Too niche or at least somewhat relatable? Regardless, to answer all of your burning (nitro coffee) questions, we went straight to the source and chatted with Aaron Robinson, an equipment program manager at Starbucks. Ahead the coffee expert explains what nitro coffee is (finally, we know!), the difference between nitro cold brew vs. cold brew, and exactly how Starbucks makes it in stores so you feel much more prepared (and potentially inclined) to order it next time you’re in line.
What is nitro cold brew coffee, according to a Starbucks coffee expert
It’s safe to say that Robinson knows the ins and outs of Starbucks coffee. The coffee pro began with the company 20 years ago as a barista and has since held several roles, including manager of coffee education. Nowadays, Robinson works with the research and development department to implement new coffee brewers and equipment for a seamless barista experience. One coffee innovation he can’t get enough of? Nitro coffee.
Although the name gives science experiment, Robinson reassures us that nitro cold brew coffee is far less intimidating than it sounds. In truth, it’s basically an amped-up version of their original cold brew. “To create Starbucks’ nitro cold brew, we begin with our signature cold brew, which is slowly steeped in small batches for 20 hours in each of our stores,” Robinson says. This is where the nitro (which is short for nitrogen) bit comes into play. “Nitrogen is infused into the cold brew as it pours from the tap.”
Nitro cold brew vs. cold brew
Robinson explains that this infusion creates microbubbles, which give the coffee a cascading, silky texture and luxurious mouthfeel. “The result is a velvety-smooth coffee with a subtly sweet flavor and a rich, creamy head of foam,” he says.
Although there are no added ingredients (aside from nitrogen) in their nitro brew, Robinson notes that it’s not uncommon for folks to notice hints of sweetness that they wouldn’t get from regular cold brew alone. “When coffee is brewed at a cold temperature, the result is a lower acidity and a smoother coffee profile. Although there is no sugar or sweetener added, the nitro cold brew seems sweeter and creamier than the iced cold brew because of how the nitrogen interacts with and smooths out the coffee flavor,” Robinson says. As such, if you’re looking for a low-sugar alternative to your usual order, nitro coffee might be your best bet.
“When coffee is brewed at a cold temperature, the result is a lower acidity and a smoother coffee profile. Although there is no sugar or sweetener added, the nitro cold brew seems sweeter and creamier than the iced cold brew because of how the nitrogen interacts with and smooths out the coffee flavor,” Robinson says.
What are some of the key elements for making nitro cold brew coffee?
In a previous conversation with another Starbucks coffee pro, we learned that the beloved chain operates like a well-oiled machine due to the strict benchmarks established to maintain consistency across all 35,000 stores. Thankfully, Robinson clues us in on some of the key elements for making nitro cold brew coffee like a Starbucks barista.
For starters, Robinson says the type of coffee ground used makes all of the difference. “Starbucks Cold Brew is made using a coarse-ground, medium-roast coffee that brings chocolatey notes and a well-rounded flavor,” he says. “When making cold brew, a coarse ground coffee is ideal since the water and coffee grounds spend 20 hours together. If the grinds are too small, then instead of a tasty concentrate, the result would be a thick coffee sludge,” Robinson says. No, thank you!
BTW, Starbucks’ Cold Brew Blend features coffees from Colombia and East Africa. “Latin American and African coffee growing regions produce coffees that result in great tasting cold brew,” Robinson says.
Of course, by now, we know that nitro cold brew is made using the same brewing method as their regular cold brew, except for the obvious addition of nitrogen to the latter. But, if you intend on making it at home, you might need to invest in some fancy (potentially expensive) coffee-making gear. “We use a tap system to infuse nitrogen into the Cold Brew,” Robinson says.
That said, if that’s not plausible, Robinson says there is an easy workaround and way to keep nitro cold brew coffee on tap at all times (from the comfort of your home). “With canned Nitro Cold Brew, nitrogen is infused as soon as you open the can, creating a delicious nitro cold brew on the go,” he says. This, in turn, will yield similar results to the nitrogen tap-infused cold brew beverages you can get in stores. *New life hack unlocked.*
And, if this isn’t convincing enough, according to a recent Starbucks earnings call, two out of three customers purchase cold coffee, which has become their third fastest-growing segment over the last two years. As per our calculations, considering nitro coffee is the glow-up version of good ol’ cold brew, do we have a major trend alert on the horizon? We dare to say yes.
An RD shares the (many) benefits of drinking coffee:
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