I'm caught by the rich fragrance of coffee while walking in the small Jingzhong Street of Taipei's Jingmei district, near the night market. The fragrance leads to a row of low houses, and then to one building whose windows display various coffee makers: Moka pots, Turkish coffee pots, and a giant antique espresso maker.
Yin Lu Shop (吟陸商號) is a well-known coffeeshop in Taipei and sells home-roasted coffee beans and rich, fragrant Moka pot coffee. Actress Lu Yi-ching (陸亦靜) opened the shop 21 years ago, but though Taipei's coffee gourmands may visit the shop frequently, it was not until Lu gained fame as an award-winning actress in the past five years that people began to realize who the person behind the fragrance of the famous coffeeshop was.
When I visited the coffeeshop one afternoon, Lu had just finished her daily routine of roasting beans. That day, she had been roasting Golden Mandheling beans from Sumatra. She was on a two-month break between finishing Tsai Ming-liang's (蔡
"After an acting scene, I always feel I'm lucky that I can come back to coffee roasting. It gives me a chance to settle my emotions," Lu said.
Lu explained that after roasting the beans comes the long and tedious process of picking which beans to use. Raw beans may look flawless on the surface, but after roasting, the colors may look too light or too dark. "Then it's time to decide which stay and which are left out," she said.
In Tsai's films, Lu Yi-ching is often the loud, neurotic and superstitious housewife. But when she picks beans after they're roasted, she is, in her words, like a cat, quiet and aloof and fully concentrated on picking only the best beans.
"People use (Buddhist) prayer beads to chant sutras. For me, picking beans is like chanting Buddhist scriptures or meditating. It gives me a sense of tranquility and I feel blessed," she said.
On screen, Lu's characters are mostly people suffering from pain and misfortune. In Wang Tung's (王
In most of the films made with Tsai, Lu plays a mother who struggles with and represses her desires. In The Missing (不
All those characters are experiencing the bitter part of life, and in a way, it's similar to the first taste of black coffee. "I am good at producing the bitterness in life, and I sell bitter water too," Lu said with a laugh.
While preparing a pot of Golden Mandheling for me, she reminded me to have it black at least for the first sip. "Taste the bitter part and then the sweetness naturally comes out," she said.
After graduating from high school, Lu had wanted to study drama, but when her stepfather opposed the idea, she decided to move from Chiayi to Taipei and work at a coffeeshop.