How Mel Elias has built The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf to be a difference maker

Mel Elias, president and CEO, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf

Mel Elias, president and CEO, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf

Consumer Services


Mel Elias had a lot of worldly experience when he first got involved with The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. He had completed his military service in Singapore, graduated from the London School of Economics and practiced law in Singapore, before opening and operating a The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf franchise in his native Malaysia.

He saw a lot of potential in the coffee retail chain and helped organize a buyout from the founding owners. Elias then moved to Los Angeles and helped transform The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf from a family-run business to a structured enterprise.

When he became president and CEO in 2008, he battled through intense competition and limited external financing to extend the company’s brand across the U.S. and around the world in multiple channels and formats.

One thing that makes the company unique is the fact that it buys directly from coffee farms and tea estates, thus knowing where every bean and leaf comes from. Elias buys only the top 1 percent grade available in the world, ensuring quality in every cup.

He also was able to see the growth of at-home coffee consumption and develop the company’s own single-serve beverage system. The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf conceived, created and implemented its own system in 10 months, including national distribution in more than 4,000 locations as well as a 10-country launch.

The innovation was achieved through third-party strategic alliances and employee engagement initiatives. It did not include any additional shareholder investments.

Through all the success that The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf has had, the company also has been able to make a big difference in philanthropic causes. Elias wants employees to understand that they have a higher purpose than just making a profit; their goal should be to have a successful company that uses its success to make a positive difference in the world.

How to reach: The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf,