Maren Fichter

Maren Fichter, Germany-USA-UK
Intern #156

Before Obubu

Tea has been part of my life for a long time – my dad used to work in China, and he’s been bringing back teas for the family to try since I was young. I always loved having a big pot of tea in the mornings, but at some point I started getting curious about these things he was bringing us and started diving deeper into the tea world. I took some classes at a local teahouse, and eventually worked for a while at the Tao of Tea in Portland, OR in the US. It turns out the instagram tea community is a really wonderful place too – I started making friends, messaging people, learning things, and somewhere along the line came across Obubu. I was already interested in exploring tea more deeply, so the idea of this internship took root in my mind a long time ago as a potential future dream that until recently felt just a bit out of reach.

After working at the Tao, I moved away from tea in my career, and I’ve mainly been working in digital design, designing websites and apps and things. But it’s not a career or lifestyle that really fits me. I don’t work well in office contexts, looking at screens all day, chasing deadlines and investors, divorced from nature and seasons and textures and fresh air. So between my job, pandemic, personal health struggles, and other life stressors, the last few years have been quite hard on me, and my daily tea practice was one of the things keeping me sane throughout.

I reached a breaking point last winter, and quit my job with nothing lined up, knowing only that I needed to change things for good. Small steps, and then bigger steps – at first, it was noticing how much peace I get from brewing tea, and making more time and space in my life for this. I started hosting a tea group at my local teahouse, Comins Tea. And then I decided to go all in.

Why Obubu

There’s only so much you can learn online, and I’ve always deeply valued experiential learning, so for a long time now I’ve wanted to spend time on a tea farm learning, tasting, processing, exploring. I’ve known about Obubu for years, so I think for me it was really only a matter of time before I tried to come here – it was less ‘why Obubu’, and more that all the ‘why not now’s ran out. I was sitting on the sofa at home, drinking some fresh maocha out of my tiny gaiwan, with no job and no job prospects, thinking, I would like to be in a tea field now please. So I applied to come to the tea field now please. Thankfully, delightfully, life-changingly, there was a place for me here.

During Obubu

If I’d been in a different state of mind when applying, I might have aimed for a spring harvest internship, given how much I want to experience all facets of the tea life. But as things ended up, my internship dates fell between summer and autumn harvest, with not much time on either. But many Obubu folks will say that Obubu is what you make of it, and coming out the other side I stand by that. I came here ready for big change, open to big experiences and emotions, so even without a major harvest season under my belt, my time here has been everything and so much more.

Highlights have been the teamaking days – handpicking and handrolling my own wakoucha, participating in the autumn handrolling festival, and having a go at my own handrolled kamairicha. These are experiences that will stay with me forever – days when my intense sensory experience of the world wasn’t a cause for overwhelm and stress, but when I could harness it to create something beautiful.

Even the non-teamaking days have been fantastic. I discovered an unexpected love of construction work in the renovation of the sencha factory’s upper level, and helped launch the crowdfunding campaign to fund the rest. I found new foods to love, and even enjoyed coffee! I traveled some, visited shrines, collected entirely too much pottery and teaware. I took on too many projects, from designing a new tea tour pamphlet and helping paint a mural, to managing social media and expelling demons from the Obubu website. I did a lot of experimental baking with tea, highlights of which are carrot cupcakes with genmaicha frosting and wakoucha bagels.

And maybe most importantly, I found a community, a family, and made friends I know I’ll have forever. I already knew I was in it for the long haul with tea, but I wasn’t expecting the intensity of connection with all the folks I’ve met here. As someone with a history of grief, loss, and moving around a lot, I often don’t have a very strong sense of community and friendship around me, so this is something that has impacted me here more than I’m quite able to put into words. You all know it all already, because I’m not quiet about my feeeeeelings, but thank you to my fellow intern cohort, our senpai group, our kouhai group, the assistant manager team, and especially the entire Obubu staff for this. Without Akky-san’s energy, Hiro-san’s spirit, Matsu-san’s piano notes, Miwako-san’s enthusiasm, Kayo-san’s kindness, and George’s send-offs, this place wouldn’t be what it is. What you’ve created here, and what we as interns continue to create, is so special.

After Obubu

I’m heading back to Bath in the UK, but I’m not going back to my life as it was. Together with a friend I’m launching Leaf and Buds, a tea experience company where I’ll be hosting events, educational things, tea tastings, that sort of thing. No idea how it’s all going to pan out, but right now I’m excited to try new things, travel more, visit tea farms in Europe, organise a trip to China and Taiwan, do it all, and brew lots of tea while I do.

I’ve been here during a period of big uncertainty and change in my life, and at times it hasn’t been easy. But I’m leaving with a newfound confidence in myself, in my health, in what I’m capable of physically, in my knowledge and experience. I’ve gotten better at taking credit for and pride in my work. I’ve always been one for experiential learning, and I’m happiest when I’m doing things with my hands, and my time here has affirmed for me the value in this too. Coming here I was escaping an entirely too digital and restricted life, and now as I leave I feel like I’ve returned to some much more essential part of myself. I’ve become much more comfortable with uncertainty and imperfection, and I’ve started remembering how to trust myself. I can’t thank Obubu and everyone here enough for helping me do that.

Let’s be friends!

Whether we’ve already met or not, feel free to get in touch! Find me on instagram at @teawithmaren, and I also have a blog where I sporadically do some (mostly tea-related) writing. Or follow my baby tea business Leaf & Buds at @leafandbudstea!

All of the love,

Maren xx

More from Maren:

Tea tour Pamphlet: