How 2 Liberal Arts Students created a million-dollar rainforest saving company.

In 2010, Brown University student Tyler Gage took a course about the languages and religions of the Amazon that blew his mind. Gage, who had grown up in the comfortable Bay Area suburbs, became enthralled by the rich, complex world of Amazonian tribespeople. Soon, it wasn’t enough for him to just read about these cultures; he wanted to see it all for himself. So, with some guidance from his professor, he packed his bags and moved to the Ecuadorian rainforest for two years.

During this hiatus from college, Gage lived in the jungle among the Shipibo people. He spent his days learning local languages and working with nonprofits, but mostly, he took in the community’s ancient traditions, rituals, and relationship with the earth. “My Shipibo host family was very good to me,” Gage tells me. “The intricacy between their language, cultural heritage, identity, and environment was so fascinating. The rainforest is their pharmacy and their supermarket, so I took time to learn about their plants.”

One plant in particular drew him in. He discovered that some tribespeople in the Amazon would get up at 3 a.m. every day to boil clay pots full of a leaf called guayusa, which was said to have mystical powers. The community would sit together before dawn, drink guayusa, interpret dreams, and recount myths. When Gage later did some research about the leaf, he found that it was naturally sweet, had the same caffeine content as coffee, and double the antioxidants as green tea.