Cannabis may be legal in California, but what chic and classy woman-of-a-certain-age wants to sneak some from her kids?
Two Bay Area entrepreneurs have a better idea: An upscale line of organic cannabis-infused teas for the Lululemon crowd, catering to women who don’t want to inhale clouds of smoke, hang out at dispensaries or get so stoned they snooze at book club.
At an elegant “High Tea” private product launch of Kikoko tea last week, hosted at the Woodside home of a prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist, friends gathered to sip, gossip and giggle.
“It’s the Ritz, with a twist!” said co-founder Jen Chapin, 54, of Sausalito, a brand marketing expert in games and food industries who wore a vintage hat and pearl necklace.
They aim to offer gentle help with the miseries of middle-age: too little sleep, too much stress and so-so sex. If Kikoko is successful, it could help turbocharge a cannabis market that’s largely ignored women, who control $1.6 trillion of consumer spending.
At the Woodside soiree, guests sipped from antique china tea cups and gazed out at a swimming pool, barns and acres of rolling green hills.
Some drank “Sympa-Tea,” low in psychoactive THC but high in pain-relieving cannabinoids, ginger and tumeric; others enjoyed “Positivi-Tea,” higher in mood-boosting THC, peppermint and lemongrass. Still others sipped “Sensuali-Tea,” with mid-range THC, hibiscus and rose petals, hoping perhaps to host their own party later that night in the bedroom.
There was a thrill to the clandestine gathering, with invitations to friends-of-friends only. (This reporter agreed not to name the guests or hostess.) While California voters have given the green light to cannabis, it’s still illegal under federal law. Until licenses for commercial sale of recreational weed are issued next year, buyers need a medical marijuana card to buy Kikoko tea.
When a phone rang, someone exclaimed: “I think that’s (U.S. Attorney General) Jeff Sessions!” Hilarity ensued.
There were only two rules for guests: One: Wear a hat. Guests obliged, wearing headpieces that ranged from a cranberry-hued trilby and black beret to a stylish fascinator headpiece. Think Kate Middleton at the Epsom Derby. For those who forgot, there were hats to borrow, bought in Edinburgh.
The second: Please use Uber or Lyft to get home.
The night started with a presentation about cannabis science, taught by co-founder Amanda Jones, 54, of Emerald Hills, a travel writer and New Zealand native who studied neurophysiology in college and vacations in Squaw Valley and Namibia.
Imagine your best bio class ever — lively lessons in cell receptors, neural networks and liver metabolism, taught in an Auckland accent by someone who could model for Vogue.
In a salmon-hued satin dress and white-feathered hat, Jones listed the litany of modern maladies, such as “waking up at 4 a.m. in the morning, while our husbands sleep soundly besides us.”
And sex — or, more precisely, lack thereof. “Libido is a problem for many women…although perhaps not in this room!” Jones said, as the audience tittered.
The crowd, seated on upholstered chairs and surrounded by expensive art, listened with rapt attention. Then came the Q & A, and a flurry of raised hands like those girls in English Lit who always sat in the front row and turned in their James Joyce homework days before it was due.
Guests weren’t all newbies to cannabis. But a lot’s changed in the years they were busy starting businesses, visiting Europe, landscaping gardens and carpooling kids to soccer practice.
“I trust this a lot more than what we smoked 35 years ago when I was at Berkeley,” said a guest.
“Where I am going to go buy drugs — Roberts?” joked another, referring to Woodside’s upscale grocery. “I wouldn’t even know where a dispensary is in San Jose. I wouldn’t drive down there. Are you kidding me? I’d rather go for a run.”
A few were dubious. “I’m in a drug-free workplace,” said one woman. “If you tried to get hired and you had THC in your system, you wouldn’t get hired.”
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The idea behind Kikoko was conceived, not by Chapin and Jones, but their close mutual friend Jan Parker, a savvy San Anselmo-based marketer and product designer whose games were sold at FAO Schwarz and in educational catalogues. While battling cancer, she hated opiates and complained that conventional medical marijuana made her too high.
After Parker’s death in 2015, Chapin and Jones picked up the baton. Friends since bridesmaids at a wedding, they had already co-founded a successful nonprofit that puts young women through law school in the Democratic Republic of Congo, described by the United Nations as the worst place on earth to be a woman.
“We’re not the likely candidates to get into this weed business,” admitted Jones.
But they thought there might be a market beyond cancer patients. One year, during an annual weekend gathering of girlfriends at Stinson Beach, “we noticed how many of our friends were on anti-anxiety, anti-depressants and sleeping pills,” said Jones. “We took some edibles, and — lo and behold! — the aches and pains went away. We slept like babies and felt pretty great about life.”
“We realized we needed alternatives — a line of products that were clearly dosed for women,” she said.
They raised $1.25 million and hired 10 women for their team. Even their grower, up in Humboldt County, is female. One corporate rule: “When it all goes horribly wrong, laugh. No, we are not high while working. We just like to laugh.”
Here’s the hard part: Tea is really tough to make, because cannabis components aren’t water soluble. It’s also hard to find completely pesticide-free cannabis. Kikoko has burned through four teams of scientists, finally finding two former Genentech and Amgen chemists who got it right.
Twice, product launches had to be scrapped. After one disaster, they had to throw away $25,000 worth of product.
“It’s been an incredible slog,” said Jones.
But now it’s time to celebrate. This spring, Kikoko tea is available online at kikoko.com, through the online delivery services Ona.life and Sava or at San Francisco’s The Apothecarium and Harvest dispensaries.
They’ve held five “High Teas” this month — in Emerald Hills, Menlo Park, Sausalito and San Francisco, in addition to Woodside — reaching 350 to 400 women. Five more are planned.
As tea cups emptied at the Woodside gathering, giddy guests hugged goodbye, then left to go fix dinner and watch the Giants game — carrying new purchases in festive party bags.
“I got one for my husband, because it’s sensual,” said one guest, showing off one box of tea.
“And this one,” she said, waving another, “is for my mother.”
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