Traditionally, in Japan preparing and serving matcha is studied and rehearsed, almost like preparing for a play. The room, the clothes, the manners and, of course, the tools used all play important roles in supporting the main character: matcha. When all the actors are assembled and play their roles perfectly, making and drinking a simple bowl of matcha becomes almost like a moving piece of art. While experiencing the traditional way of drinking matcha is a unique and eye-opening experience, it’s not necessarily important for everyone who drinks matcha. Preparing matcha in your own way with your own style in a way that makes you feel relaxed is all that’s important. One such preparation method includes using a bamboo whisk. However, there aren’t too many tools made of bamboo that are usually found in an American kitchen so the idea of using a bamboo whisk at all might feel somewhat foreign. Still, to ensure all the actors in your matcha-play are always in peak condition, it’s important to understand a little about your whisk.
A Brief History
The first bamboo whisk, or chasen, was invented in Japan about 600 years ago. At that time, matcha consumption had blossomed into an art form and specialized tools began to be necessary. Like current whisks, the very first bamboo whisk was cut from a single piece of bamboo and tied with strings at the base. The first whisk was created in Yuwa Takayama, where 90% of Japanese chasen are still produced today.
Types of whisks
As the styles of tea drinking expanded so did the need for different whisks. The number of tines on a whisk affects how it froths matcha. Generally, the more tines it has, the more easily it produces foam. The higher tine count helps to create a smooth layer of fine froth. Other differences between whisks includes the degree of curvature on the tines, the length of the handle, the color of the bamboo and the string used to tie the tines, etc. Some of these differences are due to the style and type of matcha being prepared while others are simply for the enjoyment of the user. At 3 Leaf Tea, we use and sell whisks with a higher tine count as our drinks are made with a lower matcha to water ratio.
Since the bamboo whisk hasn’t evolved much in the last 600 years, the basic care it requires also hasn’t changed much.
- Before using, soften the tines in warm water to prevent breaking or cracking during whisking (about 20 or 30 seconds is fine).
- During use, don’t push the tines into the bottom of the bowl.
- Rise immediately after use and don’t use soap (just like washing an iron skillet, some things are better cleaned without soap).
- Make sure the whisk dries well after use.
- Store the whisk tine side down, preferably on a whisk holder to prevent mold from growing and help maintain the whisk’s shape.
At first, your whisk might have a tight coil of tines in the center that become looser over time. This is a normal and desired change: the more the tines open the more air is included in the whisking action which creates a creamier foam. Still, matcha whisks do have a lifespan. You should change your whisk once the tines or the strings start to break or lose their shape. Otherwise, a whisk that is maintained properly and used regularly should last about a year or two.
We'd love to hear about your matcha experience! How do you like to prepare your matcha? Do you use a bamboo whisk or a frother? We’re waiting to hear from you!