Beneath Toronto’s bustling downtown in the subsurface, maze-like PATH system is a new specialty cafe challenging the convenience coffee and Tim Horton’s status quo that dominates the city. Directly below the Sheraton Centre Hotel, M Square is the first cafe by Maribel and Mario Morataya, avid coffee lovers—Mario’s family owns coffee farms in El Salvador—who saw an opportunity to bring a higher quality cafe to the area. The shop stands out amidst the usual chain-store mall fare—with the sole good-coffee-exception of a stealth Sam James Coffee Bar in the PATH at St. Andrew subway.
M Square opened this October in a former jewelry store, and the Moratayas decked the new cafe out with all sorts of coffee gadgetry—two Kees van der Westen Spirits and three Nuova Simonelli Mythos grinders are scattered about the store, along with a Bunn Trifecta brewer. All the geekery is thanks in part to manager Justin Carriere (formerly of Toronto’s Lit Espresso Bar) and assistant manager Timothy Houghton (also formerly of Lit and former head roaster at Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters).
Venturing underground, you’re rewarded with a modern cafe space with a touch of Japanese influence. The logo and the handwritten signage remind me somewhat of a quirky Canadian sushi place with a twist. While Maribel and Mario Morataya have entrusted Carriere and Houghton with the coffee bar, Ms. Morataya herself designed the space. There’s ample space inside the cafe, presumably for the mid-morning coffee break rush, with a small amount of seating. It's may not be the kind of place you'd linger for a long period of time—there's no natural light, and you're in a mall—but the Moratayas have worked to make the most of the underground space.
I sat at the bar and chatted while I enjoyed an espresso of the Mbeguka, Kenya espresso from Bows & Arrows. It was served on a gorgeous tray—handmade for the cafe by a friend of the Moratayas—with a small glass of sparking water. The espresso was round-bodied and tasted of savoury tomato with bright herbal notes. The menu at M Square features two espressos: one for black drinks like espressos and Americanos, and one for white drinks like cappuccinos and lattes. The 4oz cortado was quite balanced and sweet with just a hint of pleasant spice coming through.
In addition to the espresso menu, M Square offers brewed coffee on a Fetco system which Mr. Houghton, who spearheads the brewing, calls his “pride and joy”, featuring a rotation of Phil & Sebastian and Bows & Arrows coffee. M Square serves a variety of teas but also imports Sticky Chai all the way from Australia, serving up a chai latte in a little pot with flair on one of their custom trays. M Square also features a small selection of carefully chosen baked goods and light fares, which they are hoping to expand, Mr. Houghton tells me.
While M Square may not be changing the specialty coffee playbook just yet, it's a welcome addition to the downtown core, taking great coffee made by knowledgeable baristas truly underground.
Elyse Bouvier is a Sprudge.com contributor based in Toronto. Read more Elyse Bouvier on Sprudge.