Cold Brew vs Nitro Cold Brew: A Comprehensive Comparison

Iced coffee has become one of the most popular beverages in America over the past decade, with cold brew coffee rising to become the darling method of coffee extraction brewed on the chilled side. However, there is still confusion around what exactly differentiates cold brew coffee from nitro cold brew coffee. As someone who used to be perplexed by these terms myself, in this post I hope to provide a clear explanation of the key differences between standard cold brew vs nitro cold brew so that whether you’re a fellow coffee enthusiast or just getting acquainted with specialty coffee drinks, you’ll walk away understanding these trendy iced coffee styles at a deeper level. Let’s dive into the nuanced but important distinctions between cold brew vs nitro cold brew.

What Is A Cold Brew?

Cold brew is a drink made by steeping coffee grounds in cold or room temperature water for an extended period of time, usually 12-24 hours. This slow and gentle extraction process creates a smooth and less acidic cup of coffee with a full-bodied flavor profile. The end result is typically served over ice or diluted with water or milk to make it more palatable. It has become a beloved alternative to hot coffee for many people, especially during the summer months.

What Is A Nitro Cold Brew?

It’s basically cold brew coffee infused with nitrogen and served fresh from a keg or a can. But here’s the best part – those tiny nitrogen bubbles give it a smooth and creamy texture that’s hard to resist. And if you’re looking for some extra sweetness, try it with milk or even chocolate oat milk. In recent years, Nitro Cold Brew has been getting more and more popular. People are loving its unique flavors and the chance to try something new. Plus, it’s super convenient because you can find it in grocery stores too. Whether you’re chilling on a hot day or in need of a little pick-me-up on a cold day, a can of Nitro Cold Brew coffee is the ultimate refreshment.

Comparing Brewing Methods

The brewing process for cold brew and nitro cold brew differs slightly:

Cold Brew

  • Grind Size: Coarse ground coffee is recommended to allow for proper water circulation and extraction when steeping. Finer grinds can lead to overextraction and bitterness.
  • Coffee to Water Ratio: A typical immersion ratio is 1:4 or 1:5 coffee to water. The extended steep time necessitates using less grounds to prevent overpowering the flavor.
  • Equipment: Cold brew can be made with a French press, toddy brewing container, mason jars, or cold brew dripper bags. Any vessel that allows you to fully submerge the grounds in water will work.

Nitro Cold Brew

  • Starts as Cold Brew: Nitro cold brew starts as a batch of standard cold brew concentrate, using the same coarse grind size and roughly 1:4 coffee to water ratio.
  • Nitrogen Infusion: The concentrated coffee is then infused with nitrogen gas when dispensed, using stout faucets, nitrogen charging lids, or canned using innovative widget technology.
  • Special Equipment: To get the nitrogen infusion effect, specialized equipment like a nitro coffee keg setup is required. Home brewing is trickier but possible.

How the Taste Profiles Compare?

How the Taste Profiles Compare?

Let’s break down the distinct flavor notes you’ll enjoy in each chilled coffee style:

Cold Brew

  • Inherent Sweetness: The elongated brewing time extracts more sugars from the coffee beans, yielding a subtly sweeter cup.
  • Fruity/Floral: Depending on the coffee variety and roast profile, flavors like berry, stone fruit, and hibiscus may come through.
  • Smoother Acidity: Cold water brewing reduces acidic sharpness, making for a mellow, easy-drinking beverage.

Nitro Cold Brew

  • Creamy Texture: The nitrogen microbubbles give it a velvety, sipable texture, almost like a cold latte.
  • Chocolatey/Nutty: The nitro infusion tends to bring out the natural chocolate and nutty notes of the coffee.
  • Roasted Undertones: As a concentrated brew, some subtle roastedness can cut through the sweetness.
  • Faint Sweetness: The creamy nitrogen lends a perception of sweetness, though less than regular cold brew.

While not hugely different in flavor, the extra nitrogen does nudge the taste profile of nitro cold brew in a richer, sweeter direction.

Caffeine Content: How Do They Compare?

One question drinkers often have is whether cold brew or nitro cold brew contains more caffeine. Here’s a look at how the caffeine content stacks up:

  • Longer Steep = More Caffeine: In general, cold brew is made with a higher coffee to water ratio and longer extraction time compared to drip coffee. This can result in slightly higher caffeine levels.
  • Nitro May Be Stronger: Some nitro cold brew concentrates use a more concentrated ratio, perhaps 1:3 coffee to water. The nitrogen widget cans also use additional coffee. So nitro brews can trend towards more caffeine per ounce than typical cold brew.
  • Hard to Measure: Due to variations in brewing methods and coffee origins, measuring and comparing caffeine levels precisely is challenging. But both styles likely contain moderately more caffeine than hot coffee.
  • Dilution Changes Things: Adding water, milk, or ice to either cold brew option will alter the caffeine concentration in your final glass. Diluting with water may lower the total caffeine per serving.

The takeaway is that both styles offer a boost of caffeine to help energize your day. Just be aware nitro cold brew may provide a bit stronger of a jolt in some cases.

Health Benefits Of Cold Brew & Nitro Cold Brew

Both cold brew and nitro cold brew offer some potential health benefits, such as lower acidity levels compared to traditional hot coffee. They also tend to have a smoother taste, making them more enjoyable for those who experience stomach discomfort from acidic drinks. Additionally, the slow extraction process of these iced coffee methods may preserve more antioxidants and nutrients found in coffee beans.

Cold Brew Vs Nitro Cold Brew : What Should You Try?

Cold Brew Vs Nitro Cold Brew: What Should You Try?

Ultimately, the decision between cold brew vs nitro cold brew comes down to personal preference. If you enjoy a smoother and less acidic iced coffee option, then traditional cold brew may be your go-to. However, if you’re looking for a unique and refreshing experience with a creamy texture, then give nitro cold brew a try. Both options offer their own benefits and nuances, so don’t be afraid to experiment and see which one you like best. And who knows, maybe you’ll end up loving both for different occasions or moods. Now that you have a better understanding of the differences between cold brew and nitro cold brew, go forth and enjoy your iced coffee with confidence.

Additional Factors to Consider

Here are some other key considerations when deciding between standard cold brew and nitro:

  • Cost: Due to the specialty equipment required, nitro cold brew on tap tends to be priced higher than regular cold brew at coffee shops. Canned and bottled options are more expensive too. So budget is something to keep in mind.
  • Accessibility: Cold brew is widely available and easy for home brewing with basic tools. Nitro requires more complex nitro-infusing equipment less readily available for at-home use. So cold brew may have the upper hand for accessibility.
  • Environmental Impact: The extra production steps and packaging for nitro cold brew likely makes it more resource intensive overall. If sustainability is important to you, cold brew may be the more eco-friendly choice.
  • Milk and Sweeteners: You may find less need to doctor up nitro cold brew with milk, cream, or sweetener thanks to the naturally creamy mouthfeel and sweet taste. With cold brew, adding components like milk and sugar syrups gives more flexibility to customize your drink.

6 thoughts on “Cold Brew vs Nitro Cold Brew: A Comprehensive Comparison”

  1. Starbucks cold brew was costing $5 a day, made my own cold brew and simple syrup and now it’s maybe $1/day to feed my cold brew cravings!

    • What I like about cold brew is that it’s so convenient. It’s just there waiting for you. It’s smoother than normal coffee, is more flavorful, and just requires a bit of initial patience to produce.

    • With the health benefits it provides, such as lower acidity levels for better digestion and smoother caffeine kick without added sugars, nitro cold brew coffee may be just what you need in your daily routine.


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