distillate or CO2 comparable. Solventless vaporizers are a lot harder to make and that is reflected in the price, but they’re worth it compared to their solvent-made cousins. A great solventless vape should have clear viscous oil ranging from pineapple yellow to Jurassic amber, so steer clear of anything too dark or conversely anything colorless. 510 threaded cartridges are the most common across all vape types, but you’ll tend to find that hardware is also a key component and that solventless carts come in many shapes but rarely more than a half gram size. The lower voltage (high 2s to low 3s) or voltage adjustable options are optimal, because the delicate terpenes that solventless vapes offer will burn off at higher voltages before you get a chance to enjoy them.
Ice Water Hash
Even though water hash isn’t nearly as popular as its rosin pressed counterparts these days, the special ritual of enjoying high quality melt is incomparable. The raw trichome heads should be free of specks and debris to the naked eye, or at least minimal in appearance. The best bubble hash is often only found within a fairly narrow range of micron head sizes, so pay close attention to the packaging, which should indicate where they were pulled from. Most strains express their best trichomes between 90 and 120 microns, but some magic strains in the 70s or even 130s. These numbers indicate the physical size of the trichome heads themselves, as the ones the plant produces above or below those ranges are usually best pressed into rosin or used for something else.
Fortunately for those who love cannabis, the emphasis on craft products will always continue to be a matter of great pride and importance to those who have been in the industry the longest. That doesn’t make finding great products any less idiosyncratic, though, especially in newer markets. Not every boutique brand is going to hit a home run every time, and you’ll miss out on a lot of choices if you completely reject every large processor out of hand.
What it really comes down to is the willingness to try new things while keeping your wits about you in the selection process, which should start online and with those you trust well ahead of stepping foot into a dispensary. TerpGuide exists to help you find the best of the best, so make sure to subscribe and check out our reviews. If you don’t see what you’re looking for or coverage in your state, shoot us a message and we’d love to hear your feedback!