Nitro cold brew has taken the coffee world by storm in the last few years.
Served on tap at many coffee shops, it’s another alternative to hot coffee in the summer months.
But how is it different from cold brew?
In this article, I’ll explain the nitro cold brew vs cold brew debate.
We’ll cover the basics of each drink and explain how they are different from one another.
Let’s dive in!
What is a Nitro Cold Brew?
Nitro cold brew is a cold brew infused with nitrogen gas.
Think of it this way: we already put gasses into many drinks. So, why not coffee?
Sodas get their carbonation from carbon dioxide. And there are even drinks that have been around a lot longer than nitro cold brew that uses nitrogen.
The most popular example is beer. Think of Guinness. Guinness uses nitrogen to achieve its classic look, taste, and texture.
Actually, there are a ton of cark beers that are brewed with coffee.
We stole that idea and created a nitrogen infused coffee.
In a nutshell, nitro cold brew starts with a shop’s regular cold brew coffee. Then nitrogen gas is infused into the cold brew. That happens through a double keg system.
Finally, the infused cold brew is run up through a tap to the barista. The barista pours nitro cold brew from the tap in the same way a bartender pours beer.
Nitro cold brew looks like a dark beer. It separates into dark and light parts, and the light, foamy part of the brew rises to the top. The end result is a drink that has a foamy head and dark body.
Generally, nitro cold brew is only available on tap at coffee shops. But if you’re really into the idea you can make nitro cold brew at home with a whipped cream dispenser and nitrogen cartridge.
What is a Cold Brew?
Think of cold brew as the iced tea equivalent. A chilled version of an already tasty drink.
Cold brew is simpler than nitro cold brew. That’s because there are fewer steps involved in its creation. And also because cold brew isn’t infused with nitrogen.
Cold brew is exactly what it sounds like: coffee that was brewed cold instead of hot.
There are many ways to make cold brew, but the idea is always the same. Cold brewing starts with ground coffee beans, then add cold water.
Let the coffee and cold water steep in a refrigerator for 12-18 hours. Then strain the grounds from the coffee and serve.
The result is a coffee that is punchy, cold, and perfect for summer coffee drinks.
Cold brew has less acidity and a smoother taste than regular coffee. That’s because cold water doesn’t bring out the same reaction in coffee as hot water.
Instead, cold water pulls out the subtle tastes of coffee and leaves the acidity alone. What’s more, is that cold water doesn’t bring out the bitter taste of hot brewed coffee.
So, you are left with a cold coffee that is smooth, tasty, and ready for milk, cream, sugar, or anything else you want to add.
Nitro Cold Brew vs Cold Brew: Differences Explained
While nitro cold brew and cold brew have the same base, they are actually very different.
These two drinks are not interchangeable and shouldn’t be confused with one another.
In this section, let’s go deeper into the differences between them and explore what makes each one unique.
Okay, so there are really only three ingredients for these drinks.
Cold brew actually only uses two ingredients: ground coffee and water.
Nitro cold brew uses coffee and water but adds nitrogen.
You might be wondering if only adding one ingredient changes that much between cold brew and nitro cold brew.
The answer is yes, very much so.
Think of it as grape soda and grape juice. A glass of grape juice is delicious, cold, and refreshing on its own.
But then add carbon dioxide. This gives the carbonation of the soda. The grape juice is now a grape soda. They taste very different from one another despite having the same base ingredients.
In this analogy, cold brew is the grape juice and nitro cold brew is the grape soda.
As with the ingredients, the brewing method is very similar until the nitrogen is infused.
You have to start with a cold brew. This is done by letting ground coffee sit in water for 12-18 hours.
Generally, the ground coffee to make cold brew is much coarser than when brewing hot coffee. That’s because cold brew takes a long time to steep.
If the coffee is ground too fine, you’ll start to get those bitter and acidic flavors. That’s not ideal.
Grind too fine and the cold brew will taste watery and weak. Also not ideal.
But once you have a nice and balanced cold brew, you can be done. That’s a great cold brew ready to serve and enjoy.
Or, you can then infuse the cold brew with nitrogen to create a nitro cold brew.
As I mentioned earlier, shops generally use a two-keg system when making nitro cold brews. The first keg is filled with the shop’s regular cold brew. The second is filled with nitrogen gas.
The nitrogen gas is hooked into the cold brew keg and allowed to displace all the oxygen left over. Then the nitrogen-infused cold brew is run through a hose to a tap at the barista’s work station and served to you.
Flavor & Texture
As I mentioned above, cold brew is made with cold water. That means that not as many of the bitter or acidic flavors get into your cup.
A cold brew will taste slightly sweeter, less acidic, and milder than hot coffee.
That said, cold brew has its own punch. Using a coffee that has more of a citrusy taste will give you a cold brew that kind of tastes like pink lemonade.
Specialty coffee shops like to play around with which coffees they use for their cold brews. It can be fun to ask your barista which coffee they use and why they chose that one for their cold brew.
Nitro coffee tastes very different from cold brew. That’s all due to the nitrogen.
You will find that all the properties of cold brew are still in your nitro cold brew. But add to those tastes a creamy and fuller texture and a smoother taste.
The nitrogen also gives the cold brew a little more sweetness than a standard cold brew.
Nitro cold brew coffee and cold brew are actually served in similar ways. Shops tend to use clear glasses to serve both drinks as a way of showing off the drink’s appearance.
Nitro cold brew separates when poured. The light part of the nitro cold brew cascades into the cup before rising to the top to give a foamy head.
Standard cold brew is poured over ice and can look darker in some spots before it is stirred with a spoon.
The big difference between these two drinks when serving is the addition of ice.
Standard cold brew is almost always served over ice to keep the coffee chilled.
Nitro cold brew should never be served with ice. For the same reason that you would get laughed at if you asked for a beer over ice.
It waters down the taste and leaves you with a poor taste.
Let’s answer a few direct questions left over about these two drinks.
Is nitro cold brew stronger than a regular cold brew?
Kind of. That is usually because nitro cold brew is served without ice, meaning you actually get more coffee than when ordering a standard cold brew.
Why does Starbucks nitro have more caffeine than a cold brew?
Nitro cold brew has more caffeine than regular cold brew. Starbucks nitro cold brew has a higher ratio of coffee to water. So you end up with more caffeine content in nitro cold brew than cold brew.
Why don’t you put ice in a nitro cold brew?
Adding ice to nitro cold brew is like adding ice cubes to beer. You end up with a watery, flat-tasting drink that is much less enjoyable.
There you go, all the differences between nitro cold brew and cold brew.
Cold brew on its own is coffee that was brewed with cold water instead of hot water. Nitro cold brew is that same cold brew infused with nitrogen gas.
The result is a smooth, creamy, and sweet cold brew served on tap at many coffee shops.
Cold brew is a staple in almost every coffee shop and is very popular in the hot months of the year.
Want to perfect your cold brew recipe? Check out our article about cold brew espresso!
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