Beth Schwartz
Oct 15 2020 . 11 min read

Are you a cannabis connoisseur?

Are you a cannabis connoisseur?

If your terpene-centric love for cannabis is rooted in knowledge and sensory perception, you might have what it takes

If your terpene-centric love for cannabis is rooted in knowledge and sensory perception, you might have what it takes

“Cannabis is so complicated. I think saying what makes someone a cannabis connoisseur is also complicated but truly passion, knowledge, expertise,” is how Olivia Alexander, founder and CEO of Kush Queen, defines a connoisseur.

For Philip Wolf, founder of Cultivating Spirits, a company offering culinary cannabis experiences to the public, “it consists of two aspects: to be able to deem certain qualities and deficiencies through taste, smell and appearance, and know how that it is going to interact with your body and make you feel.”

Ryan Bondhus, Ayr Strategies’ purchasing director for Nevada, cautions the hard part of connoisseurship is not so much building knowledge and learning about the plant but that “the majority of people have to search for the heart, the sheer drive, the sheer will to put endless relentless effort every day toward understanding, trying, writing down and comparing and being completely immersed in that culture in order to achieve that. It’s easy to become a connoisseur of anything because all you have to do is know all about it, but in order to know everything about anything that is where the true work of the connoisseur comes in.”

Alexander offers a warning about people who say

they are cannabis connoisseurs. “I think that in our industry because it is in its infancy everyone is an expert. And I do really, unfortunately, believe that it’s very easy to decide that you’re an expert based upon you calling yourself that on your own website or on the internet. I think there is a very clear distinction between that and

real true connoisseurs.”

So let’s find out what makes a true cannasseur and if you make the cut. 


“I think terpenes are vital and having a deep understanding of terpene profiles is important to being a cannabis connoisseur,” explains Alexander. “Personally, I am looking for a flavor profile, that’s what I’m shopping for. I’m not shopping for potency, I’m not shopping for the brand name, I’m definitely not shopping for a luxury product. I think it’s all about the flavor. I think that’s actually a greater expression of being a cannabis connoisseur.”

Wolf feels similarly, citing the importance of using your senses. “I like to identify certain terpene profiles through the sense of smell,” he explains. “I think terpenes are the most important component because that’s ultimately what’s going to make you feel the feeling that you are going to have. So being able to identify that terpene profile then associate that with how that’s going to make you feel makes the best consumer of cannabis. Being able to identify the terpenes that are in cannabis allows you to find what’s best for whatever kind of experience you are going to have.”

Terpene profiles were essential to Alexander developing many of Kush Queen’s line of CBD self-care products. “I think that you have to have a knowledge and understanding of terpene profiles and different terpenes and how they synthesize the effect. Because that’s where people are also really missing the boat—that’s where a connoisseur differs from just a regular consumer. A lot of people are just looking at potency or the type of strain that it is and overlooking terpenes and the entourage effect. Ultimately, that’s something that is just so important to being a connoisseur. It was vital in me developing my bath bombs. All of our bath bombs have the entourage effect, and that’s all based on terp profiles and science.”


Wolf points out that there are over 225 different terpenes in cannabis with approximately 16 that are dominant and that there’s different terpenes in every strain. “Being able to pick up those layers, identify what aromas are the strongest, what terpenes those are, and pick up the secondary terpenes so you can really understand how you feel is important,” he explains.


All three of our cannasseurs made comparisons between cannabis and wine, especially Bondhus who earned the moniker CannaSomm when he worked in the restaurant industry. “I was consistently making similarities to cannabis,” he explains. “For instance, the soil, the weather, the region, the air of wines and grapes will affect the tastes and flavors of the wine. Whereas the soils, the environment, the region of where that strain has come from is what affects the cannabis flavor profiles and the terpenes that come out of it. So, I was making those observations and it actually happened back then that those servers and colleagues started to call me the CannaSomm.”

Bondhus proves his CannaSomm nickname is well earned as he applies his sommelier knowledge to the world of cannabis. “When you have reached a true level of connoisseurship it’s not so much the love anymore; the love has allowed you to become somebody who knows enough about the process, plant and culture that you can take a look at that product and guess almost everything behind it. That’s what a wine connoisseur or a sommelier is—they are able to sip a wine and completely tear it apart from region to age based on the flavor and the smell with their eyes closed,” says Bondhus. “We don’t get that deep in cannabis but to ask a cannabis connoisseur to understand the differences in the processes, especially in production, I think is a very minimal thing to ask. Part of walking a vineyard is the same thing as walking a cultivation. You need to see, touch, feel the breath of the air that that wine came from.”

Wolf agrees, observing that, “just like wine, you train your nose over time to be able to pick up those different layers.” As does Alexander who imparts that “because wine is also about the way that it smells and the way that it tastes, it’s all in the terp profile.”

Alexander believes consumption lounges will act like tasting rooms in wineries or distilleries allowing for more people to become cannabis connoisseurs. “I think part of what people are missing is the experience combined with education. I think you could look at the wine industry where you’re touring vineyards and you are brought into this incredible tasting room and they walk you through the different profiles explaining what makes one product different than the other, you get to taste them, and you get to enjoy them,” observes the Kush Queen.

She also notes that “you really can learn more having sit-down or culinary experiences. I know one of the parts of my journey of becoming an expert was in that great period where there were consumption events, where there were ways to go around and try different brands, and have conversations with people while they explained different strains to you. And it is a standard in every other industry from whiskey to wine to food.”


There are beer cicerones, wine sommeliers and sake masters so it makes sense that cannabis would have experts and an accompanying certification program. “I think we will in the next five to 10 years,” predicts Alexander of having a certification program. “But I believe that the industry itself is still grabbing a foothold. I think that’s also going to be something that is going to come, hopefully, when cannabis is de-scheduled at a federal level.”

The CannaSomm agrees. “There is no other way, in my opinion, that we can continue to self-proclaim ourselves experts in our industry when every other industry has some sort of flavor profiling organization to determine expertise,” says Bondhus. “And the reason we need that person is because the rest of the 99 percent of society isn’t going to take the three, four, five or 10 years that it took to become that level of connoisseurship. They are going to have to trust the connoisseur’s word that he or she put in the work.”

Wolf’s cultivating spirit is also galvanizing him to cultivate a program with just such a certification for cannabis. “I am creating the CashoM program to implement that training and be similar to everything a cicerone or sommelier program would have. CashoM is the service and stewardship of cannabis and will include online training that will launch in spring 2021,” he explains. “It’s meant for anyone who sells cannabis whether you are a budtender, or you are working in the emerging hospitality industry. This is going to be a program to connect deeper with the plant, but also allow you to ask the right questions and speak with customers in order to make the right suggestions for them. We expect it to be about a 100-hour program that people will dive into with level 1 and 2 online.”


Alexander notes that “the first step in being a connoisseur is education, immersive education. Reading, understanding the science, understanding every element of the plant, terpenes, genetics. I really believe the next step is then science. And then also understanding consumer products. Now we’re at this phase where there are beverages, there are capsules, there’s flower, there’s vapes. There are so many different delivery methods. I think that’s really the key is immerse yourself in it.”

Wolf believes those on a path to becoming a cannasseur need to hone their sensory skills. “I honestly believe the most important aspect of a connoisseur is being able to understand what type of high you’re going to have prior to consuming while being able to determine if it’s quality cannabis or not. The best way to become a connoisseur without special training is to immerse your five senses in cannabis and track what your senses are telling you,” he says.

Wolf also encourages novices to “study your hypothesis, refer to any testing the product may have, and find trusted sources on the internet where you can dive into your thoughts. You can associate different feelings to different aromatic and physical aspects of cannabis so make sure to track your feelings when you’re high.”

CannaSomm Bondhus agrees with his fellow connoisseurs but suggests you first do some serious soul-searching. “It’s the same way you would get started with anything you are about to love. If you are going to get into connoisseurship of anything, I think the first understanding is that it’s going to be your life. I would suggest for anyone who wants to get started is to first take a really long mental journey to be sure this is something you cannot live without—it’s that thing you will do whether you are paid or you are not. If you have that passion in your heart, connoisseurship comes naturally,” counsels Bondhus. “The first steps are get in it. Dive in the pool. Buy. Research. Start to understand and look at what you are doing rather than just doing it. Next time you buy some flower, request the labs, research the terpenes, get a log book, look at the bud structure, start using descriptive words, research where the lineage came from and before you even touch that bud, you should have a good profile of what you are going to smoke with an idea in your head of what that experience is going to be and then simply make comparisons over and over again. But I really think it’s a search inside first and after that it will come naturally.”


Just like in the wine, beer and sake industries, the burgeoning cannabis industry will evolve into a powerhouse guided by the expertise and knowledge of cannasseurs, much like sommeliers, cicerones and sakes masters before them. “I believe connoisseurs, through their knowledge base, have become that much more attuned and because of that it has really pushed production and cultivation to its limits to find out how to be the best, most efficient and create a product that is not only great but high quality and affordable,” concludes Bondhus. “Their knowledge has gone up, which has forced the industry to stay on its toes, proving that small numbers really can make a difference. Everybody benefits from it. The few who are really picky have made the industry, as a whole, correct itself and really improve on all its inefficiencies which means everybody benefits—not just the connoisseurs but the average recreational user as well.”