When we first started JagaSilk, we used to carry $20 chasen (bamboo whisks) and didn’t think too much of it. Until we started to get higher volume clients. We started to see the whisks fall apart at a faster and faster rate. On top of that, we were made aware that our supplier was buying Chinese made whisks and selling them as Japanese through an exposé. China makes some fantastic products, but we have not seen good chasen among them. We therefore looked into sourcing our whisks like we do our maccha and met up with the Kubo family in Nara and started bringing in their whisks in 2008.
“Many bamboo whisks have been sprayed with herbicides and pesticides”
We learned that when you see a silica pouch in the package with your whisk, it is a sign that it hasn’t been dried properly (and has likely been sprayed with anti-molding agents). We learned that if you don’t select the right bamboo, it can be too dense or not dense enough. We learned that many bamboo whisks have been sprayed with herbicides and pesticides. We learned that the weave tied at the bottom of the fronds keeps the whisk together: tied tight and it will remain circular after whisking, loose and it warps; tied low and the whisk maintains its shape, too high and it closes in on itself.
“The curl you see on the tips many whisks is the norm, but it is for show and not practical.”
The Kubo family have been cutting chasen for 25 generations (over 500 years). They have 2 certified living treasures. We asked them what they would recommend for cafes and they suggested their “Shin” chasen (pictured at the top of this article above on the left). For this whisk, they cut the tips to 1/600th of a millimetre instead of 1/700th of a millimetre, prioritizing strength over aesthetic. The curl you see on the tips many whisks is the norm, but it is for show and not practical, and requires that weaker 1/700th millimetre. (Their “Apprentice” chasen we carry is cut by their apprentices using blemished wood, and allows for retail customers to take home a clean whisk for a lower price, and has the curled tips.)
We decided to take the Shin on a trial and had a client going through 4kg of maccha a month in their cafe (and a chasen a month) use the Shin chasen. The owner wrote the date he started using the whisk on the bottom ledge of the chasen and was blown away to see it last 6 months. He started using our whisks and never looked back.
Not every whisk is perfect. They can crack (due to an overly dry environment), they can break sooner than previous strong ones due to wood density, they can warp a bit, but the reality we have seen on the ground is that Shin whisks are next level and we are proud to sell them.
“…we replace them when the tips start noticeably breaking off.”
They last longer if you soak them fronds down in hot water for 10 mins during the open and at close. We even soak them a bit during service if they have dried out a bit too much. This keeps the fronds supple and less prone to break. We always keep them on a chasen’naoshi to protect their shape – we never put it on the stand one-handed (otherwise it can snap like the whisk on the right in the pic at the top of the page). We have our staff complete a bar test and then give them their own whisk to keep in good shape for at least a year before replacing. This was inspired by a client that did that with tampers for their baristas and then started doing it with the whisks as well. We use wood chasen’naoshi so that the moisture absorbs off the whisk and releases back in the air – this prevents molding of the inner core. We never put them in the dishwasher. And we replace them when the tips start noticeably breaking off.
With good technique – a good pendulum front and back even whisk, no “digging”, an even speed (not too fast nor too slow) and a feathery touch (the pressure of lightly brushing your teeth), your whisks will last. Replacing every 6-12 months with decent volume of service is a good pace. Keep good care of your chasen and it will take good care of you. 🙂