Guayusa Gaining in Popularity and Visibility in the U.S.

It’s one of the more obscure herbal infusions out there, but guayusa, a mate-esque South American beverage, is gaining in popularity and visibility. A few years ago this blog published an article introducing guayusa and this article about it being part of South American traditions, and since then it has only become more well-known.

Find more herbals and decaffeinated teas here. (Photo source: The English Tea Store)
Find more herbals and decaffeinated teas here. (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

One company that specializes exclusively in guayusa is Runa, headquartered Brooklyn, New York, but with a team in Ecuador. Founded by Tyler Gage and Dan MacCombie in 2009, the company’s emphasis is on creating livelihoods for the farmers who grow the ilex guayusa plant and sharing the rich Ecuadorian tea traditions. A cousin of ilex paraguariensis (more commonly known as yerba mate), guayusa, like mate, has a high caffeine content as well as a high antioxidant content. The company’s name, Runa, meaning “fully alive” in the indigenous Kichwa language of the Ecuadorian Amazon, is a reference to the energy boost guayusa provides.

But what about the “tea” itself? Well, the good news is that Runa knows their tea. Or, more accurately, they know when and when not to call something tea. First up on their list of FAQs is this:

Q: Is guayusa actually “tea”?

A: No. Guayusa is produced from the leaves of a caffeinated Amazonian holly tree (ilex guayusa), and is not related to the tea pant (camelia sinensis) that produces green and black tea. A more accurate description for guayusa would be a “caffeinated herbal tea” or a “tisane,” the French word used to describe herbal infusions that are prepared and enjoyed like tea.

Ten points to Runa! The second item of interest is that they are aware of how broad the market of tea drinkers can be. As such, Runa sells guayusa in three forms: bottles, bags, and loose. Pure, traditional guayusa is an option in all three forms, with flavoured options including hibiscus-berry, mint, lemon-lemongrass, and ginger-citrus, depending on which form you go for. Although some purist tea drinkers might turn their nose up at bottled tea, it is a smart move to reach out to those who would not normally go for tea. And, after all, this is how a lot of people get into tea in the first place.

It would be the loose leaf that monopolises my attention. I am not a huge fan of heavily caffeinated drinks, but I do enjoy guayusa (as I do yerba mate) when in need of a serious energy boost. It gives me a significantly more stable energy boost than coffee, and one that usually lasts longer. Additionally, guayusa lacks the slightly bitter taste found in yerba mate. While some die-hard mate fans might miss this, personally, I do just fine without it.

If you’re looking to purchase some guayusa, a company that specialises in this infusion, such as Runa, is a smart way to go. Their web site has a store locator, which allows you to find retailers in your area that carry their products. You can also order them online.

See more of Elise Nuding’s articles here.

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One thought on “Guayusa Gaining in Popularity and Visibility in the U.S.

  1. Elise, yes, the gentle flavor of guayusa is much more to my taste also than its aggressive cousin yerba mate. I am very proud to be retained as Runa’s technical consultant for growing and processing Guayusa. It’s an interesting and challenging beverage crop to commercialize – tea and coffee have a couple of hundreds of years of research behind them but with guayusa virtually nothing is known or documented. We have just about two years of investigations – and are learning fast. Runa has set up a Crop Science lab and nursery, and is just finishing a Process R&D lab so future progress should be very impressive – and I am very excited about the potential for this very interesting new beverage.
    Nigel at Teacraft

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