Meet regular cold brew’s sweeter, creamier comrade.

By Kelly Vaughan
September 13, 2019
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More and more coffee shops are touting nitro cold brew as the latest and greatest caffeinated beverage to hit the market. With its alluring foam finish that more closely resembles a freshly poured IPA than an iced coffee, nitro cold brew is as intriguing as it is confusing. You may find yourself ordering a glass while still wondering, what exactly is nitro cold brew? And how is nitro cold brew different than regular cold brew coffee? Is it worth the higher price tag? We got the buzz from two master cold brewers— Brent Wolczynski, Head Brewer of Cold Brew for Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Todd Carmichael, CEO and co-founder of La Colombe Coffee Roasters.

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What Is Nitro Cold Brew?

Nitro cold brew is made with nitrogen or nitrous oxide, which creates café-style foam and a creamy texture. “Think of it like a carbonated beverage, which has carbon dioxide (CO2) dissolved into a solution to create a fizzy effervescent mouthfeel, and nitro cold brew has nitrogen (N2) dissolved into a solution to create [that same] creamy mouthfeel. We do this by exposing the cold brew to nitrogen at extremely high pressures, forcing it into the actual beverage,” explains Wolczynski. The nitrogen creates microbubbles that last for a few minutes, whereas bubbles created by nitrous oxide last for up to 10 minutes (but the process of using nitrous oxide is even more challenging than using regular nitrogen, so it’s a far less popular method).

La Colombe uses nitrous oxide instead of nitrogen, which creates “a wonderful mouthfeel and longer duration of the foam, but it also renders a higher sense of sweetness in both the coffee and the milk without sugar,” says Carmichael.

Nitro Cold Brew vs. Cold Brew

The difference between nitro cold brew and regular cold brew is just one ingredient—nitrogen. Nitrogen changes the texture of the cold brew, but not the amount of caffeine or the flavor. If you wanted a more caffeinated cold brew, you would need to create a stronger concentrate using a higher volume of grounds. Regular cold brew can be made at home by slowly steeping coffee grounds in cold water for up to 24 hours, then mixing the concentrate with water or milk.

Why Is Nitro Cold Brew More Expensive?

Nitro cold brew is usually sold at a higher price than regular cold brew coffee because of the specialized equipment and time-consuming process needed to make it. “The added step of slowly exposing it to nitrogen at high pressures requires more time—and more nitrogen!” Wolczynski explains.

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What Does Nitro Cold Brew Taste Like?

Now that we know how it’s made, what does nitro cold brew taste like? “It has that same sweetness and quenching quality that regular cold brew has, but with an added element of creaminess and heavier body. It’s almost as though you’ve put a little bit of cream into your coffee,” explains Wolczynski. So despite the super scientific process, it’s just as good (if not better!) than a classic cup of Joe.

Can You Make Nitro Cold Brew at Home?

Because of the high level of complexity and specialized equipment, making nitro cold brew at home is recommended for home brewers. “You’re dealing with vessels under a lot of pressure and it could get dangerous. If you’re interested, you could visit your local homebrew store and they may be able to teach you and show you the equipment needed to be safe and effective,” adds Wolczynski.

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