Eat + Drink

Changing the Game of Latte Art in Toronto with Calii Love’s Barista Brian

“Give me one second,” barista Brian Leonard said, excusing himself in the middle of our meeting in the Toronto coffee shop, Calii Love‘s cafe and bar.

I watched as the unassuming barista as he greeted customers waiting patiently to take a photo with him. Minutes earlier, he had sketched their faces on a latte, using just milk, foam, espresso, food coloring, a toothpick and mad skill.

“Do you mind taking this photo for us?” he asked me.

Mind? I did not. Enthused, definitely! I found myself a part of what was a very exciting moment for two women who had no idea they were fan-girling over freehand art by Brian Leonard. The latte artist has created latte art for big-time celebrities like John Legend, Elle Fanning, Peter Dinklage and Elizabeth Olsen.

toronto coffee shops
The latte artist at work.

Barista Brian is the name his thousands of followers on social media know him by. But he’s not your typical barista. He’s an artist with a very unique approach to latte art.

The Fredericton, New Brunswick native has spent the last two years building his social brand on Instagram and disrupting the coffee scene with his colorful sketches of animals, portraits, and landscapes — setting the bar pretty high in the world of latte art.

People are responding to it because I am putting it out there with love. I pinch myself every moment of every day. The power and impact this has had on my life, I never would've expected from coffee.

Brian Leonard

“People are responding to it because I am putting it out there with love. I pinch myself every moment of every day. The power and impact this has had on my life, I never would’ve expected from coffee,” say Brian.

With a background in opera and musical theater, Brian hoped to find a vehicle that allowed him to create art while eliciting a positive reaction from people. He found that vehicle in 2012 as he was recovering from an injury and spending most of his time at a local cafe, writing and sketching with a morning coffee.

toronto coffee shops
Racking up acclaim is becoming the norm for Toronto’s beloved barista.

He noticed free-pour latte art on social media and decided to take a stab at it himself by sketching his friends’ face with a toothpick. Since then he’s been featured in InTouch Weekly and morning shows across the country.

“Andy Warhol said, ‘Art is what you can get away with,’ and I feel like I’ve committed artistic murder. A lot of people make latte art but I am making it and I am shaking it,” he says. “Latte art is not permanent but I am so grateful that I get to share a special moment with people before we go our separate ways.”

Barista Brian calls the quick food and cafe bar, Calii Love, his home base. Outside of that you can follow him and his latte adventures on Instagram at (you guessed it) @baristabrian.

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Brigitte Truong is a digital influencer who has solidified herself as the go-to source in Toronto for the latest trends in lifestyle and entertainment as a forward thinking digital/media content creator, the host of The Watchlist, and a recognizable personality on red carpets, movie junkets and popular music festivals.