From MasterChef judge to coffee connoisseur, Gary Mehigan has joined forces with Veneziano Coffee Roasters to create a new range of blends that turn everyday coffee drinking into a celebrated occasion.
Some people have used COVID-19 restrictions as a time to perfect their sourdough skills or learn a new language. But for renowned chef, author, and TV presenter Gary Mehigan, it’s been a time to enhance his coffee knowledge.
“I’ve watched re-runs of Pete Licata’s 2013 World Barista Championship routine on YouTube, I’ve learned the value of weighing my ingredients for AeroPress – 30 grams coffee to 500 grams water – and I can now name six coffee varietals,” Gary says, and proves it.
Gary has been a long-time coffee drinker, starting his coffee journey in a family where coffee meant ‘instant’.
“My dad would take his flask of Nescafé Blend 43 – and a cheese sandwich – to work every day of his life,” Gary says.
Garry hasn’t wavered from family traditions entirely, but he has expanded his range. He has a little Gaggia at home, enjoys a good espresso, even a Nescafé at times, and worships his Rancilio Lucy espresso machine. He attributes his newfound coffee appreciation to his partnership with Veneziano Coffee Roasters.
Veneziano Managing Director Craig Dickson approached Gary about a collaboration years ago, but with Gary’s demanding MasterChef commitments, it left him little time to spare. When asked again at the beginning of COVID-19 restrictions, having moved on from his MasterChef duties, Gary said “yes”.
“I didn’t hesitate. The timing was perfect,” he says. “I get asked to do lots of things, and in my position, you have to be very careful what you put your name and your face to. Do I use the product at home? Do I love it? Would I recommend it? Well, when you’re talking about Veneziano I don’t even have to think about it or do the research. It’s a product I know well, a product I believe in, and it’s a brand I really love. And that’s what makes this a great collaboration.”
Gary’s relationship with Veneziano started more than 15 years ago when he operated Fenix restaurant in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond and served Veneziano’s Bella blend.
“I wanted to use a brand that offered a great price, was a bit more specialty, niche, and locally roasted, and that was Veneziano,” Gary says. “Our relationship goes back a long way. Veneziano has been my favourite coffee ever since.”
Veneziano had many COVID-19 brainstorming meetings on how they could get coffee into the hands of home coffee drinkers. One idea was Veneziano’s Pinnacle Series. The other, was a collaboration with Gary to develop a range of blends that would appeal to a wide demographic, without deviating too far from the great taste Veneziano customers have come to know and love.
“Veneziano is pitched at café owners and coffee aficionados, but we knew that partnering with Gary would give us access to a whole other marketplace and enable more people to experience what we do at Veneziano, and our love for coffee,” Craig says.
Veneziano gathered its ‘A team’, including Green Bean Buyer Jack Allisey and Research and Development Coffee Consultant Pete Licata, to curate the range with Gary. They sourced, selected, roasted, and cupped until they reached consensus on three blends that any customer would be proud to have at home.
The result is ‘Gary Mehigan Specialty Coffee’, roasted by Veneziano, and designed to turn everyday coffee moments into occasions worth savouring.
“I’ve been saying it for a long time, but as much as takeaway coffee has become part of our culture, and people enjoy the convenience of grab-and-go, we have lost a little bit of the ceremony attached to making coffee at home,” Gary says. “Most of the time we’re not paying attention to the coffee itself, which is quite an expensive product. Takeaway doesn’t do a lot for the pure enjoyment of coffee. I want to celebrate the ceremony of coffee making – either by walking into a café and staying there or making it at home myself.”
To do just that, Gary’s and Veneziano’s three blends are designed to appeal to a wide range of tastebuds.
The Dawn blend is a traditional darker roast with robust flavour, an intense coffee for the early riser that cuts through milk really well.
The Everyday blend is an all-rounder. It’s a smooth coffee that stands up well in milk but can also be enjoyed black.
And the Weekend, Gary’s personal favourite, is a fruit-driven blend with high acidity and sweetness. With dominant berry flavours, stone fruit and green apple acidity, Gary says this blend is a great weekend treat, or in his case, a daily one.
“The great thing about these blends is that you don’t need an expensive coffee machine to enjoy them. You can use an AeroPress, French press, even an old cafetière, which so many people are dusting off at the moment and enjoying,” Gary says.
“I’m not a coffee snob when it comes to what I want to drink two to three times a day, but I’m also open minded as to what is a very complex industry, how people consume coffee, and what people like and what they don’t. I’m very confident that what we’ve achieved is three premium yet accessible blends that encapsulate most coffee consumers out there.”
With more people buying retail coffee, a trend Gary predicts will continue, he says cafés will have to embrace a new way of interacting with their client base at home.
“COVID is not going away anytime soon, and it is making hospitality operators rethink how they’re going to engage customers going forward,” he says.
“For many, the situation has been disastrous, and for others, it’s really exciting. I’m talking to a lot of restaurateurs, café owners, and producers. For some, it’s a unique opportunity to pivot their business into something new. Specialty coffee has also changed enormously in the past four years, and now we’re seeing it go more mainstream. It’s a huge opportunity and it means new markets to explore.”
The other benefit, Craig adds, is the opportunity for more consumers to support Australian owned and produced products.
“Traceability and knowing where your produce come from, how it’s roasted and where, has never been more important as we navigate through COVID,” he says. “We take the sourcing of our green beans very seriously, and we form close, long-term relationships with our farmers, to the point where some have become like family. Being able to identity the origin of our beans, the farm, and the farmer, is so important.”
Gary agrees, adding that identifying coffees by varietal, country, and state is the next step in people’s understanding and appreciation of coffee quality, much like is already done with wine.
“Chef Paul West once said to me: ‘if you don’t cook you don’t care,’ and I equate the same thing with coffee. If you don’t make your own coffee, you don’t always care. But if you take the time to immerse yourself in the coffee making ritual, you will inherently care more, know more about the supply chain, and enjoy the experience,” he says.
Gary has taken his paddock-to-plate passion even further, releasing new episodes of his PodcastOne series, A Plate To Call Home, and will launch a new show on Channel Seven later in the year called Plate of Origin, alongside long-time mates Manu Feildel and Matt Preston.
Gary is busier than ever but has found more time for the things he’s passionate about, including finishing his new cookbook and taking the time to savour every coffee moment.
“There’s always time to make a good cup of coffee, and in our current situation of restrictions and lockdowns, there’s no better time to celebrate the ceremony of coffee making,” he says.
Gary Mehigan Specialty Coffee is available online and can be ordered for home delivery via www.garymehiganspecialtycoffee.com.au.
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This article appears in the August 2020 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.