Updated: May 11
Often times I have gotten the same question. I got a matcha whisk but how do I use it? Understandable if you ask me since the chasen or bamboo whisk: is the ultimate tool created specifically for matcha brewing. Its function is to whisk the matcha powder and to emulsify it with the water during the brewing process.
This delicate piece of matcha brewing equipment it is not difficult to be cared for yet for those who have never used it might feel like an alien element in their tea cabinets or counters.
I would like to talk a bit about the chasen itself and also about other different matcha brewing devices out there, before explaining how to use it for the first time and how to look after it afterwards. The steps are really simple, once you get used to them they will become natural.
The definition of chasen
A chasen or bamboo whisk is usually made by hand, from a single piece of bamboo by highly skilled artisans who have deep knowledge about how to work with bamboo and also about the Japanese Tea Ceremony. If you want to see how a chasen is handcrafted, this video is highly illustrative.
We visited a chasen artisan atelier in Takayama, Japan, as part of our tea training course. We saw him making a chasen from scratch which was an one of a kind type of experience. The high level of craftsmanship that goes into making a single chasen is out of this world. He also had a collection of chasen on display. One of them is believed to be 500 years old. The bamboo is a very versatile, sturdy and flexible material widely used in whole Asia, including Japan. It is abundant in many regions, in fact if you have ever been to Arashiyama, in Kyoto, you might have visited its famous Bamboo Groove. By the way, I am in love with the Bamboo Groove and I use a photo a took of it during one of my trips as a Facebook Cover. I will not go into much detail about the many varieties of bamboo that exist, this would need several posts and it is not what we are talking about here. However, usually the matcha brewing utensils are manufactured using bamboo in two different tonalities, golden and purple. The ones made out of golden bamboo are more widely available and there are also cheaper, the ones made out of purple bamboo (also known as rare bamboo) are less common and a bit more expensive. If we have a close look at the Japanese Tea Ceremony or Cha No Yu, we will discover that the Urasenke school uses matcha brewing utensils made out of golden bamboo whereas the Omotesenke school uses utensils made out of purple bamboo instead.
There are some renowned chasen makers in Japan such as Tanimura Tango, he is a highly reputable 20th generation master chasen maker, his imaginative and impeccable creations are well sought after by collectors and Japanese Tea Ceremony practitioners alike.
Unless you are a Cha No Yu practitioner, or a tea brewing paraphernalia collector, you might choose your matcha brewing tools by the way they look so they are aesthetically pleasant or by their price. Whichever is your motivation, is good to have more than one option available out there.
There are also interesting alternative matcha brewing tools that have been developed with the intention to make our lives easier and more convenient while brewing our favourite beverage above all. I know, I devote too much time, effort and words in matcha. I cannot help it, I am all hooked up, help me!
Matcha Handheld Electric Whisk
Developed by Willman Japan, an agricultural and food processing tools manufacturer, this is the ultimate device for anyone who would like to automate their matcha brewing experience. This fascinating matcha brewing tool would surely be interesting for anyone working in a large café or restaurant where lots of matcha would be brew on daily basis. It would also be interesting for anyone who might have mobility issues and therefore might find difficult to operate a chasen manually. I have never seen this tool live in action, I would like to test it and evaluate its performance one day. What do you think? Would you use it?
Robotic Arm Matcha Brewing
There was a demonstration of matcha being brewed by robotic arms manufactured by Denso Corp. at the World Robot Expo 2018. Funnily enough, the robotic arm is using the electric handheld matcha whisk mentioned above.
Synthetic Resin Matcha Whisk
A Japanese invention, the synthetic chasen is built for convenience. Its use is not as extended as the bamboo chasen, even within Japan.
It doesn't have to be dampened before brewing your matcha, it can be washed in the washing machine, it doesn't break easily, it doesn't generate mold if left damp... However, it is not so aesthetically pleasant plus its matcha brewing performance doesn't seem to be as high as its traditional counterpart. I have found an interesting article about this type of chasen (in Japanese) here. It includes a video about its usage. Also I found a well detailed comparison between a bamboo and a resin chasen brewing performance here. Both articles are worth reading. There is also a 3D printed version that looks stunning. I wouldn't mind to get one myself, I wonder how well it would brew the matcha though. They have different colours and materials to choose between. As a heads up, I am not getting anything back for this referral, however, I think this is a cool product worth knowing about so mentioning it here for your enjoyment.
Electric Milk Frother This device hasn't been specifically developed for matcha brewing. However, with the new trend going around preparing matcha latte, matcha dalgona, frothy matcha milkshakes and so forth, it might be an interesting tool to have. I personally prepare everything using the traditional method plus a hand mixer I have at home, yet I understand how convenient a device like this one could be in the kitchen. Specially the ones than can be plugged into a USB port.
I will not feature other methods or tools used to brew matcha in this article since this topic has already been covered by others in the past, neither I will link to content created by other tea companies in my articles for obvious reasons. However, if you are curious and would like to know more, Youtube is your friend. So, I finally purchased a bamboo whisk, how should I use it? Great question poised by one of my customers not that long ago. I will explain with detail how to use the bamboo whisk for the first time and also each single time after that. Plus I will give you some tips on how to look after your bamboo whisk to ensure it lasts longer. I just received the bamboo whisk It smells nice, it looks great and shiny. But what should I do with it?
First time use
Take a bowl with warm water (80 degrees Celsius)
Take the chasen out of its case
Place it in the bowl for 5 mins
Take out the bowl and shake well to remove remaining water
Ensure that the bamboo whisk gets completely dry
Usually, chasen prongs are curled tightly when they are new. These curls go away on the first of second time of use. I however purchased my current chasen directly from an artisan in Japan and it had straight ends.
Each time before brewing matcha
Take a bowl with warm water (80 degrees Celsius)
Take the chasen and emulate matcha whisking for 30 secs in the hot water
Afterwards the chasen is ready for matcha brewing
Ensure that the bamboo whisk gets completely dry after each use
Placing it in the matcha holder after each use is not necessary but highly recommended since it helps to keep its shape.
Tips for matcha brewing
Place the tea bowl on a non-slippery surface, and hold it on the side with your left or right hand (depending on which hand you use as a primary one.)
Hold the chasen close to the end of the bamboo handle. Your thumb should be aligned with the knot on the thread.
Start by moving the chasen slowly in a "M" shape motion, up/down, speeding up as much as possible, until the matcha surface becomes foamy.
The higher the temperature of the water, the more foam it will form, however more cathechins will be also released, my recommendation is to use water at 80 degrees Celsius. If you don't mind your brew slightly stronger 85 degrees Celsius is also fine.
When brewing fast make sure to only whisk close to the surface, in order to avoid the prongs to get damaged.
Be relaxed when brewing the matcha, it shouldn't be a tense experience.
Close the brewing with a clockwise spiral motion from the middle of the bowl to the sides when closing the brewing. This move gives the best shape to the foam for the highest enjoyment.
How to clean your chasen effectively When I studied Cha No Yu, we used dedicated toothbrushes to clean the chasen after each use. We all had to contribute in order to maintain the tea house squeaky clean. However, I use a different technique at home with excellent results. The key point is to ensure that the majority of the moisture is removed from the chasen after each time its used.
Whisk on clean water to remove part of the remaining matcha from the chasen.
Carefully rinse it under running hot water. If needed, use your fingers to gently remove remaining matcha.
Do not let the bamboo sit in water.
Do not use dishwasher, dryer or dish soap!
How to store your chasen
The best way to store a chasen is on a Kusenaoshi or chasen holder, to help keep its shape. If you don’t have a holder, keep it looking upwards on the counter. Storing it that way may cause it to close up a bit and loose its original shape or straighten out. In that case, dampen it by using running water and gently unfold it using your fingers. Never do that while the chasen is dry or it will break! Storing it in a too warm, dry place might cause the bamboo to split apart so please be mindful. What's the expected lifespan of your chasen The lifespan of a chasen depends a lot on how it is handled and how much it is used. As soon as the ends of the tines start to break off, it is recommended to purchase a new one, since the ends can break off while preparing matcha and could be swallowed accidentally. The bamboo whisk is susceptible to dry conditions, maintaining an optimal humidity in the environment where the matcha is kept will help to expand its lifespan considerably. The handle could also crack due to dry conditions. It is not uncommon for bamboo to crack in dry conditions; this is simply a natural characteristic of bamboo. Even if the handle would crack slightly the chasen can still be used effectively. If you live in a region that is extremely dry, it is highly advisable to wet the entire whisk, including the handle before preparing your brew.
My own experience using chasen
I had (still have but not longer use it at home) a chasen a Japanese friend of mine who studied Sado gave me before she left Spain back in the day. I kept it stored in its case without a lid inside a cupboard (well, or wherever it was since its storage changed along each time I relocated) for several years until I started using it daily. This chasen was already used when I inherited it, yet it lasted me for four years of daily heavy usage despite its age. It did not break, or got moldy. It gave up however due to a mistake I made. I somehow trapped a section of the tines against the chawan edges when I was about to brew some matcha (I am extremely sleepy in the mornings) and it cracked at the root. The prongs are still in good shape yet it cannot be used to brew matcha effectively unfortunately. I still carry it with me when I hold workshops though, to show people how to use a chasen for matcha brewing.
I hope this tricks and tips help you to use your chasen more effectively and also to extend its lifespan. As much as I am a tea shop owner, I wouldn't want any of my customers having to purchase a chasen often due to lack of information about how to take care of it properly. Do you have any questions? Contact me directly or leave me a message below.
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