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Fancy Hats, Garden Dresses, and Aphrodisiac Weed: An Afternoon at a Silicon Valley ‘High Tea’ Party
Scott Lucas | Photo: Kathleen Harrison; Photo-illustration by Clark Miller | July 25, 2017
Cannabis-tea startup Kikoko sees a bright future in mother’s new little helper.
A peace sign hangs near the front door of Gloria Webster’s ranch home just off Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park on a warm Saturday evening. By 7 p.m., in the backyard, several dozen middle-aged women—and three or four stray men—wearing elaborate headpieces, curly fascinators, conical witch hats, straw hats with bows, and homemade pink pussy hats are queued up for tea served in vintage teacups. They have gathered here for a party held by Kikoko, a company headquartered in the East Bay that makes a line of teas spiked with cannabis and marketed to well-heeled women. The attendants, some of whom tell me they haven’t gotten high since the Bill Clinton administration, are about to get impressively stoned.
“This is about quality of life and education,” says Webster, the party’s host and one of the cofounders of a Santa Clara–based company called Patients with Power, which helps cancer patients make decisions on treatment. She has long been friends with Kikoko cofounders Amanda Jones and Jennifer Chapin and happily agreed to turn over her house and invite as many of her friends as she could rustle up for the fourth in a series of tea parties that double as direct sales events. Guests have been invited to wear hats and garden dresses, as if attending a Victorian-era tea party. Menu items include smoked salmon tea sandwiches (crusts removed), shrimp cocktail, and fresh strawberries. But the main draw is the marijuana.
“I smoked with my son, who is 19, and I was fuzzy for three days,” says one woman in her mid-50s who, like most at the party, preferred not to give her full name. The high potency of modern marijuana has mostly kept her away, though she admits, “I used to take a lot of acid.” Another woman, who’s tried Kikoko teas, praises them as a “social lubricant at dinner parties.” Chelsey McKrill, a young Kikoko employee who left a job as a production assistant on Breaking Bad to join the cannabis industry, dispenses hot water and offers descriptions of the four kinds of marijuana tea on offer tonight, including Sensuali-Tea, a blend of hibiscus, rose petal, orange peel, lavender, cardamom, cloves, and licorice root. It contains seven milligrams of THC per sachet. The tea boosts women’s sex drive, explains Jones, a tall, blond 54-year-old New Zealand native who worked for decades as a travel correspondent for the Los Angeles Times before cofounding Kikoko more than two years ago: “You just get hornier.” (Later in the afternoon, one female guest who’s at least two decades my senior places her hand on my arm, leaves it there, and asks me how old I am. Thirty, I tell her. “You look 25,” she purrs.)
When California voters legalized cannabis last November, they may not have had “high tea” parties in mind, but the impending legality of the sale of recreational marijuana—regulations for which are still being hashed out by legislators and will be in place by January 1, 2018, at the earliest—has set off a green rush among entrepreneurs angling to reach consumers who’ve thus far been ill served by stoner culture. The Kikoko founders hope their teas will catch on among middle-aged women in the Bay Area, a sort of mother’s little helper for the modern lady-boss to sip between board meetings, yoga classes, and after-school pickups.
Jones stands in front of a projector screen to offer her marketing deck, trying to boost word of mouth among her potential customers. She wears a vintage red dress, black gloves and hat, and elegant drop earrings and moves through a script thick with references to the endocannabinoid system, industrial hemp oil, and the injustices of the war on drugs: “Why was marijuana made illegal?” she asks rhetorically. “Racism and big business.” Kikoko was founded two and a half years ago when Jones and Chapin, who was formerly a gaming-startup entrepreneur, heard a friend battling ovarian cancer voice dissatisfaction with the edibles she was buying. Kikoko sources its marijuana from Mendocino, processes it in Richmond, and bundles it up in bags made out of corn that Jones—up in arms about the bleach used to turn most tea bags white—discovered on a trip to Japan. In part, she hopes women will embrace her products as a substitute for chardonnay or a gin and tonic. “I’ve tried to give up alcohol,” she says. “You drink, and you wake up feeling like shit.” The crowd titters. “I can swear, because I have the accent.”
The presentation ends with tiled images of Meg Ryan faking an orgasm in When Harry Met Sally and a tagline that reads, “I’ll have what she’s having.” Several hands shoot up with questions. Will my kids be able to tell when I’m high? Is this legal? What’s up with the funny name for the company? Then, because this is Silicon Valley: “What’s your go-to-market strategy?” Jones says the company is currently pursuing Series A funding. The high-end San Francisco dispensary Apothecarium sold out of its first run of Kikoko products—for patients with medical cards—and delivery services including Ona.life, Sava, Harvest, and True Healing Collective are already carrying them.
As the formal portion of the festivities ends, the conversation dissolves into giggles and good feelings. An athletic woman in a black-and-white-checkered dress knocks a luxury bag off her chair and goes on hands and knees to retrieve it. “I wish I could give Donald Trump some of this tea,” one woman says. In the corner, Jones catches up with a friend, and they chat about their children. “Everyone is addicted to being soothed,” one woman offers philosophically. Inside, Bob Marley’s Exodus plays. An attendee who bears a passing resemblance to Carrie Fisher lolls on a couch. Hat abandoned, she rolls her neck languidly and runs her fingers through her long hair. “I drank one of the sex teas,” she says, “but didn’t feel it, so I took another.” Then she giggles and asks for a massage. Eventually, she goes home barefoot.
As the party winds down, the women line up outside to hail rides, many of them toting sachets of tea and deflated hats and feeling the warm buzz that comes from more than just the soft night air. Inside the house, a man and woman are splayed out on the living room couch, making out like teenagers.
Originally published in the August issue of San Francisco