085 // Peter Hyung Seok Lee // Founder of COBA COFFEE // Brewing Up Life His Own Way
Play • 1 hr 12 min

Peter Lee, Founder of COBA Coffee, joins Jerry on Episode 085 to share his story of reinventing himself through grit and ingenuity to rebuild his life after a series of events led him off his chosen path. Tune in for great lessons in life and business and check out www.coba.coffee today!

We celebrate the successful launch and rebranding of COBA Coffee!

We support his work and all our Asian American entrepreneurs who are living life on our own terms.

We are inspired by his story of resilience, git, and ingenuity in finding the silver linings and turning his life around. 

Meet Peter and learn of COBA's origin story!
My coffee story starts as a high school dropout at 17 years old with an itch to grind and a huge ego. I always felt that school was a waste of time, despite the negative resentment from my friends and family. Wanting to prove everybody wrong, I wanted to start a business. I wanted to "take on" Starbucks to prove myself to the world that I'm not a failure.

My vision to create the next Starbucks died quickly. I was way in over my head. Opening a cafe is not easy; it requires upstart funds, regulations, licenses, and coffee knowledge that I lacked. Instead, I decided to start learning about the basics of coffee. The first step in that journey was learning how to roast green coffee beans. In the beginning, I started off using pans or ovens to roast coffee that I got from some local green coffee suppliers. It took a lot of time for not enough reward but I wasn’t able to afford a commercial roaster at the time which could cost over $10,000. So instead, I built my own.

It was crude and janky, but it worked. I started to sell coffee locally around my neighborhood and was even able to secure my most prominent client, Glendale Unified School District. But unfortunately, I still couldn’t compete with the larger industrial coffee suppliers. So I figured, if I can’t beat them, I’ll try sourcing coffee to sell to them.

I spontaneously went on a 2 month journey to South America, visiting coffee plantations and immersing myself in the coffee trade. I was surprised to learn many things about the coffee trade that I had never even thought about:

  • Shipping coffee is more expensive than the coffee beans themselves because beans take up a lot of space, so volume drives up shipping costs
  • Some coffee trees take more than 10 years to mature
  • Coffee ripens unevenly, meaning that harvesting is a year-long process

All these factors were something I never considered when I bought a $4 coffee at Starbucks. As my coffee obsession grew, I began to question why coffee is consumed as a drink but not in any other form. Why are we so formulaic and precise with our measurements to output a liquid without seeing all the alternatives that coffee can offer? That was when the idea of the solid coffee bar was born.

COBA is the result of years of experimentation and education. The first version of COBA was pretty disgusting, but after learning more about the grinding, roasting, and sourcing processes we were able to create better and better versions of COBA. It took three years and 200+ iterations to finally create a coffee bar that everyone enjoyed. That final iteration is COBA, The Coffee Bar. (Source: Coba.coffee)

// Connect with Peter!
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/peterlee.coba/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/peter-h-s-lee-83152045/

// Check out COBA Coffee
Website: https://coba.coffee/

// Join the Dear Asian Americans Community on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/dearasianamericans

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