While a new bubble tea cafe in Berkeley is not newsworthy in itself, One Plus, which opened last June in downtown Berkeley, stands out from the crowd. Its focus on organic and thoughtfully sourced ingredients and its attention to detail in the making every item on its menu comes across whether you order a boba drink, latte or one of its signature Beijing-style jianbing, a popular breakfast street food originating from Northern China.
Owner Yezi Sha said One Plus had been in the works for three years. The former site of a print shop, the space was completely remodeled to become the cafe.
One Plus was originally going to open in March, right when the pandemic started in the Bay Area, but at the time, Sha said it was difficult to source the ingredients she needed, like organic milk. She held off on opening, however, “It got to the point where we had to open, because I was losing money every single day,” she said. So in June, she opened One Plus, serving takeout.
When customers are allowed to dine in again, One Plus, which can seat about 25 people, will be a fantastic place for peaceful solo visits or to gather with friends. The coffee and tea bar is one of its inviting features, allowing customers to watch the barista make their drinks. The high ceilings and warm-hued décor with pops of copper and blue (Sha said these colors reflect a traditional Chinese palette) give the cafe both a cozy, yet clean and modern feel. There is also outdoor seating, once that is allowed again.
Sha was very purposeful in creating the ambiance to reflect what she hopes will feel like a premium experience for guests, and mirror the quality and care she and her staff take to craft the beverages and food.
The ingredients at One Plus are all carefully sourced. Its teas — using loose leaf — are selected by Sha and imported from tea farms in Japan, Taiwan, India and China. (Coincidentally or not, “Yezi,” which is Sha’s Chinese name and which she pronounces similar to “Izzy,” translates to “leaf” in Chinese). One Plus’ coffee drinks are made with Ritual Coffee and the hot chocolate uses Dandelion chocolate — both high-quality brands from San Francisco. And while many boba shops use powdered milk, One Plus only uses organic whole milk and cream for its drinks. “Milk tea can be very healthy — it’s just milk and tea,” Sha said. For those who do not drink dairy, the shop also offers almond, soy and other milk alternatives.
For its fruit teas, such as the strawberry or raspberry matcha, One Plus mixes a blend of strong tea with a housemade fruit base. Boba drinks can be extremely sweet, but One Plus’ baseline sugar level is slightly lower than most other bubble tea shops. Like at many other boba shops, you can customize the amount of sugar in your drink.
The boba drinks start at $5 for a standard small tea drink, such as the traditional milk tea with organic whole milk. For an extra treat, One Plus offers teas with a “milk cap,” made by whipping together cream, milk, a little bit of salt, and some condensed milk. Sometimes called “milk cheese” or “milk foam,” the extra layer that sits at the top of the drink makes it a more decadent experience, and One Plus’ is the best I’ve had.
But what sets One Plus apart from all the other local boba shops is its jianbing. This savory crepe is topped with a layer of scrambled eggs; sprinkled with green onion, cilantro and sesame seeds; slathered with a salty black bean paste, chili sauce and sweet noodle sauce; and then wrapped around a thin, crispy layer of a cracker (usually made with fried dough; Sha bakes hers) and lettuce. Growing up in Beijing, Sha said she often ate jianbing for breakfast, and wanted to bring that experience to Berkeley.
The jianbing at One Plus is different than traditional versions you’ll find elsewhere. The crepe mix is typically made with regular flour and mung bean, but Sha wanted to make her batter healthier. One Plus offers three different batter mixes, each including different milled grains, seeds and legumes, such as millet, “forbidden” black rice, mung bean, flax seeds, and wheat flour. Many of these ingredients are milled in house, and one of the three batters, made with ground chickpeas, brown rice and quinoa, is gluten-free.
“We want to introduce people to understand the ingredients behind the food,” Sha said.
Jianbing are made to order, and start at $13.50 each.
In addition to being thoughtful about the ingredients she uses, Sha also strives to be eco-friendly when it comes to the wares she uses at One Plus. All the cups and straws are made with biodegradable materials and are compostable, and she strives for a zero-plastic environment.
Sha immigrated to the United States as a teenager, attended De Anza College, and later graduated from UC San Diego with a degree in electrical engineering. Along with operating the cafe, she also works at an agency that assists international transfer students. Because of her background, Sha said she is very passionate about bringing different cultures together and representing Chinese culture in a positive light.
One Plus is Sha’s first food business, though she worked several jobs during her college years at bubble tea shops, in the school’s cafeteria and other service industry jobs.
Opening during the pandemic has been difficult. While she does have regulars, Sha said sales have been pretty slow, as foot traffic is down with the university closed and downtown workers at home.
When business picks up, Sha plans to expand the offerings at One Plus over time. Currently, the shop sells Dandelion chocolate bars and single-origin coffee beans. Eventually, Sha hopes to sell imported Chinese teaware, made with a white porcelain known as dehua, which she sources from a factory in Fujian, China that has been making the white porcelain for more than 1,000 years.
Sha also aims to involve her husband, Cheng Sha, a composer, who is a barista at the cafe. She envisions, for example, having her husband compose an original song for signature drinks on her menu, where people can scan a bar code and listen to a song on an app.
Ultimately, Sha wants people to experience a quality drink or meal. “I want people to really taste the real thing, to experience how something is supposed to taste,” Sha said.
One Plus is open noon to 8 p.m., Wednesday through Monday; closed Tuesdays.