For Dustin Miller and Dave Hart, coffee offers far more than a jolt of caffeine in the morning. The longtime friends, owners of the newly opened Collective Espresso
in Over-the-Rhine, are not only self-proclaimed coffee nerds, they are coffee explorers. And they're excited about sharing their love of the perfect cup with customers in a space they've designed, quite literally, from the ground up.
The Ohio natives wanted to start a food-related business together, but they settled in Cincinnati somewhat by chance. Miller had fallen in love with the town that's both close to and far enough from his family in east-central Ohio; Hart had worked a couple of stints behind the coffee bar at the now-defunct St. Monica-St. George community gathering spot in between work in West Coast restaurants, coffee shops and culinary school studies.
As the relative newcomers watched the shifting entrepreneurial food scene in town, they decided against adding another restaurant to the mix. Instead, they settled on a niche that tapped into their love for coffee: a small specialty coffee bar where coffee, and only coffee, would be the focus, with small-batch roasts used in carefully constructed beverages.
That was August 2011, when the two set off to Toronto to tour the city's burgeoning coffee scene. Unlike Portland and Seattle, Toronto's coffee community was young and closer to what they hoped to help build in Cincinnati.
They stumbled upon Sam James Coffee Bar
, where Miller discovered the "perfect" cappucino. Like Quills
in Louisville, Ky., and Press
in Dayton, it was a destination coffee bar. Collective Espresso, though still only an idea, was beginning to take shape.
"We can do a small shop and hone our craft," Miller, 30, explains the thought process behind the business. "We’re just coffee. It’s a matter of focus."
All the duo needed was the right space, which they happened upon while walking to Neon's one night in fall 2011. The small storefront on Woodward Street had huge wooden doors and a great neighborhood location. They moved in soon after, and have been working to create Collective Espresso ever since.
"Our space is very firmly rooted in time and space," Miller says. "We are part of what is happening in Over-the-Rhine. Our location is so critical for the way we are set up."
With a barista bar at its center, Collective Espresso is filled with personal touches. "We built pretty much everything except for the stools," says Miller, who called upon his junior high woodworking class skills to put together the shop's signature piece--it's bar. Part reclaimed barn wood, part "ancient" walnut that was intentionally left pretty rough, the bar invites conversation and attention toward the coffee and coffee-maker.
He also built the cash register from walnut, and notes that espresso is served on a walnut plank alongside a glass of San Pelligrino.
"We put care into every single order," Miller says. A drip cup is an artistic ritual. "Coffee should be good in every aspect."
Collective Espresso's offerings are simple by design: they regularly serve roasts from Deeper Roots
in Mt. Healthy and Quills in Louisville, plus add a guest roaster every month from a specialty shop further afield. "Right now we are pouring Four Barrel
out of San Fransciso."
Expect to experience different brew methods as well, including the Hario pour-over
and French press
, each of which adds to the pure, multi-sensory coffee experience. Minimal serving sizes, a single milk option and helpful educational tips are all part of the process.
"We want to take people along our coffee journey," Miller says.
Though they've not yet been open to the public a full week, they've already served plenty of curious baristas from around town and had one customer from Louisville. The former Quills employee traveled to Cincinnati specifically to see, and sample, what Collective Espresso has to offer.
Elissa Yancey is managing editor of Soapbox and a big fan of Chemex coffee.
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