In early 2013, Nate Armbrust, a food scientist working at Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Portland, came up with a fantastic product that revolutionized the coffee industry.
He tried to infuse tiny bubbles into cold brew coffee in a way that gives it a rich and creamy texture without compromising the flavor. His nitrogen-infused cold coffee became an instant hit once he put it on tap at his local cafe.
But how does coffee become creamier? Nitrogen doesn't easily dissolve in water, thus giving it a thicker velvety feel.
One school of thought is that cold brew is inherently better than hot coffee because of its more profound flavor while hosting a less acidic profile. Adding nitro to it makes cold brew even better!
Another school of thought is that nitro infusion slows down the oxidation process that happens to coffee compounds over time. The longer it sits, the more bitter it becomes.
According to Professor Matthew Hartings, nitro infusion makes coffee more stable by pushing oxygen out of the liquid. It increases the shelf life and slows down oxidation.
No matter how you say it, coffee enthusiasts love nitro infused coffee. But it's not all sunshine and rainbows. Nitro systems are new and can be expensive for a hobbyist.
In a world of craft brews and small internet cafes, the nitro hobbyist needs inexpensive and versatile options for their passion.
But because nitro coffee is so new, most of the expense comes from the overpriced homebrew beer equipment that can be hard to find.
Fortunately, there are products available on the market which allow budding nitro brew enthusiasts to explore the niche. Now, you can make nitro at home whether you are serving for just yourself or for friends and family.
What size nitro cartridge should I choose?
Nitrogen cartridges are a simple, convenient, and compact alternative to big nitrogen tanks, but they come in different sizes. They can be used to make nitro cold brews, nitro teas, and nitro stout beers.
Nitrous Oxide cartridges are also popular for this use, but most often used within cream whippers. Depending on how you plan to make your nitro, you will need a cartridge that fits your particular device.
The most common nitro cartridge size is 8 grams (for cream whippers), but the uKeg Nitro uses a 16-gram cartridge.
Nitrogen Infusion from Cream Whippers?
Many people assume that making nitro-brew at home must be a complicated process; hence they don't even give it a try.
While upscale coffee makers use a tap system to infuse nitrogen into their cold brew, did you know that you can make it at home by using a cream whipper?
A cream whipper is a metal canister with a dispensing nozzle that whips cream or any other liquid using pressurized nitrous oxide cartridges. This method can be used to quickly infuse nitrous oxide into your cold brew, in just a little over one hour.
All you need to do is make a batch of cold brew coffee and pour it into a whipped cream dispenser. Then dispense the coffee into your cup, and you're good to go! Customer reviews suggest that the downside is a lot of mess.
Maybe you have a larger budget or want something a little more classy to show off to your friends.
Nitrogen Infusion from Mini Kegs
The uKeg Growler guys recently funded a Kickstarter project adapting their popular CO2 Beer Growler keg to dispense Nitro-Cold-brew through a proprietary nitrogen cartridge and regulator, dispensed from a growler-shaped mini keg.
Similar items have made their way to Amazon, sporting the proper hoses and gauges for 8 to 12 cups. You'll spend anywhere from $150 - $200 for a setup like this.
The method is straightforward with these, however. Simply open the keg by unscrewing the lid, pour in the cold brew, twist the lid shut, and activate the nitrogen cartridge. After some infusion time, it will be ready to pour from the tap.
If you are at all confused, there are many helpful videos available on Youtube which make this much easier to grasp, so make sure to check them out.
Can you use a CO2 Regulator for a Nitro Coffee Homebrew?
No, a CO2 regulator is not suitable for nitrogen systems. For that, you need to understand the difference between CO2 and Nitrogen regulator and how the gases work under pressure.
A primary CO2 regulator connects to the CO2 tank, which when pressurized, pushes the CO2 and liquids through the dispensing hose with greater force than what nitrogen produces.
Simply put, if you want to infuse nitrogen into your cold brew, you will need a regulator made specifically for that purpose. If you don't want to invest in a nitrogen regulator, you can get a nitrogen converter instead.
Are Nitro Cartridges Dangerous?
Nitrogen is not a toxic gas, but it does displace oxygen in the atmosphere. So it's vital to handle nitro cartridges with care. The atmosphere generally consists of 21% oxygen, and even a small drop in oxygen level is enough to cause damage.
You may have heard the saying that the excess of anything is wrong. Well, if you inhale too much of any of these gases, it can be hazardous.
These gases can reduce the oxygen flow to the brain or other organs as they displace oxygen in the blood. The side effects may lead to dizziness, unconsciousness, and brain damage. In severe cases, it can lead to death too.
Does it make you nervous? Well, Don't be! Analox Sensor Technology offers O2 monitors and sensors to check the oxygen level in the atmosphere where nitrogen is stored.
In case of any leakage, immediately call 911.
Precautions Needed for Storing Nitro Tanks or Cartridges
Storing nitrogen canisters and cartridges is very important to get right as your life may depend on it. There are certain precautions that you need to take to store nitro cartridges safely. They are certainly helpful in keeping you and everyone around you safe.
- Make sure that you store your cartridge in a cool and well-ventilated place. It's essential to keep them in a place where the temperature doesn't exceed 125 F.
- You should store them in an upright, firmly-secured position, so they don't fall or topple over.
- The cartridge should be at least 20 feet away from any combustible material
- DO NOT overfill the nitro tank. Follow the safety and care instructions that are sold with your nitrogen products.
- Contact the manufacturer if you have specific questions about their product before attempting to use it.
What's the Difference Between Nitrogen and Nitrous Oxide for Cold Brew?
Nitrogen is a molecule made up of two atoms of nitrogen, and nitrous oxide is a chemical compound made up of two molecules of nitrogen and one molecule of oxygen.
Even though both gases contain nitrogen, they are entirely different chemically. This distinction did not seem to matter to partygoers at an exhibition held by the Northern Restaurant and Bar in Manchester, recently.
Even though most of the attendees were involved in the beverage and hospitality industry, most of them didn't know the difference between nitrogen and nitrous oxide (generally known as laughing gas).
Nitrogen is an inert gas that is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. It makes 78% of Earth's atmosphere. Its usage is becoming very common in the beverage industry, including coffee, beer, wine, and juice production.
The primary purpose of this gas is to prevent oxidation. Still, it also can enhance the taste and quality of any beverage that it's infused with.
Unlike nitrogen, nitrous oxide has a slightly sweet odor and taste. It is used in medical procedures to numb pain, in engines to enhance their power output and in whipped cream cans to prevent them from going bad.
It gives a euphoric, happy feeling when people inhale it; that is why people call it "laughing gas."
As we have discussed earlier, nitrogen creates tiny bubbles that give a frothy mouthfeel. But this texture lasts only for a little while before deflating. Probably only a couple of minutes!
Nitrous oxide makes up for what nitrogen lacks. It keeps that creamy texture lasting way longer than a nitrogen-only infused drink. Approximately ten times longer! It also brings out the natural sweetness in cream and milk.
The downside is that nitrous oxide alone may cause your nitro brew to foam.
There are some Beer Home Brew Stout enthusiasts who have perfected the techniques for getting the best foam in their stouts.
How do I Choose a Nitrogen or Nitrous Oxide Tank?
Before choosing a tank, consider the applications you have for the setup. Ask yourself a few questions like:
- How much space does my nitro setup need?
- How much nitro do I plan to dispense per month?
- What are the specific hookups needed for the tank?
- Where can I refill the tank?
A great nitrogen tank is a pre-requisite of any notable nitro cold brew setup. Companies like Beverage Elements offer unique nitrogen cylinders made up of aluminum and steel. Their products come in different sizes and weights for any nitro coffee service.
- 20 cu. ft. Steel Nitrogen Cylinder: This tank is small and quite affordable. You should add this item to your cart if you have a smaller nitro cold brew coffee application. It can be infused in stout beers as well.
- 40 cu. ft. Steel Nitrogen Cylinder: This item has an even higher capacity than the standard 20 cu. ft. and is meant for heavy use that a popular coffee shop might experience.
Many of the accessories to your nitro setup can also be found on Amazon. Before spending any money on a product, make sure to look into what customers are saying about it, and ensure that it works with your setup.
Customer reviews are beneficial when shopping for this kind of equipment. Make sure you do your research as you don't want to waste your money by choosing the wrong item.
Is Owning a Nitro Cold Brew System at Home a Cost-effective Solution?
Depending on whether or not you plan to brew with nitro for every batch you make and how often you drink it will determine how cost-effective owning a nitro cold brew system will be for you.
Let's break down the costs for owning the most convenient option at home versus buying premade:
If you decide to own your own nitro system, you may find the convenience and sheer novelty of it is worth the cost, but is it really a better deal? Let's see:
- Ukeg Nitro ($199.00) Can brew 50oz per charge
This is a one-time cost, so this would need to be calculated over time and uses to determine the value. We'll get to this calculation last.
- Nitro chargers 16g ($15.00) includes 5 chargers
You only need 1 charger per 50oz brew, so each brew will cost you $3.
- Average Coffee Beans ($18.00) 1 lb of coffee beans or 454 grams
The recipe on uKeg's website calls for 60g of ground coffee per 50oz brew. You can prepare 19 brews with a single 1lb bag when you do the math, and it costs about $.95 per batch in coffee bean costs.
As you can see, the uKeg Nitro produces a 50oz batch every time, so we really need to look at costs based on this number, since you'd be wasting cartridges with anything less. When you calculate a per brew cost, you'll spend $3.95 per 50oz batch.
If you decide to buy premade options, you'll pay on average ~$3.50 per 16 fl oz or $10.90 per 50 fl oz
$3.95 is obviously lower than $10.90 but in order to make this worth it, you'd have to make nearly 29 batches with the uKeg Nitro or approximately 91 cups of nitro (16oz size) to break even.
You'll have to determine for yourself if this adds up, but writing as a proud owner of one, I love the convenience, portability, and options I have with my own setup.
I can support the roasters I want, try different bean combinations, and even make other nitro recipes with it. So, for me, it is definitely worth the price to own my own nitro setup.
Now, if you decide to go with a larger commercial system, you'll find your costs will go up for the machinery, but the cost per cup will reduce proportionally.