When Lisa Govro came to St. Louis in 2011, she had simple plans to see her sister and two new nieces. Little did she know that St. Louis would not only become her home, but also hub to her booming business to-be, Big Heart Tea Co.
“Before my life here in St. Louis, I was dedicated to working in family homelessness,” says Govro. “So I am kind of a big softie when it comes to people, but I never, ever thought I would be running a business, especially a business at this scale. I am probably wildly unqualified to be doing what I’m doing, but here we are.”
Today, Big Heart Tea Co. ships its carefully crafted blends from St. Louis to stores and restaurants in more than 40 states, and can be found in national chain stores like Crate & Barrel and Anthropologie.
Govro founded Big Heart Tea Co., initially ReTrailer Tea, in 2012 after spending time at a yoga ashram in Sedona, Arizona for a yoga training course.
“At the end of it there was an opportunity to stay and volunteer as a cooking apprentice under their chef, and so I took that opportunity,” says Govro. “I worked under an Ayurvedic chef for about three and a half months, and that’s really where my elevated journey started.”
That’s also where she discovered a deep-found love and appreciation for turmeric — what Govro cites as her initial inspiration for Big Heart Tea Co.
“I wanted to make the herb more accessible to folks who weren’t necessarily tuned into health and wellness or holistic healing and herbal medicine,” says Govro. “Our whole approach is to be a low barrier first-entry point for people who are herb curious to discover how their bodies interact with different energies.”
So when Govro launched Big Heart Tea Co., it was no surprise that her sole item for sale was a freshly grated raw turmeric and ginger tea with honey — an iteration of what is now her flagship brew, Cup of Sunshine.
“I say turmeric is the best friend you never knew you had,” says Govro. “It’s anti-inflammatory. It’s antibacterial. It’s antimicrobial. You use it topically or you can use it internally.”
And although turmeric holds a special place in Govro’s heart, her growing line of primarily herbal teas — fan faves including Chai, Fake Coffee and Cup of Love — often start with a tulsi (also known as holy basil) base.
“That herb is an adaptogenic herb,” says Govro. “It’s super gentle on the body and is so good for you. Adaptogen just means that it adapts with your nervous system to either reduce stress or give energy or help you with anxiety. … We use tulsi because of its general healing properties, but also because its flavor is just very mild, and so it blends really well with a lot of flavors so serves as a nice base.”
And flavor is what Govro believes to be her brand’s most common compliment.
“We grind all of our herbs and spices in small batches right before we package, and so one of the biggest comments we get is that our teas actually taste good,” says Govro. “And that’s the reason — because everything is blended fresh so you are actually tasting the herbs when you are drinking the tea rather than drinking a muddle of something that tastes like a spice cabinet, but doesn’t have a super distinct flavor.”
Govro unquestionably credits her high quality to her holistic direct-sourcing process — which was a process all on its own.
“I didn’t know anything about the colonialism and the harmful agricultural practices that tea farming had on the industry or the impact it had had on entire generations of people from origin,” says Govro. “And so as I started to learn a little bit more about the supply chain of tea and just how dark and secretive it was, it was really hard for me to find out in those early days where our tea was coming from. … And so that’s really where my want to start doing direct sourcing came from was more from a human-rights perspective rather than a quality. Although, over time I have evolved my thinking to know that the treatment of the workers informs the quality of the tea tremendously.”
In turn, Govro began working with a broker who helped her form connections with farms in India, Malawi and Japan — those to thank for Big Heart Tea Co.’s marvelous Matcha and Malawi Black Hibiscus teas (to name a few).
“That really opened up our doors for tea sourcing,” says Govro. “We’ve continually tried to improve the direct trade of our herbs and that has been the heavier lift out of the two. But when we were trying to improve the quality of our herbs we realized it was a huge opportunity for us to do some work.”
Work that also inspired Govro to apply for an Arch Grant in 2018 to aid in her endeavor of ethically and transparently sourcing herbs and spices as a marketplace. And, yes, she won.
“That was huge,” says Govro of the $50,000 award. “The biggest impact was that one of the judges is now my business partner. … I would not have met her without the Arch Grant opportunity. The grant was amazing, but the relationship I have with Kunthearath Nhek-Morrissey that I got out of that was priceless.”
What’s also plenty priceless is Govro’s success story — selling a single tea from her 1969 Wigwam camper trailer in the streets of St. Louis to now selling a full line of teas to more than 300 locations nationally. And Govro’s humble hope is to continue that growth — not only to support her staff, but also to support the community that simultaneously supported her start.
“St. Louis people are just so nice and so fiercely supportive of each other,” says Govro. “I’m just blown away. I don’t take for granted at all the amount of support we have gotten from the local community. It is just tremendous, and that is really what sealed the deal for me here. I really wanted to be a part of it … So the opportunity to build a better company so we can support more people, that is really where it is at for us. Not just for our employees, but the farmers that we work with, the vendors we work with — it’s a chain. There is a cause and effect for everything, and if we can just continue growing and investing our money back in our people and into our community, that is success to us.”