⟨ Wabi Sabi ⟩

Mashiko’s Tea Roasting Experiment

A subpar fragrance

Texts and Photography / Ron Lam
Translation / Iris Heung

周末跟朋友來到居於岐阜山上的益子阿姨的家裡,幫忙她在菜園一旁建咖啡廳,午休閒聊時我提起想學炒茶葉,她輕描淡寫:「現在來炒炒看吧。」說著便領我們去採茶,也不用多走路,就在家前的車道旁邊,蹲下來,撥開一些不知名的雜草,居然就找到茶葉(當然若非她的提示,我也不知道那是茶葉)。大概是前人種下來的,又或是鄰近茶園飄來的種子,隨風而下,落地生根。

我們採到的茶葉太大片了,又厚又硬,頭頂上沒有多少片嫰葉,實在不適合用來泡茶。市面上買到的茶葉都是用嫰葉炒成的,那才夠清夠香。但也罷,就試試看。把茶葉洗淨,蒸軟,然後一把把地握在手裡揉呀揉,揉得它火卷成一團。卷成團的茶葉倒進燒紅的鐵鍋裡,將它炒乾烘乾,便完成了。

我們抓了一把放進壼裡,注進開水,靜看著茶葉在壼子的漂浮,鬆弛開來,呆等了五分鐘。倒出來的茶是青綠色的,茶裡混著葉子的碎片,有點混濁。戰戰兢兢地呷了一口:「是茶呢。」我們不約而同興奮地說。味道清淡,卻有一種溫厚的香氣。這茶是不及格的茶,卻是這個夏天,我們一起烘出的甘美,是此時此地,我們獨一無二的好茶。

Over a weekend trip to visit the home of lady Mashiko in the mountain of Gifu, I had a task to help out setting up a café next to her farm. During an afternoon break, I casually brought up my interest in learning tea roasting. Understatedly, she said: “Why don’t we try that out now?” She led us to the side of the road in front of her house, there she squatted and started picking out the tea leaves. If it wasn’t her direction, little would I know some tea plants were hidden right behind these insignificant bushes. The tea could have been planted by her ancestors, or they simply came from seeds dispersed by the wind from some nearby tea farms, before having their roots deep into the soil now.

The tea leaves we picked were too big in size, thick and tough without many young tips, thus not quite suitable for brewing tea. Normally, the tea leaves available in market are roasted from young leaves, offering the distinct freshness and fragrance. But we just didn’t care too much and decided to give it a go. After the rinsing and steaming processes, we grabbed a bunch of leaves and started rolling them in our palms. The rolled leaves, now in the shape of a maki roll, then went into a hot wok and are roasted to dryness to complete the process.

We put a portion of leaves into the tea pot and poured in hot water, then patiently watched the tea leaves float peacefully around in the pot and slowly loosening up for a good five minutes. The brew we acquired is green, slightly muddy, and infused with small broken tea leaves. Apprehensively, we took a sip, “So this is tea!”, we all uttered simultaneously in excitement. The flavor was light but carried a subtle fragrance. This tea was probably not quite up to the benchmark but this was our very own produce in this summer, a gentle sweetness that came out of the roast.