Coffee has been cultivated and brewed since at least the 15th century, but cunning baristas are still coming up with new ways to tweak and serve the beloved beverage.  From the first splash of milk to the creation of mocha, there have been countless revolutions to the classic cup of joe over the last 600 or so years—and nitro cold brew is one of them.
Nitro cold brew is a fairly recent advancement that combines time-honored brewing methods with modern technology to produce an exceptionally crisp and refreshing version of coffee.
But, what is nitro cold brew, exactly?
Pour yourself a cup (cold, nitro, classic, or otherwise) and read on—we’re brewing up the facts about nitro cold brew’s flavor profile, brewing methods, and other characteristics.
What’s in Nitro Cold Brew?
Along with asking, 'What is a nitro cold brew?’, it’s pertinent to consider what’s in a nitro cold brew. Nitro cold brew, like many other kinds of coffee drinks, is composed of only a few simple ingredients.
As its name suggests, there are actually only two main components that need to be present in nitro cold brew:
Nitrogen – This not-so-rare earthly element makes up 78% of our planet’s atmosphere, so it’s no surprise to find some in your coffee.  The nitrogen in nitro cold brew doesn’t simply seep in from the environment, however. Instead, it’s infused into the drink in much the same way soft drinks are carbonated.
Cold brew coffee – There’s no need for heat with nitro cold brew coffee. Cold brew coffee grounds are generally soaked for a day or so, and they never see the burner. The result is a smoother brew with noticeably less sourness and bitterness. While the majority of homebrewers choose Arabica for cold brew purposes, any kind of coffee can fit the bill. 
Of course, baristas aren’t just pouring cartons of nitrogen gas into cups like they do dairy and sweeteners. In fact, they use some rather exciting modern technology to get the gas inside your glass.
How is Nitro Cold Brew Made?
Like other forms of specialty coffee, such as espresso, there’s more than one way to make nitro cold brew coffee. Nonetheless, there are a few basic steps that go into producing the beverage that essentially every barista, bottling plant, and homebrewer must take, including: 
Brewing – The coffee for nitro cold brew is prepared the same way as any other regular cold brew. Of course, there are no definitive standards for this process. Some general guidelines on how to make cold brew coffee at home, however, include using coarse grinds, water below 68℉ (20℃), and about 24 hours of extraction time. 
Nitrogen infusion – There’s no one way to have nitrogen infused coffee, but just like when you brew coffee at home, you’ll need the proper equipment. In chic cafes, baristas use specially-designed machines to percolate pure nitrogen through the body of the coffee, allowing the gas to infuse into the liquid as it rises up it.
Storage – Nitro cold brew must be stored under pressure or in an airtight container to prevent the nitrogen from escaping—and your java from going flat. This is why nitro cold brew most commonly comes in sealed glass bottles or, when you order it in a coffee shop, straight from a keg.
Serving – Many coffee aficionados prefer their nitro cold brew unsweetened and black. But this isn’t the only way to enjoy it. From milk of all kinds to cream and sugar, there are many delicious additions to mix into your nitro cold brew—and we’ll be covering some of the most popular later in this article.
In home settings, experimental java fanatics might consider using a whipped cream dispenser to charge their coffee with nitrogen canisters before serving it. Just be sure to clean it out well before the next time you use it!
What Does Nitro Cold Brew Taste Like?
Like other coffee drinks, nitro cold brew’s flavor is largely dependent on the type of coffee you use to make it. Using quality dry coffee that you personally enjoy the taste of will make a night and day difference in the final flavor of your beverage.
That said, the unique way in which nitro cold brew is made leads to some discernibly characteristic qualities. In general, its flavor profile is defined by its:
Smoothness – As previously mentioned, cold brew coffee is significantly less bitter than traditional java. In fact, studies have found that cold brew contains lower concentrations of the kinds of acids that cause bitterness than traditionally brewed coffee.  Furthermore, over three-quarters of surveyed coffee connoisseurs correctly distinguished between the two beverages in blind studies. 
Intensity – The air infused into nitro cold brew increases the surface area of liquid-to-tongue exposure, leading to a deeper overall experience of the coffee’s flavor. 
Creaminess – Despite not necessarily containing dairy, nitro cold brew has an inherent creamy texture due to its foaminess. A fresh pour from your local coffee bar usually also has a head, not unlike a cold draft beer.
Light, airy mouthfeel – The bubbles infused into a nitro cold brew create a light, fizzy sensation on the tongue. Unlike the flatness of coffee made with still water, nitro cold brew has a mouthfeel more akin to soda.
All-in-all, nitro cold brew is on the smoother, less acrid end of the coffee spectrum. While it has some similar flavor characteristics to other popular drinks, many java enthusiasts consider it in a league of its own.
How Does Nitro Cold Brew Taste in Comparison to Other Forms of Coffee?
Depending on your personal preferences, nitro cold brew might be the beverage you didn't know you were missing out on. To give you a better sense of its flavor, here’s how it compares to some other popular coffee drinks:
Espresso – Espresso is made with small amounts of hot, intensely-flavored coffee. Generally, it’s significantly more bitter than nitro cold brew.
Iced coffee – Iced coffee is usually made with hot-brewed joe that’s been cooled, refrigerated, then iced. The flavor is generally a touch more bitter than nitro cold brew, but it shares the same refreshing qualities.
Standard cold brew – Cold brew coffee on its own (sans nitrogenation) is also a popular beverage. Of all the different available coffee-based beverages, its flavor is amongst the most similar to nitro cold brew—though it may not feel as intense and rich as its gas-infused cousin.
Lattes, frappuccinos, and other sweetened, flavored beverages – If you enjoy your coffee with cream, sugar, or other added flavors, the intense richness of black nitro cold brew may not necessarily suit your palate. Fortunately, it also works as a wonderful base for all kinds of flavored mixes—including the ones you enjoy the most.
While a coffee lover may consider a nitro cold brew a finished product, others merely see it as a base to build their ideal coffee creation. Whatever you decide to swirl in, however, stir slowly—you don’t want any fizzy overflows!
What Can You Add to Nitro Cold Brew?
Like other forms of coffee, what you add to a cup of nitro cold brew is bound only by your imagination and desires. Every coffee lover sips with the inherent freedom to alter, add to, sweeten, and dilute their java as they see fit.
That being the case, there are some distinct additions to nitro cold brew that chains and trends have made famous over the years. Some of the most popular ways to enjoy nitro cold brews include:
With flavor shots – Some of the biggest coffee shop chains have popularized adding a pump of syrup into your nitro cold brew. Switching between hazelnut, vanilla, cinnamon, and other favorites will keep things fresh, and the enhanced sweetness will add a new dimension to your beverage.
With milk – Whether you favor oat, soy, almond, classic cow, or another kind of milk (or cream), stirring a spoon or two into your nitro cold brew will increase its depth and richness. The natural lightness of the coffee foam combined with the cool creaminess of milk can make for an exceptionally smooth, tongue-pleasing experience.
Topped with whipped cream – If you’re making nitro cold brew at home using the whipped cream dispenser method, you may as well save a nitrous canister to shake up some foam. Carefully add the whipped cream on top of the coffee foam to preserve its lightness and add a delicious, rich layer of complexity to your drink.
On-the-go – Nitro cold brew’s popularity is a major reason why the demand for cold brew coffee has been rising by 26% annually in recent years. In response, coffee companies have begun offering a wide variety of canned and bottled nitro beverages in a range of flavors, sweetness levels, and coffee bean varieties.
Make Your Own Nitro Cold Brew with Trade Coffee
If you're interested in trying nitro cold brew, one of the best ways to go about it is to extract some coffee at home and make it yourself. This way, you can control key variables, such as brew strength, nitrogen level, and the variety of grinds you use.
And, if you want to find the perfect dry coffee to suit your tastes, you can take our handy coffee quiz.
Likewise, if you’re a certified coffee lover looking for exceptional beans and grinds to make into cold brew (or any other type of coffee), sign up for one of our online coffee subscriptions. They allow you to try a plethora of different coffees to find your personal favorite. Then, once you have the ideal grinds, you can go about perfecting your nitro cold brew recipe.
- National Coffee Association of the United States of America. The History of Coffee. https://www.ncausa.org/
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 10 Interesting Things About Air. https://climate.nasa.gov/
- National Library of Medicine. Cold Brew Coffee—Pilot Studies on Definition, Extraction, Consumer Preference, Chemical Characterization and Microbiological Hazards https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/
- Chemical and Engineering News. Nitro-Cold-Brew. https://cen.acs.org/
- Nature Portfolio. Acidity and Antioxidant Activity of Cold Brew Coffee. https://www.nature.com/
- National Coffee Association of the United States of America. NCA Cold Brew Toolkit. https://www.ncausa.org/I