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Discover 9 of the best social enterprise cafes in Australia

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Coffee trends in Australia

Coffee.  People are mad about it.  All over the world, coffee has become a universal language.  It is more than just a word, more than just a drink.  It has become a phenomenon, a living culture.  No longer can you just walk into a cafe and ask for a coffee.  There are the old favourites of flat whites and cappuccinos matching it with the more progressive cafe latte, macchiato and piccolo.  Milk is added in varying amounts and will dictate the ultimate naming convention.  For many, adding milk is not at all acceptable, drinking long blacks and short blacks, or espressos straight up. 

Nowadays, there’s also the insurgence of cold coffee, with cold-drip, cold-press and even nitro coffee coming to the fore.  Milk has also become important to coffee drinkers, with most cafes now offering soy, oat and almond as a regular menu item.  Other nut milk like macadamia and cashew are starting to appear more often and camel’s milk is a brand new player in the market.

pastries in bologna

The rise of the coffee snob

To the uninitiated or non-coffee-drinker, it’s an alien world, one that can have you backing away from the barista as quickly as you could say “coffee beans”.

For someone like me, who tried coffee once and loathed it from the minute that bitter liquid touched my mouth, I still find the coffee culture fascinating.  I can’t even stand the smell of it, and yet I will happily watch others seek enjoyment from their “milk of the Gods”. 

I smile as I hear people say “I’ll die if I don’t get a coffee” and I find it fascinating seeing how people couldn’t possibly survive getting through their commute to work without a coffee in hand, or driving from their home to get a takeaway coffee from their favourite cafe, only to drive home and drink it.  It’s almost as if coffee is taking over the world.

Next time you are at a cafe or any place that sells coffee, listen to the language.  As a general rule, you won’t just hear, “Can I have a coffee please”.   “I’ll have an extra-hot, extra-wet cafe latte”  or what about a “long black with milk on the side” or a “piccolo in a large cup”.  Of course, it’s city dependent, and in the rural areas, this most likely won’t apply, but when it does, it’s like a whole new language.

coffee in les halles arcachon

It’s a great study of human behaviour and the changing role of coffee in our life.  In Australia, the coffee industry has been growing at an exponential rate, and the word coffee snob has become not only a word but a lifestyle.  Coffee lovers flock to the latest trendy bar, cafe or hole in the wall for their fix.  Once happy with a good blend, or beans roasted a particular way, their tastes are becoming more discerning about their favourite brew.

The younger generation is driving coffee innovation

Whilst instant coffee drinkers still account for around half of all coffee-drinking Australians, the growth in this market is declining year on year.  Instant coffee is preferred by the older generation, whilst the younger crowd are responsible for the fast growth rate of espresso coffee.  It is this generation that is driving the new trends and will continue to ensure that anyone in the coffee industry keeps a close eye on where their preferences are now and where and when they are likely to change.

espresso bologna

Today, coffee drinkers in Australia are being influenced by the source of the beans and whether they have been grown in an organic, ethical and sustainable way.  Food miles is also playing an increasing role.  This social outlook has also been responsible for the rise in what is collectively known as social enterprise cafes.

What is a social enterprise cafe?

Put simply, social enterprise cafes are not driven by the need to make a profit.  Whilst it is still a fundamental part of their business model, necessary to survive, they are not bonded to the usual hallmarks of commercial business.  Many social enterprise cafes have the environment and social needs at the centre of everything they do.  Their profits, after paying for the necessary business costs like rent, are usually reinvested into the business in a way to drive better social outcomes.

Social enterprise cafes are leading the way in helping to educate and provide job opportunities for disadvantaged people.  Through the various roles required in running a hospitality business, cafes can help those that are less fortunate than others to get a leg up.  Learning to become a barista or work in a cafe are all skills that can be taught to those who may not have had the advantage of a full education, or may have failed through other more traditional means to find work.

They are about bringing a sense of belonging, ownership and responsibility to those who work here, and awareness to those who visit here.  Social enterprise cafes will often also be at the forefront of using FairTrade coffee, banning reusable coffee cups and setting up incentives to “pay it forward” to others.

The social enterprise cafe model is a growing trend in Australia, responding to our increasing love of coffee and drinking it outside of the home. 

Following are nine of the best social enterprise examples in Australia, brought to you by some of Australia’s best coffee drinkers.  Be sure to check them all out and lend your support to these wonderful businesses.

Carpigiani Gelato University from the test kitchens

Social enterprise cafes in Australia

Parliament on King – Erskineville NSW 

by Paula Morgan: SydneyExpert.com

For the last five years, Ravi and Della Prasad have been providing hospitality training opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers at their cafe Parliament on King in Erskineville.  During that time they have trained over 300 staff on 6-week programs, paying them above award wages in the process.

The cafe’s name is a perfect fit.  A parliament is where people come to be represented and make decisions, and this is precisely what happens here.  Along with being an effective training ground, the owners have created a fantastic community resource with a variety of activities that bring the locals together.

On our last visit, a “mending” group were meeting at the table next to us ready to tackle their favourite items of clothing that needed a little TLC.  There are also regular “family” dinners where the best graduates become a chef for the night and share their favourite family recipe.  Life drawing, a deaf café and regular music nights also appear regularly on the calendar.

This tiny licenced cafe seats just 16 and offers something for everyone with vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options, fresh homemade food prepared with lots of love.  We feasted on avocado on toast, a generous serving with quality locally made bread for only $8, a freshly made Persian pistachio cake taunted us the entire time we were there!

The coffee, by local specialty roaster in nearby St Peters, The Little Marionette is good, very good.  The Little Marionette focuses on providing an ethically and environmentally sustainable product.  They also share the same philosophy in ensuring the communities that produce their coffee beans are supported as Parliament on King do for their own community.

If you find yourself in Sydney’s inner west pop in, the eclectic decor provides plenty of entertainment with books and vinyl that you are welcome to play.  The staff are also happy to have a chat.  This is a really welcoming spot that we found and didn’t want to leave.

Explore more of the area around Parliament on King and Sydney’s inner west.

The Joinery – Adelaide SA

by Toni Broome: 2 Aussie Travellers

While travelling in Adelaide recently we found The Joinery and it’s a real standout worth sharing. We loved the quality coffee and food options but were equally drawn to their social conscience. It’s located in the centre of the city adjacent to the bus depot.  You’ll likely be passing right by if you’re out exploring the city’s street art scene or headed into Chinatown and the Adelaide central markets.

The building was rundown and unused in 2014 before Conservation SA saw the potential.  The space brings together people and ideas with a common appreciation of nature, harmony and humanity.  There’s a lush outdoor space growing fruit and vegetables and where the chooks and bees call home. Community groups use the function space and there are frequent workshops for everything from cycle repair to sewing bees and organic gardening.  Inside you’ll find sustainability and environmental displays demonstrating the change we need to see in our world.

The cafe itself is relaxed and welcoming, the baristas are friendly, murals adorn the walls and plants flourish on the tables. In supporting their community they also run an active and transparent ‘pay it forward’ scheme where you can donate to provide a hot drink or meal for someone in need.

After visiting the cafe, why not check out all the things to do in Adelaide.

The-Joinery-Adelaide social enterprise cafes
Image by Toni Broome © Image ued with permission

Foster Place Cafe – Maffra Victoria

by Mark Wyld: Wyld Family Travel

The Foster Place Cafe is run by the George Gray Centre in Maffra.  The George Gray Centre has had a presence in the local community for 40 years and is a day placement centre for people with intellectual disabilities.  Through their brand Foster Place, they run a cafe and lawn mowing business that empowers people with a disability to gain skills that can lead to full-time employment in the community.

Support and assistance in learning the hospitality skills are provided by trained employment officers who encourage the employees to reach their potential.  All of this is achieved under guidelines set out by the disabilities services standards.  The cafe is open five days a week from 9 pm until 4 pm.  The community of Maffra and surrounds support the cafe and it’s very popular with mothers groups and people with small children.  The cafe has a small playground and grassy areas for the kids to play in.

The cafe serves a variety of hot and cold drinks and employs a trained barista to make sure your coffee is spot on.  Meals are served during the day with a rotating menu and weekly specials to tease your taste buds.  The George Gray Centre has recently opened another cafe in a neighbouring town. Working in the Cafe is a real achievement for the employees.

Related:  What to do in Maffra and the Gippsland area of Victoria.

maaffra coffee shop
Image with permission from Mark Wyld ©

New Farm Neighbourhood Centre – New Farm QLD

by Sandy Papas

The New Farm Community Centre is run by ‘Communify’, a community organisation serving Brisbane since 1978.  They run an open house in a converted Queenslander building with computers, kitchen, laundry and showers.  They also provide advice on housing and legal issues.

They also operate a Cart Community Coffee Initiative which offers a welcoming and inclusive place to have a cuppa in the open green space in front of the old house.  It also provides training opportunities for the disadvantaged wanting to become baristas and a place where people can stay connected and feel welcome.

People are encouraged to pay a little extra when they purchase their own coffee to help others who are not able to do so.  It is also possible to hire the meetings rooms and back garden for events.  The coffee cart is generously supported by Merlo Coffee who have their head office in the same suburb.

There’s plenty of cafes along these Brisbane walking routes too.

new farm neighbourhood centre
Image by Sandy Papas © Used with permission

STREAT – Melbourne Victoria

by Jean Cheney: Travelling Honeybird

STREAT is by far one of my favourite cafés in Melbourne. To start off with the coffee is delicious, the baked goods are a slice of heaven in your hand and the staff are simply delightful.  This is the magic mixture for a really successful café in Melbourne.  Now combine that with a good dash of social consciousness how can you possibly go wrong when ordering your daily latte? 

STREAT has seven locations across Melbourne, with my preferred location being Melbourne Central.  The location here is a small sanctuary in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Melbourne’s corporate crush.  Just above the train station and on your way out to the greater world, it’s an easy place to find. The staff are always polite and very efficient at getting that latte in your reusable cup and getting you to work on time.

For nearly 10 years, STREAT has invested more than 65,000 hours of training for young people experiencing homelessness and social disadvantage. By purchasing a coffee and cake from STREAT you can help offer disadvantaged youth (aged 16-25) with a supported pathway from the street to a sustainable livelihood.

Related: Thinking of heading to Tasmania?  Check out all the great things you can do in 24 hours in Launceston.

streat cafe social enterprise cafes
Image by Jean Cheney © Used with permission

Kinfolk – Melbourne Victoria

By LC Hunter: Birdgehls

Kinfolk in Melbourne city “Gives a Fork”, as their tagline suggests, operating as both a café and registered charity.   Serving up coffee and seasonal food, this social enterprise is run by volunteers, who assist with the maintenance of the café and work at least one shift a week.

This enables the café to donate 100% of its proceeds to chosen charities.  Examples include the “Asylum Seeker Resource Centre”, which provides aid to those seeking asylum in Australia and the “Cathy Freeman Foundation”, working to educate children in remote communities around the country.

On their menu, you will find meals (mostly breakfast) that are constructed from the available produce of their suppliers.  There is also the usual café fare of brownies, biscuits, muffins, coffee (small batch and speciality included) and tea.

You can find Kinfolk on Bourke Street, directly opposite major transport hub Southern Cross Station.  They have a second café in Carlton North, called “Sibling”, which operates using the same ethos.

Staying in Melbourne city?  Check out these places to stay in Melbourne.

COVID NOTE: The dining room at Kinfolk is currently closed but their online shop and catering part of the business is still operating.

Image by LC Hunter © Used with permission

Red Lime Shack – Port Adelaide SA

by Josie Kelsh: Josie Wanders

For a cafe with a conscience, Red Lime Shack is the place to go.  This cafe has a fantastic community feel about it and eclectic furniture with a comfy, welcoming atmosphere.  You will find all sorts of community information here and you can also swap a book from the extensive book swap shelves.  It is also a great venue for community meetings and small events.

The cuisine is vegan, using organic products, and they are often regarded as having the best coffee in the area.  I like to get a fruit smoothie and their delicious veggie burger previously voted the best in all of Adelaide.

There is one unusual item on the menu though, a Suspended Coffee.  Since the cafe opened, thousands of suspended coffees have been bought by the regular patrons.  These coffees are then given to those in our society who need a little more help. It’s a small gesture, but one that can brighten the day of those that need it.

Want to get more out of Port Adelaide.  Here are some great things to do in Port Adelaide.

Red Lime Shack social enterprise cafes
Image by Josie Kelsh © Used with permission

dal – Geelong VIC

by Audrey Chalmers: See Geelong

The coffee culture is well and truly entrenched in Geelong with a host of cafes to choose from in the city. Most people head to the cafes in Pakington Street for their morning cup of joe. But there’s one Geelong café that’s serving their coffee with a side of community-mindedness.

dal (dial-a-lunch) has been giving meaningful employment to adults with special needs for more than two decades. Frustrated by the lack of employment opportunities for school leavers with disabilities, dal’s founder created the café to provide employment for these disadvantaged young people. dal has since gone on to win the Australian Disability Enterprise Excellence Award and has become a registered provider with the NDIS.

But most of all dal is a great café serving scrumptious food and top-notch coffee.  They serve a wide variety of dishes including vegetarian and gluten-free options as well as a daily roast.  The thoughtful service is always given with a smile and a chat.  I especially love the huge floor to ceiling windows that are perfect for watching the passing parade with a coffee and sweet treat.

Salt Shop and Cafe – Redcliffe QLD

by Tracy McConnachie-Collins: Tracy’s Travels In Time

Located in Redcliffe on the Moreton Bay Peninsula is ‘The Salt Shop’, a social enterprise espresso bar and seller of hand-crafted gifts and pallet furniture.  The cafe is a wonderful place to relax with a flat white and a piece of cake whilst perusing the handmade gifts and furniture.  The atmosphere is cosy and welcoming with comfy chairs, cushions and unique furnishings all adding to the ambience.

The Salt Shop is a non- profit organisation which upskills unemployed people over a period of six months.  At the end of this time staff tell me that most of the people trained in the shop go on to find employment elsewhere.

The soaps and furniture for sale are all made by unemployed people and are produced at the back of the shop.  There are lots of wonderful items for sale so whether you are looking for a small gift or a larger item of furniture this is a great shop to visit.

The Salt Shop is a community enterprise which in the three years since it opened has transformed the lives of numerous people.  All profits made in the cafe and shop are also used to help kids in the local area.  Don’t miss the Salt Shop if you are in Redcliffe not only will you enjoy a great cup of coffee but you will also be supporting a vital enterprise.

salt cafe social enterprise cafes
Image by Tracy McConnachie Collins © Used with permission

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3 thoughts on “Discover 9 of the best social enterprise cafes in Australia”


    My favourite coffee shop in Brisbane is Lovewell on the top of Mt Gravatt. Lovely views and your cuppas and food go to help women from various challenging situations

  2. Such a growing movement. I love Good 2 Go in Hosier Lane amid all the street art – a social enterprise helping homeless and disadvantaged youth get job skills. And a fine op shop as well.

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