I remember my first Nitro Cold Brew Coffee very well. It was at Ozone Coffee Roasters in London in June 2015. But what I remember even more vividly is my anticipation of this new coffee drink for me at the time.
I had heard and read a lot about it. But in Germany at that time, people would have given me a strange look if I had ordered a Nitro Cold Brew Coffee, or simply Nitro, in a coffee shop. Today, Nitro has become a staple in many specialty coffee shops. It has even made its way into mainstream coffee shops, thanks to its velvety-smooth texture, which most closely resembles a Guinness beer.
Read more about what Nitro Cold Brew Coffee is and what you can do with it, in this Guide to Nitro Cold Brew Coffee. Yes, you can even make it at home and impress all your friends!
So, what does Guinness have to do with coffee? In this case, not much. Nitro Cold Brew does not contain beer, in case you were anticipating that.
Instead, the fine, bubbly texture of the drink, and its color, is due to a similar production process, which is reminiscent of a refreshing Guinness. Unlike conventional beers, Guinness is not carbonated with carbon dioxide but with nitrogen. This is what gives the Irish traditional beer its characteristic creamy taste and the stable foam that we all love.
What is Nitro Cold Brew Coffee?
Nitro Cold Brew Coffee basically is a cold brewed coffee, which means it’s coffee brewed with cold water (room temperature is fine) and left to steep for about 8 to 12 hours, sometimes even up to 24 hours. This is the basis for Nitro Cold Brew Coffee.
This cold-brewed coffee is then infused with nitrogen, a chemical element represented by N. It may sound like a lot of chemistry at play, but trust me, there are even more biochemical processes involved in brewing beer.
Nitro Cold Brew Coffee achieves its best results when it’s tapped using a draft system. This is when it gets its characteristic foam head.
Nitro Cold Brew Coffee contains nothing more than ground coffee, water, and nitrogen. No sugar, no milk, or other additives. So, it’s almost calorie-free for those of you who are health-conscious, but still looks fancy in your glass.
It’s worth mentioning that there are Nitro Cold Brew Coffees that are brewed as hot filter coffees before being chilled and infused with nitrogen.
Who Invented Nitro Cold Brew Coffee?
Yes, once more, the Americans are supposed to be responsible for this. More specifically, the Specialty Coffee pioneers at Stumptown in Portland, Oregon.
The coffee experts on the U.S. West Coast, led by Nate Armbrust, who is a food scientist and was responsible for cold brew drinks at Stumptown for a long time. He had been experimenting to make cold brew truly fizzy for quite a while. Initially, they tried using carbonation, but the result was far from drinkable, unlike with juices or teas.
After some more experimentation, he decided to use nitrogen, just like it is being used for making Guinness and added nitrogen to the cold brew in its gaseous state.
Since June 2013, you can taste this creamy result on tap at Stumptown stores in Portland. When I visited the first Stumptown store ever on Division Street in Portland in the summer of 2016, Nitro Cold Brew Coffee was, of course, my drink of choice. Served in a glass that could have passed as a beer glass, it was a welcome refreshment on a hot July day.
Other online sources tell about Mike McKim, owner of Cuvee Coffee Roasting, experimenting with cold brew coffee infused with nitrogen and served from a keg back in the summer of 2012. Later in 2015 he started selling Nitro Cold Brew Coffee in a can calling his creation Black and Blue.
How Does Nitro Cold Brew Coffee Taste?
Keep in mind that Nitro Cold Brew Coffee doesn’t contain any sugar, but thanks to the nitrogen, it’s very sweet and creamy in your glass while remaining refreshing.
Over the past eight years, I’ve tried various Nitro Cold Brew Coffees. Each time, the cold brew was prepared using different coffee beans, meaning coming from different origins. Just like this has an impact on regular filter coffee or cold brew, it also affects the taste of your Nitro Cold Brew Coffee. A coffee from Rwanda infused with nitrogen does taste significantly fruitier than a Brazilian coffee.
Coffee roasters Hoppenworth & Ploch from Frankfurt/Germany had a super fruity Nitro Cold Brew Coffee on their menu one summer, which I personally liked a lot. However, Julian, one of the owners, told me that it was too fruity – in other words, too sour – for their guests, so they switched to a much more chocolaty and palatable Brazilian coffee. So, not all Nitro Cold Brew Coffees are the same.
In fact, fruity and chocolaty notes are most prominently present in cold brew, which is why some coffee drinkers find cold brew sweeter compared to conventionally brewed coffee.
Where Can You Get Nitro Cold Brew?
Nowadays many specialty coffee shops are equipped with a draft system that offers Nitro Cold Brew Coffee on tap. If you can’t immediately spot the draft system, it’s often only visible through a tap that sticks out of the counter. Just ask your barista for Nitro Cold Brew Coffee, assuming it’s on the menu.
Some of these coffee shops have established their own Nitro Coffee brands, and even infuse their black or green teas with nitrogen. During my coffee journeys through Southeast Asia, I even had the chance to taste a Chai as Nitro Cold Brew in a coffee shop in Singapore.
For the resourceful coffee enthusiasts among you, you may have already discovered Nitro Cold Brew Coffee at some mainstream coffee shops. Yes, even Starbucks has jumped on the nitrogen bandwagon.
This spring they even came up with the Cinnamon Caramel Cream (really?!) Nitro Cold Brew Coffee. Who’s supposed to order something like that with that long of a name?!
I haven’t tried it, yet. Have you? Let me know, in the comments below.
You can think about Starbuck’s initiative however you want, but after all I’m convinced that it’s helping small coffee shops gain more attention in return, albeit in a somewhat reverse order. It’s like asking, “Who invented it first?”
In the states, you can find Nitro Cold Brew Coffee in RTD (ready to drink) cans, with dairy or oat milk added – called Draft Latte – and sometimes with seasonal flavors such as Pumpkin Spice.
Some companies even add Booze to it. Just recently Caribou Coffee partnered with Gray Duck Spirits and calls it Spiked Nitro Cold Brew.
Can You Make Nitro Cold Brew Coffee at Home?
Yes, you can! However, I don’t take responsibility for any nitrogen mishaps in your home… No, it’s not as explosive as that, of course, to make Nitro Cold Brew Coffee at home.
All you need is a professional whipped cream dispenser, also known as a cream siphon. Fill in the cold brew and then foam it up using the nitrogen cartridges available for this purpose, i.e., by shaking it well and then spraying the Nitro Cold Brew Coffee from the dispenser into a glass.
You don’t have that much time and don’t want to turn your kitchen into a chemistry lab? But you still want to enjoy real Nitro Cold Brew at home and are willing to invest a bit more in your home coffee gear?
Then you might wanna consider getting your own Nitro Cold Brew Coffee maker and draft system, which actually looks like a miniature keg for home use, such as the uKeg from GrowlerWerks*.
It’ll surely come in handy at your next summer barbecue, when you tap some Nitro Cold Brew Coffee for your friends. Read on for some inspiration for drinks – think Cocktails! ;-)
What Else Can You Do with Nitro Cold Brew Coffee?
Has any one of you ever tried a signature drink or coffee cocktail? Really delicious, right? Most of these coffee mixed drinks are based on espresso or sometimes cold brew. But what works with these caffeine kicks also works with Nitro Cold Brew Coffee!
During my coffee journey through Southeast Asia, I explored the coffee shops in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand and tried some surprisingly creative and highly photogenic aka instagrammable signature drinks.
The drink menus at some of these shops read like the cocktail menus of the best bars in your city! In Chiang Mai, they mix whatever ingredients they have on hand. They create coffee-mix concoctions with syrups, fruit juices, spices, and herbs, which include not only espresso and cold brew but also Nitro Cold Brew Coffee.
At Graph Cafe in the Old City in Chiang Mai for instance, which specializes in these signature drinks. They have some classics on the menu, but also plenty of seasonal specials. During my stay, I got to taste crazy and interesting combinations like Nitro Cold Brew Coffee with tomato juice and lemon – Graph No. 17 – or Nitro Cold Brew Coffee with rosewater – Lost Garden.
Resourceful syrup manufacturers in Southeast Asia, who sell their products to coffee shops and even advertise with natural instead of artificial flavors and additives, use this trend to create mixed drinks with Nitro Cold Brew Coffee and their syrups.
I’ve been visiting quite some coffee trade shows in the past, one of them during my time in Bali about 5 years ago. At the show, I tasted one of these Nitro Cold Brew mocktails at a food fair, but it was far too sweet for my taste. Southeast Asians love it sweet, I’ve been told.
Even the candidates of Barista Championships use nitrogen for making their signature drinks, which each participant has to create during their 15-minute performance. In this case, it’s not Nitro Cold Brew Coffee in the classic sense; the baristas use a so-called Nitro Flush or even liquid nitrogen to prepare their drinks. The food industry uses it, too, also when sealing coffee bags to remove oxygen from the packaging while ensuring the freshness of the packaged food and the coffee.
Thanks to the Nitro Flush being used by the Barista, the aromas of the ingredients are highlighted even more in the championship drinks.
Can you believe it?
Some people even dare to heat up Nitro Cold Brew Coffee! Why, though?!? You’re not gonna lose all the fluffy foam, but all the taste, too. Not gonna add any more comment to that… Do your own research, dear reader!
Find me at the bar
Did you find the information that you were hoping to get out of this Guide to Nitro Cold Brew Coffee? If you feel like anything’s missing, comment below!
Last but not least, I’m a coffee specialist – as you may have guessed – and a lover of coffee cocktails and mocktails. I love surprises. So, whenever I discover Nitro Cold Brew Coffee, whether just on its own or mixed in a drink, on the menu of a specialty coffee shop during one of my coffee trips, you’ll know where to find me: at the (Coffee) Bar!