Coffee Facts

What is Nitro Coffee?

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If you’re ever around the coffee community in the summer, you know that cold brew and iced coffee are some of the biggest hits among the java addicts. In the last couple of years, a new coffee trend has sprung up in the realm of cold coffee, and it has taken coffee lovers everywhere by storm.  

Let’s talk about nitro coffee. While you’ve undoubtedly seen the name either at your gym or in your favorite coffee café, not everyone knows what it is or why people are so excited about it. That’s what we’re here for. So read on for the full low-down on this coffee trend. 

Nitro Coffee
Cold brew or Nitro Coffee drink in the glass with bubble foam


What is Nitro Coffee?

Nitro coffee, or NCB, is a type of cold brew coffee that infused with nitrogen gas to achieve a unique flavor and mouthfeel. This coffee was first served on tap around 2012 and hit the shelves in canned form in 2014. Since then, its popularity has skyrocketed, which is why you can find it in nearly any specialty coffee shop around. 


As with any good invention, there’s some contention as to who exactly started this trend. The most common story you’ll encounter is that Austin, Texas’ Mike McKim, founder of Cuvee Coffee, got things started and was closely followed by Portland, Oregon’s Stumptown.

However, according to Esquire magazine, The Queens Kickshaw should be credited with the origin of the trend. This New York coffee pub was the first to start serving their cold brew through the draft system in 2011. 

Regardless of who you think should get the credit, this is a must-try drink for any coffee lover.

Gassing it

While hearing that people are putting nitrogen in their drinks may seem startling at first, the idea of gassing up drinks isn’t exactly new. Many of us have even done it in science class by throwing dry ice in some 

From soda to sparkling water and even beer, drinks with added gas for a little pizzaz is nothing new. It’s just the “infused with nitrogen” part that’s a little different, simply because you don’t see it as often. However, some beer brands do use it.

So, why nitrogen?

Nitrogen is a tasteless, odorless gas that is more difficult to infuse into liquids than carbon dioxide. If you’re now imagining fizzy coffee, that’s not quite how this works. Nitrogen adds to both the flavor and texture of the coffee. However, rather than making it crackly like carbonated drinks, nitrogen makes drinks foamier.

This change gives the coffee a velvety texture akin to a frothy beer. Basically, the nitrogen makes what is essentially black coffee taste and feel as if you have already added cream and sugar to it. That’s an exciting prospect for most coffee lovers.

How it’s Served

Due to its unique composition, NCB is also served in a rather unique manner. While a few companies have unlocked the secret to canning it, the experience between canned and fresh is still considerable. 

On Tap

Because it’s difficult to keep the nitrogen gas in liquids, nitro coffee is typically served on tap. The smaller nitrogen bubbles, which is what gives the coffee its signature texture, are less likely to dissolve when they are added from a tap rather than premade. A dispenser is required in order to create the pressure to add nitrogen to the beverage. 

Unfortunately, that means it’s pretty difficult to make your own nitro brew at home, as it requires specialized equipment. 

Tasty Additions

Even though nitrogen in NCB gives the drink a natural sweetness, there are those out there who still want a little more oomph. Rather than adding sugar though, many sweet tooth owners opt for other tasty add-ins to enhance their nitro coffee experience. 

Some common additions include vanilla syrup and sweet cream; however, some shops have gone the extra mile with their concoctions. Mighty Brew Bros in Manhattan, New York, for example, has created the Nitro Pop and the Nitro Float. The first has a coffee popsicle garnish and the second has vanilla ice cream in it. 

So if you’re already a fan of nitro coffee, you can try one of these exciting combos to get even more out of the drink.

Why the Hype?

Like we mentioned earlier, this drink is becoming wildly popular, meaning it’s popping up everywhere. From Starbucks to fitness studios, this drink is probably on the menu.

Fitness Fever

Because it’s a cold brew, fitness fans have particularly taken a liking to this drink. The nitrogen creates a natural flavor that hints at sweetness, allowing many coffee fanatics to drink it straight. Also, the fact that it’s a cold brew means its less acidic, making it easier on digestive systems.

Additionally, the canned nitro often has nut-milk blends high in healthy fats because it helps keep the nitrous oxide in the drink. Between the health-conscious ingredients and great taste, this drink has caught a lot of attention. 

Club Coffee

What makes nitro coffee so special in coffee shops is that it pairs well with their signature coffees. Many coffee shops boast about their particular beans and blends because a lot of thought goes into selecting them. So the fact that nitro coffee is dependent on method and technique rather than the bean means that virtually any shop can offer it with the purchase of some extra equipment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Nitro coffee stronger than espresso?

The short answer? No.

However, are you going to get more caffeine from a cup of nitro than you would from a shot of espresso? Absolutely.

A regular cup of coffee (8 fl oz) has about 65 mg of caffeine. Nitro cold brew can have 30+% more caffeine per ounce than their standard counterparts because it is made using a higher ratio of grounds to water. So you could be looking at around 90 mg of caffeine per 8 oz cup.

On the other hand, espresso is sold and served by the ounce in “shots”, and most people only one or two shots. Each shot contains about 64 mg of caffeine (about the same as a standard cup of coffee). However, a double shot (still only 1/4 the amount of coffee) will have about 120 mg of caffeine.

Obviously the exact caffeine content will vary depending on the beans used. But as a general rule, if you get a nitro cold brew from the tap, you will get more caffeine than you would from a single serving of either regular coffee or espresso.

Is Nitro coffee bad for you? 

Nitro cold brew has become increasingly popular in fitness sectors, especially as an alternative to iced coffee and other caffeinated drinks. So it’s natural to wonder, is this actually healthier than the alternatives?

In some ways, yes! Due to the natural sweetness of the nitro cold brew, most people can enjoy the beverage with little to no add-ins. The same cannot be said for many other caffeinated sports beverages, which often use added sugars or creamers to improve the flavor.

Not only does swapping in nitro for your go-to caffeine boost help cut down on calories, but it is also pretty refreshing by its own merit. It combines the cooling sensation of a cold brew with the bright fizziness of a soda or sparkling water, all with the creaminess of a smoothie.

The only thing you really need to look out for with this nitro coffee is the caffeine. The same can be said about most sports drinks, but it bears repeating. Like most caffeinated beverages, Nitro can increase your heart rate, posing an issue for many caffeine-sensitive individuals or those facing heart problems or experiencing anxiety.

How is it different from iced coffee?

First off, nitro coffee is made using cold brew, rather than an iced coffee base. That means rather than chilling the beverage after brewing, the coffee is brewed at room temperature or colder. This cold extraction also produces a coffee concentrate, rather than a standard coffee like you’d get from a drip brewer.

The coffee concentrate can be watered down to varying degrees, allowing for more strength control. Also, nitro coffee also includes the “nitro” part (ie. the addition of nitrogen gas), further differentiating it from your usual iced coffee or frappé.

Wrapping Up

If you haven’t tasted nitro cold brew coffee yet, you should. The cup of smooth, frothy goodness is a crowd-pleaser. Plus, the very experience of drinking black coffee that tastes and feels like a sweet, creamy breakfast accompaniment is an exciting prospect. 

So whether you’re ordering it at a local coffee shop or grabbing a can, nitro coffee is a trend to try.

Happy Caffeinating!

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