Why would one conduct blind tastings in the first place?
Well, because the placebo effect is very real, and can sway your senses. The producer’s name, the genetic lineage, description of aroma, and other indications like primary terpene can influence how you interpret your sensory inputs. This has been confirmed again and again at a laboratory level. Wine tastings, coffee tastings…all of them are done blind because, in order to develop the skill of determining regional typicity and quality from sensory analysis alone, you must start from a blank slate.
How to run a blind cannabis tasting
- Safety first. For the person filling the role of the ‘blind tasting coordinator’ (e.g. the person gathering the cultivars and preparing the blind-tasting), that means keeping your tasting COVID-safe (a theme that runs throughout this list) while also knowing the potential aversions of your tasters in terms of cultivar/biochemistry. For some, high CBD cultivars just don’t sit well. Conversely, for others, too much THC can be overwhelming. Sometimes there is a particular terpene that can cause issues for some people if occurring in high concentrations. It is important to make sure that you check with your tasters for known adverse reactions to certain aroma profiles, gene pools, and chemotypes.
- Once the cultivars have been gathered, the tasting coordinator must place each cultivar into a jar marked with nothing except for a number or symbol on the underside of the jar. All information relating to what is in the jar must be kept away from the tasters previous to the tasting. Now the can begin.
- The tasting coordinator must first ensure that everyone in the group gets a chance to physically analyze the bud, mentally noting points like morphology, trichome expression, and aroma of the cured flower before grinding. Keep it COVID-safe by using gloves and reminding people to avoid putting their nose in the jar/putting the bud too close to their nose.
- After physical and olfactory analysis has been conducted by the tasters, standardized joints should be rolled using the same grinder and consisting of the same weight. Whatever form of rolling you choose—cone, machine rolled, hand-rolled—ensure that you repeat the process exactly the same for every cultivar and avoid licking the paper, using a moist sponge instead. Don’t forget: never use flavoured paper, opt for high quality extra thin rice or hemp paper instead.
- Pipes allow for less expensive blind tastings, but only a professional tasting piece like Genius Pipe will allow for thorough and easy cleanings between tastings, allowing for a neutral starting point. Genius Pipe also has the advantage of being able to cool and filter the smoke without the use of water, which can capture water-soluble terpenes.
- Avoid grinding in an electric grinder. Grind by hand, using the same type of grinder for all cultivars and ensure to twist the same number of turns for each bud cluster that is ground (should be about ten turns, 180 degrees each). Ensure to use one grinder per cultivar type or clean your grinder very thoroughly between tastings.
- The CannaReps recommended joint weight for tastings is 0.75g to 1g per joint. Pipes on the other hand can be packed with as little as 0.2 of a gram. Keep in mind that you cannot share joints in the age of COVID and mouthpieces must be cleaned with swabs of alcohol if used by more than one taster.
- Looser, more socially oriented tastings are great fun when everybody talks about what they perceive in terms of typicity and overall quality. However, more serious tastings—like those conducted to prepare for your Cannabis Sommelier Level 2 certificate—should be done without tasters revealing anything to each other until all tastings are conducted.
- Keep in mind that when tasting several cultivars, one can avoid feeling overly intoxicated by doing the ‘cigar style’ puff. You do this by ingesting the smoke only as far as the esophagus instead of inhaling into your lungs, and then exhaling through the nose and mouth in order to denote taste and flavour.
- Once everyone has tasted the flower or concentrate, participants compare their findings to the official product information that should have bee previously collected by the tasting coordinator. Compare how well each taster was able to identify genetic lineage, producer, terroir, biochemical content (cannabinoid content/ total terpene content/individual terpene content), and notice overlaps/differences in perceptions of overall aroma/quality/effect.
Feel free to use the CannaReps Quality Grading Scale during tastings to help each participant assign a numerical grade to the overall quality of a particular flower.
Blind tastings are more than just an opportunity to show off — they are an opportunity to build real-world, palpable product appreciation skills while building community with your fellow weed geeks.
We hope this encourages many of you out there to coordinate a tasting session with your friends or colleagues. If done right, it will be a fun and engaging evening that provides everyone with a chance to build sensory skills. Keep tasting!