As I recall it, when I started to take an interest in tea, about eight years ago, matcha was still a rather obscure variety. For those who may not be aware, matcha is a type of powdered Japanese tea that’s often (but not always) made from high grades of green tea. Once upon a time it was primarily known as the type of tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony.
Which I’m sure is still the case, but over the course of the last eight years we’ve seen a fairly dramatic rise of interest in matcha outside of its ceremonial uses, not just for drinking but also as an ingredient that’s turning up more often in recipes.
All of which is a somewhat roundabout way of leading up to the subject of the whisk, a tool that’s integral to the process of preparing matcha in the traditional manner. Known in Japanese as a chasen, traditional examples of these have a distinctive shape and are typically hand carved from a single piece of bamboo. According to one source, “they are either made of smoked bamboo, fresh bamboo, or dried bamboo, and their heads are either fine, medium, or rough.”
Chasen may vary considerably based on a number of factors, including the type of tea being served and the style of Japanese tea ceremony, just to name a few. A casual virtual shopping trip I undertook revealed a variety of chasen ranging in price from about ten dollars and up to a rather steep forty dollars. Of course, if you’re going to spring for a good chasen you might also pick up a chasen kusenaoshi, a stand that helps it maintain its shape and prolong its life.
All of which is a passable enough introduction to the topic of the chasen, I suppose. But if you’re looking for a decidedly more in-depth treatment of the topic, I’d recommend that you take a look at Chasen: The Bamboo Tea Whisk in Japanese Tea Tradition, by Voltaire Cang. You can access a draft version of the paper here, which the author says, “introduces the chasen and discusses it as a cultural object expressing the core concepts and philosophy behind the Way of Tea and, to a certain extent, Japanese notions of commensality. Second, it uses the chasen as a lens into the role of arts and crafts in Japanese tea culture.”
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