In the coffee world, it’s easy to roll your eyes at the latest new thing as a passing fad or passing hipster fascination. But, as in the case with the story of AeroPress, it’s often the unexpected fads that stay around for the long haul, and that sentiment couldn’t ring any truer than with the rise of Nitro Cold Brew.
You may have seen nitro cold brew here and there or at Alma Coffee’s pop-up cafe, but as of right now it’s relatively hard to come by for a few different reasons. This week’s blog will walk through the actual explanation for nitro cold brew’s scarcity, why it’s become so popular so quickly, and what *actually* turns cold brew coffee into nitro cold brew coffee.
Before we jump in, however, we just want to remind you that our “Frio” cold brew is the perfect way to make cold brew from home this Summer! Although it’s going to be hard to make that nitro cold brew from your home kitchen for reasons we’ll explain shortly, it’s still a delicious way to stay cool and caffeinated this Summer!
What exactly is Nitro Cold Brew?
First things first, let’s answer the question you probably clicked on this blog to get answered: what is “nitro” cold brew, and how is it any different than regular cold brew?
Personally, anytime I hear the word “nitro,” it’s hard to not think of that sweet blue flame that comes out of Vin Diesel’s BMW in Fast and Furious. Although the “nitro” in nitro cold brew is far from being related to that extremely specific movie reference, that doesn’t mean it’s any less cool.
When cold brew is slowly infused with nitrogen or nitrous oxide, the resulting chemical concoction creates a creamy, fizzy, all around aesthetically beautiful infusion. For a cold brew with chocolatey or creamy notes like Alma’s Frio Roast, the subtle creaminess of a cold brew infusion is more than just an upgrade to the drink's body—it complements the natural flavors as well.
Imagine the creamy consistency of a Guiness Stout poured from a fresh tap. Just like that beer, nitro cold brew infuses nitrogen into the liquid base of coffee to give it a creamy head and body. The mixture of nitrogen doesn’t actually add any cream or cream-like flavor to the coffee, but instead tricks your tastebuds into subduing naturally acidic properties that would normally be more noticeable.
All this being said, you might be wondering—why nitrogen? The alternative infusion technique, as you see often in the alcohol and soft drink world, would be CO2. However, when CO2 is dissolved into any liquid base a chemical reaction occurs and natural carbonic acids are created (from ScienceC).
In drinks loaded with sugar or alcoholic malts with a wheaty/barley base, this carbonic acid works well with the natural flavors at play to create a neutral balance.
But, with coffee, adding any extra acidic properties to the already naturally acidic base yields a very bitter and unpleasant experience. This is why you don’t see a lot of Coffee Lagers out there, but that’s a story for a different blog.
NITRO SOUNDS GREAT, BUT WHY IS IT SO HARD TO COME BY?
Like we mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, caffeineatics across the industry continue to exhibit a strong demand for nitro cold brew because it is still fairly new and formative. If that’s the case, why don’t we see this stuff in every big chain and local coffee shop you walk in to?
Short answer: Infusing nitrogen into coffee requires not-super-cheap equipment and time. Not every coffee operation has that, and it’s not a deal breaker by any means.
Long answer: For most smaller coffee shops like ours, cold brew is made in large single batches and served on a first come first serve basis, and adding nitrogen to the equation further complicates this process.
Additionally, cold brew can take 20+ hours to brew and requires scientifically precise water-to-coffee ratios to get right (see our Cold Brew Brew Guide to understand why). It’s not as simple as pressing a “brew” switch and walking away, and often requires months of R&D to perfect.
But that’s just cold brew—turning that liquid black gold into nitro cold brew requires even more time because the nitrogen must *slowly* be integrated into the cold brew to reach the ideal level of carbonation, and this can’t even begin to happen without some kind of nitrogen infusion setup.
Image courtesy of GrowlerWerks.com.
If you are curious about experimenting with nitrogen cold brew for yourself at home, we highly recommend checking out the uKeg Nitro Cold Brew Coffee Maker! It’s genuinely the best value for your money, and will keep nitro on tap and fresh for weeks!
Where can I find Nitro Cold Brew?
So, after reading all of that, you might be wondering where you can get your hands on some Nitro Cold Brew?
If you live close to Holly Springs, GA, we have two things you might be very interested in: our pop-up café (open M-F, 9am to 3pm) carries Nitro Cold Brew on tap AND Nitro Cascara Tea as well. That’s right: Nitro Cascara Tea!
If you don’t live near our roastery, that’s okay! There are many coffee shops that experiment with Nitro, and everyone has their own recipe/technique that makes it a unique experience no matter where you go.
Have you ever tried Nitro Cascara Tea though? Let us know in the comments what your favorite thing about Nitro is—we'd love to hear your thoughts! Also, would you be interested in seeing us sell nitro cold brew at-home kits? We’ve been looking to add new brewing equipment to the Alma lineup, so let us know in the comments!
Written by: Kelley Bostian