Imagine the scene: you're in an unfamiliar town after a morning's meander along a local beach and your ravenous family are in the mood for food. It's a Saturday and cars are circling like sharks for parking spaces in the busy town centre. You eventually manage to drop anchor, providentially in front of a cafe you've never heard of but whose name sounds promising. Your family are hungry and not in the least bit interested in the "vibe" of a cafe, just whether it's open and serving food.
The Coffee Collective cafe, Wonthaggi
This was our first introduction to The Coffee Collective cafe four years ago and it has since become a firm favourite with our family. At first glance, it's not obvious that The Coffee Collective is
a cafe: from the outside it's unassuming and its name somewhat ambiguous. Step inside, however, and all is revealed. The first thing you notice is its groovy industrial-themed decor, stripped-back brick walls featuring prominently. I liked it from the moment I first set foot on its polished concrete floor, clocking the rebar mesh doors, high ceilings and retro pendant lights as we scanned the crowded interior for a free table.
The Coffee Collective cafe interior
What makes a cafe memorable and one you'd readily revisit? In the case of The Coffee Collective, the quality of its house coffee - easily the equal of its city cousins - was a major draw for us. There's a feel-good factor about the cafe too: one look at the blackboard behind the counter gives a good indication of its business ethos. Meat, dairy and greengrocery produce is sourced locally and is free-range or organic. Their coffee blends are direct trade - once you know the difference between fair trade and direct trade, the cafe's name and the great quality of the coffee it sells suddenly make sense.
The Coffee Collective cafe menu
Clearly, the owners of The Coffee Collective care about the quality of the food they're serving: food which, literally, comprises the raw ingredients of a great cafe experience. But, as we all know from bitter experience, quality food is an important element of a memorable meal but is by no means the only one. Menus matter, as does service, comfort.... and appearance is everything, from the time you're greeted with a welcoming smile right through to the presentation of your meal. James and Ella, who launched The Coffee Collective five years ago, are clearly delivering on all fronts for most of the time if their customer base is anything to go by.
James Archibald and Ella Godbold of The Coffee Collective
I say "most of the time", as whoever was in charge of arranging the background music last Saturday - when my OH and I dropped in for lunch - was clearly having trouble deciding on a suitable track, let alone genre...but if a cafe is going to mess up, you'd sooner it be with its music delivery and not your meal. My OH and I both ordered from the specials board and opted for the Corn-Fed Duck Breast with parsnip, quinoa, feta and watermelon ($16.00) and Roasted Pumpkin, Potato and Braised Leek Soup with toasted ciabatta ($11.50), respectively.
Corn-Fed Duck Breast with parsnip, quinoa, feta and watermelon
As usual, we had to have a taste of each other's meal and, as always, were not disappointed with either of our choices. The duck breast was perfect: pink in the middle, lean and tender. The soup was spicy and flavoursome with a satisfying consistency. We ordered coffees after our meals, perusing that day's newspapers provided by the cafe. No one bothered us and we felt at liberty to linger for as long as we wanted.
Pumpkin, Potato and Braised Leek Soup
It's worth mentioning that The Coffee Collective offers a discount on beverages to customers bringing their own cups. The use of recycled paper products in its cafe and turning its organic food waste and coffee grounds into compost are other measures the business is taking, in an effort to be more environmentally responsible and sustainable.
Latte and skinny flat white, made with Five Senses direct trade coffee, Hi Fidelity blend
The Coffee Collective is everything a decent cafe business should be: nurtured by owners with a passion for food, consideration for their customers and who care about their community and environment. Long live The Coffee Collective, and long may we continue to connect.