Walking down Spadina just past the Popeyes is One Hour Cafe. You’ve no doubt missed it dozens of times, disguised by street graffiti and wood that seems to hide in the shadows. For the adventurous few that inspect this nook, there’s a little tea shop offering a whole new experience in Chinatown.
A sense of comfort and familiarity upon opening the cafe's door will provoke one simple question, “Have I been here before?” The most eye catching feature will unarguably be the low wooden tables and bean bag chairs. Love it or hate it, you will not find bean bags in a cafe in Toronto, let alone 20 or more of them. The simple white walls, old textured tiles, and wooden floors blend modern urban features with historical foundations. A quick walk through the narrow front area will lead you to yet another surprise, an unexpected open space area offering a bit more privacy. It looks more like a library or a study hall rather than a tea shop. In the back there is actually a large book shelf with magazines and texts stacked on it.
Now the feeling of familiarity begins to make sense. A quick chat with One Hour Cafe owner Han Shao, an architect by profession, revealed the secret formula that created this homey atmosphere.
Han obtained his Master’s degree in Architecture during his time at the University of Toronto. Following a job lay-off from an architectural firm, Han paid a visit to his home town Kun Ming in China to design and build the house that his parents currently reside in. Sometimes when we encounter hardship, the way out lies in thinking of others rather than the obvious selfish route most take. Returning with a fresh mind and high spirits, Han began the design of a new business venture.
Dust blasted into the air as Han handmade low seated tables to meet the rare height requirement that he desired. Han explained that the lower tables and seating allow a person to feel more relaxed, so they have a better time. Higher tables are more formal, like traditional dinner tables. Adding coat hangers by each seating area provided convenience, but also a touch of home. Han admits to using bean bags out of convenience, but they give life and versatility to the space and have now become the signature of the cafe. Piece by piece, table by table, bean bag by bean bag, a relaxing atmosphere began to fall into place.
Although One Hour Cafe serves the typical bubble tea menu (taro, almond, etc.) with a worthy variety of jellies ranging from tapioca to grass, its signature teas will stimulate your taste buds on a different level. The must-try Banana Jasmine Tea, and the very unique Roselle Slush, topped with real rose petals, are made with fresh, quality ingredients.
The limited food menu is to be expected. After all, it’s a cafe, not a restaurant. But if you are a protein-lover like me, the fried chicken wings and braised beef noodle are excellent choices.
Complete with high speed Wi-Fi (we were able to download at 1Mb/s) and a very private and clean washroom facility, most customers end up staying for hours. Whether the cafe was geared towards attracting students or not, it is now a favorite hang-out spot of anyone cramming for a test.
After spending a large portion of my Friday night at One Hour Cafe, spread out on a bean bag with my stuff hung up on the nice coat hanger nearby, the harassing text messages began piling up. I found myself rushing to a Friday night party that I was supposed to attend much earlier. Did I just get duped? Maybe the name “One Hour Cafe” is some trick of reverse psychology.