What started as a technique used for beer, nitro is now one of the biggest trends in coffee. These days, you can find nitro coffee just about anywhere — grocery stores, c-store shelves, Starbucks and artisan cafes.
Nitro coffee got its start at specialty coffee shops, but it wasn’t long until Starbucks caught on. The coffee giant introduced its first nitro coffee in 2016 at its Seattle Reserve Roastery. In 2019, it became available at all of its locations.
In short, nitro coffee is cold-brew coffee infused with nitrogen gas through a pressurized valve.
The first step in the nitro process is to make cold-brew coffee. While cold-brew coffee is usually cold, “cold brew” actually refers to the process of preparing the coffee. Beans are ground and then soaked in room-temperature water for an extended period of time — usually 12 hours or more — in order to to extract sugars, oils and caffeine. The result is a smooth, highly caffeinated coffee, with about half the acidity as other types of coffee.
To make nitro coffee, the cold-brew coffee is then infused with nitrogen gas with a pressurized valve, which gives it its distinct texture, along with a frothy, milky layer that sinks from top to bottom. This is similar to a Guinness, the infamous nitro stout.
The end result of the nitro process is a coffee drink that has a thick and velvety mouthfeel and is slightly sweet, even without any added dairy or sugar. Nitro cold brew is typically served chilled, without ice, so as to not damage the foamy top.