Now in its third year, the Cultivation Classic—the annual competition for organic-equivalent, Oregon-grown cannabis, co-presented by Willamette Week and Farma—has evolved into what organizers describe as "the most scientifically rigorous cannabis contest on the planet."
Using a new robust scoring system developed by the event's organizers and cannabis research group Habu Health, the latter will employ data collected during the competition to power a new cannabis taxonomy that focuses not on unreliable terms like "indica" and "sativa" or colloquial strain names, but on the chemical composition of a given cultivar and how its unique fingerprint makes a user feel.
Using this data, Classic organizers hope to equip Habu Health with the information required to lay the foundation for a more reliable cannabis classification system.
But a lot of this smoke work—sampling and scoring—happens in a vacuum, and while serving as a weed judge is most certainly a delightful, first-world privilege, these pros take the task seriously.
So we decided to seek some insight into the process, and see how Portland's premier weed testers go about the task of assessing flowers in a competition setting.
1. Keep your focus.
Cliff Robinson, former Trail Blazer and founder of Uncle Cliffy Cannabis: "When I am consuming cannabis for judging purposes, I focus on every characteristic of the cannabis from start to finish—the look, the smell, the taste, the inhale, the exhale, how it makes me feel, etc. Every detail. It's much different than consuming just for fun, but one is not necessarily a better experience than the other."
Caitlin Podiak, cannabis critic: "Smoking weed with a critical intent is work! You have to focus on the task at hand, and you can't let yourself get distracted or the flavor and high will fade away before you remember to take notes."
2. Stay consistent.
Zia McCabe, the Dandy Warhols: "I smoke at the same time each evening, after dinner. I try to judge a new sample every other day so I can give a sample two rounds."
Simone Fischer, cannabis critic: "When judging strains, I always wake 'n' bake first thing in the morning. To me, the morning is the time when I can get the clearest feel for a strain."
3. Start with the nose, move on to the flavor.
Ryan Herron, cannabis critic: "It's all about collecting information, most of it before I even light up. Smell the jar, break the buds down by hand, grind the flower, smelling everything the whole way."
Bo Kwon, chef at Koi Fusion: "Flavor is super-key. Just like food, it's usually the first thing you experience. If it tastes like ish, you lost me."
4. Choose your apparatus wisely.
Pacer Stacktrain, cannabis writer: "If it doesn't taste good through a pipe, it's not fit for mass consumption, since this is the way that most people consume."
Herron: "The classic joint really is king. I haven't found any other method that provides the same flavor hit and pronounced complex effect—I'm looking at you, vaporizers."
5. Skip the Bic, use a hemp wick.
Fischer: "On the topic of hemp wick: It's one of the most underrated and undervalued tools in any stoner's toolbox. Stop inhaling butane, especially when you're smoking weed critically."