Cold brew and nitro coffee: your questions answered

You’ve seen cold brew coffee and nitro coffee all over menus, T-shirts and social media for a while now, but these are still two of the freshest third-wave coffee trends worth keeping an eye on.

Situated at opposite ends of the spectrum of sophistication, what is exciting about cold brew and nitro coffee is how much potential there still is for innovation and interpretation.

For fans of cold brew coffee, this is especially the case if you want to perfect your own cold brew at home.

Let’s break it all down…

What exactly is cold brew coffee?
Cold brew coffee is exactly that: coffee that is brewed with cold instead of hot water. It’s been a niche item on coffee shop menus since the late noughties, so in that sense it’s quite a new drink.

Historically speaking, though, cold brew has been around the block, with 17th century Dutch traders being credited with spreading cold brew coffee first to Japan (who added their own unique twist to the concept) and then to the rest of the world.

When’s the best time to enjoy a cold brew?
Pretty much any time. As a refreshing breakfast pick-me-up, a cooling summer take-away, or in an easy-to-pack flask to take to work, cold brew coffee is a good match for most consumption occasions. Cold brew keeps well in the fridge, which makes it super-convenient.

Should I take milk with my cold brew?
As always, that’s a matter of personal preference. Cold brew can taste good with milk but if it’s a really nice speciality cold brew, you probably don’t want to douse all those subtle flavours.

OK, so what’s nitro coffee then?
Nitro coffee is cold brewed coffee that has been infused with nitrogen. The nitrogen imparts two important elements to the drink: an extra richness and sweetness to the taste, and an incredible visual element consisting of millions of cascading micro-bubbles.

When seeing nitro coffee for the first time, the easiest comparison to reach for is a reference to the famous Guinness stout, but of course nitro coffee tastes nothing like beer. However, nitro coffee can taste remarkably sweet for a non-sugared drink.

Nitro coffee is always served in a transparent glass to showcase the impressive micro-foam effect and can work well with both lighter bodied, fruity African roasts or with the firmer chocolate and nut undertones typical of South American roasts.

There’s a third quality that nitro infusion offers to coffee and that’s an extra dose of coolness, in terms of both temperature and swagger ;)

Is there an ideal time to drink a nitro coffee?
Like cold brew, nitro coffee is a good fit throughout the day.

Interestingly, Horizonte Coffee’s nitro coffee has become a popular mixer for cocktails – especially with gin or Kahlúa.

(By the way, what we love about our nitro machine is that it extracts nitrogen directly from the atmosphere, which means we totally sidestep the ecological impact that filling and transporting nitrogen canisters would otherwise have.)

To find out where the Horizonte nitro machine currently is and where Horizonte nitro coffee is available on tap, keep an eye on our news page or follow us on Instagram and Facebook.)

Back to cold brew…. can I brew my own at home?
Definitely! But in the same way that cold brew is both new and very old, it can also be really easy or fairly complex.

At its most basic, this is what a typical cold brew recipe looks like: spoon some coffee into a jug, add water, steep for between 12 and 24 hours, then filter. That’s your cold brew. Refrigerate and enjoy.

On the other hand, to perfect your cold brew you’ll be adjusting three main variables:

1. Coffee type: Your choice of roast and the coarseness of the grind are key. Fresh speciality coffee will obviously deliver better results than old or cheap coffee.

2. Brew ratio: This is the ratio of coffee to water. Anything from 1:5 to 1:10 should work well. A 1:10 brew ratio, for instance, means 100ml of water for every 10g of coffee.

3. Steeping time: This is how long you steep the coffee at room temperature.

Remember to change just one variable at a time, otherwise you can lose track of what worked and what didn’t.

As you’ll soon discover, you can endlessly tweak your combinations until you hit the sweet spot. This lack of “rules” and the opportunity for your own interpretation is exactly what makes the cold brew genre so interesting.

Can you recommend a cold brew recipe?
At Horizonte Coffee, we’ve done plenty of experimenting in pursuit of the perfect body and taste and have settled on a combination that is super-simple and tastes incredibly good.

This is Horizonte Coffee’s official cold brew recipe:

  1. Choose a medium roast.
  2. Use a coarse grind.
  3. Our standard brew ratio is 1:8, but sometimes we add a few ice cubes which, once dissolved, shift the ratio closer to 1:9 or 1:10.
  4. Steep for 13-14 hours.
  5. Filter.
  6. Enjoy!

Any other tips?
Absolutely. When you’re adjusting your brew ratios and steeping times, it’s a good idea to keep track of your changes. Actually write down those adjustments, otherwise it’s too easy to forget what you changed and when.

Also, a glass jar with a screw-on lid is an excellent way to store your cold brew in the fridge. Failing that, it’s still important to keep your cold brew sealed (cling film will do the job) in case it absorbs any unwanted flavours or smells that might be floating around your fridge.

Is nitro coffee equally DIY?
This is where things can get complicated. And expensive. Nitrogen-infusing appliances can cost anything from €1000 – €4000, so it’s probably not something you want to try at home. Especially if your local coffee shop offers a perfectly decent nitro coffee.