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What Is Nitro Coffee And How Is This Creamy Stout-Like Beverage Made?

8 December 2021

You see rich, brown nectar with a white, foamy head kissing the rim of a glass. Bubbles rise through a gradient of deep amber. It’s cold, inviting, and you may be forgiven by thinking that the drink in question is a draft beer.

This is nitro coffee, a popular drink that has created a cult following in both massive coffee chains and independent specialty coffee houses.

a glass of nitro coffee and pressurised container
Nitro coffee is commonly compared to stout due to its foamy head. Photo from Hatfields London.

As exciting as it sounds for the drip coffee or pump espresso coffee enthusiast, the purist may require more convincing. What else could elevate a good cup of coffee, and why nitrogen?

We make a case for sampling different brewing styles, opening doors to new roasters and finding that perfect iced coffee for those hot days. For the uninitiated (or the unconvinced), we decode the mysteries of nitro coffee by breaking it down from bean to keg and explaining why this stout-like beverage is all the rage.

So, What Is It?

What is nitro coffee, you might ask?

Simply put, nitro coffee is a cold brew infused with nitrogen. These tiny nitrogen bubbles rise through the liquid, creating a rich, creamy texture, not unlike the head of a good pint of beer.

Taste-wise, nitro coffee is less bitter and acidic, with a light body and a smooth mouthfeel – but still with that caffeine kick.

How Is It Made?

nitropress
Nitro coffee starts with making cold brew, which is then charged with pressurised nitrogen. Photo from Hatfields London.

Good stuff takes time. Nitro coffee starts with making cold brew, where coffee is brewed in cold or room temperature water and steeped for at least 12 hours. The liquid is then charged with nitrogen through a pressurised valve and stored in a keg, where it is kept chilled.

When poured, the cascade of bubbles creates a gradation of colour, culminating in that creamy head of foam. If you’re keen to experiment or try a curated experience, seek out our coffee expert advisors to help you along.

Why Nitrogen, Of All Things?

There’s a science behind the nitro coffee’s creamy mouthfeel.

Because nitrogen gas doesn’t dissolve easily in liquid, these tiny bubbles create an illusion of a thicker brew without adding actual dairy. The result is a smooth, velvety texture that’s gotten even the occasional coffee drinker firmly on board.

There’s also another practical reason.

The nitrogen infusion pushes the oxygen out of the coffee, making it akin to a natural preservative. Nitro coffee has a longer shelf life (lasting for a couple of weeks) and tastes as fresh as it was just brewed, which is why you may have also seen it being sold in cans.

Why Not Just Drink Regular Cold Brew?

someone stirring frothy coffee beverage
Nitro Coffee is a dairy-free beverage suitable for vegans. Photo from: Charlotte May.

You can! It comes down to personal preference, and sometimes a regular cold brew hits that caffeine spot. The case for nitro coffee isn’t just about its taste but also its options to coffee drinkers.

For one, it’s a dairy-free beverage with the illusion of richness — perfect for vegans or for those who want to reduce their dairy intake.

The inclusion of nitrogen reduces acidity and bitterness, making nitro coffee a more accessible version of black coffee. This coffee style could be a good entry point for those who typically swear by lattes.

Can You Make Nitro Coffee At Home?

coffee beans on a weighing scale
You can make Nitro coffee at home with mini-kegs or a whipped cream dispenser. Photo from George Kroeker.

With its kegs and valves, the making of nitro coffee is a tad more complex than your average cup of coffee. But with a bit of investment, you can certainly make it yourself at home.

Start with making your cold brew and store it in your fridge, which can keep for up to two weeks.

To transform the brew into nitro coffee, mini-kegs are available. But for a more inexpensive and versatile option, you’ll find that a whipped cream dispenser can also get the job done. These dispensers use nitrogen gas cartridges (which you’ll have to replace).

Here’s a basic recipe to whip up nitro coffee at home.

  1. Grind your usual coffee beans or even Kenyan coffee beans until you achieve a medium to coarse grind. Be mindful not to grind them too finely, as this produces a cloudy cold brew. Machines like the De’Longhi Blade Coffee Grinder offer more control to grind size with its ‘push to grind’ system.
  2. For each cup of coffee grounds, add five cups of water into a pitcher or container (this is a general rule, though you can vary the ratio according to how strong you like your coffee). Ensure that your water is fresh and at a cold or room temperature.
  3. Leave it to steep in the fridge for at least 12 hours.
  4. Filter your cold brew until no grounds remain.
  5. Pour into a whipped cream dispenser and add an equal amount of water. Charge the dispenser with one shot of nitrous oxide, and shake for 30 seconds.
  6. Dispense your fresh nitro brew using the trigger, and serve immediately. Enjoy without ice to avoid dilution and to preserve that foamy head.

Make High-Quality Nitro Coffee From Scratch

The professionalism of baristas is hard to beat, but you can create high-quality nitro coffee from scratch at home. For tips on maximising your coffee machine and for more beverage inspiration, signing up for De’Longhi Rewards provides you with this know-how and more. Your homemade cold brew awaits.

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This article features De’Longhi Blade Coffee Grinder

This article features De'Longhi Pump Espresso Coffee Machines

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