Copa Vida coffee shop joins Carmel Valley’s Merge

Copa Vida is now open in the Merge.
(Karen Billing)

A new corner coffee shop and community hub has opened in Carmel Valley.

Copa Vida, the craft coffee roaster and brunch specialist has opened its fifth San Diego location in Merge Carmel Valley on Carmel Mountain and Carmel Country Roads.

The coffee shop’s opening had been hotly anticipated as they had about an eight-month delay from the shop’s target opening. As soon as they put out the “We’re open” sign on the corner of Carmel Mountain Road on the afternoon of April 5, people started trickling in even though they didn’t officially open until 5 p.m.

“People were eager to come, it was a nice feeling for us,” said Sam Hong, managing partner of Copa Vida. “Saturday was our first day and it was packed, it was awesome.”

The new Carmel Valley cafe is spacious and open with lots of windows and light, natural oak elements and low countertops so baristas can interact better with customers. The space opens up to the street-front patio with ample outdoor seating.

The cafe uses the Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machine. Karen Billing
Guests enjoy the new cafe in Carmel Valley. Karen Billing

“It is close to our heart that our café is approachable, warm and welcoming, and to be engaged in our community,” Hong said. “We pride ourselves in having good hospitality with a great product. What makes us different is our staff and the level of commitment that everyone who comes in here gets a good experience. We want people to feel like they belong.”

Steve and Elena Chang opened their first Copa Vida cafe in Pasadena in 2013. On a trip to San Diego, the Changs were visiting Petco Park’s Park at the Park when Steve spotted a vacant spot in the brick building in the corner that he felt would be perfect for a coffee shop. At the time it was just a dream and prompted a doubtful eye roll from Elena.

However, in a chance of fate, about a month later a property manager contacted him about potential locations in San Diego with the spot they joked about, DiamondView East Village, being one of them. It was too good to pass up and in 2015 the Changs would open the first of their five San Diego locations, including downtown Marina district, Carlsbad and Sorrento Valley.

Darren Levitt, vice president of Seabreeze Properties, was a frequent customer of the Sorrento Valley cafe and approached them about opening up in the Merge.

“We were hesitant because we were still a young business but we fell in love with Gary’s vision,” Hong said of Gary Levitt, the principal of Sea Breeze Properties and a longtime Carmel Valley resident.

“When I had a young family, we bumped into our friends and neighbors at our children’s sporting and school events. But once the kids left home, that type of neighborly interaction drastically reduced,” said Levitt. “The inspiration behind Merge Carmel Valley was to create a locals-minded hub for friends and neighbors in the area. Having a terrific, locally-owned cafe, like Copa Vida, is the ideal community-oriented centerpiece.”

Hong said it just felt right for Copa Vida to partner with the Levitts as they shared the same values and ideas about what the coffee shop should be. “They have an honest and genuine hope for building a good community space.”

Hong said just as Copa Vida prides itself on the customer experience, they aim to bring the highest quality product. They source the best green beans and roast and prepare the coffee to the best of their ability.

The cafe uses state-of-the-art, cutting edge equipment such as its espresso machine from Amsterdam, the Kees van der Westen Spirit. The hyper-precise machine calls to mind the Spirit of St. Louis airplane with its throttle handles and riveted body emblazoned with the Copa Vida logo.

The Shakerato is a signature Copa Vida beverage—an iced latte sweetened with agave with extra espresso, “It packs a nice punch with a little sweetness,” Hong said.

The cold brew is also popular, as Copa Vida goes through a 14-hour cold brew process.

“People really love our hot chocolate and mochas because we make our own chocolate ganache,” he said.

For tea, the cafe uses an Alpha Dominche Steampunk brewer—which delivers consistent quality in every cup. They offer 15 tea varieties and six tea lattes as well as iced tea on tap.

Their pastries from Cake Monkey out of LA are delivered fresh every morning and Copa Vida bakes their own bread. Hong said their cafe menu and particularly their brunch, designed by Executive Chef Taylor Martin-Funk, is a standout.

The brunch menu includes year-round classics such as croque madame, chorizo egg hash, and chilaquiles, as well as seasonal plates such as shaved asparagus salad, shishito romesco avocado toast and smoked salmon toast with pickled spaghetti squash.

The new sculpture at the front of the Merge. Karen Billing

Copa Vida was the last finishing piece in Merge, joining the mixed-use space that includes a dance studio, nail and hair salons, medical offices, restaurant and wine bar, the locally-owned PureCare Pharmacy and the Mason Ale Works tasting room.

In the interior of the center there are nooks with couches to perch on and a new brightly colored mural by Channin Fulton outside of the cafe reads “Hello Neighbor.” In the exterior plaza in front of Copa, there is a new community garden, called an “Herb’n Garden,” planted next to new Little Free Library and there is a new art sculpture out front of a dog on a bike. Local cyclists can take advantage of a bike rack and maintenance station supplied with an array of tools and an air pump right outside the café doors.

“Copa Vida’s incredible staff, delicious food and outstanding preparations of coffee and tea offers something for all members of the family in a beautiful, warm and welcoming environment,” Gary Levitt said. “I hope their addition to our family of local businesses like The Barrel Room inspires the neighborhood to see Merge Carmel Valley as part of the community identity.”

Copa Vida is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, the kitchen is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Address: 5550 Carmel Mountain Rd, San Diego, 92130; 858-261-0082;

The new mural outside of the cafe. Karen Billing