Friday, July 1, 2011

Interview with Runa Tea

I recently had an opportunity to interview Anna from Runa Tea. They produce a nifty little herbal tea called guayusa. It seems as though it will be the next yerba mate (which it is actually related to) as far tea trends go. Keep an eye out for reviews of their tea soon!


    1. What is Guayusa?

    GUAYUSA (gwhy-you-sa) is a natural, delicious source of energy and nutrition from the Amazon. Brewed like an herbal tea, Guayusa offers clear and focused energy - what the native Kichwa people call “mental strength and courage.” A caffeinated holly leaf native to Ecuador, guayusa contains an exceptional balance of caffeine, antioxidants, vitamins, and amino acids for your whole body and mind.


    2. What are the health benefits of drinking Guayusa?

    Guayusa contains 50% more antioxidants than green tea and is full of polyphenols, flavonoids, and saponins. These compounds in guayusa offer a range of holistic health benefits from calming the nervous system to cardiovascular health.
    Some of the many compounds found in guayusa are:

    Polyphenols: Recent studies in respected US labs have confirmed that 1 cup of guayusa has 30% more polyphenols than a cup of green tea. Scientific studies have confirmed polyphenols' anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor properties, as well as their ability to boost the immune system and promote a healthy heart.
    Saponins: Studies have illustrated the beneficial effects on blood cholesterol levels, cancer, bone health, and stimulation of the immune system.
    Theanine: an amino acid compound that has been studied for its calming effects on the nervous system and for its ability to protect and restore the brain.
    o All 15 Essential Amino Acids, including relatively high amounts of:
     Leucine – the most important amino acid for muscle protein synthesis and body builders.
    o Important Minerals
     Potassium
     Magnesium
     Calcium
     Zinc
     Chromium
    o Key Vitamins:
     Vitamin D
     Vitamin C

    3. Where is your Guayusa grown and from whom is it sourced?
    Our Guayusa is grown on the land of local farmers in traditional forest gardens called chacras (or chagras), always in a natural rainforest setting with other native plants. To the foreign eye these areas would look like the rainforest, but are actually a diverse mix of food crops, herbs, hardwood trees, fruit trees, spices, and medicinal plants. The Kichwa people see farming as a process that takes place in harmony with the rainforest, and the diversity of their gardens reflects this attitude toward the natural world.
    Guayusa is always shade grown. It needs the shade of other trees to fully develop its rich leaves, and is thus perfectly designed to be grown in robust and diverse agroforestry systems. Runa plants guayusa with endangered hardwood trees, food crops, cacao, coffee, and other local plants, in order to maintain the ecological integrity of the rainforest while offering a variety of income sources to the farmers.

    4. How is guayusa processed into an herbal tea?
    Runa purchases fresh leaves from each family farm and then dries and mills the leaves in our processing facility in the small jungle community of Rucullacta, in the Napo Province of the Ecuadorian Amazon. The leaves are first withered (or pre-dried) on long troughs in order to allow the flavor to set in and to reduce the moisture content of the leaf.
    After the pre-drying process, the leaves enter industrial batch dryers that fully dry the leaves. Then, milling, sifting, and packing takes places, before large sacks of guayusa begin the long ride from Ecuador to the United States.

    5. What is your sustainable development strategy?
    Runa accomplishes this through three main work areas: economic development, social empowerment, and environmental management.
    Economic development – Runa has created a new market for guayusa. While widely consumed throughout indigenous communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon, farmers have never had access to sell guayusa on the international market. By creating a Fair Trade market for guayusa, Runa has generated an alternative income stream that continues to raise the standard of living of indigenous farmers. Runa pays an additional 15% social premium to the Napo Runa Artisan Association that funds a savings account used for community development projects. 
    Social empowermentFundación Runa, our non-profit partner, works with the Napo Runa Artisan Association of guayusa producers to promote democracy and transparency in the association. By strengthening the association, farmers have a democratic forum to organize themselves and vocalize their needs and demands. Fundación Runa also works with farmers at the household level to improve financial literacy and empower women to think as entrepreneurs. 
    Environmental management – Beyond our organic certification, Runa seeks to use guayusa as a vehicle for good environmental stewardship. Fundación Runa, our non-profit partner, works with farmers to research the impacts and benefits guayusa production has on the local environment. Fundación Runa also works with our communities to help design land management plans that designate conservation areas and forest reserves.

    6. Is there anything else you would like my readers to know about guayusa or Runa?

    In conversations, we occasionally hear some one introduce Runa by saying "and they employ 600 people on their farm in Ecuador." Pero No! We do not own any farmland and we do not employ farmers. Runa's model and social mission is to purchase guayusa at Fair Trade prices directly from independent family farms. We provide direct market access and technical assistance to farmers to sustainably plant, manage, and harvest guayusa. We empower farmers and provide new opportunities for their traditional products. In this way, we foster the local entrepreneurial spirit, build sustainable and transparent partnerships with the farmers, and proactively work together to break a long history of paternalism and exploitation that has negatively impacted these communities.