They have been talking about it since they were 15 years old. Now, about 15 years later, all it took was an evening stroll through some back alleys on the way to The Famous Neons Unplugged in Over-the-Rhine to stumble across the perfect spot for their new start-up on Woodward Street, Collective Espresso.
Owners Dave Hart and Dustin Miller had always dreamed of opening a coffee shop together. Lifelong friends and Ohio natives, the two spent a few years on separate journeys living in and being inspired by different states along the West Coast and working in multiple restaurants and cafes along the way.
Given their appreciation for food and Hart’s culinary school background at Oregon Culinary Institute, Hart and Miller toyed with the thought of opening a restaurant. However, they decided that rather than add another restaurant to the list of successful new eateries, they would instead fill a gap in the neighborhood by starting a unique coffee shop specializing in coffee in a way that no other coffeehouse does.
“We kind of just moved to Cincinnati with the plan that we would figure it out,” Hart explained nonchalantly as he reached for a cup and saucer behind the bar.
Cold rain fell outside during our interview, but coffee and conversation warmed the already cozy shop as I sat at the bar that they crafted out of siding from an old barn in Holmes County. Complementing the rustic bar, homemade chalkboards listed several caffeinated beverage options and a simple wood sign hung behind the bar, sketching the shop’s name in black and white paint.
Just like the simplicity of the shop’s design, Miller explained that it’s their goal to very simply “make great coffee taste great.”
“There are a lot of great natural things happening in this coffee,” Miller explained, joining Hart behind the bar.
“It’s our job as baristas to make it look and taste awesome. We want the coffee to speak for itself.”
The shop serves Deeper Roots Coffee — which is local — and Quills Coffee from Louisville, Ky. However, since they have a multiple roaster format, they are excited that they have the freedom to serve anything that piques their interest.
I watched in awe as the duo made the perfect cup of coffee through a process known as the Hario pour-over method. This procedure takes about two and a half minutes and is performed through several steps in a homemade set-up resembling a science lab experiment.
“Each cup of coffee is made-to-order,” Hart explained as he smelled the complex aroma from the coffee. “We don’t want to be so slow that it’s frustrating to get a cup of coffee here, but we like the idea of people being able to chill out for a few minutes and have a real coffee experience.”
The bar-like setup of the cafe encourages conversation and allows customers to be able to watch each cup being created into a work of art, a unique personal touch that many coffee shops do not offer.
Quickly becoming a regular after the cafe’s Dec. 8 opening, Over-the-Rhine resident Billy Inabnitt was finishing up his cortado and his coffee break from work as he reflected upon the unique experience that Collective Espresso offers compared to a chain coffeehouse such as Starbucks.
“I watched him pour the espresso and every little detail of his pour suggests something special,” Inabnitt said. “For example, how he cleaned the rim of the coffee cup to make it look perfect — you know you’re really getting a work of art.”
From admiring intricate patterns of rosettes atop your morning coffee to learning how to taste the various flavor notes as the temperature of the coffee changes, there is a lot to learn from Hart and Miller at Collective Espresso.
“If people are as dorky about coffee as we are, we also want to be a place where people can explore different brew methods and learn about different coffees,” Miller added.
Whether you are interested in learning about the world of coffee or just want to stop in for a quick pick-me-up, there are many ways to get a caffeine fix at Collective Espresso including espressos, macchiatos, cortados, cappuccinos, lattes and mochas. The average price for a drink is $2.50-$3.50.
Go: 201 Woodward St., Over-the-Rhine
Hours: 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday