What I Do: Lisa Govro, founder and CEO of Big Heart Tea Co.
Big Heart Tea Co. founder and CEO Lisa Govro got into tea “sort of by accident.” When she started the company in 2012, she was primarily interested in the beneficial health properties of herbs, and tea seemed the most straightforward way to get them into people’s bodies. “I thought, ‘Everybody has had a cup of tea, almost everybody in the world could relate to having a cup of tea,’” she said. While the company remains values driven, those values have evolved as she’s learned more about the history and process of growing, buying and selling tea. Here, Govro talks about growing authentically, Big Heart’s recent single-origin releases and the joy she takes in sourcing.
“Really in those first two years, I think of the company back then as more of an art project or a community project than a business. I mean, I didn't have a business plan – I never thought that we would be the company we are today.”
“By 2017, we were still focused on getting healthy food medicine into people's bodies in a sensible way. But by that point in my journey, I had learned a lot more about supply chain and some transparency issues within the [tea] industry.”
“We've really focused on the quality of our ingredients since 2017 by working with a small handful of farmers around the world. I would say about 40% of our ingredients now are direct trade from small farms, and the remainder of ingredients are all certified organic.”
“We have our classics, our herbal blends, and those will never go away … But our focus since 2020 has really been to launch new, single-farm teas or single-farm blends.”
“All our single-farm lines are super exciting to me because it's one way that we can work on a small scale. Because we're still just a tiny little tea company. But I think we are helping model that it's possible to have a better-quality ingredient and better source no matter what size you are.”
“I think that we've been able to grow authentically because … we're just really driving a value-based company authentically and not as a marketing proposition. I mean it's not easy, but we're really lucky that we have that signature line with the Cup of Sunshine and the Cup of Love. These more approachable herbal blends support us so that we can really work on some kind of ground level stuff with transparency.”
“The place that really makes my heart sing is sourcing. I still lead all our ingredient-sourcing, small farm relationships. And so I'll do discovery, finding new farms to work with, vetting – we have a pretty informal but structured process for vetting suppliers.”
“The suppliers that we work with, that we are sourcing from directly, they're small, family-run farms, similar to any family run farm here in Missouri. So during the harvest season, it's really the farmer and their children and their cousins and brothers and sisters helping out.”
“While tea and a lot of the herbs that we're working with are commodities, we're not sourcing from big farms that sell at auction or dictate their price by the market – we’re paying the farmers what they ask instead of negotiating down to the market rate.”
“We also ask a lot about their agricultural practices. In the beginning … I thought we would have a lot more conversations around herbicides and pesticides, but a lot of the smaller farmers that we work with can't afford herbicides or pesticides.”
“I've only traveled to source twice, and a lot of that got interrupted because of Covid. We had quite a few trips that we had to postpone in 2020, and we just never really were able to pick that back up. But I'm hoping next year I'll be able to go to at least one farm.”
“We are a St. Louis company, and we love it here. … We're small and growing. We look shiny and fancy on the outside, but we're still just a hometown company.”