A barista takes notes at Copa Vida’s East Village shop. Its Alpha Dominche Steampunk and Curtis Seraphim machines sit in the foreground.
  • A barista takes notes at Copa Vida’s East Village shop. Its Alpha Dominche Steampunk and Curtis Seraphim machines sit in the foreground.
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Copa Vida

905 J Street, East Village

In mid-October, a year after announcing expansion to San Diego, Pasadena coffee roaster Copa Vida opened the doors of its East Village (905 J Street) storefront, and will open a smaller location in Carlsbad in early November. While city restrictions forced a redesign that delayed plans for the downtown shop, Copa Vida owner Steve Chang says he had his eye on the space even before opening his first location in Pasadena two years ago.

Staying nearby while on vacation, Chang stumbled upon the empty space on the ground floor of Petco Park adjacent to Diamond View Tower, right beside its Park at the Park. “I told my wife, this would be perfect for a coffee shop,” Chang recalls. By coincidence, a property manager for the tower contacted him about leasing the space soon after.

That serendipity repeated itself this year when Cruzan, a real estate firm with an ownership stake in Diamond View, sought a coffee merchant to work out of a shipping container to serve its soon-to-open MAKE office development in coastal Carlsbad. Chang had just finished a proposal to build a similar shop in Los Angeles when he got a call. While that shop didn’t work out, the timing of it allowed Copa Vida to deliver a working design within minutes. “I literally just erased Los Angeles to the proposal and added Carlsbad,” Chang laughs.

One notable feature of Copa Vida is its embracing of interesting brewing technology. In addition to a custom-built Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machine, the shop makes pour overs with a pair of Curtis Seraphim devices, which allows a barista to precisely control water temperature while automating the timing and flow of water into the coffee bed. Chang says the devices promise more consistent pours, along with better customer interaction. “A lot of time when baristas are working on the pour over,” he says, “They can’t engage with the customer, they can’t look up. Using this machine the barista can.”

For tea drinkers, Copa Vida uses an Alpha Dominche Steampunk, which agitates tea leaves with steam as part of an automated immersion and siphon brewing method. This device also allows for more precise temperature and timing control, which Chang points out is crucial for the 8-14 tea varieties the shop will offer. For example, “Green tea will burn at 200 degrees,” he points out, “Whereas a black tea at 185-189 degrees will under extract.”

Most intriguing may be an upcoming cold brew offering. Australian company Elixir Specialty Coffee has devised a means of brewing coffee using sound waves, resulting in a refreshing, tea-like beverage that highlights different coffee notes depending how long the brewing process lasts — generally between 6 and 24 hours. Copa Vida is the first coffee retailer in North America to offer its coffee using the Elixir method.

Though previously reported Copa Vida would serve coffee from multiple roasters, Chang says the two San Diego county shops will initially focus on its own beans, and may add an unnamed second roaster to complement its selection.

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