Have you had the pleasure of enjoying a cup of nitro cold-brew coffee? It has been around for a decade, but if you're pretty set in your preferences, you might not have given it a chance yet. It has been associated with hipsters and trendy foodie choices, but there's a reason why so many have cottoned to it and why you might start craving it once you give it a whirl.
What Is Nitro Coffee?
Nitro coffee is what happens when you cool cold-brew coffee to at least four degrees Celsius (about 40 degrees Fahrenheit) before infusing it with nitrogen gas. Cold-brew coffee is made with coffee concentrate produced by steeping coffee beans or grounds in cold water for 12 to 24 hours. This coffee version is preferable to many because it's smoother, less bitter, and less acidic at the same time. Infusing it with nitrogen makes it even better, turning it into a naturally sweet, creamy, and foamy drink without any of the usual additives.
Nitrogen infusion is done either through a pressure vessel like a beer keg or through a Nitrogenator, a device similar to a soda pop machine. Held under pressure for at least three bars (40 psi) to ensure consistent nitrogen saturation, Nitro coffee is typically dispensed from a stout tap. It presents beautifully, with foam rising to the top as the coffee itself settles downward. The frothy head contains a sweet and creamy taste thanks to the natural oils and sugars of the coffee adhering to the nitrogen bubbles. Some people have compared it to beer, but with a smooth coffee flavor and a viscous mouthfeel.
Nitro versus Regular Cold Brew
You can technically make nitro coffee with any type of coffee, but your best option is cold brew. This is why it's usually taken for granted that the term nitro coffee is interchangeable with nitro cold-brew coffee.
How is nitro coffee different from regular cold brew? Cold-brew coffee is already acknowledged to be better-tasting since it has a smoother yet richer flavor. In addition, it is less bitter and less acidic than regular coffee. So that's what you're already starting with when you make nitro coffee.
Nitro coffee, in comparison to regular cold brew, offers a more enhanced experience. To begin with, you have that sweet and smooth head of creamy foam. It looks cooler and tastes even better. Boasting a more involved preparation, nitro coffee is, as expected, also more expensive.
Nitro Coffee Rules
Certain nitro coffee enthusiasts observe strict rules about enjoying their brew. First, they take it cold. Second, they take it black. Third, they don't drink from a straw. Doing otherwise is considered sacrilege.
Nitro coffee comes out chilled, so there really wouldn't be any reason to add ice, but it's also not done for another vital reason. The addition of ice would disrupt the formation of the special foam for which nitro coffee is known. Apparently, the foam is integral to the enjoyment of nitro coffee. This also explains why straws are discouraged. Sipping nitro coffee from a straw bypasses the frothy goodness of the head.
As for taking it black, it could be reasoned that there shouldn't be any need for additives, taking into account nitro coffee's inherent sweetness and creaminess. But, of course, if you want your nitro coffee even sweeter and creamier, you're free to tweak it accordingly, although you may have to do it under the judging frown of nitro coffee purists.
A Hot Cup of Nitro Coffee
It seems that you can only avail yourself of nitro coffee from specialty shops with the right equipment for it. While having the right tools for making it is, in fact, necessary, you'll also find that many coffee shops and chains have already invested in them. As a matter of fact, there are home versions of these devices (mini-kegs and whipped cream dispensers) you can get for making your nitro coffee yourself. You can also buy the canned variety, which can be enjoyed at your convenience and may come in flavors like vanilla or caramel. Nitro coffee snobs may be dismayed at how seemingly pedestrian this exceptional coffee has become, but it remains a pricier option.
Something that purists may also shake their heads at is hot nitro coffee. It may have been unthinkable in the past, but there are coffee shops that now serve it, and why not? With the cold season upon us, it would be delightful to enjoy the goodness of a nitro cold brew at a cozier temperature.
Keeping this in mind, different establishments have found ways to produce hot nitro coffee without sacrificing any of the regular nitro coffee's qualities. For instance, Bona Fide Nitro Coffee & Tea serves both hot and cold nitro coffee from the keg, following the Craft Draft Process that its founder innovated. On the other hand, Nitro Taps delicately infuses their cold-brew coffee with nitrogen and then runs it through a hot draft machine.
If you have invested in a home nitro coffee setup, you can heat up your cold brew (the right way to do it is in the other blog post) and pour it into your mini-keg or whipped cream dispenser. Meanwhile, there are coffee shops that urge their customers to heat up their nitro coffee if they want it hot. Nitro Joe's (a popular coffee in Kansas), for one, tells you to use a steam wand or a microwave. Commonwealth Joe Coffee Roasters (Arlington, VA) also says that you can heat their nitro cold brew by popping it in the microwave for two minutes.
Effect of Heating Nitro Cold-Brew Coffee
Based on what different coffee lovers and companies say, the main effect of heating nitro cold-brew coffee is getting a hot drink with all the properties, save the temperature, of a cold nitro intact. Take note, however, that heating up nitrogenated coffee has a similar effect as heating up a carbonated drink like soda. Heat will cause the nitro coffee to lose nitrogenation faster and go flat more quickly.
If you want to experience the famed goodness of nitro coffee but prefer your caffeine fix hot, fret not. Hot nitro coffee exists and may be available at a coffee shop near you. If not, then you can get regular nitro coffee and heat it up yourself.