The aroma hits you as soon as you pop open the black zip-top bag.
These are heirloom Ethiopian Yirgacheffe “Zero Defect” coffee beans — so-called because they’re triple-sorted until measured to have less than one defect per 300g. But after taking a huge whiff, all that comes to mind is Dude, this smells like super dank weed.
Kian Abedini, owner and roastmaster of L.A.-based coffee company Compelling & Rich, gives a knowing smirk. “You really get the cannabis notes when you brew a cup,” he explains. “Take a sip, breathe out and you can taste the skunkiness on your breath.”
Weed and coffee, a combination sometimes called “the hippie speedball” or “‘spro and ‘dro,” have a long and stimulating history together. Not long after pot was legalized in Washington and Colorado, baristas were already hard at work finding ways to combine their love of beans with their love of bud, producing concoctions such as weed butter “bulletproof” coffee and THC-spiked cold brew. On a trip to Denver for the Big Western Regional Coffee Championship last year, Abedini was hanging out with industry friends wondering why, among the existing weed-coffee products out there, none captured the actual taste of the combination. What if there was a way to flavor the beans with cannabis?
Abedini, a 28-year-old former chef and events manager turned coffee roaster, roasts his beans using a fluid bed roaster, a less common method that creates lighter-bodied coffees compared with drum roasters. At his 2-month-old Frequency Coffee pop-up at Gelateria Uli in downtown L.A., he serves creative drinks such as lattés made with Fruity Pebbles cereal milk, espresso tonic with blood orange and mint, and an Americano made with Dad’s Root Beer. He’s even dabbling in molecular gastronomy with “spherified” coffee that you can eat off a soup spoon.
But the real crazy stuff, the stuff that might make Abedini the talk of countless stoners and caffeine addicts, has to do with something called green coffee conditioning. It’s a process that involves exposing unroasted, or green, coffee beans to different flavors, which seep into the bean’s pores. The method has been around for centuries but has been revived recently by roasters such as Chicago’s Dark Matter, which flavors its beans by storing them in whiskey barrels. Abedini, however, is adding a modern twist. He vaporizes ingredients at a low combustion point and exposes the resulting smoke to the green beans. So far he’s tried oolong tea, chai tea and, you guessed, some of that sweet Mary Jane.
Since Abedini was venturing into essentially unexplored territory, his process of producing cannabis-conditioned Ethiopian coffee evolved with plenty of tweaks and turns. The original test batches tasted smoky and harsh, like burnt popcorn, but after some adjustments the results turned velvety smooth and balanced. He dabbled with different types of cannabis, choosing Indica strains over Sativa, and opted to use “shake” (crumbs of dried weed fallen off larger buds) since there was no discernible difference between it and much pricier marijuana buds. At first he used a vaporizer to fill a bag of green coffee beans with weed smoke, letting it steep for up to 24 hours. This was the slow infusion. The second method, the “quick infusion” style, involved blowing vapor onto the beans while they were actually heating up inside the roaster at their most absorbent state. “I’m essentially hot-boxing the roast room,” says Abedini, who admits that this method gets him pretty high as a side effect (or bonus).
What about, you, the coffee drinker? Will cannabis-conditioned coffee get you high? The short answer is no. “It’s as legal as burning hemp rope,” Abedini is quick to point out. Since no THC is imparted during the conditioning, the end result is available to those without a California medical marijuana prescription. Even so, Abedini is understandably cautious. He consulted a lawyer, who advised him among other things to label the bags “herb-conditioned” coffee.
To coffee aficionados, Compelling & Rich’s cannabis-conditioned beans may appear to be a cheeky gimmick. But the most impressive aspect of Abedini's experimentation is that adding the aroma and taste of cannabis to your morning beverage is actually enjoyable, even without the mind-altering effects. The final brew is a complex and extremely delicate cup brimming with tropical fruit, mulling spices and, of course, high-quality pot. Or, to dispense with the coffee geek lingo, even though it’s weed coffee, it’s still terrific, well-roasted coffee.
“It’s a way to take an extraordinary coffee and make it even better,” Abedini says. He believes that green coffee conditioning could have “ramifications for the entire coffee industry” as a way to organically and naturally impart flavors that enhance a specific coffee’s profile. Of course, Abedini is exploring other options too, including coffee products that are in fact “medicated.” Given the volatile state of marijuana law throughout the country, it’s possible that real, buzz-producing weed coffee could be on the shelves of dispensaries within the next few years.
In the meantime, Abedini plans to offer cannabis-conditioned coffee through Compelling & Rich’s website as well as at some of the cafés he supplies. You can also stop by the Frequency Coffee pop-up and see if it’s on the menu that day. No sketchiness necessary.