Chasen are Japanese tea whisks used to create delicious, frothy matcha tea. The whisks are used during Japanese tea Ceremony (Sado), which focuses on careful mindfulness when enjoying tea. The ceremony focuses on the tradition and culture of tea. Participants often incorporate lifestyle aspirations such as simplicity and appreciation of time into their practice. Chasen instruments have become an integral part of this meditative process.
Tea Ceremony is closely related to the Japanese idea of “wabi-sabi” which esthetic culture that encourages individuals to find beauty in real life and imperfection.
During tea ceremonies, it is common to use a new Chasen every time. However, the average tea drinker may reuse the same Chasen until it no longer functions, this may take up to 10-20 times depending on the user. It is necessary to care for the instrument properly in order to prolong its life.
Tanimura Tango’s family have been hand crafting chasen for 20 generations, or for about 500 years. The family settled in the hills of Takayama in Nara Prefecture around the year 1500. It was also around this time that bamboo chasen, the kind still used today, were originally created. Today, Yamato Takayama produces around ninety percent of the chasen made in Japan. A few years ago, Yunomi visited the Matcha Museum in Nara prefecture and learned a thing or two about this beautiful craft.
Today Tanimura Tango continues the family tradition. It is his responsibility to be sure that quality and quantity remain consistent. The family uses locally harvested bamboo from around the Kansai region of Japan. It is said that the soil in this region lacks nutrients and the cold climate creates strong bamboo. The bamboo is harvested in winter. Once the bamboo is harvested, it takes around 2-3 years of preparation and dying for it to be ready for production. Readers can purchase one of Tanimura’s original chasen at Yunomi’s shop.
In recent years, other companies have started to produce alternative tea whisks. These alternative items are often treated with chemicals and anti-molding agents which may not be safe to ingest. In addition, they are not made in the same way that traditional Takayama chasen are made. Some are made out of plastic or resin. These tea whisks produced overseas may be of questionable quality. Some tea enthusiasts say that the resign whisks are best used for beginners.
To learn more about how Takayama chasen are made, please watch this educational video.
Types of Chasen
Each school of tea ceremony has its own preferred type of tea whisk. It is estimated that there are over 100 different types of chasen each used for various methods of tea preparation. The main differences can be seen in the thickness of the handle (jiku) and the number of tines on the head (hosaki). Chinese tea whisks tend to have thicker handles and more tines on the head. Lower density tines whisks are best for thick matcha while a higher density utensil will create a thinner drink.
Smoked chasen are also available. These chasen are darker in color and are much sought after in Japan. Often the bamboo has been smoked for many years. Despite the extra cost and preparation, smoked chasen function in the same way. Smoking the bamboo only adds aesthetic value.
Chasen have also been made from fresh bamboo but the most common way of creating the whisks is to carve it from one piece of dried bamboo. A knife is the used to tease the tips into their signature form.
How to Care for Chasen
Before using your chasen for the first time, soak it in warm water for several minutes. This will allow the bristles to unfold a bit, allowing for a proper blossom before use. This step also helps to improve elasticity before use.
The amount of pressure applied while frothing the matcha makes a big difference is the longevity of your chasen. While rigorous movements will produce the frothiness many matcha drinkers desire, harsh movements can damage or break the bamboo prongs. Be sure to never hit the bowl with your tea whisk.
Unfortunately, chasen are prone to harboring mold. Naturally, mold will render your chasen unusuable. In order to avoid molding, it’s necessary to properly clean your whisk after each use. Please note, Japanese chasen are not dishwasher safe. Simply fill your clean tea cup with warm water and whisk until all traces of tea are eliminated. No soap or harsh chemicals are required. After you’ve finished gently shake off any excess water.
Drying your chansen is the most important step. Be sure to never store it upright as excess water may collect in the handle and form mold. If possible, use a chasen holder for drying and storage. Chasen may be left to air dry upside down.