Over the past decade, cold brew has become as popular as traditional hot coffee. No longer just a summer treat, cold brew has made it onto every coffee house menu and refrigerated section of grocery and convenience stores around the nation.
Two main methods of cold brewing brew have created two distinct products: cold brew and nitro cold brew. Below, you’ll find an explanation of the difference between nitro cold brew vs cold brew.
What Is Cold Brew Coffee?
Also known as cold water extraction or cold pressing, cold brew coffee is a cold coffee drink that uses cold or room temperature water instead of boiling or hot water to extract the flavor from coffee grounds.
Although cold brew is new to the western hemisphere, it’s been a longstanding tradition in Japan, where it supposedly originated. The Japanese invented cold brew coffee after the Dutch introduced coffee into their culinary tradition.
Japanese tradition uses a drip method similar to a pour-over or percolator to filter cold or room-temperature water through coffee grounds for up to 12 hours. In the Western hemisphere, the methodology is less high-tech.
Modern Western traditions for making cold brews place coarse coffee grounds in a container, pouring room temperature or cold water over them to steep for anywhere from 12 to 24 hours. The time cold brew coffee needs to steep is in stark contrast to hot coffee, which, in a French press, takes a mere 3 minutes.
Due to a long steeping process, cold brew coffee has a much stronger flavor and caffeine content and is thus normally served with added water or milk to dilute its intensity.
Another popular use of cold brew is in a frappe, blended with ice, syrup, and milk to create a refreshing coffee-flavored milkshake.
What Are the Effects of Steeping in Cold Water?
While you may see iced coffee on the menu, you’d be mistaken to think it’s the same as a cold brew. Iced coffee is hot brewed coffee poured over ice, while cold brew coffee undergoes the long cold water steeping process.
The effects of steeping coffee grounds in cold water result in distinct chemical properties that differentiate regular coffee from a cold brew. While using boiling water to steep coffee grounds increases the solubility of oils, fatty acids, and caffeine content, using cold water does not.
Consequently, boiling water reduces caffeine and increases bitterness and acidity. Steeping grounds in cold water doesn’t break down the oils and chemical compounds, resulting in a less acidic, less bitter, and more caffeinated cup of coffee.
Cold extraction also greatly affects the flavor profiles and aromas of coffee. Hot water breaks down the flavorful oils, resulting in a highly aromatic cup of hot coffee. Cold water keeps these oils intact, so you perceive them more as a taste than an aroma. Thus cold brew may not have that irresistible aroma, but it more than compensates with a much richer flavor profile.
The oils remain intact, reaching your taste buds in a powerful palate, which is why many liken cold brew coffee to a coffee concentrate.
What Is Nitro Cold Brew?
Nitro Cold Brew takes the cold brew process further by adding nitrogen to the mix in the same way soft drinks and beers receive an infusion of carbon dioxide. Nitro Cold Brew is a recent phenomenon, originating around 2011 in New York when a coffee house came up with the idea to have “draft coffee.”
Cuvee Coffee in Austin, Texas, came up with the name and began selling Nitro cold brew on tap in 2011. Nitro cold brew involves high-tech equipment and technical knowledge, limiting its production mainly to coffee houses or commercial facilities.
Perhaps the idea for nitro cold brew came from the production of stout beers, which have long used a nitrogen-infusion process to create a frothy head and creamy texture. Nitro cold brew coffee fills a keg or bottle with cold brew coffee and uses a nitrogen-charged cartridge to infuse nitrogen into the cold brew. The result is a super creamy and rich cold brew with a frothy head.
While cold brew generally requires added milk or water, Nitro cold brew comes without any embellishments. You can find nitro cold brew as a fixture on the menu at all the main coffee chains, including Starbucks and the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.
Why Add Nitrogen to Cold Brew Coffee
As with any fancy technological upgrade, adding nitrogen to cold brew coffee increases its quality on numerous levels. Infusing cold brew with nitrogen bubbles gives the drink a much heartier and full-bodied texture.
Guinness and stout fans will love this robust cold brew. It has the same mouthfeel and unparalleled richness, but instead of getting you drunk, it’ll pump you full of caffeinated energy. Plus, cold brewing already instills a much more flavorful taste than standard hot coffee.
Not only do you get an intense coffee taste with complex flavor notes, but you also get a completely novel, creamy, and foamy texture. The creamy and robust nature of nitro cold brew means that you no longer have to add milk, so its vegan-friendly and also a great option for coffee purists.
Nitro cold brew is the blending of two beloved drinking traditions: beer and coffee. It started as an ingenious experiment, skyrocketing in popularity to become the “it” drink. The question isn’t why add nitrogen to cold brew, but why not?
Nitro Cold Brew vs Cold Brew
While nitro cold brew is technically a type of cold brew, the two beverages have very distinguishable characteristics, from taste and texture to production and availability. Read on to discover the differences between cold brew and nitro cold brew.
Cold brew and nitro cold brew each have a set of production methods. Cold Brew uses a cold immersion method, which involves placing coarse coffee grounds into a vat or large mason jar and pouring room temperature or chilled water over the grounds. For 80 grams of coffee grounds, you’ll need 6 cups of water for steeping.
You let the coffee steep in the fridge for a minimum of 12 hours and a maximum of 24 hours. The last step is to strain the coffee grounds. You can use a mesh strainer with cheesecloth, pour over apparatus with a coffee filter like a Chemex, or you can pour the cold brew into a French press and strain it that way.
It behooves you to make a large quantity so you can enjoy one batch over its long two-week shelf life.
The nitro cold brew process adds an extra step to the cold brew process by infusing it with nitrogen. This involves a highly-skilled procedure using pressurized nozzles to shoot nitrogen into cans or kegs. If you’re feeling ambitious enough to try this at home, you can use liquid nitrogen canisters and a whipped cream dispenser.
The texture may be the biggest difference between cold brew and nitro cold brew. Cold brew has a silky texture that is slightly thicker than a cup of hot brewed coffee. That said, cold brew coffee is usually too strong to drink straight up, so you add cream, milk, or extra water.
Nitro cold brew is a completely different texture than any coffee product. It is as thick and hearty as a pint of Guinness. After all, Guinness and Stouts were the muses for nitro cold brew. You’ll get a robust mouth feel and a frothy, bubbly, foamy top you can enjoy straight.
Cold brew is so desirable because it gives you an intense coffee flavor without the acidic and bitter finish. Dark and medium roasts are ideal for cold brew.
The cold extraction keeps the oils and fatty acids intact, which means all the flavor notes come through loud and clear with cold brew. You’ll taste the caramels, hazelnuts, and fruity undertones of your favorite coffee much more intensely than in hot coffee.
Nitro cold brew only enhances the taste of an already flavorful cold brew. The tiny nitrogen bubbles further reduce the bitterness and acidity for the ultimate smoothness and a cream-coated, slightly sweeter flavor palate.
Where cold brew has more caffeine than hot coffee, nitro cold brew has even more caffeine than regular cold brew. The longer you steep the beans in a cold immersion, the higher the caffeine content. Therefore, a cold brew steeped for 12 hours has less caffeine than one steeped for 24 hours.
A nitro cold brew has more caffeine than a cold brew coffee alone. A quick look at Starbucks products reveals that a 16 oz cup of cold brew has 205 mg of caffeine, while a 16 oz cup of nitro cold brew has 280 mg of caffeine.
Due to cold immersion processes keeping the oils and fatty acids intact, cold brew and nitro cold brew have less intense aromas than their hot counterpart. That said, you can still get subtle aromas from cold brew and nitro cold brew that range from floral to fruity to spicy.
Popularity and Availability
Cold brew and nitro cold brew share the same level of popularity but differ in terms of availability. Cold brew is on every cafe and restaurant menu, but you can also easily make a cup from the comfort of your own home. Therefore, cold brew is as available as hot coffee because you can make it with the same grounds. It just takes a bit more time than hot coffee.
Nitro cold brew may only be more popular than cold brew because it’s difficult to make at home, which makes it in higher demand at coffee shops or in the refrigeration section of grocery stores. It is much more expensive than cold brew, making it less available to all budgets.
When you compare cold brew vs. nitro cold brew, you’ll find differences in most aspects, including caffeine levels, texture, price, and production process. Both products are new and fashionable ways to drink a much more flavorful cup of joe.
If you enjoyed reading about the nitro cold brew vs. cold brew and their differences, leave a comment with your opinions or questions below.