What is Nitro Cold Brew Coffee? Here’s What You Need to Know

By now, you’ve probably heard of nitro cold brew. Not every place sells it, but in shops that do, it’s a pretty hyped-up item. You might be wondering what all the fuss is about. So, what is nitro cold brew?

Nitro cold brew is nitrogen-infused cold brew coffee. Brewers use specialized pumps to inject regular cold brew with the gas to create a sweet, creamy beverage without sugar or cream. The tiny nitrogen bubbles give this coffee a foamy texture, making it both enticing and refreshing!

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Nitro cold brew has become one of the huge trends in coffee in the 21st century. It’s up there with the flat white and oat milk in notoriety. Let’s take a closer look at this drink and see what makes it so cool.

What is Nitro Cold Brew?

It all starts with a standard batch of cold brew. The brewers keep the coffee in a keg under the dispensing counter, where a tube connects it to a dispensing tap. When the barista pulls down on the tap, nitrogen bubbles fill the cold brew that’s coming up and out of the system. These gas bubbles are smaller than carbon dioxide bubbles.

nitro cold brew in a cup on a tray, nitro cold brew

That scientific fact means nitro cold brew does not come out looking or feeling like soda. Instead, it comes out looking and feeling smooth and creamy. There is a light-colored crema at the top, which gives way to a deep-brown body below. Many people who have tried cold brew liken it to a draft beer like Guinness in aesthetics and consistency.

Moreover, unlike soda, which is known for not being sweet on its own, the nitro cold brew’s nitrogen sweetens the drink naturally. While you can add sweeteners (and creamers) to nitro cold brew, the standard practice is to let the nitrogen “speak for itself,” so to speak. As a result, nitro cold brew is compatible with keto, paleo, and vegan diets.

Why is Nitro Cold Brew So Expensive?

Chances are that if you’ve seen nitro cold brew on a cafe’s menu, you’ve also seen the relatively high price point that comes with it. If all that separates it from a regular cold brew is a gas, why does nitro cold brew cost noticeably more? (Is there magic in there?)

It’s in part because the whole nitro cold brew setup is expensive. Coffee shops have to buy things like nitrogen tanks, dispensing taps, and tubing to serve the beverage. They have to install the equipment, too. All of those resources and all of that labor cost a pretty penny. In some cases, it can cost over $1,500. (This isn’t even accounting for the time it takes to train baristas or baristas’ labor in general!)

What is the Caffeine Content of a Nitro Cold Brew?

With cold brew coffees in general, it’s usually not a question of if it has caffeine; it’s a question of how much caffeine is in it. Unless your coffee shop of choice sells decaf cold brew, your nitro cold brew is bound to be caffeinated.

How much caffeine will it have, though? The answer depends on the size you get. If you’re going to Starbucks for your nitro cold brew, you’re looking at the following amounts of caffeine per serving:

  • Tall (12 fl oz): 215 mg
  • Grande (16 fl oz): 280 mg

(You cannot get a nitro cold brew in a size larger than Grande, as the nitrogen will not diffuse properly. The result would be a beverage that is not as creamy or as sweet as it could or should be.)

For comparison, the numbers for a regular Starbucks cold brew are:

  • Tall: 155 mg
  • Grande: 205 mg
  • Venti: 310 mg
  • Trenta: 360 mg

Nitro cold brew contains more caffeine than the regular stuff because it’s more concentrated.

Of course, all of these numbers presume you are not getting a shot or two of espresso in your drink. (I’m not sure why you would do that but to each their own!) You’d do best to ask your barista about any additional caffeine you’re looking to add to your drink.

Why Can I Never Seem to Get Nitro Cold Brew?

For a drink that’s so popular, nitro cold brew can be hard to come by. So, why does it seem you can’t find this hit drink anywhere? There are a couple of reasons.

First of all, your cafe of choice might not carry it at all. As we described above, it can cost a lot to install a nitro cold brew dispensing system. Not only that, but such a setup takes up a lot of space. Many coffee shops, especially smaller ones, choose to forgo nitro cold brew altogether because of those constraints.

Second of all, places like Starbucks make cold brew in single batches. These coffee shops will make one batch of cold brew per day. Once it’s all sold, that’s it for the day. If your usual place sells nitro cold brew but is out whenever you go, chances are that other customers have simply beat you to all of the cold brew.

That said, knowing whether or not a cafe has nitro cold brew doesn’t have to be a guessing game. Many coffee chains, like Starbucks, have mobile apps that allow you to order ahead—and to see what’s available on a given day. Check these apps to see if your favorite store has the drink or if there’s a store within a reasonable distance that does.

Related Questions

Still have questions about nitro cold brew? Keep reading to learn more. 

What is Cold Brew Coffee?

Cold brew coffee (or just “cold brew”) is coffee brewed for approximately a day in cold water instead of hot.

Why Do Cold Coffee Drinks Cost More than Hot Ones?

That’s for a couple of reasons. First of all, even cold coffees that aren’t nitro cold brews cost more to produce than hot drinks—after all, cold drinks require things like special storage tanks and ice dispensers. Second of all, cold-safe cups and straws cost more than heat-safe cups.

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