What Is Nitro Cold Brew?

Starbucks is giving away free nitro cold brew on Friday—but is it worth the hype?

Photo: Starbucks

Cold brew has been all the rage lately. It's made by steeping coarse-ground coffee in cold, filtered water for 18-24 hours. The special part about cold brew is that it doesn't touch hot water at any point during the brewing process (hence the name), so it allows the coffee grounds to give off a mellow and much less-acidic flavor.

But now there's a new (and arguably more delicious) way to drink the cold brew you know and love-it's called nitro cold brew, and it's available at many coffee shops and almost all Starbucks stores nationwide.

If you've never tried it, this Friday, August 2, is your chance to snag some for free (yep, you read that right!) Starbucks will be serving up sample-sized cups, so swing by your local store and grab one this week. Not sure if your Starbucks carries nitro cold brew? Find out here by using the store locator and checking the filter that says "Nitro Cold Brew."

Not quite convinced? Here's everything you need to know before trying nitro cold brew.

How Is Nitro Cold Brew Made?

To make nitro cold brew, traditional cold brew is poured into a keg (just like the ones you probably saw at college parties) and filtered through a special tap system. If you've ever watched a Guinness poured from a tap into a glass, you've probably noticed something called a "reverse cascade," where the nitrogen bubbles rise from the bottom of the glass to the top and form a dense, creamy head.

When nitrogen is infused into traditional cold brew, the same reverse-cascade effect takes place. Since nitrogen doesn't easily dissolve in water, the bubbles give your cold brew a more velvety and rich mouthfeel that tastes like cream and sugar has been added (but it hasn't!)

Nitro cold brew is awesome for those trying to cut back on the additives in their coffee, or for those who love the mouthfeel of a latte but can't have dairy.

Does Nitro Cold Brew Have More Caffeine?

Cold brew gets a bad rap for giving people a jolt of caffeine, but it *might* not deserve that reputation. Here's the thing: The hotter water is when it touches coffee grounds, the more caffeine it extracts. Since cold brew is brewed in, well, cold water, it's technically less caffeinated than hot coffee.

However, there are a few caveats: Caffeine content is largely related to the type of bean, where and how it was grown, and its roast level (translation: that nitro cold brew from Starbucks could have a different amount of caffeine than the single-origin brew at your neighborhood coffee shop.)

Another thing worth mentioning: Cold brew is made with a higher coffee grounds-to-water ratio than drip coffee, so it's inherently "stronger" and more caffeinated. However, cold brew is meant to be used as a concentrate and diluted with equal parts water or milk (which brings that caffeine level back down).

For caffeine comparison, I looked at Starbucks' nutrition guidelines. A grande-sized Nitro Cold Brew from Starbucks has 280mg of caffeine (about the same as three, 8-ounce cups of hot coffee), while a grande Blonde Roast (a light-roasted hot coffee from Starbucks) packs 360mg of caffeine (nearly four cups of coffee worth)! So if you're caffeine-sensitive, you'd almost be better opting for a nitro cold brew over hot coffee, or opting for a caffeine-free coffee instead.

The Bottom Line

Nitro cold brew is a really fun new way to drink coffee, and it could be great for people who are sensitive to the acidity levels or dairy that often comes with traditional lattes and coffee drinks. Plus, it's an easy way to cut back on cream and sugar without losing the sweet taste or creamy mouthfeel you love. Not sure if it's for you? Stop by Starbucks for a free sample on Friday to see if you like it! And if you don't think you'll be into black coffee, but still want to hop on the trend, try the Cascara Foam Nitro Cold Brew or the Nitro Cold Brew with Sweet Cream for a sweeter take (without as much of the added sugar).

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