It’s always fun doing interviews. Coming up with new questions is interesting because it all revolves around your subject who gets to honestly and objectively answer those questions. If the questions are good enough, you get some deeply personal and relevant answers back. I recently had the chance to ask Tyler Gage of Runa, the Guayusa (Why-you-suh) company a few questions. Here’s what he had to say!
Interview with Tyler Gage of Runa Guayusa
What was it that first drew you to Ecuador? How was it you came across Guayusa and the Kichwa people who have traditionally cultivated it?
Originally I went to Latin America to research native languages, but while I was working with indigenous communities in Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil I witnessed firsthand the tradeoff indigenous communities face: while they want to preserve their cultural heritage, they also experience an immediate need to feed their families and earn cash in an increasingly globalized world. The indigenous communities also shared an ancestral tea they consume every morning while sitting around the fire as a community: guayusa. Together, we began imagining how a Fair Trade business could share this rich-tasting tea with a global audience, and pioneer a proactive and culturally valuable way for the Kichwa people to participate in the global economy
What does Guayusa mean to you?
Discovery & Hope.
Discovery in the sense that guayusa allows consumers to discover a new tea-origin and a new culturally heritage around leaves in hot water.
Hope that indigenous traditions will not be lost and that our global communities appreciates and enjoys this rich tradition.
Would you mind sharing a story or experience with the Kichwa people you feel describes their cultural personality?
About a year ago I was with Carlos Mamallacta’s family and a group of our investors who came to meet the farmers and better understand Runa. One of our particularly socially conscious investors, Patrick, asked Carlos, “I understand extra income is nice, but what do really you [sic] think about a bunch of white dudes coming and taking your guayusa, exporting it, and having random white people who might not care about your culture drinking this stuff?” Carlos thought about it for a second, and simply responded, “Everyone should drink guayusa.” Obviously unsatisfied but what he perceived to be Carlos’s PC response, Patrick poked further, “Riiight, but your people appreciate guayusa in a certain way, and now these stupid white people are drinking it in tea cups. That doesn’t bother you?” Carlos thought about it again, “Well, everyone should drink guayusa.” Then they both smiled.
“Everyone should drink guayusa.”
Carlos actually understood the question quite well, and his answer reflects the fact that sharing and exchang[ing] our core tenets of the Kichwa culture, and guayusa is seen as a gift for all of humanity. They see guayusa as being healthy for people’s bodies and minds, not just Kichwa people’s bodies and minds. Moreover, part of what it means to be Kichwa to them is to know and appreciate other cultures, and guayusa is now serving as a new point of contact to spark these kinds of exchanges.
Tell me about the motivations behind the non-profit Runa Foundation?
While our for-profit companies provide the supply chain a market for guayusa, our non-profit arm, Fundación Runa provides tools and resources to indigenous communities and farmers’ associations working towards their vision of sustainable development in the Amazon. We focus on three core areas: social empowerment, community development, and environmental management.
We provide technical assistance to small farming families to grow guayusa in organic agroforestry systems, and by purchasing guayusa at a guaranteed minimum price, creating economic incentives for sustainable management of natural resources and rainforest conservation.
Aside from Guayusa what would you say is your personal standby tea?
I drink a good amount of Taiwanese Oolongs in the afternoons, in addition to silver needle white tea on the weekends.
Do you look up to anyone in the tea industry?
Tom Lisicki, the CEO of Stash, has been an incredibly generous industry friend to us, and I’m very impressed by how he has built Stash and continues to run their company. He’s helped bring more premium tea to the masses, and maintained great quality products as a big company.
Are you drawn to the personality of the Ecuadorian people in particular or do other cultures interest you?
The Amazon holds a big part of my heart, but I would also consider myself of student of world cultures at large. I’ve always been fascinated by the dreaming traditions of Aboriginal and Tibetan peoples as well, and hope to travel more broadly as I “grow up” J
A Huge thanks goes out to Tyler Gage of Runa for spending the time to answer my questions!
Do you have any questions for Tyler? Would you like a followup Interview? Post your questions in the comments below!