Spring sunshine is swaying softly over the verdant earth and blanketing it with warmth. Tender greenery and petite petals are creating quite a spectacular show for my sunrise sip of matcha. This ritual of sifting and whisking seems to have even more purpose in the spring season as the earthy, vegetal aroma reflects the new growth beyond my window.
The art of matcha is mindful and slow, like that of a spring sprout patiently growing and stretching its roots and leaves. First, we warm the matcha bowl and dry it. We place the sieve and softly press the matcha into a fine powder. Water, that has been warmed ever so slightly, is splashed on the green tea powder and slowly stirred into a paste with the bamboo whisk (traditionally known as a “chasen”). More water is added and then we move the whisk (gracefully yet with vigor) in the shape of the letter “M” as the froth appears and the matcha cools.
Handcrafted from pieces of bamboo, the whisk is both functional and sculptural. Light as air, this traditional tool has the ability to transform water and green tea powder into a smooth and creamy sip with a pleasing froth. As I was quite curious to dive deep into the details on this tool, I connected with the knowledgeable Sales manager and Tea Consultant at Ippodo, Tomoko Honda. She so graciously answered my questions that are shared below. Also, to peek more closely at Ippodo's whisks, visit this page.
Q: When should you replace the chasen?
A: The chasen should be replaced when the tips begin to thin out or get broken.
Q: What do the numbers listed in the chasen description reference (i.e. 80, 100, 120). And which is the best?
A: They reference the number of tips and the thickness of the handle. At Ippodo we only carry chasens from 80 to 120. The most popular one at Ippodo is 80 tips (maybe because of the price), but it does not mean 80 tips is better than 100 tips or 120 tips. It is all about each one's preference. If you like very foamy matcha, 100 tips or 120 tips would be recommended.
Q: Do the different chasens lead to different end results (is it a thicker to thinner sip?)
Yes. The bigger the number of tips, the more foamy matcha you will get. (Of course, the foam largely depends on how you whisk)
Q: I have heard that if you whisk the matcha too long that it becomes bitter. If so, why?
A: We do not have any scientific proof, but that is an age-old belief. It might because if you whisk longer, matcha powder is exposed to air for more time and becomes oxidized. The best way is to whisk quickly.
Q: How are the chasens made?
A: Made from one bamboo, all procedures handmade:
-Dry bamboo and cut into the appropriate length
-Cut into the number of tips (80, 100, 120...)
-Make the head part of the tips thinner
-Divide the tips to outer side and inner side
-Bind with a band the lowest part of the tips
Q: I have noticed that Ippodo carries whisks made in both Korea and Japan. What is the difference between the two?
A: Korean whisks are made in Korea with Korean bamboo and Japanese whisks are made in Japan with Japanese bamboo.But Japanese artisans went to Korea and taught them how to make the whisk from A to Z
Q: When making usucha (thinner matcha), it is recommended to vigorously whisk in the shape of an M, but for koicha (thick matcha) is it recommend to whisk slowly back and forth. Why?
A: If you do the same motion with koicha, you cannot mix because you have too little water. To mix matcha and water perfectly for koicha, the motion is like kneading rather than whisking.