On Tap – Nitrogenated Coffee

coffee nitro

A cold Nitro coffee served by Olympia Coffee Roasters

I have the blessing of living in the coffee rich area of the Pacific Northwest. No, we do not grow beans here, but we sure know how to make a great cup of coffee. Here, craft roasted coffee beans and craft brewed coffee is as wild a craze as craft brewed beers. While I doubt it will ever reach the volume of the beer industry, it is a rapidly growing market.

Discounting water, tea – including all varieties, is the most consumed beverage on the world. Second behind that is beer, followed by coffee. In the United States people consume far more coffee per capita then tea, but tea numbers have been on a steady increase since 2004.With the latest statistics collected from 2012, on any given day 84% of Americans will consume some tea beverage, most of it iced. Continuing this growth trend, it is estimated that in 2013 the tea business will be a $4.8 Billion (yes, with a “B”) industry. With all that said however, the coffee industry in the United States, spurred by Starbucks’ massive explosion worldwide, has become as eclectic and specialized as anything in the culinary world. Knowing the numbers on tea, now imagine this fact: Coffee drinkers in the US consume 18 times more coffee per-captia than tea annually. That is truly incredible.

Part of what keeps coffee on the rise is its incredible variety. Variety comes from all facets of the industry from continued innovation in growing, processing and serving coffee.  In the American market, consumers are just now being exposed to what others worldwide have been partaking of for generations. Additionally, the consumer experience innovations are adding to this growth. Imagine if you will, coffee on tap.

Coffee on tap, pressurized (yet normally only slightly carbonated in the process), and served like beer, is now one of the latest trends in artisan coffee. Relatively new, coffee on tap is novel and delicious. People have been drinking iced and cold coffee for a very long time, only now are we begging to see purpose produced coffee to be brewed and/or served cold. Artisan coffee houses never-ending experimentation on brews, blends, types and roasts – are now creating a whole new genre of coffee purposed from bean production to finished cup, to be served cold. Knowing that serving coffee cold can have a dramatic effect on the flavor palate, bitterness, olfactory sensory and more, carefully designing the cup from the ground up is important to reach the desired result.


Ben Sandler of Queens Kickshaw with his coffee tap

Both brewing and pressurization processes vary. Some companies prefer a cold brewed coffee for their on-tap brands. Some will use a more traditional hot brew process, poured over ice,and served fresh, while still other will brew hot, then refrigerate and store in kegs for cooling and serving. Keep in mind that serving coffee off tap is not typically designed to serve you a carbonated coffee. It is designed to serve you a cold cup of well made coffee that tastes and smells just like your regular cold-served coffee, the keg and tap are just the delivery system. While some companies companies are producing carbonated coffee drinks, including Starbucks testing the market with a product called ‘Fizzio’, this is not what we normally find in fine coffee houses, and not the focus of this article.

[Author’s Note: For an excellent explanation on the subtleties of the differences between carbon dioxide and Nitrogen pressurization please read this report on the Keg Outlet Blog.]

One of my local, and most beloved coffee companies, the Olympic Coffee Roasters, started serving a nitrogenated coffee on-tap product they call “Nitro”. Further research showed similar nitrogen infused coffees are being served by other coffee shops across the country as well, Verve Coffee, The Brew, and Stumptown Coffee to name a few. Being a regular at one of the local Olympic Coffee Roaster’s locations, hearing about the Nitro and seeing it posted to their Facebook Page, I decided I wanted to give it a try.

I preface this by saying that I am not normally a cold coffee drinker. Having given up drinking beer some years ago, when I want a cold drink it is typically iced tea (like apparently 85% of all other tea drinkers as well). So the idea of cold coffee in and of itself did not really appeal to me. Cold coffee to me is generally bitter, biting, and overly strong in its flavor delivery. It doesn’t sit well on my tongue and I have not found it to be refreshing. I much prefer a served hot cup of coffee, or even better a quality latte, but I confess I was totally ignorant in my opinions of cold coffee.

Arriving at the downtown Olympia location, I ordered up my 16oz. Nitro to go. Watching it being poured was just plain fun – like seeing a mug of Guinness being drawn. The head formed nicely, carried the caramel color of the coffee itself, and produced the classic cascading flow of the collapsing head. Handed to me in my to-go clear plastic cup it was incredibly cold and smelled delicious. I looked about the room and others were also drinking their Nitros from what looked like large brandy snifters. they held their glasses skyward, toasted me with a smile, and I took my first sip.



Joyride Coffee pulling a drought coffee

The flavor was strong, but not bitter, and it was so smooth. No bite to speak of, and the ever so slight nitorgenization of the coffee tickled my taste buds into a state of joy. It was a hotter day, and the cold drink sat well with me. I could not wait to get to my destination only a few blocks away, park the car and really enjoy this cup. I did attract some strange looks from locals on the sidewalks and peeking out the doors and windows of local businesses as I walked across the street and into my car, with what appeared to everyone else to be a large beer. Once at my destination, I continued enjoying the Nitro, and definitely would have more.

What did I learn from this experience? Nitrogenated coffees served cold were delicious. I also learned that based on my personal preferences, they are better consumed from glass (flavor is just better), and that since I drink mine so slowly, that I need to stick to a 12 oz unit or smaller per serving. Just as a hot brewed coffee turned cold tastes bad to me, a cold served Nitro turned warm is equally off-putting.  Outside of those factors, I’m game for my next cup.

Tap served cold coffee is here to stay.






Cold tap coffee served with cream



Stumptown Coffee Cold Brew in a bottle


Verve Coffee Roasters

Joy Ride Coffee Roasters

Keg Outlet

Stumptown Coffee


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