Drinking cold coffee isn't always intentional when you're a busy mom. Sometimes, it's simply the result of the morning cup growing cold before there's enough time to drink it. Coffee is traditionally a hot beverage, but iced coffee-on-purpose has been enjoyed since 1840 when the French military invented it during the Battle of Mazagran in Algeria.
Although variations of cafe mazagran spread quickly throughout Europe, iced coffee didn't pop up on U.S. menus until the 1920s. It would take another 70-plus years to grow in popularity, with demand surging in 1995 when Starbucks launched its trademarked Frappuccino blended iced coffee drinks nationwide.
In 2015, Starbucks led the way again by introducing cold brew coffee. Cold brewing produces a more mellow beverage than coffee brewed hot and then chilled. By summer 2019, most of the coffee giant's retail stores were selling an exciting new nitro cold brew that featured a thick head of soft foam and an even smoother coffee-drinking experience.
You're not alone if you're confused about the differences between nitro cold brew and regular cold brew coffee. But by the end of this article, you should be better prepared to order your next cold brew caffeine kick.
What is cold brew coffee?
Unlike traditionally brewed coffee, where hot water is pressed through coffee grounds, cold brew coffee slowly soaks in cool water for 12 to 24 hours. It’s generally less bitter and more flavorful than hot brew coffee because the extended steeping time draws more complex flavors out of the beans.
Cold brew coffee is convenient to make at home. For best results, buy coffee labeled “cold brew grind,” as it’s more coarse than other grinds. Iced coffee lovers often steep a big batch of cold brew and keep the concentrate in the fridge. Refrigerated cold brew coffee lasts for up to a week. To serve, pour the desired amount over ice and flavor with syrups, sweeteners, and milk or cream.
What is nitro cold brew coffee?
Nitro cold brew starts with regular cold brew coffee but is infused with nitrogen gas and forced through a pressurized valve. The process creates a thick, foamy head similar to draft beer. Some assume this makes the coffee carbonated, like soda, but the bubbles are too fine to create that effect.
Nitrogen replaces some of the oxygen in the beverage, which reduces the oxidation that can alter the coffee’s taste. The foam provides a creamy, slightly sweet flavor.
Nitro cold brew is served much the same as ordinary cold brew coffee. It’s best consumed cold but without ice because it dilutes the nitro effect as it melts. Serve it as-is or with sweetener, flavoring syrups, and milk or cream. Note that the foam is usually short-lived, so drink it while it’s fresh.
To enjoy a nitro cold brew at home, buy a nitrogen brew can or a nitro whipped cream dispenser. You’ll also need the nitro chargers that fit the dispenser. If you prefer a less expensive way to have nitro at home, Starbucks and other brands offer canned nitro cold brew.
Differences Between Nitro Cold Brew and Regular Cold Brew Coffee
|Nitro Cold Brew||Regular Cold Brew|
|Need nitrogen from a can or keg to make it||Easy to make at home|
|Dense, smooth mouthfeel devoid of coffee “bite”||Ordinary cold coffee texture on the tongue|
|Richer and more complex flavors than regular cold brew||Simpler flavors than nitro cold brew, but still more complex than regular iced coffee|
|Has a frothy head, like a draft beer||Dark, concentrated appearance; must be diluted with water or milk|
|Best chilled, but skip the ice cubes to avoid diluting the nitro effect||Best poured over ice|
Cold Brew Coffee Taste Comparison
With any cold brew coffee, the longer it steeps, the stronger the flavor. Regular cold brew generally has an intense, complex coffee flavor and just a hint of bitter aftertaste.
Nitro cold brew has a smooth, somewhat chocolaty flavor. It can be ideal for those seeking a lower-sugar coffee fix because some people need less sweetener with nitro cold brew. This is due to the way the nitro infusion process accentuates sweetness.
Even though nitro cold brew tastes more velvety, both types of cold brew usually have the same amount of caffeine. So feel free to switch between the two until you find the one that suits your palate.
Which is best?
Both types of cold brew coffee are hugely popular, so either can be the best. It just depends on your personal taste preference. If the acid levels in coffee give you heartburn or indigestion, nitro cold brew is your best bet for a low-acid coffee drink.
Nitro cold brew is often more expensive than ordinary cold brew. Coffee shops must invest in costly nitrogen infusion equipment, and baristas must take extra steps to make it. That’s why smaller, local coffee shops may not offer nitro cold brew.
If you miss the acidity or “brightness” of traditionally brewed coffee, you may want to abandon both forms of cold brew and switch back to ordinary iced coffee.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©VasiliyBudarin/Shutterstock.com.