Are you curious about this nitro coffee that keeps popping up? Me too. So I got an expert here in Louisville, Kentucky (which excels at beverages beyond bourbon!) to break it down for me.
Here Brian Beyke, with local roaster Quills Coffee, shares everything you could want to know about nitro coffee.
What is nitro coffee?
Basically what we're talking about is cold coffee (whether that's made through the longer process of steeping, or a flash chill method) that's had nitrogen — an odorless gas — added to it. This process does two things, Beyke explains. Primarily it changes the texture, but it also changes the flavor of the coffee.
What does nitro coffee taste like?
By "adding nitrogen, you're adding all these micro bubbles," he says. "Ideally you're getting a frothier mouthfeel or smoother drinking coffee than when you don't have the nitrogen added to it." If you've ever had a Guinness, you've seen nitrogen in action in a beverage, and this is going to be similar.
When it comes to flavor, nitro coffee will "hit your taste receptors a little differently so it's going to give you the perception that it's sweeter without having to add sugar," he said. "It's not going to be this crazy, crazy difference in terms of flavor," he said, but you might notice something!
Is nitro coffee better than other iced coffees?
Prior to talking with Beyke I sampled some nitro coffe at another shop. It was … underwhelming. Then again, while I don't drink gas station or motel lobby coffee, I'm no coffee aficionado either, so maybe it's wasted on me (kind of like when I offer a friend new to bourbon a sip of something really special and they just splutter and cough as if they'd tried a bottom-shelf bottle). But no, you don't need to be a huge coffee person to get it, Beyke says. Maybe my sample pour didn't allow for the full effect of the nitrogen?
The idea of a cold brew with nitrogen is kind of just a novelty, Beyke says. Where you might appreciate nitro coffee the most, though, is in a cold latte. While a typical iced latte doesn't have the froth of the steamed milk, adding the nitrogen is a means to that frothy texture. I do love an iced latte, so that will definitely be my next foray into the nitro coffee world.
What else should we know?
There are two ways you can find nitro coffee: on tap or in cans. In cafes you may see it on tap, which Beyke says is nice visually because it gives you a nice foamy head and creamy top. It's also available packaged, so you can get your nitro fix on the go. Again like you might see with Guinness, there's usually a canister or nitro widget in the bottom of the can that activates once you pop the top. Take note, though. "I have purchased several where it didn't happen and you have flat, lifeless cold brew," Beyke warns.
Have you had nitro coffee? Do you like it more or less than other coffee options?