Former IT Director Works to Build a Coffee Empire in Charlotte

By LaShawn Hudson

Step inside COPPA Coffee and Tea, and you’re immediately transported into an eclectic and relaxing world.

The sounds of smooth jazz fill the coffeehouse, and the walls are painted with bold, vibrant greens and golds that proudly display the company’s coffee bean plant logo. The surrounding shelves and store cases are filled with a variety of coffee beans, teas and baked goods. COPPA is the only Black-owned coffee shop inside of Charlotte’s exclusive SouthPark mall.

Founder and CEO Jeff Tuning of COPPA.

Founder and CEO Jeff Tuning says COPPA was birthed in 2015 out of his love for caffe Americano, which he acquired while spending three years in Italy, working as an information technology director for the Whirlpool Corporation.

“COPPA is Italian for cup,” says Tuning, 60. “When my assignment in Italy ended, I returned to the United States, and I began looking around for a similar taste and I wasn’t finding it at various coffee shops.”

He says that search ultimately inspired him to shift gears from a 30-year career in IT to launch a coffee business from the garage of his home.

“I bought a tabletop coffee roaster, a grinder, a small espresso maker coffee machine, and I started to roast my own coffee,” he recalls. “Roasting my own coffee intrigued me to learn more about the science behind coffee, and I began to learn how to roast coffee beans at different profiles to extract different flavors from the coffee.”

After several months of trial and error, Tuning says he put out an alert to all of his business friends that he wanted to purchase his own coffee shop, and things just took off from there.

“I decided to put up a website, and I started selling some of the brands that I had created online.”

Tuning purchased COPPA’s first location in Huntersville. Shortly after, he partnered with Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) to open three other locations. After fine-tuning his partnership with CPCC and closing down two of the three shops, Tuning says the unexpected happened — he was presented with the opportunity to expand to SouthPark in January.

“SouthPark falls into the blessing category,” says Tuning. “They actually reached out to me. I received an email from one of the mall managers. They asked me if I would like to expand my business, and we worked out some favorable terms.”

Tuning says each COPPA location attracts a different type of customer because of their locations, but the quality of the coffee and the level of customer service is the same at each location.

SouthPark customers such as Beth Stewart say there are three other coffee shops in the mall, but COPPA’s superior product and customer service has inspired her and her coworkers to make a conscious effort to shop locally.

“The staff at COPPA are extremely personable,” says Stewart. “They really get to know their customers and on top of that, everything they do is hand-done.”

COPPA offers more than 20 coffee flavors and a variety of teas and smoothies, along with an assortment of fresh-baked goods and accessories. In addition to the three storefront locations, at Huntersville, CPCC (central campus) and SouthPark. COPPA also has an online store that allows customers to purchase gourmet coffee, coffee accessories and loose-leaf teas.

If online reviews are any indication, COPPA’S vanilla hazelnut infused blend, Panther Pride, is all the rage.

Tuning says when he’s not working 70 to 80 hours a week trying to build his coffee empire, he enjoys playing golf and traveling with his wife.

In the near future, he says wants to expand his team, start roasting his coffee in-house again and eventually branch out into franchising.

“I’m not really trying to be a Black coffee shop,” says Tuning. “I’m trying to be the best coffee shop. When you taste our drink, you should taste a difference.”