Chasen, also called bamboo whisk, is an essential tool used for making matcha in Japanese ceremonial style. In this blog, we will talk about the material used, how-it's-made, varieties and how to care for chasen.
1. Different Types of Bamboo
There're 3 major types of bamboo used for making chasen: Yellow bamboo (Hachiku), Gold bamboo (Susudake), and black bamboo (Kurodake). Yellow bamboo is the most common and economic material for making mass-produced matcha bamboo whisk; it's smooth and soft in texture and it's easy to carve, but meanwhile it has low durability and breaks easily. Golden bamboo is known for it's added durability, and aged golden bamboo makes more durable chasen but the supply is very limited. Black bamboo is the most heavy-duty material for making a matcha whisk, but it's high in density making it extra difficult to carve. Black bamboo chasen can last 3 times longer than regular yellow bamboo chasen.
There's also SMOKED golden bamboo, which is not to be confused with black bamboo. Smoked golden bamboo is extremely fragile and commonly for display and aesthetic purpose only.
2. How chasen is made
Making chasen is a traditional art handed down for the past hundred years and made with the spirit of crafting without compromising. Most of hand-crafted chasen is made in Takayama, located in Ikoma City, Nara Prefecture. Only top quality bamboo can be made into chasen. Bamboo is harvested in the winter and will need to be boiled before the sun-dry process. The photo below show the development of chasen making in process.
Step 1: Raw materials are usually soaked in warm water for easy carving.
Step 2: Peeled side of bamboo is cut vertically and divided into 16 individual pieces.
Step 3: The inner part of each piece removed leaving only the hard outer layer.
Step 4: Each of the 16 pieces tip is further sliced into 4 similar wide individual pieces summing up to 64 pieces of tips at this stage.
Step 5: Each 64th tip is further separated into two, creating a total of 128 tips with less than 1mm width each.
Step 6: The wider tips are pulled outward while the thinner ones pushed inwards to create two layers of tips: The outer layer and inner core.
Step 7: Each sharp corner of the wider tips are shredded and polished with knife for whisking matcha tea more smoothly at the Tea Ceremony.
Step 8: Each outer tips is further shredded until extremely thin to maximize flexibility.
Last step: Threads will be weaved onto each bristle to tighten them all together.
3. Chasen Artisan
It takes about 2-3 years to learn how to make chasen, and 10 years to become a Chasen master.
Depending on how complicated the design is and pondate counts, one chasen takes about 2 - 5 hours to complete.4. Use of Chasen
There're different kinds of Chasen for different uses. The more tips (prongs) it has, the better froth you will get. Typically Chasen with more prongs is meant for Usucha - thin tea, and the one with less prongs is meant for Koicha - thick tea.
The ones with chubbier and shorter handle are for traditional matcha bowl, and the ones with slimmer and longer handle are fit for coffee mugs or glasses.
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