The Science and Art of Judging Cannabis: Introducing Evergreen Cup Winner, Seattle’s Private Reserve


By Melissa Champoux, assistant purchaser

There isn’t anything quite so exciting as waiting for someone to bring you gifts, especially gifts of cannabis. It was a warm summer day when I was handed 11 samples of weed, camouflaged with animal code names in an effort to eliminate bias. You see, I had the great fortune to be asked to serve as a judge for the inaugural Evergreen Cup, the Pacific Northwest’s first ever anonymous grower’s competition.

The fine folks at Wikileaf teamed up with local weed dispensary The Evergreen Market to collect blind samples from 11 of the top producers in the state of Washington and have judges from the industry like myself test and rate the samples. Not just anyone could compete, though! In order to be considered for the competition, a weed farm first had to be nominated by a dispensary as worthy of competing to see who’s the best grower in the state. After having worked at a recreational dispensary myself for two years, first as a budtender, then an inventory lead, and now as an assistant purchaser for Hashtag’s two locations, I have seen my share of beautiful marijuana. And I was eager to review even more.

All of the flower samples in competition were visually stunning, and, as I would later learn, extremely high quality smokes. It was overwhelming to think how I would choose the best one in each category, when there is so much to be said for preference and personal tastes. But perhaps the competition planners had thought of that ...

The samples were to be judged on Best Appearance, Best Flavor, Smoothest Smoke, and a rating for Best Overall. For each quality, a score between 5 to 50 could be applied. I took the samples and my 10 years of pot smoking experience and began to really think critically about the flower I was handling.

A visually impressive cannabis flower should feature a healthy amount of crystally trichomes, a tight bud structure, a healthy color, and a coat of mature orange hairs (also known as pistils). Cannabis colors can range pretty widely, from lime greens to midnight purples and can even vary within strain depending on the conditions in which it was grown. Healthy buds won’t have yellowed spots or be bleached out in color, which can indicate stress during the growing period. Quality pot will have distinct flavors and scents that showcase the care and attention of the growers producing it.

I made a point to break up the buds by hand to get a feel for the cure, smell, and stickiness of the flower. Handling the flower more intimately, as opposed to using a grinder, gave me a better perspective on the cure, smell, and stickiness of each of the samples. A good cure is important, as the slow drying process gives the bud a super smooth smoke. As for smell, the smell of a whole nug can be a bit different than the smell it emits after you pull it apart. And while the strength of a scent can vary significantly by strain, a good cure will provide a complex smell with the unique blend of terpenes it emits.

I tried to divorce myself from my own preferences in scent and type of high and focus instead on the quality of my experience of smoking each nug. I generally prefer a mellow-headed indica, but an impressively hazy and uplifting sativa deserves high scores, too, regardless of my particular tastes. By putting myself in a headspace of evaluating the individual quality of each flower, instead of comparing them to each other, I felt confident in how I evaluated each sample. I sent in my scores with excitement and anticipation and waited for the event at the end of the week.

The judges’ scores were tabulated in-house at Wikileaf, and on Friday, August 3, the crowd was buzzing at Nectar Lounge, where the awards event was being held. I was sipping on a bomb mojito chatting with a few people I recognized as the event director went on stage, thanked everyone for coming, and started to announce the winners.

The first winner was Highest Terpenes, the only lab-objective award given that night. T.H.Sea’s OG Kush Breath brought it home with its skunky, gassy aroma.

Following that, 1937 brought home the prize for Smoothest Smoke with its sweet and crisp Purple Kool Aid.

Best flavor went to Exotikz’s Mimosa, a deep purple bud with strong notes of sweet orange and grape.

But hometown favorite Seattle’s Private Reserve crushed the evening by bringing home awards for Best Appearance and Best Overall with their straight citrus gas, Jet Fuel x Tangie.


Winners of the inaugural 2018 Evergreen Cup:

  • Highest Terpenes: T.H.Sea, with OG Kush Breath

  • Smoothest Smoke: 1937, with Purple Kool Aid

  • Best Flavor: Exotikz, with Mimosa

  • Best Appearance & Best Overall: Seattle’s Private Reserve, with Jet Fuel x Tangie


Seattle’s Private Reserve was founded in 2014 by a set of enthusiasts who had a goal of producing some of the best weed in the state. They grow indoors in a sealed environment where they can control every step of the process in order to ensure that each batch is the best it can be.


And their Jet Fuel x Tangie was really the best it could be. My sample of Seattle’s Private Reserve had a codename of Harlequin Duck, and it was the second sample that I tried out of the batch of 11. As much as I tried not to, it was hard for me not to compare subsequent samples to the Duck, as it stood out so much with its unique flavor and bright green color. Almost everything about this strain could be described as bright; the high was clear and uplifting, the smell was like that of Valencia oranges travelling on a diesel truck, and it has a smooth burn that left little to cough about.


Both locations of Hashtag are fully stocked with several strains from Seattle’s Private Reserve, including super-stony indicas The Glue and Frankenstein.

Here’s some reviews from our staff of The Glue:

  • I’m super stoked that we got in SPR, so I had to try this. The buds were covered in crystals, and the flower had a bright green look to it which made me think it was fresh before I even opened it … The head high was a little foggy, and the body high was mellow, but I felt spacey and energized. I was surprised at how sticky the buds were.

  • Super sticky!! Didn’t give me a ton of energy or knock me on my butt--pretty in the middle. Smelled awesome and a little sweet. Very smooth, and the high was happy.

  • Some really good Glue. Bud was nice, sticky, and frosty, and it very much so glued me to the chill zone.

And as for Frankenstein, our special strain for this year’s Halloween Haze party?

  • Frankenstein from Seattle’s Private Reserve will have you walking and talking like its famous namesake. This is a heavy indica that can provide a deeply relaxing and stress-relieving high. The smell is earthy and musky upfront, followed by a subtle skunky-ness. Beware! This spooky strain can leave you glued to your couch if you're not careful.

Keep an eye out for killer deals on both of these heavy indicas from Seattle’s Private Reserve, dropping on Tuesday, October 23, just in time for Halloween Haze on Friday, October 26 at Stone Way Cafe! We’re throwing a party to celebrate community and cannabis with live performances by SassyBlack, Who Is She?, and DJ K. Hudson. This is a free event for everyone over 21 with a valid ID. More details here.