Nitro coffee is any coffee that has been infused with nitrogen gas, a colorless and odorless gas. Charging beverages with nitrogen is not a new technique; nitrogen gas has been used in beverages for decades and is completely safe and effective. Most beverages use carbon dioxide gas, which creates larger bubbles found in soda and regular beers. Nitrogen gas is an alternative to carbon dioxide and reacts differently when it’s pumped into a liquid. The bubbles created by nitrogen are significantly smaller than carbon dioxide bubbles and give nitro coffee its signature thick, creamy texture.
Nitro coffee starts with regular cold-brew coffee and is then infused with the nitrogen gas right before it’s poured from the tap or infusion kettle. Cold brew nitro coffee is easy to make in bulk, and while it’s possible to make hot-brewed nitro coffee, it must be prepared in small amounts and is therefore uncommon. Because cold brew is slowly steeped in cold water, it pulls less acidity out of the coffee but actually pulls more caffeine out of the coffee beans. This makes a rich, ultra-caffeinated brew that’s lower in acidity than traditionally brewed coffee. The low number of acids also provides a unique taste and decreases the bitterness of nitro coffee.
Nitrogen gas does not diffuse like carbon dioxide, which means that nitrogen forms small bubbles that affect the texture of the coffee without changing its taste. Nitrogen is preferred to carbon dioxide because it gives the beverage a frothy, foam-like texture and smooth mouthfeel, which gives the perception of a sweet beverage without sugar being added. The nitrogen adds a bit of sweetness, and for this reason, ingredients such as milk or creamer are typically not necessary in nitro coffee. The nitrogen gas hits different places of your tongue, bringing out all the flavors.
Nitro coffee has grown in popularity because it can be a healthy alternative to a regular caffeine fix, as it is safe for those with milk sensitivities, lower in calories than a latte or other flavored coffees, lower in acidity, and sweet without the use of sugars. In addition to its great taste, its dense, foamy top layer creates a visual appeal that is also part of the overall experience of the beverage.