Guayusa, an Ecuadorian herb that you’ve never heard of
Andrea Pérez M.
Gentileza Waykana, Shutterstock
Two young Ecuadorian entrepreneurs export guayusa, a caffeine-containing herb, and, with it, the ritual of starting the day slowly
The alarm goes off. You get out of bed. You get some coffee while checking your social media accounts. You look at the time and don’t know how but you’re already late (perhaps it has something to do with social media). Now you’re in a hurry to get to work and didn’t even have time to plan your day. In the Ecuadorian Amazon, however, women wake up at 4 a.m., make a fire, and boil some water with guayusa, a slightly sweet herb from a plant with long leaves, like bay, freshly picked from the garden. They wake the rest of the family up, serve guayusa in an empty coconut shell, and, as soon as the kids take their first sips, they pass the gourd, sharing the dreams they had the night before. Together, they interpret each dream and plan the day according to these meanings, which can be imminent danger or even a good fishing day.
Ecuadorian entrepreneurs Juan David Gómez and Demetrio Santander believed that city residents would benefit from a change in their routine, from coffee to the guayusa ritual (which, according to them, contains more caffeine than coffee, guarana, and yerba mate), and, to introduce the herb to the world, they created the brand Waykana.
Their main idea is to work directly with Quechua communities in the Amazon, establishing a production chain that, for now, will train 150 guayusa suppliers.
“The most important thing is to respect their culture and worldview,” explains Juan David. This involves building trust, working with Spanish-Quechua translators, and placing value on the Ecuadorian Indian identity, not just selling a product. “Our producers know the secrets of guayusa,” emphasizes the Waykana cofounder. “They have a treasure in their hands.”
The brand’s impact is not only cultural: their focus is to offer the world an organic and sustainable product. That’s why they don’t work with monoculture or make interventions in the natural habitat of forest species. As such, they help to preserve the Amazon’s biodiversity, also leading a continuous campaign for the reforestation of endemic species. By exporting the guayusa herb to Canada, the United States, France, Holland, Germany, South Africa, Colombia, and Brazil, Juan David and Demetrio want to transform the routine of daily coffee into a ritual, so that, just like the Indians in the Amazon, “everyone can share their dreams and remain motivated to realize them.”