Launching in 2015, we were the first company in the UK and Europe to raise awareness of and begin selling Guayusa in packs of both loose leaf and tea bags.
We started out as a team of two (Linda and James) and since we’ve grown to (an equally Guayusa obsessed) team of six, all doing our bit to spread the word about this magical leaf.
We’re the foremost innovator of Guayusa in the UK, launching with four different blends back in 2015, and introducing a 5th in 2016.
We’ve created iced teas and energy shots, raw vegan Guayusa-infused chocolate and even prototype Guayusa kombuchas!
Needless to say, we've got big plans for the year ahead.
In love with the leaf
We’re passionate about Guayusa and the positive possibilities it offers to people and planet; beyond its potential health benefits, Guayusa’s produced in a sustainable way.
We’re committed to providing our customers the highest quality organic, non-GMO leaves and most innovative Guayusa products as we expand our range.
We want to raise awareness of Guayusa as a healthier, cleaner, more socially and environmentally conscious and deliciously versatile source of plant-based energy.
Today, people are looking for responsibly sourced, healthy plant-based products. Guyausa’s the perfect product fit in meeting the coming generation’s energy needs.
Sourcing our products responsibly
Our supplier pays a higher price than the market average.
They promote farming practices that support the rainforest ecosystem where Guayusa is grown along with a variety of other plants which bring the farmers extra income.
This reduces the impact of deforestation, and the mixture of plants makes for healthy soil and wildlife habitats.
We’re proud members of 1% for the Planet, where we donate 1% of our annual turnover to charities who protect the environment.
How it began
James had always been a fan of National Geographic’s content - years ago he used to buy the magazines every month.
Back in 2014 he decided to try a demo of the digital edition on the iPad.
Being impressed with how they had taken the format of the physical magazine and presented it with richer interaction through scrolling, tappable infographics, videos, puzzles and the usual lovely photography, he subscribed.
In addition to the above, the digital edition also streamed in National Geographic’s Instagram and website news feeds. It was on the latter that James caught the headline 'Ecuador's superleaf tea: could it replace your afternoon coffee?', some time in late July 2014.
James was getting tired of the abrasive caffeine effect of coffee, his main source of caffeine.
He read the article and watched the video below with fascination and an instant sense of reverence towards this mysterious brew.
It was obvious guaysua was causing a stir in the USA - there were loads of glowing reviews and news articles to read - and lots of social media noise.
James had to try it - what was this tea going to be like? - secretly hoping it would be the replacement to coffee he needed. It's true to say that for some reason he felt he wanted to build a business around it before he had even tried it; stumbling across the National Geographic article felt like it was 'meant to be'.
Especially because of strong family ties to Amazonian Peru, where guayusa also grows.
Linda, you see, was born in Pucallpa, Peru. Pucallpa is located in the east of Peru on the banks of the Ucayali River, which, further north, discharges into the mighty Amazon River. Guayusa is found in the upper regions of the Amazon in Ecuador, Peru, and southern Colombia.
Perhaps it could become a full time cross-Atlantic venture - their own guayusa farm and UK Guayusa cafe, maybe?
Trying Guayusa for the first time
By August, James had managed to find a source on eBay, which, upon ordering, turned up a day or two later.
Eagerly spooning some into his usual ‘coffee’ cafetière, he poured on freshly boiled water, inhaling the uniquely sweet, almost grassy flavours.
As soon as it was cool enough to have the first sip, it was love at first taste. In addition to the delicious taste, the effect from the caffeine felt so different.
It was so much smoother compared to the heart racing rush of strong coffee. Overnight it completely replaced coffee as the daily hot drink, not only for James, but Linda too.
Setting up the business
Certainly Guayusa was something more people needed to know about. It wasn't long before the website name was registered, the local council was notified of a new food business selling Guayusa and a myriad of other activities ensued, including, of course, the hunt for a wholesale supplier.
Eventually, James managed to order 4.5 kilos when one of the suppliers that had been contacted finally replied.
On the 5th of December 2014 the first wholesale batch of Guayusa arrived!
But the tea couldn’t be sold - although it was clearly good Guayusa, it had obviously not been through a rigorous post harvest production process. For example, a stone was found in it - and also a feather! Regrettably the whole batch had to go.
It was a pretty low point as there had been no luck in responses from any other supplier.
But positive tracks had been made with all the other work, such as pulling together a quick brand, packing designs, packaging, creating a website, securing social media spaces, setting up digital advertising and much more.
Not easy on top of two full time day jobs - and as busy parents.
The first packing designs
When creating the first packaging - while there was no budget - it was important to James and Linda that it tied back to some kind of ancient symbolism.
You can read more about that process here - but in short the original logo (which was always hand stamped on) was inspired by ancient rock art - and striking similarities between Ecuadorian and Scottish petroglyphs were noticed.
The stamps were originally hand made, carved into a lino block (the kind used for screen printing) which proved hard to work with using normal ink stamp pads. So professional stamps, a replica of the original hand carved design, were invested in.
These were used to hand stamp many hundreds of packs in an assortment of colours - it was important that the product had a really handmade feel from beginning to end.
Finding the supplier
Despite so much progress, everything ground to a halt for a while as a supplier was still needed. Eventually, through sheer persistence, contact was made with the supplier of their dreams, and the process of ordering the first 40KG sack of Guayusa began.
But it didn’t turn out to be so simple for other reasons - importing at this level was not so simple as paying and giving your shipping address - there was a requirement to set up an official import account with a global shipping agency.
When the delivery turned up, they were blessed with an immaculate food grade sack of the most fully credentialed, fair trade, organic, non-GMO and perfectly milled Ilex guayusa available in the world - replete with official origin and phytosanitary certificates. This was how Guayusa should be.
The business was launched online with great excitement on 29 June 2015. From first trying Guayusa to launching the online shop took just under 12 months.
The initial product range had four varieties: pure Guayusa, mint, lemon and cinnamon blends (pictured above) in 50g and 100g packs - the oldest customers will remember!
The first customer
A couple of weeks went by. No sales. Then, on the 19th of July 2015 - 20 days after going live - the first notification appeared to say there had been a sale - one 100g packet of Guayusa tea! Gradually more orders appeared along with some really awesome comments.
Here's the first bit of unsolicited feedback Guayusa Tea Shop (the former name of our company) received:
"Just tasted my first brew, absolutely stunning, clean and refreshing. I'm a regular herbal drinker after ditching coffee and daily have Yerba in the morning and Green Rooibos at night. But this is now going to be my afternoon choice. What a find!"
As time went on blogs that unearthed fascinating information on Guayusa and its history were written and published on the site - here’s some that are recommended if you are interested in learning more:
The new packing design and logo
While the original packing design served a purpose, the aspiration to create an improved look and feel led to a new development for the business.
They knew one of their neighbours was a great graphic designer because they had seen the work she had done for her own business venture. They asked if she would be interested in working something 'proper' up for Guayusa Tea Shop (the former name of our company).
In the spirit of a fresh start they decided to phase out the original flavours and introduce a new one - 'Choco' - a simple, but delicious, mixture of Guayusa and raw organic cacao nibs.
What's more, they didn't just go for a brand upgrade - they combined that with their first venture into putting this revered Guayusa into beautiful looking, biodegradable tea bags.
While the ethos and approach behind the old hand-stamped packaging was managable in the early days, it became inefficient as time wore on, so one of the aims of the rebrand was to move completely into printed labelling to allow more time to get the orders out around everything else.
They still kept handwriting bespoke thank you notes with each order, though.
Making tea bags
Discovering how to get tea bags made was an interesting experience too - remember beverage businesses are not James and Linda's background - however their extensive experience in retail and digital leadership have been of great use!
It was hard as most factories that make tea bags demand huge runs before they'll talk to you. Luckily they found an amazing factory who would help produce the bags at the volumes they could afford - and who were also great mentors in the overall process. James and Linda can't thank them enough.
The branded string tags that are attached to the bags had to be ordered from a company in Japan. A mistake on the tag design called for last minute changes across time zones (before 48,000 were printed) - it was a tense moment!
All ended well and beautiful bags were made, sealed, and put into the lovely boxes with their neighbour's incredible designs (that had to be printed in Spain!). It's hard to believe they did this all around their day jobs, and the trauma of the family illness. But there's more to the story.
The business has been going a bit of a transformation this year. We have a larger team and are working on a number of exciting projects as well as getting our general house in order from backend systems to more rigorous planning as well as existing, and new, product development.
The Guayusa Co became proud members of 1% for the Planet early in April, attended a traditional Guayusa ceremony in May, delivered 3 events in 28 days and even have begun a collaboration on a Guayusa infused craft beer with our friends over at Three Hounds Beer Co., another fantastic local business.