By now, you’ve probably heard of nitro coffee, the next step in the evolution of cold brew. This relatively new trend in the coffee world is velvety smooth with a rich texture and natural sweetness. It’s also great to look at, with a dense head of foam that cascades in ribbons down to the bottom of the glass.

What Exactly Is Nitro Coffee?

Nitro coffee is cold brew coffee that’s been infused with nitrogen gas. While this may sound like a molecular gastronomy experiment, infusing a cold beverage with nitrogen is nothing new. Beer drinkers are already familiar with nitro — Guinness stout’s signature velvety texture is the product of nitrogen gas.

This dense and delicate foaminess is distinct from the bolder, fizzy quality of many other beers. It’s also a great texture pairing with the rich, toasty flavors that both fans of cold brew and of Guinness enjoy.

In nitro coffee, cold brew is infused with pressurized nitrogen to give it body and texture. The nitro brew is usually served on tap to keep the effects of the pressurized nitrogen fresh. It makes a nice presentation by foaming in the glass. There are also some canned nitro coffees.

The pioneers of this technique, Cuvee Coffee of Austin and Stumptown Coffee of Portland, are among several coffee companies making nitro brew in cans. They use a widget — a capsule filled with nitrogen, just like Guinness uses.

The Difference Between Nitrogen Gas and Carbon Dioxide

Nitro coffee is not “fizzy” carbonated coffee. Nitrogen is a different gas and has a different effect. Carbonated beverages — like soft drinks — have a strong, even audible, fizziness. Nitrogen bubbles are smaller for a more suave, velvety, and dense feel, as opposed to the light airiness of carbonated beverages.

What Makes Nitro Cold Brew Coffee Different From Other Cold Coffee Drinks?

To examine this question, let’s consider the qualities of the popular cold coffee options out there.

Nitro vs. Iced Coffee

Glass of nitro coffee with creamer swirling through it

The classic among cold coffee drinks, this popular and refreshing cold coffee drink starts out as hot coffee. Coffee is brewed using a classic heat extraction method like drip coffee, pour-over, or French press. The coffee is then cooled and chilled before being served over ice.

Because iced coffee starts out as hot coffee, it has a similar flavor profile. This is because extraction methods that use heat bring out the bright acidity of coffee beans. This is a classic coffee taste that many coffee lovers adore.

Nitro vs. Iced Cappuccino and Iced Espresso

These are delicious, cold versions of the classic drinks. The flavor profiles of the espresso extraction method are intact.

Nitro vs. Cold Brew Coffee

Glass of coffee, jar of water, and cup of ice on a wooden board

Cold brew coffee is exactly what is sounds like — coffee that has been brewed cold. The coffee is slowly extracted in cool water over a period of many hours using a variety of methods like a CoffeeSock or a French press. It never comes into contact with hot water.

Since it’s the heat that extracts those notes of acidity from the coffee beans, those qualities never make it into a cup of cold brew. Instead, it has a different flavor profile characterized by smoothness. Coffee’s richer and deeper flavors like chocolate, nuts, and vanilla come out in the cold brewing process.

You can see this in how people drink their cold brew. Many people who don’t usually like black coffee find that they do like their cold brew black, no sweetener added. This is because milk and sugar balance the acidic and bitter notes in regular coffee. Since cold brew has less bitterness and less acidity to begin with, they like it just fine the way it is.

Because the cold brew process brings out different notes in the beans, you may find that you end up liking a different coffee for cold brew than you do for brewing hot coffee.

How Nitro Coffee Is Made

Nitro coffee starts out life as cold brew coffee. This means that it already has that smooth flavor profile that has earned cold brew such an enthusiastic following. Nitro brew is cold brew infused with nitrogen gas. Not only does this change the look of the coffee and give it that sensuous, velvety texture, but it also affects the taste.

And it affects the taste in a way that naturally plays up cold brew’s most popular qualities — an absence of bitterness and acidity with smoothness and richness that some register as notes of sweetness.

Many people feel that the nitrogen gas gives nitro brew a natural sweetness. In addition to the decidedly creamy texture, this makes a glass of nitro coffee as rich and satisfying as if it had cream and sugar added. It’s delicious on its own.

But some coffee shops are playing up that sweet flavor more and making already rich nitro coffee into dessert-like treats. New York’s Mighty Brew Bros makes a nitro float with ice cream, for example. Starbucks offers nitro cold brew with a head of sweet cream floating on top.

Both the texture and flavor of nitro coffee are characterized by a velvety smoothness, making for a harmonious and satisfying drink.

How Much Caffeine Is in Nitro Cold Brew?

Nitro cold brews can have a considerably higher caffeine content than other coffee drinks. Stumptown’s canned nitro cold brew has 30 mg of caffeine per ounce, and Starbucks’ nitro cold brew has 17.5 mg of caffeine per ounce. Compare this with, for example, Starbucks regular cold brew with 12.5 mg of caffeine per ounce.

To put this in perspective, Mayo Clinic recommends that most healthy adults not exceed 400 mg. of caffeine per day, so check the caffeine content of your favorite nitro brew. If you enjoy drinking coffee several times throughout the day, you might want to enjoy nitro brew as an occasional indulgence, not as one of your regular coffee drink choices.

Is Nitro Cold Brew a Healthier Choice?

We’ve already seen how this cold coffee is inherently creamy and has a natural sweetness. This makes for a naturally rich and sweet drink with no fat or added sweeteners. It also means that nitro cold brew is a satisfying zero-calorie, carbohydrate-free refreshment.

But does it benefit your health at all? One demonstrated benefit of coffee is that it can make your workout more effective. From enhancing performance and boosting metabolism to helping you power through a tough sequence, rebuild muscle, and manage muscle pain afterwards, coffee can make working out better and more enjoyable.

Nitro cold brew can serve as a fitness fuel that provides some advantages over energy drinks. Just make sure you’re not turning to your nitro coffee as a source of hydration. It’s a healthy substitute for energy drinks, but nothing is a healthy substitute for water.

… Just Beware of the Buzz

One potential health side effect of drinking nitro cold brew is that because it’s so drinkable, it’s easy to drink a lot of it quickly. A nitro brew may be the velvet hammer of coffees. As we see in the numbers above, that silky richness can pack a strong caffeine punch.

Can You Make Nitro Coffee at Home?

Whipped cream dispenser for nitro coffee

Opinions are divided on this. But some home coffee drinkers have had success putting cold brew through a whipped cream dispenser, which uses nitrous oxide (N2O) chargers. This is not the same as pure nitrogen gas, but many are happy with the results. The equipment investment is moderate, and a whipped cream dispenser has other uses, too, like whipping cream to top your cold brew.

Buy It Here

Nitro Whip dispenser

If you’re willing to make a more serious investment, there’s also a purpose-built device. The iSi 1790 01 Stainless Steel 1 Quart Nitro Whip uses pure nitrogen and can also be used for tea and cocktails. As with a whipped cream dispenser, extra chargers are available separately.

Buy It Here

Explore More Brazil Coffee Atlas Coffee Club 2019 Coffee Subscription

The advantage of making your own nitro cold brew at home is that you can start with your own cold brew. If you’re a cold brew fan, then you may have invested some time fine-tuning the proportions and brewing times, to say nothing of choosing the correct roast and searching for your favorite beans.

As with any coffee brewing style, your beans are the main ingredient and quality matters! If you’d like a world of coffee delivered fresh to your door on your schedule, try our coffee subscription. Each month features a different coffee country and a different single-origin, freshly roasted coffee (our beans are roasted within 24 hours of shipping), along with tasting notes, a postcard, and brewing tips. This could help you create a personalized nitro brew.

Nitro cold brew is a delicious treat to enjoy on tap at a coffee shop, but it can make quite a dent in your coffee drinking budget. You may find that your home nitro brew not only ends up being a more economical everyday solution, but can ultimately make for the most fun and satisfying nitro brew experience of all.

About The Author

An entrepreneur and musician, Michael quit his full-time job in the corporate world to assemble a band of fellow storytellers, travelers, and coffee-lovers as enthusiastic as himself to share the unique stories and coffee from around the world.