First Course: Copa Vida Brings New Cup Of Life To Pasadena


“Go, Enjoy, Experience.” These are the three elements comprising the concept behind Copa Vida, the most recent addition to Pasadena’s blooming specialty coffee and tea scene. However, the outward simplicity of this concept can be misleading. In reality, hard work and a strong emphasis on design have constituted an arduous – but ultimately, successful – journey to the cafe’s August 1 opening.

Copa Vida, which loosely translates to “cup of life,” sits at the corner of Raymond Avenue and Green Street. Entering the front door, visitors are greeted by a bright space with abundant natural light and an array of thoughtful touches like orchid plants gifted from friends and plenty of seating. For the “Go” element, there’s an honor bar enabling self-service during rush hours; for “Enjoy,” there’s a traditional coffee and tea bar; and for “Experience,” customers are treated to refreshments, conversation and education at a more relaxed pace. Food, made by Chef Erick Lee, is offered daily from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Machines are on the smaller side in order to feel unobtrusive between the barista and the customer

It’s easy to feel welcome in a place like Copa Vida. Owner Steve Chang and his employees strive to offer an experience beyond merely a good cup of Joe. Rather, they intend to serve a visit worth remembering.

Chang appointed Sam Hong to take the reins of shaping this vital customer experience. Hong, an adept barista with a degree in studio arts, doesn’t hold any prior professional design experience, but comes from an artistic lineage. His father is a Los Angeles-based carpenter with a focus on hardwood floors, so the two collaborated in their shared backyard and created the cafe’s tables, cabinetry, wood paneling and menu display. Though each table is slightly different (varying color patterns and stains), they are uniform in texture and oak base material. Westin Mitchell Design Group, also located in L.A., supplied custom steel legwork for the tables.

The intricate woodwork is one component of many in Copa Vida’s metamorphosis. The space originally housed redwhite+bluezz, a jazz club and wine bar where a dark and moody vibe had made perfect sense. But for a coffee and tea shop? Not quite. The Copa Vida team spent numerous hours brainstorming how to transform the space’s layout to suit its clientele and iterate the cafe’s overarching concept.

All wooden elements were specially built for Copa Vida by barista Sam Hong and his carpenter father.

They decided on two color schemes to visually divide the space: one room with walls painted white with brick and wooden accents, and one with darker, soothing hues and also with chunks of exposed brick. A wrap-around bar connects the two rooms, as does the ceiling’s original woodwork. In order for uninterrupted eye contact between the barista and the customer, the bar is purposely low, and machines are strategically placed to remain unobtrusive. This approach may complicate the barista’s duties, but remaining approachable to the customer is the fundamental value that drives Copa Vida’s design.

Whether you’re a coffee connoisseur or simply fancy a quick cup of tea, make your way to this gem in Pasadena’s cherished old town area. We’re betting you’ll either stay awhile or come back again for that second cup. Open Monday – Sunday, view times here. 70 South Raymond Avenue, Pasadena.

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