A History of the Solventless Dab From the Guy Who Pioneered It, Nikka T
Nikka T, the founder of Essential Extracts, is one of the reasons why we have solventless live rosins and sauces on the legal weed markets today. Here, he breaks down a brief history of the dab scene and his contributions to it.
Published on January 21, 2020

All photos courtesy of Nikka T and Essential Extracts

Cannabis extract manufacturing and consumption has come a long, long way since folks first took knife hits off their kitchen stoves. Originally, hash was first devised hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago somewhere in Central Asia. But in just the last 15 years, hash evolved into novel, more refined products like waxes, shatters, crumbles, sauces, and rosin. Further still, advances in technology mean we can now dab solvent-free oils with portable, battery-operated devices, something that was unheard of just a decade ago.

Nikka T, whose legal name is Nick Tanem, saw this solventless technology develop from its infancy. That’s because he’s one of the first people to ever make it on a commercial level. 

Nikka T, who owns and operates Essential Extracts, didn’t always make high-end ice-water hash, though. He got his start as a reggae DJ in the Bay Area back in the 2000s, where he learned how to market himself at the street level. His moniker — a nod to the reggae artist Rocker T, as well as a play on his own name — then carried over into the fledgling cannabis industry, where he began experimenting with making dabbable extracts on par with butane and propane-extracted products, minus the use of volatile, flammable solvents. 

“I coined the term ‘solventless’ for dabbable water hash before it existed,” Nikka T explained to MERRY JANE by phone. “I’m blessed to have been here from the very beginning stages of this.”

Currently, Nikka T resides in the Bay Area, but he travels the country — and the world — consulting new businesses on how to make primo ice-water hash. To learn more about America’s rich dab culture, which now has global reach in 420-friendly countries such as Spain and the Netherlands, we spoke with him about the scene’s origins, his revolutionary contributions to the industry, and where he believes the technology will take us in the near future. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


MERRY JANE: Let’s start from the beginning. How’d the dab scene get started, and why did it happen in the US?

Nikka T: Before dabbing, knife hits were how a lot of people consumed hash, whether you’re talking about dry sift or Moroccon import hash, Nepalese hash, or Indian charas. Specifically, in the US, people went to knife hits. In Europe and around the world, people had been smoking hash for centuries, but in Europe, people focused on combining hash with tobacco in a spliff

I feel like the United States caught on to the knife hits, initially, because you could smoke hash without using tobacco. From the knife hits came the titanium skillet around 2009; that was really the next step up from the knife hits.

To me, the titanium skillet was the first dab utensil on the market. It was a titanium spoon, basically, or a small dish. Very thin that would fit a dab or two. [The extract] would puddle up on that dish. People heated them up with a torch or a lighter. This skillet had a glass bell attached to it, which was a funnel cup above the skillet. You’d heat up the skillet, slide your dab between it and the glass top, and you were taking a dab.


Above, a titanium skillet (via)

Hashmasta Kut was the guy who originally designed the skillet and put them out. One of the first guys that really promoted it was Daniel de Sailles of [Colorado’s] Top Shelf Extracts. At that time, he wasn’t in Colorado; he was in LA. But that tech came from LA, for sure.

From the titanium skillets came the titanium nails, then the quartz. From there, things just escalated. We went from having a dome on the nails or the quartz to domeless pieces, which was another step up. History changed, if you will. Then we went to e-nails, which was a step-up even further. From e-nails, it went to personal, portable devices like the Puffco. You know, it’s been a journey. I’m kind of blessed to see it all from day one.

When did you come up with the term “solventless?”

I think this was around that same time, 2009 or 2010. I was hanging out with a guy named Paul Tokin, and I’d been making hash for years before this, but I started to really hone my skills around 2003 or 2004, when I saw BHO [butane hash oil] hit the market. 

I visited Mila Jansen in Amsterdam and learned a lot of her oral tradition about her technologies that wasn’t written in books. They call her the Hash Queen. I bugged her in person at her warehouse for weeks, but I was really gracious. She taught me a lot.

Anyway, I honed my skills by controlling the environmental factors [when extracting hash]. Paul Tokin was a YouTube phenomenon at the time, and I wanted to show him what I was doing because my bubble hash didn’t look like bubble hash anymore. It was gold. It was more translucent. It looked more like the honey oil or earwax — which was one of the more popular terms around 2009. 

I came to Paul and gave him some of my product, and he said, “No way this is water hash! No way this is bubble hash!” So, together, we coined the term “solventless wax,” because my goal was to mimic the consistencies we were seeing in the hydrocarbon or butane-extracted world. We saw “earwax” as one of the first terms after “honey oil,” so that’s how we came up with “solventless wax.” 


Essential Extracts' solventless wax

From there, the term “solventless” took over very quickly soon after. “Solventless” is actually a descriptor term, so you can’t trade name it or patent it. I didn’t want to protect that term; I wanted to spread that term and have others use it and spread the knowledge to create a higher echelon in the industry. And that’s what we’ve done. 

In 2019, [at a cannabis event], I saw some of the biggest hash companies in the world all with a similar hoodie that I released in 2010 with the word “SOLVENTLESS” across the chest. At first I was taken back, like, “Whoa, isn’t that my hoodie?” But nah, I’m proud of that. I actually created something; I created a community — the solventless community.

Pressed hash isn’t terribly common in Colorado these days, with just one company regularly making it for the state’s legal market. Why do you believe pressed hash isn’t popular in Colorado’s dab scene?

When you’re talking about old-school-styled hash — or even water hash in general — when you try to dab that product, you’ll see a lot of charred residue on the nail or quartz or Puffco ceramic insert. The smell coming off of those waxes and plant material has kind of a foul, burnt-rubber smell, which contributes to a foul taste. 

Now, we can put out product that’s full-melt that has a lot less of that residue, which gives it a much more pleasant smoke, smell, and flavor — and therefore [a much more pleasant] high. That’s why I feel like rosin has excelled so much further than some of these traditional methods of hashish production.

But at the same time — listen, I’m a chillum smoker. I love those old-school methods of hash production and consumption. But I also love putting well-done full-melt or rosin in a spliff, as well. At that point, I feel like it’s personal preference. In the United States, the personal preference has been dabbing. In Europe, the tradition has been spliffs, so that’s why a lot of that imported hashish does really, really well in the European market. 

I’m smokin’ a spliff as we speak [laughs]. Generally, I preface that I don’t promote or condone tobacco use. But it’s been something that’s been with me, culturally, for a long time.


Follow Nikka T on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. For more on his solventless dab products, check out the Essential Extracts website 

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Randy Robinson
Based in Denver, Randy studied cannabinoid science while getting a degree in molecular biology at the University of Colorado. When not writing about cannabis, science, politics, or LGBT issues, they can be found exploring nature somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Catch Randy on Twitter and Instagram @randieseljay
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