High Tea
High Tea
After three generations, the Bigelow clan has steadfastly remained upscale in a down-market world. All it took was bagging the family drama.
Chloe Sorvino
Cindi Bigelow rips open a bag of her family’s Earl Grey tea, splaying the contents out on a crisp white napkin to highlight the dark, black leaves inside. With the scent of Calabrian bergamot lingering, she tears open two more bags from much larger competitors, dumping each onto the napkin, huffing at the contents: synthetic white flavor crystals in one, pieces of light brown tea plant stem, a bitter-tasting filler, in the other.

“People say, ‘Oh, look at that little conventional old product line. It’s so not cool and relevant.’ But I’m like, ‘Wait, whoa-whoa-whoa!’” she says. “We put everything into the product. Everything.”

The CEO of Bigelow Tea revels in this show of quality—for her, a key ingredient to remaining the top specialty tea seller in the U.S. The Bigelows have accomplished what is only a half-steeped dream for most family businesses: passing the company down from the first generation to the second and, with Cindi, 59, to the third.

A lot of credit goes to holding firm to tradition, including still using the recipe Cindi’s grandmother created in her kitchen in 1945 for its signature Constant Comment tea. Her father, David, took over the business from her grandmother in 1959 and ran it for 45 years, transforming it from a niche, mail-order gift shop brand into a grocery store staple. Cindi, the younger of his two daughters, joined in 1986 armed with an M.B.A. from Northwestern University and spent two decades working her way through the business, starting in the accounting department.

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March 2020