What is a matcha whisk/chasen?
A matcha whisk/chasen is the key that unlocks the door to a perfect cup of matcha tea. As an added bonus, using a chasen during your tea ceremony gives you a new perspective and appreciation for treasured traditional tools.
The Japanese chasen was first crafted in the small Japanese village of Yuwa Takayama, around 600 years ago. Today, it’s still registered as one of the traditional crafts of Japan.
It is handcrafted from a piece of bamboo and is available in a variety of thicknesses and string counts (also known as “teeth” of the whisk).
The Takayama area in Japan is famous for making tea whisks (chasen). Its museum (Takayama Chikurin-en) shows chasen being made by professional craftspeople. Tea ceremonies and experiences are also held regularly.
Do you need a matcha whisk?
Many people ask whether a whisk is necessary. The simple answer to that is yes. Not only will this give you a better matcha experience, alternative methods of a matcha whisk are rarely as good. Below are the two main reasons why you need a matcha whisk.
The first purpose of a matcha whisk is to dissolve matcha in hot water. At first sight, it might appear that matcha is dissolved, but when having a second closer look you’ll notice a lot of floating particles on the top or bottom of a cup. These have an unpleasant flavour.
The second purpose of a matcha whisk is to add oxygen to the matcha. This creates air bubbles and improves the overall taste experience.
Without using a traditional whisk in your preparation at home, you’re likely miss out on these fine nuances.
How to choose a matcha whisk type
You might already have noticed there are many types of matcha whisks available. Many of them with a different amount of teeth or prongs. So you might be wondering how to choose a good matcha whisk.
The most common and versatile version of a matcha whisk is Kazuho. This consists of around 70-80 prongs (teeth) and a short handle.
The higher the string count, the easier it is to whisk your matcha into a traditional air froth. This is crucial for creating a sweet texture. A lower string count produces less froth.
How to use a matcha whisk
Whisking is an important step in making good and foamy matcha. It’s pretty straightforward; the whole process should take around a minute. Here’s your step-by-step guide:
Step 1: Prepare the mixture
Soak the chasen in a bowl of hot water for about 20 seconds. This is to soften its strings.
Sift 1 teaspoon of matcha powder in a matcha bowl (Chawan).
Add a small amount of water. Slowly start to whisk and mix, and work it up until you have a lump-free paste. If desired you can use a small sleeve to facilitate this process.
Step 2: Add oxygen
Add some hot water, and start whisking firmly from the wrist. It’s useful to hold the bowl with your other hand while continuing the motion with your other hand.
Use a zigzag or W motion and go back and forth, instead of a circular motion. Keep whisking firmly at your maximum power as fast as you can for about 20 seconds.
The result should be a beautiful matcha cup with lots of foam on top. The matcha liquid shouldn’t be visible, only a creamy layer of bubbles should appear on top.
Make sure you choose a quality matcha. Lower quality matcha powders aren’t that good at generating foam.
Matcha whisk alternatives
Are you looking for a matcha whisk alternative on how to mix matcha without whisk? Below are 3 alternatives to make matcha at home, either without a whisk or with a matcha whisk substitute.
A bamboo whisk is a great plan B. Ok, it might not replicate 100% the same experience. However, a matcha made with a bamboo whisk is still a million miles better than a cup of matcha made without a whisk. And it’s definitely better than not having a cup of matcha at all!
1. Use a blender
A blender is the perfect alternative for those who don’t have a bamboo whisk. Simply put matcha powder with some hot milk in the blender for a couple of seconds and let it swirl. The result should be a green texture, no lumps and with consistent texture.
2. Use a milk frother
These handheld tools also known as electronic matcha frother, electronic stirrer or matcha milk frother can be used to mix matcha if you don’t have a bamboo whisk. Unlike a blender, they’re easy to pack in a travel bag. Place the ingredients in a milk frother and mix it around to obtain a lump-free and smooth texture.
3. Use a shaker and your muscles
A home protein shaker or jar can be used to mix the matcha substance, along with some strong muscles. Shake the jar heavily for about 30-60 seconds, until you get a smooth texture. This is an easy method, also easy during travel. However, a lump-free result is not always guaranteed.
How to store a matcha whisk?
Due to the natural character of the matcha whisk, the wooden bamboo structure is subject to natural wear and decline. By storing a matcha whisk correctly it ensures that the wooden structure of the chasen is kept in place. This extends its lifespan, for longer-term usage.
A matcha whisk should be stored in a matcha whisk holder (also known as “kuse naoshi”). This helps to keep the wooden structure in the same shape. Without this small tool, the wooden needles of your chasen will become straight after only using a couple of times.
If you don’t have a chasen holder, stand the matcha whisk on the handle, never on the strings.
How to maintain your whisk?
Want to know how long a matcha whisk lasts? Obviously this also depends on the general quality and how often you use it. However, when taken care of properly, a matcha whisk can last for a few years. Once the strings begin to break or fallout, it’s time to get a new one. Below are 5 tips for maintaining your matcha whisk and extending its lifetime:
1: Soak it in water
Soak the chasen in a bowl of hot water, for about 20 seconds, before every use. This softens its strings and helps it unfurl. You get a more “flexible” whisk, and also extend its lifetime.
2: Clean your chasen
Want to know how to clean a matcha whisk? Rinse this before and after every use with some hot water. Avoid using a dishwasher – these can damage your chasen. Gently use your fingers to remove excessive matcha that might be trapped in the prongs. You don’t need to use soap – bamboo wood is porous and will absorb the soapy odour, which you definitely want to avoid!
3. Careful whisk technique
OK, now you’re whisking firmly and creating that beautiful creamy foam. That’s when you should avoid touching the wand of the bowl too hard or putting too much pressure on the whisk. A slight pressure is all you need to create foam, mix the matcha, and prevent damage to your whisk.
4. Dry your chasen
Once you’ve cleaned your chasen, dry it to protect from humidity and mould. You don’t need to dry with a cloth – this can ruin its shape. Just lightly shake the chasen to remove the excess water. Then you can place your matcha whisk on its whisk holder.
5. Store your chasen
Let’s look at how to store a matcha whisk. Definitely not in a plastic container – this traps humidity inside. Put it on the whisk holder, it’s as simple as that.
How is the matcha bamboo whisk made?
During the production process of a matcha whisk, each piece is carefully crafted by hand from a piece of bamboo. The bamboo’s inner flesh is removed to make a hollow tube. Then the craftsperson uses a knife to split the upper part into different spikes. The sides are then scraped down to be as thin as paper and cut into different parts or prongs. Eventually, the endings are curled into that very recognisable shape of the matcha whisk.
This manual and precise process is still used today in Japan. of course, there are companies manufacturing whisks at huge scale. However, these are usually produced at a lower quality.