Mastering the art and science of cannabis through Canada’s first cannabis sommelier course

CannaReps has brought the course to Calgary, Vancouver and, most recently, Toronto

If one looks to industries like beer, wine or even coffee—each has its own exams and series of certifications to test one’s own sensory realms. Those who clear these high hurdles are called things like sommelierscicerone or Q-graders.

It seems only natural, then, that the cannabis industry would make and develop its own testing to evaluate a person’s practical experience with the plant—assessment skills, tasting prowess and the ability to differentiate varieties and terpene profiles, just to name a few.

This is where Vancouver-based CannaReps, a private education program founded by cannabis expert and headmaster Adolfo Gonzalez, comes into play.

Recently, CannaReps started delivering its very own Cannabis Sommelier Course, which provides attendees with the chance to practice academic and sensory skills with interactive activities, labs, tastings and discussions while also learning responsible product guidance by discussing plant botany and breaking down buds. The idea behind the course is to attract professionals from all walks of life who are interested in the cannabis industry and need mentorship and professional development support.

While Gonzalez explains the program previously offered a similar course, which specifically trained dispensary workers, the most recent iteration has been on offer for just six months.“It just had to morph a bit because of the laws, and also because we realize that we designed the course originally to train dispensary workers, but then when we actually started running the company, it was an incredibly broad section of the public that was attending, not only retail workers,” he says.

Since then, CannaReps has brought the course to Calgary, Vancouver and, most recently, Toronto.

Julie Domingo, CEO of CannaReps, says many of the cities selected to host the course largely depend on whether or not the municipalities will have government-run stores only. “We like to ensure that we can maximize the potential of us being there, and so when Ontario announced that they would allow some private retail, too, that was the perfect opportunity.”

Held at the Lifford Cannabis Solutions office in downtown Toronto, the Toronto course was sold out with a diverse group of 35 registrants and others on a waiting list. “We know that there’s hunger for this knowledge in Toronto, and we want to bring the same program back,” shares Domingo.

Over its history, the course has attracted a range of people, she says, including people who are patients, entrepreneurs, dispensary managers and owners, growers, medical professionals, researchers, career-seekers and students.

Gonzalez, with more than 15 years of hands-on experience in everything from cultivating cannabis to frontline patient advocacy, lead the two-day event. Jars of various cannabis strains lined each of the tables. Equipped with a pocket-sized microscope and medical gloves, each registrant was instructed to pluck a single bud from the jar. Many in the classroom would marvel at its size and beauty.
But as part of the “cannabis sommeliers” education, Gonzalez wanted participants (both as individuals and as a group) to challenge themselves to cut through the sensory noise and observe things such as extraneous aromas, flavours, shapes, colour and crystal residues to identify the essence of whatever bud was being presented. “It’s just the tools you need to practise because it’s like any sensory skill or understanding any culture,” Gonzalez notes, citing the value of truly immersing oneself in that culture.

Over the course of two days, people appeared to feel safe asking questions revolving around varieties and terpene profiles they have seen, the stigma they have faced and how best to handle specific customer service interactions. These discussions not only provided a deeper education beyond the course objectives, but also helped showcase the rich ancestry of cannabis’ roots.

Gonzalez admits the course is not just about education; it is about trying to destigmatize cannabis on a global level. “I really just want to take the opportunity to affect people’s way of thinking on a fundamental level,” he says, adding he wants to highlight that, beyond the medical dimension, there is a significant cultural dimension.

Sommeliers, cicerone or Q-graders employ a standard and universal language for evaluating wine, beer and coffee at the export level and at the consumer level. Domingo and Gonzalez say they believe the CannaReps program is the first of its kind that provides a fulsome related experience.

For the recent two-day course in Toronto, attendees were instructed by Gonzalez that they would receive a multiple-choice, test post-course, which would then qualify them for certification.

Between the course and test, attendees would gain access to an education portal, including resources for review and mentorship (in some form) from cannabis industry experts. Upon successfully completing the test and tasting (evaluated on-site in Toronto), certification would be provided.

While many other exams and boot camps in wine, beer and coffee can range from two days to one week, Domingo believes the course is the real deal: offering the experience to look, touch, smell and then, of course, taste. “If you’re going to be someone that wants to work in the industry, you want to be ahead of the curve.”

At the beginning of the two-day course, Domingo acknowledges the issues covered in that timeframe will not make a participant a full-fledged expert. Rather, it is a skill learned over time with plenty of practice.

That said, whatever people’s education level or wherever they are at in their cannabis journeys, the course will set them on the pathway to learning, much like a WSET Level 1, the beginner level introduction to wine.

The Cannabis Sommelier Course is offered for $680 + tax, with the next course taking place in Calgary on Nov. 24-25, 2018.

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