After Steve Chang and his wife sold the family business they had been running for more than 12 years, they finally had the time to really think about what they wanted to do with their life. Chang was curious about coffee and wanted to learn more, so he spent a year traveling the world learning about coffee culture. Chang landed in Costa Rica and it was there the idea was formed for a cafe called Copa Vida. Although Chang loved coffee, his true passion lay within cafes; he loved how it could bring a community together. So he found partners who had a passion for the coffee part, and together they opened their first cafe in Pasadena in 2013. The group made sure the space was comfortable and inviting while staying true to the craft of coffee, tea and delicious food.
A cafe in San Diego came a few years later and just last month another was opened in East Village. Chang and his team made sure to keep the space open and warm while keeping true to the roasting. In a few months they will open their first “crate cafe” in Carlsbad, which is a cafe in a shipping container with an honor bar that is open during commuting hours. They also have an Experience Bar, which is a “slow-bar,” where they will host classes on coffee and tea, and even teach latte art.
Q: If you could have a superpower what would it be and why?
A: I would like the power to know what will happen one week in advance. That way I can have time to plan things out but not be so omniscient that I have no surprises in life.
Q: Soundtrack to your life?
A: Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” Keb’ Mo’s “Tell Everybody I Know,” U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and Hillsong’s “Oceans.”
Q: The first cup of coffee that changed the way you saw coffee?
A: It was called the Peaks of Kilimanjaro from Kenya. I don’t remember who roasted it or named it. It was at a cafe in college (that was many years ago) and it was the first time I realized that coffee was more than a carrier for cream and sugar. I tasted blueberries and chocolate and I was in heaven.
Q: Describe your perfect day in San Diego?
A: I have not been a regular in San Diego for a long time, so I am still searching, but for now I would have to say it would be to sit at the cafe drinking my cortado at the table by the open door and looking into the skyline, then walking over to catch a game at Petco (Padres vs. Dodgers).
Q: Misconceptions people might have about your brand?
A: Cup of Life in Spanish is Copa De Vida. We named it Copa Vida as a play on a Costa Rican phrase: Pura Vida. Also, it doesn’t mean that we think coffee is the meaning of life. We actually mean that when someone asks you to have coffee, they are not saying, “Let’s get caffeinated,” they are asking you to come share life. So, we strive to provide a great place to share that. In fact, the perfect cup of coffee or tea, or even food, isn’t our number one product - customer experience is.
Q: Best part about doing business in San Diego?
A: People. The community around us has been welcoming and open, and the atmosphere is relaxed and unhurried. Things get done and everyone is professional, but there is an emphasis on the enjoyment of things too.
Q: CEO or company you admire and why?
A: I admire many CEOs and businesses: Tesla’s fearless innovation, Toyota’s commitment to excellence and Tom’s social entrepreneurship. But my favorite CEO was my father-in-law, Robert Yee, who worked two jobs while starting a noodle business from scratch, and in 30 years, turned it into a national leader in noodle manufacturing. He taught me what it means to be fearless and dedicated.