Coffee fans in the know are tapping into a new trend that turns regular java into a frothy, creamy morning beverage—without milk and sugar.
Nitro coffee is a cold brew (coffee that is steeped, not heated) infused with odorless, flavorless nitrogen gas, kegged like beer and served on tap by local brew houses across the country. As baristas craft the perfect pour, the coffee cascades into the glass like Guinness beer, with a slight effervescence and foamy head.
“Nitrogen infused coffee is changing the way people think about coffee,” said Kevin Sinnott, a coffee expert and author of The Art & Craft of Coffee. “Instead of having a beer or soft drink with lunch, you can have this no carb beverage that still has a great mouth feel.”
Cuvee Coffee in Austin, Texas was one of the first companies to offer nitro brew in 2012.
“I think anyone that pioneers a product faces the problem of the unknown,” Mike McKim, CEO of Cuvee Coffee told Chew on This. “There just weren’t a lot of places to go and learn about cold coffee or nitrogen so I had to ask a lot of questions and experiment.”
But that experimentation paid off. Coffee houses in Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, and New York City have been installing taps over the past few years to satisfy a growing demand. Sinnott predicts that Starbucks will soon follow suit with their own version of on-tap coffee.
But averaging $5 a glass, nitro coffee is pretty pricey—not to mention that you can only get it in select places.
But now Cuvee is at the forefront of the next wave of nitro with their canned Black & Blue brew.Houston’s District Roasters has a bottled nitro brew and Stumptown Coffee Roasters from Portland, Ore. has followed suit with their own cans currently available in owned and operated coffee shops.
But is it really possible to capture that sleek effervescence and creamy mouth feel in a can? We decided to give it a go.
Both Stumptown and Cuvee use a widget—a nitrogen filled capsule similar to that used in canned Guinness beer—in their cans to replicate the infusion process.
Stumptown’s canned nitro coffee had the creamiest head, with the most dramatic presentation. The coffee gently froths and cascades in a glass for up to 15 minutes after the initial-- and very satisfying-- pop. But the taste itself is still pretty bitter.
“Definitely better than Starbucks but it's not as smooth as I expect nitro to be," said a Chew on This taster who loves coffee.
District’s bottled nitro brew has no cascade effect but the coffee itself, which is made from their signature house blend with beans from Papua New Guinea, Honduras, and Costa Rica, makes for one delicious iced cup. So if you’re really going for that creamy, slightly effervescent mouth feel, this probably isn't the nitro for you.
Cuvee Coffee’s Black & Blue—named for the color of the can and the dark liquid within—was the crowd favorite. It doesn’t froth up as much as Stumptown’s canned nitro but there’s just enough to give it a creamy, thicker feel that fans of the tapped version will enjoy. And from a taste standpoint, it's deliciously smooth. Cuvee’s canned nitro will soon be available at Whole Foods stores nationwide in November.
"I just like the texture. It's got a beer-like creaminess, it's pretty much as close to the tap experience as I've had," Sinnott said after tasting Cuvee's canned nitro.
Nitro coffee has also been rumored to contain a lot more caffeine than a traditional cup of joe. Some have theorized that the nitrogen speeds up absorption rates. But that quick hit of energy likely has to do more with the brewing process before nitrogen is added—and the way it's consumed.
"When we compare our hot coffee to our cold brew, it's about 30 percent more caffeinated on an ounce per ounce basis," Diane Aylsworth, Stumptown's director of cold brew told Chew on This. Cold brew coffee, which is the base used for nitro brews, is created over a 16 hour period versus hot coffee which is ready in about five minutes. And in addition to being more potent, Aylsworth says there is a reasonable explanation for why nitro drinkers claim the buzz hits them faster.
"You can drink cold drinks faster than you drink hot drinks and most people just down their nitro because its so easy to sip."