Artificial color was not an option, and a chance meeting with Chen Po-yu (陳柏佑), a lecturer from the Taiwan Hospitality and Tourism College (台灣觀光學院) in Hualien, led to a solution. Adding brewed coffee to the mix added both color and flavor to the soy, and also provided Ah-Gui with its unique selling point.
“I understood the desire to make a natural and additive-free product,” said Chen, who runs a small coffee and teashop selling local small batch tea and coffee. “We are all aiming for the same thing.”
Despite the unconventional addition of coffee, Ah-Gui has an old school flavor and texture and is markedly different from many of the richer, sweeter boutique products on the market. “It is a return to basics,” Lu said, adding that she had never realized how incredibly arduous and painstaking the traditional production process could be.
“I used to be pretty casual about many things,” Lu said, “but in making soy with my mother-in-law, I have learned to be meticulous every step of the way. Just one mistake and a whole batch is wasted.”
Lu was excited that three years on, the achievement of Ah-Gui is being recognized with government support and guidance to improve the production facilities.
“It is possible that this year we might get a subsidy to purchase temperature and humidity control equipment,” Lu said, adding that up to now, temperature control had all been done with home thermometers and strategically placed fans.
Ah-Gui has a very niche in the growing artisan soy market, but Lu emphasized that the product still adheres very much to a “home-made” ethos that relied on time and care, rather than technology, to achieve a high quality product, and adds another natural choice to an oft-neglected area of the Chinese dining table.