What Is Nitro Cold Brew Coffee? The Ultimate Guide and 7 Surprising Facts

If you’ve seen nitro cold brew coffee at a cafe and wondered what it is, this article is for you. Or, if you’ve been browsing the aisles of your grocery store and seen cans of “Nitro Cold Brew” on the shelves, this article will explain it all. Maybe you’ve tried nitro cold brew at Starbucks, and want to make it at home. Below we’ll cover all of this, and more!

You may be wondering things like:

“What is nitro cold brew anyway?”

“How is nitro cold brew different than regular cold brew?”

“Is nitro cold brew bad for me? Will it fit into my diet?”

“This stuff is expensive! How can I make nitro cold brew at home? What gear will I need?”

We’ve got you covered. This is the ultimate guide to nitro cold brew. We’ll talk about what is, and what isn’t nitro cold brew. Then, we’ll take a deep dive into the history of nitro cold brew and how it got its start. After, we’ll discuss the health benefits and if it fits into your preferred diet.

Maybe most importantly, we’ll also explain how to make nitro cold brew at home.

Ready? Let’s get started!

So What is Nitro Cold Brew, Anyway?

keg for nitro cold brew coffee

Simply put, nitro cold brew is cold brew that has been “charged” with nitrogen gas. This results in a creamy taste and texture, along with a foam head. This is because nitrogen bubbles are smaller than carbon dioxide bubbles, these are what’s used for regular carbonation. Dark beers such as Guinness and Left Hand’s Milk Stout are also charged with nitrogen, so it may be a familiar taste!

In addition to great texture of your coffee, the nitrogen also adds some sweetness to the taste. This is great if you want to cut out cream or sugar from your morning coffee. With nitro, you may not notice it’s gone!

Nitro Cold Brew vs Cold Brew

The two are similar when first made, and the difference comes when they’re served. Nitro cold brew is charged with nitrogen and has a creamy texture, while regular cold brew is served right from the steeping process.

nitro cold brew vs cold brew

As a refresher, cold brew is just coffee grounds and water, left to steep together for 12-24 hours in a cool, dark place. If you do nothing but separate the grounds and serve, that’s cold brew! If you put it in a keg to be charged with nitrogen, that’s nitro cold brew.

Nitro Cold Brew Keg or Whipped Cream Dispenser

whipped cream dispenser for nitro cold brew

You may be wondering how nitro cold brew is stored. Most coffee shops keep a pressurized keg full of nitro cold brew. There are also some personal-sized kegs made specifically for nitro cold brew. If you want to make it at home quickly, we recommend using a whipped cream dispenser along with nitrogen cartridges. In addition, you’ll want to buy a nitro tip that’s specifically for using a whipped cream dispenser to taste like a keg nitro. We have a full guide to make nitro cold brew at home as well.

Who Invented Nitro Cold Brew Coffee?

The story of nitro cold brew’s origins is one mired in controversy. Two coffee enthusiasts and professionals claim they invented nitro cold brew. Before we get into the full story, we’ll explain how nitro anything happened.

The Beginning of Nitrogenation

In the 1950s, Michael Ash was working at a London-based brewery of Guinness’. He was a Cambridge-educated mathematician and discovered the nitrogen-charging process on a complete accident.

He was hired in 1951 and worked a variety of jobs, in 1955 Michael took over the Guinness Sample Room in London. They had a main problem to solve – how can we improve the shelf-life of a bottled Guinness? Up until that point, Guinness was typically served in a glass bottle at room temperature.

guinness is the father of nitrogen-charged drinks

Yes, you read that right. People plopped down their hard earned money for room temperature Guinness at a bar. The issue was one of logistics. Guinness still sold pub owners a wooden cask full of beer, and the pub was responsible for bottling the beer themselves.

Unfortunately for Guinness, draft beers were becoming more popular throughout the 1950s. Especially in the American market, more people came to expect their beer carbonated and served cold. Michael Ash enlisted his team to start solving two problems. The first, how can we provide Guinness cold and carbonated. The second was people thought Guinness was “too lively” to be carbonated the traditional way. Michael’s team had to find a new form of carbonation that preserved Guinness’ unique taste.

the original guinness with nitrogen was in a cask

The rest, as they say, is history. Michael’s team in 1957 developed the first prototype of their two-chamber cask. One for the beer, the other for nitrogen. By 1959 and following a few tweaks, their finished system was launched to immediate fanfare. It is widely credited with helping to save the Guinness brand, and helps give the beer its unique foam head and texture. Bill Yenne, the author of Guinness: The 250 Year Quest for the Perfect Pint, claims that nitrogen “breathed new life” into Guinness.

Using Nitrogen for Cold Brew Coffee – The Cuvee Coffee Story

Now that we know how nitrogen-charged beer started, you may be wondering when it spread to coffee. The story takes us back only to the mid-2010s, in a place hot enough to drink cold brew coffee year round.

Mike McKim, owner of Cuvee Coffee in Austin, was in a different cafe when he noticed the barista serving chilled coffee out of a keg. Curious, he asked the owner for a demo and explanation. Mike immediately thought the idea was genius and began pushing his wholesale customers to do the same.

cuvee coffee is the home of nitro cold brew

The issue was that no one else agreed with him. Mike couldn’t convince anyone to follow his lead, so he took matters into his own hands. After enjoying a few Milk Stouts from Left Hand Brewing, he was inspired to reach out to their head brewer Ro Guenzel. Mike got some tips on nitrogen-charging drinks, and started tinkering with nitro cold brew.

In 2012 at the Slow Food Quiz Bowl, Mike debuted his new invention, kegged cold brew charged with nitrogen. It was an immediate hit, and Cuvee Coffee launched canned nitro cold brew in 2014.

nitro cold brew coffee first debuted at slow food quiz bowl in austin

Lorenzo Perkins, however, has a different view of the nitro cold brew origin story. Formerly a Cuvee Coffee employee, Lorenzo claims a conversation with Intelligentsia employees led to the idea for kegged cold brew. Lorenzo agrees that the Slow Food Quiz Bowl was the first public display of nitro cold brew coffee, but claims he kegged the concoction first.

Whichever version of events is accurate, we can all agree the invention is important for the coffee industry. Many don’t care for the bitter, unique taste of regular cold brew, and nitro helps to broaden the audience. Plus, it commands a premium price at $4-5 in most cafe’s. This helps when craft coffee shops are becoming more widespread and there’s more price competition.

Nitro Cold Brew Coffee – Is it Healthy?

Since nitro cold brew is a recent phenomenon, many wonder if the drink is healthy or not. Also, people want to know if it fits into their diet of choice (keto, whole30, vegan, etc). The short answer is YES, nitro cold brew is extremely healthy and similar to coffee. As long as you don’t add cream or sugar (which would defeat the purpose of nitro!), it adheres to nearly any dietary restriction.

Below, we’ll explain some of the health benefits and drawbacks of nitro cold brew coffee. After, we will provide a list of dietary restrictions to consider and explain how nitro cold brew fits in.

How Much Caffeine is in Nitro Cold Brew Coffee?

The first point of confusion among nitro newbies is how much caffeine nitro cold brew has. Many people we’ve talked to think that nitro cold brew is a more caffeinated version of cold brew. As you’ve seen throughout this article, that’s not the case! Nitro refers to the nitrogen carbonation that’s present.

coffee grounds

To find out how much caffeine is in nitro cold brew, we need to determine how much is in regular cold brew. There’s no nutritional difference between nitro cold brew and regular, just more bubbles!

Cold brew is made by mixing coffee grounds directly with water, and letting them steep for 12-24 hours. This means cold brew is a concentrate, and the higher the ratio of coffee grounds to water, the higher the caffeine content. The average 16 ounce cold brew coffee has over 200mg of caffeine, which is similar to a hot coffee. Although the caffeine content is similar to hot coffee, most people make cold brew at a higher ratio of coffee to water. Either way, you’ll be ready to start your day after a cup of cold brew or hot coffee!

Is Nitro Cold Brew Bad For You?

Since nitro cold brew has almost the exact same ingredients as regular coffee or cold brew, it is not bad for you. In fact, there are many proven health benefits of drinking coffee.

Not only does coffee improve memory, athletic performance, and energy levels, it’s also a nutrient-rich food. All of the benefits of coffee or cold brew are similar with nitro cold brew. Unless there’s nutrients in nitrogen gas, it’s the exact same thing and definitely safe!

One drawback of both nitro cold brew and regular cold brew can be its high caffeine content. Although moderate amounts of caffeine is proven to be good for you, too much is not. It is possible to overdose on caffeine, and even elevated levels can lead to difficulty sleeping. Make sure you don’t drink nitro cold brew too late in the day, or you may have this issue as well.

How Many Calories Does Nitro Cold Brew Have?

Unless you add milk, cream, or sugar, nitro cold brew has 0 calories! You may be surprised by this since nitro has a subtle sweet taste and thick texture. Since nitro is the same as regular cold brew but with added nitrogen gas, there’s no calories in either variety.

If you usually enjoy cream or sugar in your cold brew, you’ll want to reconsider once you try nitro cold brew coffee. It is considered sacrilege to add either one to nitro, as it already has a thick texture and good taste on its own. Doing so may get you kicked out of a artisinal cafe like Stumptown or Cuvee Coffee.

coffee is great for weight loss

This makes nitro cold brew a great tool if you’re trying to lose weight. Studies have shown that the caffeine content in coffee can help reduce body weight and increase energy levels. Since cold brew and nitro has more caffeine than regular coffee, the weight loss effect is more pronounced.

Is Nitro Cold Brew Keto?

The ketogenic diet has exploded in popularity and has supporters all over the world. It is a high fat, low carb, adequate protein. The entire aim of the diet is to make your body enter a state of ketosis. This makes it so your body uses fat instead of carbohydrates as its main source of energy.

coffee that is ok for keto diet

Similar to regular coffee or cold brew, nitro is OK to eat on a keto diet. It has zero carbohydrates, zero calories, and zero sugar, which means it’s perfectly fine to enjoy.

Be forewarned, however, that adding sugar to your nitro cold brew would make it incompatible with the ketogenic diet. Many coffee shops like Starbucks have drinks on the menu that add cream to your nitro . As long as you stay away from these additives, you can be assured nitro cold brew will keep you in ketosis.

Is Nitro Cold Brew Vegan?

Vegans abstain from any type of animal products. Unlike vegetarians, in addition to not eating meat, they do not eat any food that came from an animal. This includes eggs, butter, dairy, and TONS of other foods!

Luckily for vegans, nitro cold brew coffee is absolutely OK to drink. Since it is the same as cold brew coffee, but includes nitrogen gas, there’s no dairy or other animal products in nitro coffee. There’s even a few coffee brewers that sell a “vegan nitro cold brew pack,” such as Rise. Vegans may want to stay away from the Starbucks nitro cold brew coffees that includes sweet cream or milk, but otherwise you’re good to go!

vegan hat

We also consulted a few experts on Whole30, they also say that nitro is approved for the diet. Coffee, water, and nitrogen are all approved for the Whole30 diet! Another huge aspect of the Whole30 diet is that you are not allowed any alcohol, since it is a form of sugar. Nitro cold brew coffee does not have alcohol, and Starbucks does not serve alcohol of any kind. You can be rest assured that almost any nitro cold brew coffee is OK for the Whole30 diet.

How To Make Nitro Cold Brew at Home

nitro cold brew foam head

If you’ve tried nitro coffee at Starbucks or another coffee shop, you may have been blown away by its price. At an average of $4-5 per 12 ounces, nitro is closer to the price of a beer than a regular coffee. Luckily for you, there are easy ways to make nitro cold brew at home.

Gear Needed to Make Nitro Cold Brew Coffee

Nitro Cold Brew At Home Directions

pouring the nitro into a cup

We’re assuming that you’ve already made your cold brew, and you’re ready to charge it with nitrogen gas. The french press is an easy way to make cold brew coffee.

If you need pictures to follow along the directions below, we published a guide to make nitro cold brew at home.

  1. Take the cold brew out of the refrigerator, press the plunger
  2. Empty the coffee into the nitro brew maker or whipped cream dispenser
  3. Close the lid to the whipped cream dispenser. Attach the nitrogen cartridge to the top
  4. Shake the dispenser, and pull the lever to release the coffee!