Nitro: A Completely New Coffee Experience

Java connoisseurs are tapping into a new trend that looks like beer but tastes like coffee.
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Nitrogen-infused coffee is finding its way into a growing number of cafes, restaurants and bars. (Photo: Nutto Nataphat Lordidentity/Shutterstock)

A new trend is brewing in the coffee community. As consumer interest in cold-brew coffee continues to skyrocket, the industry is also looking for innovative serving methods and provide more variety in drinking options for coffee connoisseurs.

So what’s new on the menu? Nitrogen-infused coffee. Poured draught-style from a tap, nitro coffee is finding its way into a growing number of cafes, restaurants and bars. Here’s what you need to know about the new brew, why it’s turning heads and what you need to know before tapping into the trend.

The taste you can see

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A frothy head appears on top of nitro-brew coffee, which has a much creamier taste than normal cold-brew coffee. (Photo: keyura/Shutterstock)

Nitro is essentially cold-brew coffee that’s been put into a kegerator, pressurized with nitrogen gas and is poured from a draught spigot, said Anthony Massari, owner of Boston Common Coffee Co. Infusing the coffee with nitrogen creates a smooth, velvety composition that looks like beer but tastes like coffee.

“You’ll see the cascading and a creamy, frothy head on top. We usually serve it with no ice, no milk and no sugar — just black. Coming out of a kegerator, it’s already cold, so it’s really just a regular cold brew but served in a different format to provide a different taste sensation.”

The major difference isn’t the flavor, her said, but the texture. “It’s more of a palate change. Rather than a flat, black, cold-brew iced coffee, nitro is slightly effervescent.” And because it uses cold-brew coffee, nitro is usually more caffeinated than a regular cup of joe, so you’re getting a bigger buzz, while enjoying a smoother, more velvety taste.

Gaining ground(s) among coffee lovers

Nitro coffee is still very new to the market — so new, in fact, that the National Coffee Association only recently added it as a drink option on their annual consumer survey, in 2016. But even early data show the drink is gaining ground in the coffee market, with 10 percent of consumers claiming to have tried nitrogen-infused coffee in the past year.

Massari, who likes to be on the cutting edge with his coffee products, started serving cold brew at his cafes on day one — more than 13 years ago. Nitro, on the other hand, is so new he only added it to his menu two years ago. “It’s still much more of a specialty order.”

Related: What Your Coffee Choice Says About You as a Small Business Owner

But that could change — and quickly. Starbucks started selling nitro coffee barely a year ago, and Dunkin Donuts only began testing out the nitro market only within the past couple months. Only time will tell, but with the marketing dollars of large brands like these behind the trend, the sky’s the limit.

Tapping into the nitro trend

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Nitro coffee is poured from a draught spigot and if you own a bar or restaurant that serves Guinness, it will be easy to add nitro coffee to your menu since you already have the nitro gas. (Photo: sxodo/Shutterstock)

For small cafes, restaurants and bars considering adding nitro to their menu, cost of production and equipment are a huge factor. Depending on if you’re making the product yourself or having it delivered, costs of adding nitro coffee to your menu can vary significantly.

Related: 5 Coffeehouse Trends that Could Perk Up Your Business

“If we’re brewing it ourselves and roasting it ourselves, our costs are much lower, but labor is much higher,” Massari said. “It’s actually easier for a bar to do it because a lot of places already serve Guinness and have the nitro gas.” If you have the right style spigot, you can just hook up the nitro coffee keg to your bar and you’re ready to go.

But because production of nitro coffee is more complex, establishments are able to charge a premium for the product. While Starbucks is charging around $3.95 for its 12 oz. nitro coffee, some shops pocketing five dollars per drink.

All in all, “nitro is definitely something to add to your menu. It’s a unique product,” said Massari. While it does take a little bit of extra effort and work, it can bring more coffee connoisseurs into your establishment, or at least appeal to those who want to start their mornings like it’s Friday night.

 

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