尋找台灣的味道

把森林帶回家──檜山坊
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2020 / 10月

文‧蘇晨瑜 圖‧林格立


僅做了一支檜木精油產品,就飛到國外去參展,很少人像檜山坊的李清勇與黃素秋那樣瘋狂。


檜山坊的創辦人夫妻檔,人稱「勇哥」的李清勇與「Rachel」黃素秋在介紹產品時,把一支深咖啡色的精油瓶往桌上一放。這幾年來,他們夫妻倆帶著這一瓶小小的檜木精油,在世界各地飛來飛去。「你知道嗎?檜木是很珍貴的資源,所以很多山老鼠盜採,而我們使用的都是早期日治時代留下來的高檔傢具角料。」Rachel解釋原料來源的稀有性。

2018年,Rachel與勇哥隨台俄協會赴莫斯科參訪,參與台灣與俄羅斯經貿科技交流的「台俄企業論壇」。大會特別撥了20分鐘讓勇哥上台,介紹的主題是「台灣的味道」。什麼是台灣的味道呢?只靠簡報無法精準描述,夫妻倆便把台灣帶去的香氛儀灌入滿滿的台灣檜木精油,藉著儀器散發出台灣森林的香氣。

台灣的味道觸動人心

論壇開始前,一位風度翩翩的俄羅斯男士走進會場。原本要入座的他,彷彿被什麼吸引一般,徑直往Rachel這邊走來。「請問,這是什麼?」男士被空氣中的氣味激起了好奇心。「這是屬於台灣的味道。」Rachel禮貌介紹。

後來她才知曉,這位男士是當天論壇的貴賓──莫斯科商工會副會長瓦爾達尼揚。遠自幾千公里外的台灣檜木香氣打動了他的心,在中場休息時,他特別請助理前來,想買回這支「台灣的味道」。

俄羅斯人不認得台灣檜木,但是日本人卻是很熟悉台灣檜木的氣味。2018年,國發會在日本東京丸之內舉辦「台灣地方創生展」,特別選擇了得過金點設計獎的檜山坊「檜意人生禮盒」隨身旅行組,作為致贈貴賓的伴手禮。這一次,由台灣的檜木氣味製成的洗髮露與沐浴露,不但征服了日本商工會會長大橋悟的心,也深獲他夫人的喜愛。夫人殷殷囑咐:「下次去台灣記得要買更大瓶。」

台灣檜木的香氣不像薰衣草或甜玫瑰那樣搶眼,它以沈穩安靜的味道,彰顯著自身的華貴。「台灣的紅檜與扁柏是世界上獨一無二的樹種,最能代表台灣的精神。」台灣的檜木有多珍貴,勇哥拿出一本厚厚的資料夾佐證。他指著地上兩截不起眼的木頭介紹,「這一棵是紅檜,另一棵是扁柏,它們都有500年以上的歷史。」

千年檜木養成不易

檜木生長緩慢,一棵紅檜從種子長成43公尺高的巨木,要花上2,800年。世界上現存的檜木只有七種,分布在北美、日本和台灣。台灣的山林間曾經遍佈著巨大的檜木林,每一株見證了百萬年,甚至千萬年前從冰河時期歷經的生物演變史。

這麼特殊的氣味,成為檜山坊與各國友人交流的最佳名片。在世界各國參展無數次,總是看到客人循著氣味而來。「馬來西亞專業美容展那一次,我們眼看著客人穿過中間琳瑯滿目的美容用品區,來到我們這裡,」Rachel激動形容當時的情景,「他們說這裡的氣味最舒服。」檜山坊本錢不夠雄厚,無法租下A級戰區,但是台灣檜木的雅致氣味總能突破重圍,在陣陣令人暈眩的化學香氣中,吸引頻率相近的人前來。

檜山坊檜木精油的誕生,背後其實是子女的一片孝心。在研發出第一支台灣原生檜木精油之前,勇哥與Rachel時常帶著罹癌的父親往烏來跟拉拉山跑。「我公公罹患慢性阻塞性肺炎,年輕時菸抽太兇了。」Rachel的公公因為肺部問題,時常感覺吸不到空氣,家中常備著大型的氧氣機與氧氣面罩。

每當拉拉山的水蜜桃成熟了,呼吸艱困的父親就會吵著上山,想去親近山林,吸吸森林的芬多精。孝順的夫妻倆就會驅車前往,會暈車的Rachel一路暈吐上山,兩人再徒手或推或扛,父親的輪椅才得以在枝繁葉茂的小徑上慢慢前進。

棲蘭山的巨大檜木林也總是召喚著父親。巨大的扁柏古木高聳入雲,空氣中迴盪著雨後草木濕潤的香氣,這些靜謐的時光,總是能舒緩老人家焦躁不安的心靈。「爸爸受日式教育,是個嚴肅的人。他老人家本就喜愛檜木的味道,一到棲蘭明池那邊,就吵著不想回家了。」

源頭夠純質地才夠純

夫妻倆曾認真考慮在棲蘭山買個房子安頓爸爸,但轉念一想,何不把「森林帶回家」。於是他們一開始先去找了煉油廠。Rachel記得以前颱風天家裡附近樟樹倒了,父親會捧著樟樹去煉油廠煉油。稍後,鄰居又會捧著香茅草來煉香茅油,「那時就發現煉油廠的油脂來源不可靠。」靠著漂流木或倒木來煉油,「油脂絕對不會純。」

尋覓過程中,一位老先生向夫妻倆指點了方向,「你們如果要找最純正的木料,應該要去找專門做高檔檜木家具的工廠。」有了來源穩定的木料供應後,經過多次摸索,夫妻倆決定在製程中以二次蒸餾的方式,去除精油中的雜質,保留檜木最純淨的質地。

產品開發與香氣的定調,也是崎嶇的心路歷程。30幾年前,Rachel曾經擔任空姐,每飛完一趟任務,在某間五星級飯店King Size的大床上醒來時,她總是會看看飯店的備品。「我發現每個國家都有當地植物萃取的產品,有蘭花、薰衣草……,涵蓋不同植物的氣味。」日本也將國花櫻花製成各類保養品,洗面乳、沐浴露,新加坡有蘭花萃取的保濕乳液與護手霜,但是哪種氣味才能代表台灣?在Rachel心中形成了一個問號。

煉出正確味道的秘訣

好不容易找到台灣檜木後,香氣要煉到多濃多淡?夫妻倆琢磨研究了很久,最後才找到心目中「台灣的味道」。再三追問下,Rachel透露了配方的秘密:「就是保留它原來的味道。」就像功夫熊貓的爸爸透露出祖傳秘方,最好吃的湯麵就是什麼都不加,「每一千公斤的檜木屑煉成一公斤的精油,出來的味道,就是它原本的香氣。」

義大利、法國與澳洲的芳療公司曾經看中Rachel的精油,要求她提供報價,賣家出手大方,但是都被Rachel一一回絕。歐洲不產檜木,台灣高山檜木的木質調香氣為當地少見,問題是這些公司只想把當檜木精油買來當原料,做成香水或香氛產品。「我們賣原料可以馬上獲利,問題是台灣的味道就會消失了。」Rachel說出自己的顧慮。

也曾有日本客戶要求把檜木精油調淡,好符合日本人對氣味清淡的喜好,但是Rachel堅持精油絕對不稀釋,「木頭原本是什麼味道,我們就把這樣的味道賣出去。」

「我們只想做台灣的品牌,使用台灣原料,台灣製造,守護台灣的價值。」對於這支精油,夫妻倆有著一定的堅持。

30幾年前,Rachel在頭等艙服務客人,當客人問她:「妳從哪裡來?」她開心地回答「台灣」,但這座島嶼並不存在這些客人的腦海裡,他們只知道Thailand(泰國)。現在Rachel與勇哥換了一段介紹詞:「我們不只想給您一棵樹,更想給您一整座山。」這一次,客人終於可以用氣味認識台灣。

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近期文章

EN

Distilling Taiwan’s Native Scent

Kuai Shan Fang’s Cypress Oils

Sharleen Su /photos courtesy of Jimmy Lin /tr. by Brandon Yen

Rachel Huang and Chris Li at Kuai Shan Fang started to exhibit their product abroad as soon as they had successfully distilled an essential oil from the endemic Taiwan hinoki, or Taiwan yellow cypress. Few can rival their enthusiasm.

 


When invited to introduce their products, Rachel Huang and Chris Li—the couple who established Kuai Shan Fang—proudly display a dark brown vial of essen­tial oil. In the past few years, they have traveled the world with their cypress oils. “Do you know—Taiwan cypresses are a precious resource, so they have fallen victim to much illegal logging,” says Huang. What Kuai Shan Fang uses is scrap wood left over from the production of classy furni­ture before the logging of natural forests was banned, she explains, highlighting how rare the timber is.

In 2018 Huang and Li visited Moscow with the Taiwan‡­Russia Association to attend a business forum focusing on commercial and technological collaborations between the two countries. There Li was allotted 20 minutes to talk about “Taiwan’s scent.” What is Taiwan’s scent? Realizing that it wasn’t possible to give a full description through a presentation alone, the couple brought an aroma diffuser with them. They filled it with their cypress oil, and the fragrance of Taiwan’s native woodlands wafted through the venue.

An enchanting smell

Before the forum started, a debonair Russian man arrived on the scene. On his way to his seat, something suddenly caught his attention, and he walked straight toward Huang. “May I ask what this is?” The aroma in the air had cast a spell on him. “This is a scent that belongs to Taiwan,” Huang replied.

It wasn’t until later that Huang realized that this gentle­man was actually a special guest: Suren Vardanyan, vice-­president of the Moscow Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He had been enchanted by the fragrance of Taiwan cypress brought from thousands of kilometers away. During the break, he dispatched his assistant to buy that vial which was filled with the “scent of Taiwan.”

Few Russians know about Taiwan cypresses, but the Japanese are familiar with the scents of these trees. In 2018 the National Development Council held the Taiwan Regional Revitalization Exhibition in Maru­no­uchi, Tokyo. Kuai Shan Fang’s travel set of shampoos and shower gels—which had won a Golden Pin Design Award—was chosen as a gift for VIP guests. Infused with cypress fragrance, the gels not only delighted Satoru Ohashi, chairman of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Taipei, but also charmed his wife, who told him: “Next time you go to Taiwan, don’t forget to buy bigger bottles of these.”

The Taiwan cypress emits a scent which isn’t as pungent as lavender or sweet rose perfume. Rather, its idio­syncratic character lies in the calm serenity it evokes. “The Taiwan red cypress [Chamaecyparis formosensis] and Taiwan yellow cypress [Chamaecyparis obtusa var. formosana] are not found elsewhere in the world. So they best represent the spirit of Taiwan.” Li produces a heavy docu­ment folder to elucidate just how precious these native species are. Pointing at two apparently unremarkable pieces of wood on the floor, he says: “This is red cypress wood, and that is yellow. Both of them took more than 500 years to grow. They are veritable treasures.”

Long-living, slow-growing trees

Taiwan cypresses grow slowly. A magnificent tree 43 meters tall may be the product of a seed that germinated 2800 years ago. The genus Chamaecyparis has only seven surviving species, which grow in Taiwan, Japan, and North America. Taiwan’s mountains used to be covered with giant cypresses, each of which bore witness to a long evolutionary history stretching back to the ice ages.

In fact Kuai Shan Fang’s essential oils were born of filial devotion. Before they developed the first of these oils, Li and Huang were in the habit of taking Li’s father to northern Taiwan’s Wulai and Lalashan. “My father-in-law suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was a heavy smoker when he was young,” Huang says.

When the peach season arrived, Li’s father, who was often short of breath, would ask to be taken to Lalashan to inhale the wholesome air of the woodlands. The couple would bring him to the mountain by car, even though Huang easily gets carsick. Once there, they would push or even carry the old man’s wheelchair, slowly making their way along the woody paths.

The enormous yellow cypress woods of Mt. Qilan also beckoned to Li’s father. The gigantic ancient cypresses rear their heads into the clouds; after rain, the air is graced with the fragrance of luxuriant greenery. These tranquil moments never failed to soothe his restless soul. “Having received a Japanese education, my father-in-law was a serious man. He had always liked the smell of cypress wood. Whenever he visited Mt. Qilan and Mingchi, he would tell us that he didn’t want to go back home.”

Finding the right smell

At one point, the couple even considered buying a house near Mt. Qilan for Li’s father, but another idea struck them: why not bring the woods home? With this in mind, they sought out a factory specializing in making high-end furniture from native cypress wood.

Once they had obtained a regular supply of scrap wood, they carried out several experiments and eventu­ally decided to further purify their oils through re­distillation, a process that preserves the true essence of the Taiwan cypress.

Developing saleable products and standardizing the fragrance turned out to be arduous tasks. Having successfully sourced their cypress wood, the couple faced the all-important question of how strong the fragrance should be. It was only after much pondering that their idea of “Taiwan’s scent” came into focus. When pressed, Huang finally divulges their secret recipe: “What we do is to preserve the original smell.” Just as the “secret ingredient” that makes the noodle soup of the Kung Fu Panda’s father special is in fact “nothing,” Huang and Li also strive to be faithful to the native fragrance of the wood: “We distill one kilogram of oil from 1000 kg of cypress shavings.”

Huang’s beloved oils have attracted the attention of Italian, French, and Australian aromatherapy companies, who asked her for price quotations. Despite their gener­ous offers, however, Huang has refused to sell them her oils. These companies wished to use cypress oils as ingredients to make perfumes and other aromatic products. “We could have raked in money immediately if we had sold them our oils as raw materials, but the products they made would not have had the scent of Taiwan.”

There have also been customers from Japan requesting that the oils be diluted to suit the Japanese preference for milder fragrances, but Huang insists on adhering to her original recipe.

Huang and Li are resolute: “What we want to be is a Taiwanese brand producing things in Taiwan from Taiwanese ingredients, in order to be true to what this island has to offer.”

Thirty-odd years ago Huang was a flight attendant. When passengers asked her where she was from, she would proudly say “Taiwan.” But the name meant nothing to them; they only knew Thailand. Today, Huang and Li have invented a catchphrase: “We want to bring you not just a tree, but an entire woodland.” Now they are presenting Taiwan to the wider world through one of the island’s unique scents.

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