Today a chasen (bamboo whisk) is undoubtedly one of the most indispensable parts of Chanoyu (Japanese tea ceremony). You might walk into a modern coffee shop or tea cafe and see the baristas preparing your matcha by shaking or blending the matcha powder with hot water (and possibly milk), but to many matcha lovers out there this is simply despicable. If you are present at a Japanese tea ceremony, you will not expect for your matcha to be whisked with anything but a chasen.
History of the Chasen
In fact, it wasn’t always like this. The same way that back in the day tea in China used to be boiled for an extended period of time in powdered form, matcha wasn’t always whisked using a chasen.
Tea ceremonies have existed in Japan since the early 12th century. Wabicha, the tea ceremony which is closest to what we know of today and which was created to emphasize simplicity, came around 500 years ago.
Wabicha was founded by Juko Murata. Before wabicha, matcha was stirred using wooden spoons. Murata wished to have a tool made for whisking matcha that would match the simplistic style of wabicha. Thus the chasen was created.
After the chasen, tea connoisseurs no longer went back to wooden spoons. After all, a bamboo whisk, thanks to its curved ends, has the advantage of creating the iconic matcha foam and froth we all love. This foam is known to reduce the bitterness matcha may naturally have producing a much smoother and sweeter experience. Even today students of Japanese tea ceremony spend time mastering the perfect way to whisk matcha and achieve the best froth!
Nowadays chasen are designated as one of the Traditional Crafts of Japan, almost all of them being produced in Nara prefecture with its abundant bamboo forests. There exist many different types of chasen based on the tea school, the kind of tea ceremony and the type of matcha being served. A standard chasen is always hand-carved from a single piece of bamboo and has anywhere from 80 to 120 prongs.
Taking care of your chasen:
- always allow for your chasen to air dry standing upright or on a chasen kusenaoshi (chasen holder)
- never store it in its original plastic packaging after first use
- never use soap. wash with hot water