How to Judge Cannabis Flower Like a Pro

Heady Vermont Staff 13 Mar 2022

Sure, you’ve been smoking cannabis for years and you enjoy it. But how does one evaluate the quality of cannabis flower?

Much like wine, there are key characteristics to look for as you observe, smell, taste, smoke and feel the effects of any particular strain and its unique synergy of cannabinoids, terpenes and other compounds. Many factors, from breeding to cultivation inputs to harvesting and curing processes, can affect the ultimate outcome of the finished and cured bud that ends up in a jar on your coffee table.

Why pay close attention to these qualities? For one, it will increase your overall enjoyment of the process. Second, as more options are available, it will help you become a more educated consumer and to look for the potency and effects that you know you like in your flower.

Ahead of the judging period our third annual Headies Cup, we share the criteria that we use to evaluate our flower categories, along with a few tips for more closely enjoying, and ranking, your cannabis bud.

Quick Tips

  • Start with visual observation and move into smell, taste and effects.
  • Avoid words like “strong” and “potent”.

Don’t just say that the aroma is “strong” or the strain effect is “potent.” Imagine trying to describe the smell of pizza; you wouldn’t say the aroma of a freshly baked pizza is “strong” — not if you were trying to convey what it actually smells like. But if you said it smells like garlic and tomato sauce and oven caramelized cheese and dough, now you’re illustrating the aroma.

  • Keep in mind that different strains and types of cannabis have different unique qualities.

Sativa-leaning strains often have an airier, less dense bud structure, while indica-leaning strains tend to show more dense, tightly compacted buds. 

Headies Criteria For Judging/Evaluating Flower

  • Appearance: How well developed are the buds? How do the trichomes look? What’s the overall texture? Is it properly cured? How’s the trim job?

Look at features like color, bud structure and trichome distribution, density and clarity.

When you bend the smaller stems, do they snap cleanly? This is a sign of a good cure. If they are still pliable and bend, the bud is too moist. If you can grind the bud by rubbing between your fingers, it is too dry. 

  • Aroma: How pleasant and unique is the smell? Does it smell fully cured? What does the smell evoke? Can you detect certain terpenes or aromas that stand out?

First, smell the bud as it is. Then lightly crush a bud between two fingers, which will help you more closely examine the aroma and the nuances of the terpene profile.

  • Taste: How pleasant did the flower taste when smoked? How unique and flavorful was the initial flavor, smoke-taste, and after taste? 

Pull out the flavor notes and cross reference this with the terpene profile you smelled earlier. In the best cases, heating up the bud should “open up” the aroma notes and give them a more complex expression. 

  • Flush / Cleanliness: How ‘clean’ is the flavor? How smooth is the smoke? How white is the ash? What is the quality of the cure?

Quality cannabis smoke should be both smooth and flavorful. Examine how it burns – properly grown and finished weed should burn evenly and effortlessly in a joint or blunt, without having to be re-lit. 

  • Effects: How was the high?  Beginning, middle, end?

Saying the effect is strong doesn’t communicate much, so try pinning down a feeling or sensation. Did the effect change throughout the course of the high? 



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