If you’ve spent any time in Madison at all, you’ve probably noticed how quickly Colectivo is making waves in the coffee industry around town. With three locations (State Street, the Capitol Square, and Monroe Street), this Milwaukee-based coffee company has become a household name for many coffee-drinking Madisonians.
And with good reason.
Coffee quality/taste: 4/5
Colectivo coffee has a distinctive taste that might not appeal to everyone. In general, I find the flavor to be on the bitter end of the spectrum. Depending on the day and the mood I’m in, that can be either a good or a bad thing. Their mocha, in particular, lacks the cloying sweetness that many coffee shops infuse. (Colectivo never puts whipped cream on their mochas, opting instead for carefully crafted latte art.) Lattes and cappuccinos are similar: frothy and rich but a tad bitter. All the coffee I’ve tried has been well-prepared and of good quality. While not all of Colectivo’s blends are fair trade, a large percentage of them are. Also, a warning: the sizes at Colectivo are deceptive. A “Medium” at Colectivo is equivalent to a small at most other places (12oz), whereas a “Small” at Colectivo is REALLY small (8oz – the same size as a Starbucks “Short”).
Food quality/taste: 4.5/5
I generally have low expectations for coffee shop food, which is why I so greatly appreciate the quality of food served at Colectivo. For one thing, their selection is astounding. Options include a cold case with quiches, some pastries, and other refrigerated goodies, a room-temperature case with everything from pretzels to scones to cookies, an all-day breakfast menu, and a sizable lunch menu. One of my favorites is the Falafel Burger, one of several vegetarian options. The burger comes on a soft bun smeared in a creamy, if somewhat bland, hummus and piled with cucumber, lettuce and tomato. A cucumber mint sauce comes on the side. The burger is surprisingly spicy and well flavored. (I’ve taken half a point off for food because one time my falafel came partially frozen, which means they’re probably heating up frozen falafel in a microwave and plopping it on the burger. It’s tasty enough, though, that I don’t mind too much.) The bakery items are similarly yummy and taste fresh. The smoothies are really good, especially the Mango Peach Ginger (though my sister is partial to the Berry Booster) and I almost always order one if I’m not getting coffee.
Ambiance is the real reason to go to Colectivo, particularly the Monroe Street location. Much of the seating is in a repurposed garage with tons of windows in the (still working) garage doors, so the natural light is excellent. On warmer days, the garage doors are opened so the seating area essentially becomes outdoor seating with a roof. The layout is seemingly random, with a few soft chairs around a seldom-lit fireplace, several small tables, a couple of long communal tables, and some bar seating. There is another seating area behind the order counter with more bar seating, small tables, and a few booths. Quiet music is often playing, but not obtrusively. The decor is all that rustic industrial look we Millennials love so much. The building itself was built in the 1920’s and Colectivo did a really nice job preserving the historic feel while still making the interior very modern and stylish. Probably the biggest problem at Colectivo on Monroe Street is the volume of people there, which affects both seating and parking. There is a parking lot with a grand total of three (maybe four if you really try) parking spaces — otherwise, street parking is available throughout the neighborhoods just off Monroe. Sometimes street spots can be hard to find, but there’s usually something within a couple of blocks. Similarly, inside is often very crowded, but I’ve never not found a place to sit.
Service is definitely above average. There isn’t anything particularly remarkable about Colectivo’s service, either good or bad. The staff are always friendly and accommodating when taking orders, and I’ve chatted with several of them when the line isn’t too long. Depending on what I order and how busy it is, food can be slow to arrive. Colectivo gives out number tents, so they bring the food to your table when it’s ready. They’re also more than happy to make food to-go if you want to bring it with you. On several occasions, staff have offered to remove my dishes when I’m done eating, which is actually really nice because of an odd quirk Colectivo on Monroe has: the garbage can openings are too small. If I have anything bigger than a coffee cup or a wad of tissue paper to throw away, I have to work really hard to stuff it into the garbage can. It’s not a big deal, but it’s a problem I’ve never had before.
College-student friendliness: 3.5/5
Since Colectivo is close to campus and on many bus routes, it is a favorite hang-out for college students. Many tables have been covered in papers, laptops, and notecards when I’ve been there (including my own). There is free wi-fi, but the connection is often very slow due to the number of people on their computers. Mid to late afternoons are usually the best times to go, after the lunch rush but before most people leave work. Early mornings are some of the most crowded times, since many Monroe Street-area residents get their pre-work coffee and breakfast from Colectivo. Weekends are also busy, and it can be difficult to find a table. Outlets are relatively easy to locate, especially in the back seating area. Overall, seating availability, like parking availability, is hit-and-miss. Noise levels can be high depending on the number of people.
College-student friendliness: 3.5/5
2520 Monroe St., Madison, WI
Mon-Fri: 6:00am – 9pm
Sat: 6:30am – 9pm
Sun: 6:30am – 8pm
Up Next: Chocolaterian Cafe