Updated: April 11, 2018
A minor health scare and the resulting consultation with some smart medical dudes convinced me to go on a gluten-free diet a year or so ago. Giving up bread wasn’t so bad, giving up pasta a little harder, and then there was burgers and pizzas and pastries and fried chicken and eating out without asking the waiter a million questions… But I could deal with all that.
The one thing that really bothered me, above all that, was beer. And particularly Guinness. That smooth, velvety stout that went down so easily you’d be on your 6th pint before you even realized you were having a drink!
So when I heard of this rad idea of cold coffee that fizzes like Guinness I was sold. Nitro Cold Brew, or just Nitro for short, has exploded in the last year or two and I’ve been itching to learn about it and try it. Not least because of my love for iced or cold brew coffee. (Quick tip: get on the cold brew train as soon as you can, it’s so refreshing to pull one out of your fridge on a hot summer’s day!)
What is Nitro Cold Brew?
So… Nitro Cold Brew – or just Nitro Coffee – is a type of cold brew coffee. Cold brew is the third wave of coffee’s pet darling right now, with every man with a dog and a coffee shop offering their latest iced-honey-cinnamon concoction. Here’s my home cold brew coffee maker, the popular Toddy T2N, which I totally love.
To save you the trouble of having to look at another page on my website, I’ll give a brief overview of cold brew. The process involves throwing coarsely ground coffee and water into a big tub and letting it steep at room temperature (or in a refrigerator) for 12-24 hours. The slow process softens harsher flavors so it can be a great option for cheaper coffee beans but it can also mute the better flavors in the coffee. It is also, anecdotally at least, a good choice for those who deal with stomach acid issues with coffee .
So what’s Nitro cold brew?
Well you know how Guinness is made with a tap that infuses nitrogen into the drink to create that trademark velvety smoothness? Nitro cold brew is the same.
Now I’d love to find some hip little coffee shop that’s offering some nitro on tap, but the only thing near me is a mega-big Starbuck’s. That’s ok though as I’ve heard that their nitro is pretty damn good.
Also, I’ve been twice before.
Buuuuuut I didn’t take photos and I hardly need any convincing to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon drinking coffee somewhere.
My experience of buying Nitro Coffee at Starbucks
Oh look at this… The Cold Brew coffee comes out of that tap where it is infused with Nitrogen. My appetite is already whetted.
They were nice enough to give me a sampler in this little paper cup first.
See how in the next gif the coffee is falling in a cascade, kinda like a waterfall. The nitrogen bubbles are rising to the top.
This is what it looks like at the end. pretty similar to a glass of cold brew but with a thick head and a creamy texture. I couldn’t help myself having some before it settled!
Here’s a closeup!
I’ve had Nitro 3 times now which makes me kind-of-an-expert-except-not-really-at-all. You might have noticed that the photos above were all taken with an iphone 7, an unsteady hand and complete lack of composition. Well, they were all taken by me.
That said, my thoughts – unedited, just copied from what I jotted down into my phone – are…
– It looks gorgeous and very much like Guinness.
– Creamy, very creamy.
– Ok it really tastes like Guinness. It’s obviously coffee but the texture is almost exactly like Guinness.
– Strong. Tastes caffeinated. I did go for the larger option too, of course.
– It’s unsweetened but does have a nice ‘dessert’ like feel. It tastes like a treat.
– It’s also strange how there’s no milk but it feels like there could be. It’s actually got hardly any calories in too, which is nice.
– Still can’t get over how much it tastes like Guinness.
– Mmmmm it’s nice. Like really, really nice.
– It’s similar to cold brew in that it’s hard to distinguish any acrid, bitter or astringent flavors but at the same time the more desired flavors don’t pop.
– Summary? Really nice. Wish I had a nitrogen tap in my kitchen now.
NOTE: The only place near me that does it is SB’s so maybe I’ll keep an eye out and update this section when I’ve actually tried it somewhere else.
– Nitro coffee is everywhere! Don’t believe me? Maybe a quick look at the deluge of posts – 60,000+ when I checked – with #nitrocoldbrew on Insta will change your mind…
– It’s super high in caffeine. The Starbuck’s website lists it as 280mg for a Grande (i.e. medium) and they won’t even sell you the largest size because it’s so caffeinated!
– Now I’m going to give props to Starbuck’s here. I’m not a big fan, and have written a little bit (ok a 3000-word treatise) on the issues of the place, however I can safely say… Nitro Cold Brew Starbucks = badass coffee drink.
– If you’ve not heard of Nitro until recently, there’s a pretty good reason: it didn’t exist until a few years ago. Some wise scholars (perhaps the wrong term) put the date of creation at 2011 or even just 2015.
– Basically zero in calories. This is a treat that tastes like it has 100s of calories but only has 5. Seriously, that’s not even worth adding to your MyFitnessPal.
– There’s a good reason that Guinness and Nitro are spoken about in the same breath – they use the exact same process. Whereas lager beers are typically infused with carbon dioxide to give them a light fizz, Nitro and Guinness are infused with nitrogen instead. Nitrogen is odorless and colorless, it only provides the bubbles and the texture (or the fizz and the cream) Nitrogen and carbon dioxide are both gases but the bubbles of nitrogen are much smaller so they dissolve into the liquid much slower. That leaves a creamy texture with a thick mouthfeel. In fact, Nitro is not typically served with ice to preserve that texture!
– Tough to make at home. You need a keg and some nitrogen and well I’m probably not the right person to look to for advice on getting this setup. Don’t fret though, the internet is out there.
– My advice? Get yourself into some cold brew coffee without the nitro… here’s where to start.