Cold brew coffee is hot, no doubt about it. And while it’s been trending on grocery shelves, it’s also gaining popularity in coffee shops from Portland to Brooklyn. There is even a semi-friendly controversy over methods. There is the popular and easy immersion method; this method doesn’t bring out a lot of the nuances of individual coffees, but is sweet, chocolaty and low in acid content. Then there is the Kyoto or Dutch coffee “drip” method. It might not be the best choice for producing cold brew in quantity, but it’s a beautiful thing to watch (and taste.) Finally there is the flash brew or Japanese style cold brew that drips hot brewed coffee directly over ice, reducing oxidation but retaining more discernible flavors. Makers of cold brew coffee concentrates use a variety of methods and most claim that their flavor is best. You may want to cast your vote for your favorite commercial cold brew at the 1st Annual Cold Brew Coffee Competition at SCAA Seattle 2015.
No matter which method you prefer, there is a common factor that can be a downside for in-store sales when compared to other iced drink items – a lack of texture. Iced drinks that sell well generally add texture (or mouthfeel) via dairy, carbonation or ice. Flat or still drinks tend to not sell as well as their more textured counterparts. Adding texture to the beverage by adding ingredients, blending, etc., will increase prep time, ingredient costs, or both.
On the other hand, Nitro Coffee adds only gas and has virtually no prep time. If you haven’t had nitro coffee, it is something you won’t forget and will most likely tell your friends about. It appears with the same kind of theatre and whimsy one experiences while watching a Guinness stout being poured. The dark brown liquid begins filling from the bottom, appearing more caramel than dark brown at first. As the glass is filled, the froth quickly expands upward. As the cascading slows, the creamy white head becomes more defined, contrasting with the dark brown coffee. It is hard to not be transfixed by the phenomenon of cascading micro bubbles. But it’s not the visual presentation that brings nitro coffee devotees coming back. It is the taste experience of the frothy and sweet cold brew coffee with a distinct mouthfeel unique to nitrogenation.
For customers, nitro coffee delivers memorable mouthfeel and amazing “theatre.” This is great for business. Yet for coffee shop owners, the real profit comes at the end of the day when factoring SPMH (sales per man hour). Nitro coffee is delivered on tap and takes approximately 3-5 seconds to pour. Compare that to the minute plus drink prep time for most iced drinks. A busy traffic line can move pretty quickly when pouring nitro coffee on tap. Independent shops and smaller chains seek out every means possible to differentiate themselves from the bigger brands. Delivering coffee on tap creates remarkability as well as profitability.
In years past, cold brew coffee (or iced coffee) was kept in covered pitchers or gallon jugs in the refrigerator. Dispensing it was a matter of pouring from a pitcher or jug. Not too difficult, but kind of clunky. It’s far easier and better looking to dispense cold brew coffee from a tap, especially when it is nitro coffee.
The most common method is to pre-nitrogenate a keg full of cold brew coffee. The process has multiple steps, but is straightforward:
Step 1. Fill the keg with cold brew coffee (diluted to the desired strength).
Step 2. Pressurize the keg with 100% N2 at 30+psi (or a blend of Nitrogen and CO2).
Step 3. Keep the keg in cold storage (32-38 degrees) as liquid accepts gas into solution the colder it becomes.
Step 4. Agitate.
Step 5. In 12-24 hours the keg is considered “nitrogenated”.
Another method uses a patented infusion system that nitrogenates the coffee inline as the keg is filled through a hose. The third method is the JoeTap system from AC Beverage, which is newer but more accessible. A beverage tank or keg is filled on-site with cold brew coffee and placed in the compartment of the JoeTap. Beverage and gas lines are attached to the keg of cold brew coffee (N2 can be a tank or a Nitrogenator). The lid with tower (about five pounds total) is placed on top of the refrigerated compartment and nitro coffee is ready to be poured. The JoeTap’s dual faucet allows cold brew to be served still or nitrogenated.
“The main advantage we see besides cost savings for coffee shop owners is having the process of nitrogenation in their control.” says Terry Olson – Sales Director for AC Beverage. “Generally speaking, those who own a JoeTap only need access to cold brew coffee or even brew their own. We’ve calculated that a JoeTap can pay for itself in as little two months or less.”
The warmer months of late spring and summer have historically meant slower coffee sales and Nitro coffee on tap has great potential during these months. In those places where it is already being served it is extremely popular. Who knows, it’s possible that nitro coffee will someday be as ubiquitous and accessible as espresso.
Randy Anderson, AC Beverage, Inc