What is nitro cold brew coffee?

Antonio Salles
September 26, 2023
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The idea behind nitro cold brew coffee emerged as the specialty coffee sector sought to emulate the on-tap service model, akin to practices in bars and breweries. Nitro cold brew coffee is essentially a sister technique for a conventional brewing process. 

The process is often used for beverages infused with carbon dioxide (CO2), which is evident in the beer industry. However, it soon became apparent that CO2, the customary choice for carbonation in beer, did not harmonise well with coffee. 

This led to experimentation with food-grade gases, ultimately culminating in the preference for nitrogen. Infusing coffee with nitrogen creates micro-bubbles, which give the coffee a cascading, frothy texture. According to a recent survey, 62% of industry leaders believe nitro coffee will become a coffee shop staple within the next three years.

To learn more about the concept, origins, and growing popularity of nitro cold brew coffee, I spoke with Erik Busch, the owner of LongStory Coffee.

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Nitro cold brew coffee: Understanding the basics

Traditional cold brew coffee retains its stillness, which allows oxygen molecules to interact with the liquid and degrade flavour. This research is substantiated by numerous credible sources, including “The Craft and Science of Coffee” by Britta Folmer, a widely recognised text within the coffee industry. 

Nitro cold brew, on the other hand, is a process that requires a high-pressure environment, typically maintained at a pressure range of 40 to 50 PSI. The aim is to efficiently eliminate oxygen molecules from the liquid and replace them with nitrogen. Nitrogen molecules engage with taste receptors attuned to sweetness, making the beverage taste sweeter than it truly is. 

Additionally, nitrogen molecules augment the coffee’s aeration, viscosity, and the formation of a frothy top, imbuing it with a perceived creaminess. The convergence of these factors has occasionally led consumers to misconstrue the presence of cream and sugar when the concoction is comprised solely of coffee.

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Exploring its popularity

Stumptown Coffee Roasters was one of the first brands to introduce nitro cold brew coffee in June 2013. This marked one of the early appearances of nitro cold brew in cafés across the US. 

Nate Armbrust, a food scientist at Stumptown Coffee Roasters, played a crucial role in developing the concept of infusing nitrogen gas into cold coffee. Nate started experimenting with nitrogen gas infusion while working at Stumptown in early 2013. 

After some trial and error, he achieved the right balance of mouthfeel and flavour for nitro cold brew. It was initially a secret side project before being offered to the public. Initially, consumers were curious and excited about this new technique that created a visually appealing cascading effect and a frothy, creamy head. 

The unique presentation immediately drew attention and set it apart from traditional iced coffee or cold brew options. 

Nitro cold brew enthusiasts often noted the foam added a distinct velvety texture to the coffee and helped the beverage retain its flavour profile over time. This flavour stability appealed to consumers who sought a consistently enjoyable coffee experience. 

Additionally, the lower acidity of nitro cold brew, often attributed to its cold brewing process, appealed to those who preferred a smoother, less bitter coffee. As a result, nitro cold brew coffee soon became a sought-after choice in select cafés.  

In addition to its sensory appeal, nitro cold brew has found its place in the market because of its convenience. The rise of ready-to-drink (RTD) nitro coffee products has expanded accessibility, appealing to consumers who want a quick and efficient way to consume coffee. 

Notably, the target demographic for nitro cold brew predominantly encompasses individuals aged between 18 and 35. Research indicates younger generations are more receptive to novel culinary experiences, such as the concept of chilled coffee.

“Over the last four years of our cafe selling nitro coffee, we have seen our sales grow greatly,” explains Erik, who is also the head roaster at LongStory Coffee. “This is partly due to our overall sales growing, but I also believe that consumers are becoming more open to drinking cold coffee.”

He hints that sales of nitro cold brew at local farmers’ markets have seen a 200% upswing in the past two years, while café sales have nearly doubled during the same period. According to Future Market Insights, the nitrogenated coffee market is expected to reach $60 billion in 2032. More so, trends point to a robust 4.1% growth prediction from 2022 to 2032.

“I believe nitro cold brew coffee will become much more mainstream in the near future, due to the access of nitrogen infusing equipment in the industry,” Erik says. “Smaller cafés have the ability to make their own nitro cold brew for a relatively cheap introductory price. Additionally, state or regional specialty coffee roasters have access to canning equipment that used to only be on the national roaster scale.

“Due to these contributing factors, I believe during the warmer months of the year, this beverage will soon take over sales. Even in the colder months, I think it will be a prevailing choice due to its quick and easy consumption.” 

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Is there an ideal way to package nitro cold brew?

It is important to note that packaging and presentation play a crucial role in the growing nitro cold brew coffee market. Maintaining pressure and minimising exposure to oxygen and light is imperative to preserve the unique qualities of the beverage. 

This has led to various innovations in cold brew coffee packaging, such as nitrogen-infused cans. Packaging such as this helps ensure the coffee maintains its integrity after manufacturing up until the point of consumption. 

Many specialty coffee roasters and cafés choose to package their nitro cold brew coffee products in aluminium cans or glass bottles over flexible pouches. Nitro cold brew coffee is seldom found in flexible pouch packaging, likely due to nitrogen pressure concerns.  

At the same time, environmentally friendly choices, such as infinitely recyclable aluminium cans, offer better protection against light and oxygen. 

Nitro brew coffee is evidence of scientific innovation and creativity in the industry. It has become the muse of discerning coffee enthusiasts and is clearly here to stay. Nitro cold brew coffee’s distinctiveness imparts a frothy, creamy texture and an enduring flavour profile that has captivated discerning coffee enthusiasts, which is a significant shift in cold coffee consumption. 

At MTPak Coffee, we understand the need to make your nitro cold brew products stand out. We offer a variety of cold brew coffee packaging options, including BPA-free fully recyclable bottles, cartons made from certified and recyclable paper, infinitely recyclable aluminium cans, as well as a range of shaped and flexible coffee pouches for traditional cold brew coffee options. 

Images from LongStory Coffee 

For more information on nitro cold brew coffee packaging options, contact our team today. 

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