A small, middle-aged man exits the Civic Center’s BART station and steps into an unseasonably rainy summer afternoon in San Francisco. Driving south toward Mission Street, with an oblong bundle wrapped in a black plastic trash bag, he barely catches a second glance from passers-by, despite a standout: tailored Converse sneakers, acid-washed jeans, a fitted olive trench coat coat and facial features – a prominent nose and outsized ears, pointing slightly towards the tips – giving a
At his destination a few blocks away, a collection of young men in flat caps and expensive hooded sweatshirts – the uniform of savvy Bay Area cannabis consumers – are already waiting eagerly for him to arrive.
They are his audience. In a few minutes they’ll be hanging on to every word he utters, with a French accent heavier than hollandaise sauce, about how to produce a cannabis product – using nothing more than a bowl, a strainer, their hands and some heat – that, for some consumers, shames the results of a priceless, high-tech extractor.
This is Frenchy Cannoli. He has been making hash for over 40 of his 58 or so years – or, to be more precise, for over 40 years he has learned, practiced and come close to perfecting an ancient style of hash making that is virtually unknown and invisible in the world. today’s multi-billion dollar medical cannabis market.
At least for now. As potent cannabis extracts that rely on solvents such as butane or expensive C02 extraction continue to take over the cannabis market, there is a small but growing demand for cannabis produced by other means. In a natural way, with water the only solvent, with a method that is thousands of years old.
As Frenchy enters the room and makes his arrival, there is an audible silence among the prospective onlookers. He unpacks the bag and reveals a large metal kitchen bowl, a large wooden hoop of the kind used to make quilts, and a piece of nylon mesh with small meshes.
“This,” he says, “is a hash factory.”
For the next 40 minutes, the expert crew watches as Frenchy gently scatters the cannabis residue and small buds from several shopping bags across the screen. Vegetable material is discarded as a fine, yellowish-green dust collects in the bowl. Those are the plant’s trichomes, the tiny resinous heads and stems that contain the active ingredients in cannabis: both the cannabinoids and the terpenes, the molecules that determine how a plant smells.
If the weed devils here were looking for a magical secret, they go home disappointed.
This modest kit is all you need to produce high-quality hash that some experts say simply blows the high-tech stuff – wax, CO2 oil, shatter, everything – out of the water.
“Frenchy’s hash, in terms of taste and nose, is unmatched by anyone out there,” said Nick Smilgys, co-founder of farm-to-table cannabis startup Flow Kana and an Emerald Cup competition jury. “The notes his extractions bring out are unlike anything you’d ever smell or taste in cannabis.”
Frenchy’s craftsmanship has made him a celebrity in the cannabis world, a prominent position he has achieved thanks to instructional videos on YouTube, endless questions and answers he answers on bulletin boards, and a steady stream of the result – large, dark chunks of hash rolled up in loaves of bread. or squashed and molded into his signature “cannolis” — posted to Instagram, where he’s amassed nearly 10,000 followers in less than seven months. He’s a cannabis cup draw and he’s started organizing hash-making seminars in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, which cost hundreds of dollars to attend and sell out quickly.
And all of this is happening less than five years after he could barely give away his pressed hash.
BIRTH OF A HASHISHIN
Frenchy’s story begins millennia before he was born, long before cannabis became known in the western world.
The cannabis plant is believed to be native to the Himalayan valleys in the far north of India, near the Pakistani border. It was here that the invasion of India by the ancient conqueror Alexander the Great stopped. Legend has it that some of his soldiers stayed on. Some of their descendants today live in places like Malana, an isolated village in Himachal Pradesh province at 10,000 feet, surrounded by cannabis fields. This is where some of the most prized hash in Asia called Malana cream is made.
Here, the fruits of the harvest are not trimmed and dried before being smoked in the flower form known to American consumers. Instead, freshly cut flowering tops are rolled for hours in the harvester’s hands to collect the sticky resin in
balls. Often only a few grams of yield are the fruits of a day’s work.
(For Californians, the closest “finger hash” that Humboldt and Mendocino’s groomers can scrape off their fingers after a day’s work).
Eventually there will be enough hash to roll into a larger ball, or perhaps a long strand that resembles a piece of clay. Hash made and shaped in this way is called ‘charas’ and has been used medicinally and religiously for thousands of years. (It wasn’t until the 1980s that charas was declared illegal in India, at the urging of the United States).
This is the method of making hash that Frenchy learned from a series of teachers from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, India and Morocco, an apprenticeship that happened almost by accident.
In Europe, cannabis is rarely seen in the flower form familiar to Americans. It is almost all hashish, smuggled in blocks or stones from Morocco, Syria, Lebanon or Turkey. This was the cannabis Frenchy first smoked
living in the French Riviera at the age of 14.
At the age of 18 he had left France to jump around the world like a weed-smoking nomad. “I’ve been traveling for twenty years,” he says.
For a season he ended up in the Parvati Valley in India, not far from Malana. Hash pulled him there, but he didn’t think about becoming a hash student.
“I wasn’t there to learn,” he says in a recent interview, in between swallowing a massive American Spirit tobacco-and-hash spliff. “I was there to make my stash for the year. I was a bum. I would go four months to make my stash and then smoke it on the beach.”
But after spells relax in
Goa or in Thailand, Frenchy would return to the cold and snow in the mountains. And he kept coming back.
“These people,” he says, “they really knew what they were talking about.”
He ended up spending eight seasons in the Parvati Valley, living in caves and hanging out long enough for his hosts to trust him and show him their secret.
Which is no secret at all – just a lot of hard work.
PRESS TO ACTIVATE
He likes to say that a hash maker only needs two things: “the tool and the product.” The trick is knowing what
have to do with both, and knowing that the starting material is
of high quality.
Frenchy’s method breaks with contemporary style in several ways. Forget terms like “living resin” and “fresh frozen.” The only solvent he uses is cold water. He does not freeze the cannabis trim and small buds he uses before the extraction starts. He prefers outdoor weed grown from Aficionado Seeds genetics of Mendocino County.
And he makes what he calls
“Full spectrum hash.”
When making hash, the product is sieved through meshes of different sizes. Most hashbag kits have sizes ranging from 220 microns on the high side to 25 microns on the low side. Many hash makers reject the end result of high or low microns, or keep the results of several microns separate. Frenchy uses most of everything and combines everything.
The most important could be the pressing. With the hash covered in a plastic turkey bag, Frenchy rolls a wine bottle full of just-boiled water over it. Pressing does more than just bind the extracted resin into a waxy finished product that can be rolled. Like the hand rubbers in India, the pressing begins the process of decarboxylation, when the psychoactive properties of cannabis are released through the application of heat.
Somehow, more of the two essential components of the cannabis plant – the cannabinoids and the terpenes – are captured this way than with other methods.
After pressing, the hash balls, sticks or cannoli are matured and cured in a manner similar to how trimmed flowers are cured, under similar cool and dry conditions. Sometimes hash is cured for four to eight weeks, sometimes as long as a year. The oldest hash Frenchy ever smoked, he says, was 10 years old.
“It has a body that just fills your mouth,” he says. “This, this taste, it tastes like your mouth. And then behind you you have all the terpene level.”
Frenchy’s wandering days ended with the birth of his daughter. He moved to the Bay Area with his wife so their daughter could attend school around the time Prop. 215 died in 1996. He was still making hashish the classic way, but the medical cannabis market was not interested.
“Nobody wanted my product,” he says. “Nobody wanted pressed hash.”
Unlike Europe, where hashish is standard, in America hash has never held in the same way cannabis became the western world’s favorite illicit drug. When veterans of the 1960s and 1970s tell tales of Lebanese blonde or Afghan hashish, the latter probably came closest to
California consumers came
This explains why Frenchy found himself trying to press his pressed hash on people with limited success. In the end, he did what any confident salesperson would do: He gave it away.
Sure enough, the people who tried came back. Some of them were buyers at pharmacies, such as SPARC in San Francisco and Buds and Roses in Los Angeles. Slowly but surely, a contemporary cannabis celebrity was born.
The exact science of how Frenchy’s product works and tastes like it is has been lost. Or rather, it was never found. The thousands of years of tradition of making charas have not been developed or analyzed in a laboratory setting.
But it’s hard to argue with beliefs so strong and with a follower as devoted as Frenchy’s. He has disciples now. Like him, they are convinced that something essential in the cannabis plant is lost during butane extraction and rough treatment. Science can prove them right.
In the future, Frenchy hopes to retain this knowledge – and capture even more. As befits his heritage, he is interested in
devising a California cannabis classification system similar to the AOC system for French wine.
He has also been active with the Emerald Growers Association, working to create a “hashmaker’s guild” – and to do what he can to perpetuate the tradition of growing cannabis outdoors in Northern California.
As the state and country move towards legal recreational cannabis, Frenchy is gifting a legacy: a tradition imported from remote mountain villages that will become part of modern commercial activity. But he declines the credit and turns to the source.
“It’s the most incredible product in the whole damn plant kingdom,” he says. “And we’re lucky enough to work with it.”