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Thursday May 12, 2022

By Paul Barach

An image of fine micron bubble hash that is light white in a plastic black container. 420 Culture

Solventless hash is rocketing to popularity, and Nick Tanem (AKA Nikka T) has been there the entire ride. The founder of Essential Extracts, the first licensed non-solvent extraction facility in the US, Nikka T and his team have personally won over 15 Cannabis Cups, with over 100 more being won by clients using the solventless hash equipment and processes they pioneered.

PotGuide Interviews Nikka T: All About Hash

Nikka T sat down with PotGuide to discuss what drew him to non-solvent extraction, what makes a good hash strain, and he even shares some tips about starting your own cannabis business.

Man with beard and flat brim hat that says “HASH“ on the top with clouds iridescent lighting behind
            him and a weed blunt in his hand.
Nick Tanem founded one of the first non-solvent extraction brands in the United States. photo credit

[Paul Barach]: Thanks for talking to PotGuide. How are you doing today?

[Nikka T]: I’m blessed, man. Blessed and busy.

[PB]: So what drew you to non-solvent extraction?

[NT]: I was drawn to [European hash culture] and eventually I started having to make hash because buying hash became expensive…And then the 2000s popped up and all of a sudden, we started to hear about Butane hash oil…and I was like, what is this gold honey?

So I started making and sharing it with friends, and then I [looked into BHO] and I saw a lot of heavy metals, ISO Pentane, ISO Butane. All the things that I was scared of. And I'm like, “How do I make a product that looks and performs like this without the use of chemical solvents?” And that really started a path to further my skills in the bubble hash realm.

[PB]: What was that process like?

[NT]: I started hitting the books, playing in the R&D labs, and controlling variables. We just kept getting cleaner and cleaner with inputs…reverse osmosis filters for our water and ice…[We’d tell farmers] “You gotta give us the buds or, or the fresh frozen material. We don't want this dry old material in black garbage bags that's been sitting in your grow on your property for months.”

Getting into 2015, we started using freeze dryers instead of air dryers. You can get your moisture content that much lower, which preserves terpenes, color, and shelf stability. A lot of what we're doing today, I didn't think was possible 10 years ago.

Image of a rosin scoop that is very white and slightly yellow in color with black background.
Freeze dryers allow for a much more stable final product. photo credit

[PB]:What was it like for Essential Extracts to be one of the first companies in Colorado doing non-solvent extraction?

[NT]: I started Essential Extracts with my own personal pocket money and no investors. Back in 2009 and 2010, Colorado was one of the first places to provide a regulatory system and framework so I could operate legally. But it was hard to do everything by the book, because there wasn’t a full book written yet!

There were constant hurdles…every three months they’d come out with a new packaging law… and so companies that bought over 10,000 packages or labels would have to just throw them away.

We started working with just a few shops. Eventually 75 locations carried our product and big money was coming in heavily...I was not afraid to teach my “competitors.” I wanted to create a higher echelon for the entire industry, not just for me and my company.

Later I started some Essential Extracts operational licensing deals in California where we come in with consultation, sharing SOPs and even equipment. And so I've pivoted more to a teaching role rather than operations. Now we’re moving into Missouri and Canada.

[PB]: What are the main differences that Essential Extracts has found operating in Colorado versus California?

[NT]: It’s hard to say…every state operates differently and there’s different hurdles…In the beginning, in both states, I'd say it was easier compared to the latter portion because as big money starts coming in, the tighter those regulations get and they try to push out the craft cultivators.

[PB]: Yeah. It's happening in Washington state too.

[NT]: All over the place.

Photograph of a GG4 top, cola bud that is light green in color and dusted with creamy colored trichomes as well as orange hairs popping out.
GG4 has been a renown washer strain.

[PB]: What does Essential Extracts look for in a washer strain?

[NT]: [We look for] cultivars [with] trichome density and a trichome structure with a large head and a narrow stalk, so it’s easy to mechanically remove that trichome head via washing agitation and the solventless process. And finally the terpene representation. So: trichome density, trichome structure, terpenes.

[PB]: What are your go-to strains? And what's a new strain that you found recently that's fire?

[NT]: For the last five plus years, Gorilla Glue #4 has been a nice staple. It washes well, has good color, consistency, and terpenes. Papaya is a classic washer that I actually brought back from Amsterdam back in 2004. So many hash makers have been winning cups with that same phenotype for the last decade. I'm blessed that people are still running that strain. So that's pretty cool.

Newer than that…there's a lot of new crosses coming from the GMO that are doing really well. I mean, people are seeing upwards of 8% yields on those.

[PB]: How do you see the hash world evolving from where it is right now?

[NT]: A huge part of non-solvent extraction is genetics. A super dense strain of cured, dried flower might look amazing in a bag or do well on a shelf, but if you wash it, we wouldn't be able to get into those internal trichomes and our yield would suffer.

Macro image of a very frosty cannabis bud that has white trichomes all over it with orange hairs popping out of purple hued calyxes.
Trichomes are a key player in hash yields. photo credit

So now we're starting to select for washer phenotypes. That's a huge, huge key in the evolution of solvent lift. Mechanically, we're gonna move away from separation with nylon bags to more disposable options, meaning less cross-contamination between runs…there's a few companies working on vibratory sleeves...We've definitely gotten to a nice place though, compared to me washing in a hot barn in Humboldt 20 years ago. (Laughs)

[PB]: What are some of the roadblocks or challenges Essential Extracts has faced with harvesting hash?

[NT]: Getting the product out of the field and frozen quickly and efficiently, and having harvest staff be gentle with that product. With something like Butane, you can shove that stuff into vacuum sealed bags, squeeze all the air out of it, and eventually compact it even further before you run it with hydrocarbon. With non-solvent extraction or mechanical separations, we want to gently pack those bags and pillows then get them frozen as soon as possible.

[PB]: And that's to prevent the trichomes from falling off?

[NT]: Yes, and from compacting it, [which can] leach chlorophyll from the plant material into the trichomes. The lubricant from most of those machine trimmers can also leach chlorophyll. So we're ending up with a green end product in the solventless world, whereas in the hydrocarbon world, it's a lot easier to remove that chlorophyll.

On the top of a glass blown eraser is a pile of fine micron bubble hash that is almost a clear white hue within the crystals.
One can even make bubble hash at home with the proper set up. photo credit

[PB]: Final question: what are the secrets for making bubble hash at home?

[NT]: Controlling temperature and humidity is key, so put some funds into the infrastructure. And make sure you have a clean, sterile environment designated for the process. Don't do it in your living room.

[PB]: This has been a pleasure. Thank you so much for talking to PotGuide.

Nick had much more to share with us, more than could fit in this article. Check out Part 2 of our Nikka T interview here!

Do you love solventless hash? Did this article lend you some insight on how to make better bubble hash? Comment below and let us know!

Photo Credit: Extracts Daily


Paul Barach Paul Barach

Paul Barach is a Seattle-based freelance writer, editor, and author with experience creating well-researched, edited web articles covering cannabis news, culture, history and science. Paul is a regular contributor to PotGuide and has also contributed to publications such as, SlabMechanix, Litro, and The Trek. He prefers to spend his free time outdoors and most recently hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. So far he has only fallen into the La Brea Tarpits once. You can follow him on Instagram @BarachOutdoors and stay up to date professionally through his LinkedIn page.

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