Cold brew coffee is all the rage nowadays, and coffee shops are taking the concept one step further with nitro cold brew. You may have seen nitro cold brew at your local Starbucks, but drinking a glass of it every day can add up in cost, and besides, it’s a lot more fun to make nitro cold brew at home!
image credit: Flickr, Fiona Henderson
What is nitro cold brew?
As the name suggests, nitro cold brew is cold brew coffee infused with nitrogen gas. The nitrogen infusion gives it a bubbly, smooth, and foamy mouthfeel, as well as contributing a little bit of sweetness without having to add any sugar.
It’s actually a win-win situation because cold brew coffee is not that intense anyway, and when mixed with the smooth, foamy nitrogen infusion, you have a trifecta of sweetness, smoothness, and coffee that tastes too good to describe in words!
Interestingly, nitro brews were originally used in beers – foamy beers like Guinness use nitrogen for the foaming effect because nitrogen bubbles are smaller and stay trapped in the liquid for longer, compared to carbon dioxide bubbles, which are much bigger and will go flat much sooner.
The concept of nitro was then applied to cold brew coffee and a whole new beverage was born. You can theoretically apply this principle to any drink you want: it will work with iced tea and even fruit juices.
How to make nitro cold brew coffee
You can’t have nitro cold brew without cold brew, so the first step is to make yourself some good cold brew coffee!
Making cold brew coffee
To make cold brew coffee, get your hands on some freshly roasted coffee beans. Next up, grind the beans to a very coarse consistency. Since cold brew is a slow brewing process and in cold water, coarse grounds work the best. Too fine grounds will result in muddy and over-extracted coffee, and we don’t want that!
Next, measure out your coffee grounds. There’s a lot of ratios you can use, but my preferred ratio is 1 part coffee to 8 parts water, so if you’re using 1000 ml of water, use 125 grams of coffee.
If you want a stronger brew, use a 1:4 ratio and put 250 grams of coffee instead. Either way, you’ll be diluting the coffee before you drink it, so 1 liter will last a while, or should at least be enough for quite a few people!
You can use any kind of vessel to brew, but I like to use a french press since it contains the grounds very nicely and is easy to pour and clean up from.
Put the coffee grounds into the french press, and pour the cold water over the grounds. If the grounds float to the top, give it a very gentle stir one or two times just to evenly wet the grounds.
Place the top of the french press on, but do not plunge!
Put the french press into your refrigerator and let it brew for 12 to 24 hours.
After the time has passed, very gently plunge down. Be careful here, as you don’t want to agitate the grounds. That can end up releasing acidic compounds and messing up your beautiful coffee.
Pour the coffee out into a jug or mason jar, and store it in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
Nitro cold brew with whipped cream dispenser
You don’t need any fancy, expensive kegs or systems to make nitro cold brew. You can actually make it using a whipped cream dispenser that you can buy for comparatively cheap. You’ll need to refill/purchase new cartridges every now and then, though.
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In order to make nitro cold brew with a whipped cream dispenser, pour your diluted cold brew(ready to drink) into the whipper and seal it. Charge the canister with one shot of nitrous oxide(see below) and give it a good shake for 30 seconds.
Discharge the gas using the trigger, and once the gas is fully discharged, you can open the canister and pour your nitro cold brew into a glass.
Pour it over ice for best enjoyment.
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Best home nitro cold brew system
If you want to go for something between a kegerator and a fully DIY system like the whipped cream canister, there are some interesting nitro brew systems available for relatively budget prices that do a great job.
1. Royal Brew Nitro Cold Brew Coffee Maker Home Keg Kit System
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The first model on the list is the Royal Brew Nitro Cold Brew Coffee Keg. This is a really handy countertop design that is modeled after beer dispensing systems.
A combination of the gas and a stout beer faucet creates a really nice and smooth foam on top of your coffee.
You will need to use two cartridges of nitrogen per batch(standard 2 gram cartridges, not included with this product), and in one go, you can use around 32 to 40 ounces of coffee.
You can also use nitrous oxide cartridges as well, but if you’re using those, you’ll only need a single cartridge for a 40 ounce batch.
Even though the keg itself is 64 ounces, we say you can brew around 40 ounces because you can only fill the keg around 50-75% for getting the best results.
Bear in mind that you need to wash this kit by hand! DO NOT place it in the dishwasher.
Before every use, add a mix of hot water and one tablespoon of baking soda and give the keg a good shake to get the water everywhere.
Let it soak for 10 minutes and tap the water off. Use the included brush to clean, and give it one more rinse. Allow everything to dry completely before using it.
To use this, add your diluted cold brew coffee into the keg. Attach the faucet, and then fix the first nitro cartridge in place. You’ll need to screw it in until you hear a hissing noise, meaning the gas is being discharged.
Shake the keg well(with the lid closed, of course), and add the second cartridge. Refrigerate for at least one hour, and then start dispensing coffee from the tap!
In all honesty, you’re not going to make nitro cold brew with this every single day as it is quite an effort to set up and use this device, but if you’re entertaining guests or are making cold brew as a special once in a while event, this is definitely a neat gadget to have!
However, since the tank is pressurized, you can hypothetically make a batch and slowly drink it over the course of a few days.
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2. uKeg Nitro Cold Brew Coffee Maker
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The uKeg Nitro Cold Brew Coffee Maker is our favorite nitro cold brew maker, and it’s only #2 on the list because it is a tiny bit more expensive.
This is a really well-designed pressurized keg that can keep your cold brew fresh for weeks on end, though I’m pretty sure you’ll end up finishing it much sooner 🙂
You can brew the coffee in this too using the included filter bags, but many of you may find it easier to just brew your cold brew the way you usually do it and fill it in the uKeg only for adding the nitro shot.
You can store up to 12 cups of coffee in the keg at once, and to charge it up, you’ll need 16 gram N2O(nitrous oxide, DO NOT USE NITROGEN ONLY CHARGERS).
While the keg can be stored in the refrigerator, the double-walled vacuum insulation can keep your coffee nice and cold all day long, which actually makes this keg ideal for taking on a picnic or an outing.
If you’re worried about cost over the lifetime of this product, it’s actually not that bad:
Consider that one 8 ounce cup of nitro cold brew is $4-5 at most establishments.
One NO2 charger is ~$3, and can charge 50 ounces of coffee, around 4 12 ounce servings. Add to that around $3 for enough ground coffee for 50 ounces of water, and for $6, you can make 4 servings. Compare that to $16-20 for 4 servings at a shop!
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Nitro vs Nitrous Oxide
To conclude, I think it’s worth talking about the difference between nitro and nitrous oxide. By using pure nitro, you’re actually limiting the amount of oxygen that reaches the coffee, preventing oxidation and resulting in a better tasting coffee.
In face, you can limit oxidation by using fresh beans, grinding just before brewing, and infusing nitro right before serving. This will result in one of the cleanest cups of coffee.
Using nitrous oxide produces an aesthetically pleasing coffee but by introducing oxygen you’re speeding up the oxidation process.
The golden rule for coffee as we’ve said time and time again is to drink what you enjoy, so try both and see what you like better 🙂