For many Canadians, the thought of coffee might bring about thoughts of double-doubles from global chain companies like Tim Hortons or Starbucks to wake up in the morning or survive an all-nighter. However, to coffee connoisseurs, these brands only scratch the surface of what coffee is all about.
Every week, famous latte artist Brian Leonard, known as Barista Brian online, leads his “Coffee Connoisseur Tour” through five different cafes in the heart of downtown Fredericton.
“Listen, do your thing. There’s no wrong way to drink coffee. I just have my opinions on it,” he said.
With an impressive 31K followers on Instagram, Leonard has a feed full of satisfying latte art featuring recognizable figures like the Mona Lisa, Nicole Kidman and Beyoncé in a mug. But to Leonard, good coffee goes beyond aesthetics and taste.
Good coffee starts at the farm, according to the barista, and continues when it gets to the roasters and finally, how it is brewed. This is why you will not see Leonard stopping at large coffee industry spots that sell “commodified coffee” on his tour.
“To let people become a coffee connoisseur is to give people the skill to know they’re drinking good coffee and know why they’re drinking coffee.”
Instead, Leonard highlights the work of small coffee shops around the city that are often more environmentally friendly, community-based and ultimately serve better coffee.
As a self-described cafe-rat, Leonard has lived in Hollywood, attended events for the Oscars and the Emmys and created latte art for hundreds of Oscar winners, three Nobel Laureates and two former U.S. vice presidents. But his love for coffee brewed here in Canada.
“I ended up in Toronto, just filled with creative endeavours. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, and I ended up behind an espresso machine and that kind of took off for me,” he said.
His coffee skills are not only froth with no substance. Leonard has been praised by people like Meryl Streep, who even called him a “genius.”
“Meryl Streep was such a thrill … to meet her because she feels like a unicorn, not even a real person,” he said. “That was pretty nuts.”
While his latte art has been seen by fans and celebrities across the globe, Leonard is at heart a Fredericton local. After living the Hollywood life, Leonard decided to move back home around 2020 to find some normalcy and has been here ever since.
“I’m very happy to be here and have this opportunity to show off Fredericton’s coffee scene.”
The last stop on Leonard’s tour is the Daily Espresso. Hidden inside the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, the cafe co-owner Andrés Fernando Hernández Senegal takes pride in offering a personalized experience as a small business.
“What we are giving here is more than serving coffee, we are giving service to people,” said Hernández. “They are sitting for a long time, they really like staying here, and we try to create that environment for people.”
Hernández moved to Canada from Colombia in 2019 to chase the “Canadian dream”. When he first immigrated, he worked at Tim Hortons, but now he co-owns his own coffee shop. He said that unlike the fast-paced Tim Hortons, his goals for Daily Espresso are different.
“We want people to come here, to stay here and be part of us.”
In Colombia, Hernández remembers people being introduced to the coffee world even before they hit double digits. But for him, he started drinking it later on, “when [he] started getting some worries about life.” Nevertheless, his coffee drinking has helped him understand the vast flavours coffee has to offer.
“We are trying to teach people about all the different flavours [of] coffee,” he said. “But many people here don’t go too much often to other places where you can find many different things that you can try.”
Expanding the minds of Canadian coffee drinkers is a goal Hernández and Leonard share, which is why he is happy to have the world-renowned barista stop by during his tours.
“When he starts drawing, that’s the best part because people change from, ‘I [am] interested in this,’ to, ‘I [am] really amused of what you’re doing with the coffee.’”
Hernández recalls the reactions the attendees have to Leonard’s on-the-spot latte art. Leonard starts by having a conversation with the person, all the while he is creating a latte masterpiece to give them at the end.
“It’s something totally different. Something totally new and Brian put all those emotions in it. And you can see people’s faces really happy,” said Hernández.
Although Leonard’s latte art inspires smiles for those who can see it, he is just happy that the coffee community in Fredericton is blooming.
“We saw how craft beer exploded in New Brunswick and Fredericton and it’s happening the same way with coffee,” Leonard said. “It makes me hopeful that people will want to make better decisions about their coffee and seek good coffee and seek good experiences.”