By Nikki Lastreto

If Swami and I were to count up the number of entries into The Emerald Cup which we have sampled over the past twelve years as flower judges, it must be way over 3000. Chances are we’ll be adding at least another 420 to that number by the time the winners are decided for this year’s upcoming contest. We’ve seen just about every strain there is, presented in many forms, some with great care and others obviously shoved into a jar at the last minute. One winning quality is consistent: the #1 Flowers have always been cultivated with extra love and care by a farmer who has a real connection with their plants.

So what do we Judges look for in the perfect bud?  We begin with the Looks of course – is she dense or fluffy? Does she have a clean trim, definitely by hand, that defines the shape of the bud? No loose messy buds ever get far. Is she covered in crystals, and what are her color variations? Do the Trichomes still have their heads? These are just the first of many considerations.

Over the past years, as the wonders of Terpenes have been discovered, the next category has taken on a whole new meaning. The Fragrance is so very important and can actually tune us into what to expect from the entire experience. Swami and I have trained ourselves to be as subjective as possible when smelling the bud. Rather than offhandedly suggesting, “This is so Blue Dream”, for example, we try to search our olfactory references for what the smell really brings to mind. Lemon meringue pie perhaps? A gym at the end of a basketball game? Moldy towels from under the sink? An orange creamsicle? The variety is endless!

As Swami rolls up each joint, my duty is to take copious notes and add the scores as we go along. Swami is focused on the texture and cure of the cannabis as he rolls it up – how sticky is it?, and is the stickiness from lots of resin or from not being fully dried?

As we move to the 3rd stage of Taste, we start with a “dry hit” to get the essence of the fresh flower. Often it resembles the fragrance, while sometimes it is a hint of something new to come. As with the smell, we focus deeply on what the flavor most resembles. A start is to narrow it down to fruity or fuelly – or is it sweet or savory? Then we let our imaginations go wild, flashing through flavors until the perfect one jumps to mind: aha! kiwi! or roast chicken! or carnations! The curious thing about Taste is that it can change quite a bit as a good joint progresses, so I usually continue to take notes all the way to the last hit if it is a real contender.

The first 3 categories – Looks, Smell and Taste – each have a maximum of 10 points, while the final category of Effects gets double that, or up to 20 points. We have yet to encounter a perfect 50, but we have had a couple up to 9.95.

The final category is of course the most tricky as well as the most important. People often ask us how we can truly judge Effects when we smoke so much. There are a couple of answers to that. One is that we take breaks between good samples, to avoid a cumulative effect. It helps to take a little walk, eat some grounding food, or work on a project. The other way to tell when you have stumbled upon something really special is that it cuts through all the rest. Let’s say you are on your 10th sample of the day and then boom, it’s a whole new day! That’s when we put stars in our notebook and remember to check out the full sample in the Mason jars at our next Judges meeting, and try it again.

It is a great honor to be Flower Judges for The Emerald Cup, and a lot of work too. We devote at least a solid month of every year to it. I know, tough job, but someone’s got to do it, right? You’d be surprised how many Judges in the past couldn’t keep up the commitment and pace. Yet we are back for more, and determined as ever to find the winning flowers for The Emerald Cup!