An Insider’s Look at the Karma Cup Scoring System

Our “Beyond The Percentages” Blog is back to cover more about how we approach cannabis quality assessment here at the Karma Cup. Last Week we learned about our Sample Sesh events which determined the 28 finalists that will ended up in our Judging Kits.

The Karma Cup Scoring System

Have you ever wondered how the Karma Cup works and what it takes to win? Understanding our scoring system is crucial if you want to compete or judge our cup. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at how cannabis cups like ours judge their entrants. Of course, every competition will have slightly different criteria but this is how we do it and have done it since 2014…

Watch how our 2023 Sample Sesh events went…

Like wine competitions or gymnastics, success at the Karma Cup is based on cumulative judges’ scores. This style of competition has always been a popular way to identify the objective “best” competitors amidst inherent subjective judges’ opinions.

This year each of our 28 finalists will be assessed blindly by a panel of 5,000 Ontario judges. The maximum score that an entry can receive is a combined 100 points. Each of our 10 categories are scored from 0-10, and the highest scoring producers take home the trophies.

Although our competition has evolved a lot over the past ten years, this style of scoring system has stuck with us since our earliest seasons.

Pre-Session Evaluation

First, judges are asked to asses the product using nearly all of their senses. This “pre-sesh” evaluation has always been a crucial element of cannabis evaluation.

Smoking Experience

Is the product enjoyable to smoke? Last but not least, are the effects pleasant? The main reason cannabis smokers use the plant is for its effects. 

Demystifying The Scoring Categories

The scoring system used by the Karma Cup is based on a point system, with each entry being evaluated blindly by a panel of 5,000 judges. The maximum score that an entry can receive is 100 points, and the winners are determined by the highest overall scores. The scoring system used by the Karma Cup can be broken into two major parts; pre-session evaluation and then smoking experience. Each of these parts has its own important categories that are covered, most of which we will cover below.


Scoring Categories: “Overall Visual Appeal” (10 Points)
Although our scoring system relies on a blind-tasting methodology, product appearance is one of the most important elements of the final score. We briefly touched on the “blind-tasting” methodology in our last blog post you can find HERE. Visual evaluation of cannabis flower and pre-rolls serves two main purposes for our judges:
  • Firstly, the appearance of cannabis can provide clues about its quality. The visual assessment can give judges an idea of the flower’s maturity, colour, trichome development, and overall structure. These are all factors that can influence the potency, aroma, and flavour of the cannabis. Oily residue on pre-rolls from potent cannabis and a consistent shape are good signs that the cannabis inside is of high quality and attention to detail was put into the production.
  • Secondly, the visual assessment can help judges identify any visual defects or inconsistencies that could affect the overall quality of the product. For example, mould or mildew can negatively impact the flavour and safety of cannabis.

Factors Considered in Appearance Scoring

The overall visual appeal is influenced by several factors, such as the color and consistency of the flower, the development and density of the trichomes, and the structure of the buds. A vibrant color and well-formed bud structure can indicate a high-quality flower. The development and density of the trichomes can also indicate the potency of the product. Judges may score entries higher in the visual appeal category if they exhibit these desirable characteristics.


Scoring Categories: “Aroma Pungency” & “Aroma Pleasantness” (20 Points)
A Karma competition judge performs an aroma assessment before consumption to predict the strain’s overall experience, including its quality, potency, and potential effects. The aroma, largely determined by terpenes, can reveal insights into the strain’s therapeutic value, freshness, and proper handling. Assessing aroma before consumption ensures a systematic and consistent evaluation process, allowing judges to focus on distinct qualities without being influenced by consumption effects.

Factors Considered in Aroma Scoring

  • Aroma pungency refers to the intensity or strength of the smell, often indicating the concentration of terpenes and other aromatic compounds. A more pungent aroma may suggest a higher terpene content, which could contribute to the strain’s flavour profile, potency, and potential therapeutic effects. Pungency can also be a sign of proper cultivation, curing, and storage, helping to preserve the terpenes and essential oils in cannabis.

  • Aroma pleasantness, on the other hand, relates to the subjective appeal of the scent. A pleasant aroma often enhances the user’s overall experience, making the strain more enjoyable and potentially more marketable. Additionally, pleasantness can provide insights into the specific terpene profile of the strain, which may be associated with particular effects or therapeutic benefits.

Note on Aroma

During an aroma assessment, judges may identify contaminants or improperly cured cannabis by detecting unusual or off-putting odours. A mouldy or musty smell could suggest the presence of mould or mildew, while a chemical or harsh odour might indicate pesticide or fertilizer residue.

A good competition judge is able to identify these off putting aromas and discern them from other good cannabis aromas. For example, many people who do not enjoy cannabis will complain when weed smells like skunk. Cannabis users on the other hand tend to love the smell of skunks…


Scoring Categories: “Ash Color and Structure “, “Does Aroma Translate to Taste” & “Smoking Experience” (30 Points)
  • Ash color and structure are important because they can indicate how well the cannabis has been flushed, cured, and dried. Properly processed cannabis typically produces white or light grey ash, while darker ash may suggest residual impurities, such as nutrients or pesticides, which could affect the smoking experience and overall product quality.
  • Evaluating whether the aroma translates to taste helps judges assess the strain’s flavor profile and harmony between scent and taste. A strong correlation between the two can indicate a well-cultivated and properly cured product.
  • Lastly, assessing the overall smoking experience allows judges to gauge factors such as whether the smoke is smooth or harsh. A smooth, enjoyable smoking experience may contribute to the strain’s marketability and therapeutic potential.

Factors Considered in Burn Scoring

Improper flushing can leave residual nutrients or pesticides in the plant material, leading to harsher smoke and darker ash. Inadequate curing and drying may cause uneven burning or difficulty in keeping the cannabis lit due to excess moisture, while over-dried cannabis can burn too quickly and produce a harsh, unpleasant experience. Additionally, poor trimming or the presence of excess stems and leaves in pre-rolls can negatively impact the burn test, as these components tend to burn differently than the desired flower material.


Scoring Categories: “Effects Experience”, “Overall Enjoyment” (20 Points)

An effects assessment evaluates the impact of a cannabis strain on the user, considering factors such as potency, onset, duration, and the specific physical and mental experiences induced. A well-executed effects assessment is crucial for determining a strain’s therapeutic potential, recreational appeal, and overall quality.

While this is one of the more subjective scoring categories, by polling a large number of judges, competitions like ours are able to determine market potential and general preferences of cannabis consumers on a whole.

Factors Considered in Effects Scoring

Several factors contribute to a positive effects assessment. Proper cultivation and processing practices help preserve the cannabinoids and terpenes responsible for a strain’s unique effects. A balanced and enjoyable experience, with the desired intensity and duration, is vital for both recreational users and medical patients. Furthermore, the effects should align with the strain’s classification (indica, sativa, or hybrid) and the expected outcomes based on its cannabinoid and terpene profile.


In conclusion, the Karma Cup cannabis competition utilizes a comprehensive scoring system to evaluate various aspects of each competing entry, from appearance and aroma to burn quality and effects. With a panel of 5,000 judges scoring each entry blindly and basing the competition on a cumulative point system, the Karma Cup aims to determine the highest quality cannabis products in an objective manner.

By evaluating multiple factors in each category, this scoring system ensures that only the best cannabis products with the most desirable attributes are recognized and awarded.

As the cannabis industry continues to grow and evolve, events like the Karma Cup play a crucial role in fostering innovation, promoting excellence, and helping consumers make informed decisions about their cannabis consumption.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to experience the best of the best in the cannabis world!

We encourage you to head over to your local cannabis retailer and pick up one of the three exclusive flower judging kits released this week. By purchasing a kit, you’ll not only get to sample some of the top-rated cannabis strains, but you’ll also gain a deeper appreciation for the meticulous evaluation process that goes into determining the winners of the Karma Cup. Immerse yourself in the rich world of cannabis culture and become a discerning connoisseur.

Visit your local cannabis retailer today and let the exceptional aromas, flavors, and effects of these award-winning strains elevate your cannabis experience to new heights. Don’t wait – supplies are limited and these sought-after judging kits are sure to sell out fast!

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