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Nitro Coffee is Trending

by Norman Eisler October 28, 2016

Local coffee shop offers trendy nitrogen-infused coffee 

SPARTA -- The latest trend in specialty coffee involves infusing nitrogen, an odorless gas, to coffee, ultimately yielding a refreshing, full-bodied drink that is as nice as a cold beer but without the worry of it leaving behind that blurry-eyed, foggy feeling.


According to Brian and Dave Greene, of Greene's Beans Cafe, a coffee shop with locations in Hackettstown and Sparta, the shops' new nitro coffee is an acceptable afternoon luxury that is cold, a little bubbly and rich and creamy, similar to a pint of Guinness, but without the alcohol.


Although the process of cold-brewed coffee has been around for a long time, possibly dating back as long as 125 years, according to Brian Greene, nitro coffee is infused with nitrogen, producing an extra smooth and creamy taste with lower acidity than hot-brewed coffee.


With the sudden surge of nitrogen-infused coffee hitting the nation -- Starbucks announced it is introducing it at 500 of its stores by the end of the summer ­-- the Greene brothers researched the process diligently and decided to purchase equipment to brew it themselves.


Cold-brewed coffee, which Greene's Beans has been serving up for the entire 22 years it has been open, is steeped in history and used for iced coffee. The process involves soaking cloth-wrapped grounds in cold or room-temperature water for 18 to 24 hours.


The process of making nitro coffee takes the cold brew process one step further and involves a nitrogen tank that is hooked up to a keg of a cold-brewed blend of Brazilian and Sumatra coffees and infused with the nitrogen for 20 minutes. During that 20-minute time period, nitrogen is released from the container, by hand, through a tiny hole on the top of the canister, and once the coffee is finished, it is placed under pressure in a refrigerated kegerator and served on draught.


According to Dave Greene, Brazilian and Sumatra coffees are used due to their mellow taste and their lack of acidity compared to other beans.


The process, according to Brian Greene, forces the cold coffee to become extra smooth and lower in acidity than hot-brewed coffee, mainly in part due to the fact that nitrogen gas doesn't fully dissolve in water.


"It goes down real creamy, and although we don't add any sugar to it, it seems to have this sweeter taste," he said.


As Greene poured the coffee from the tap, it offered a frothy and bubbly look with a head forming, similar to that of a beer, at the top of the glass.


Since the coffee is quite strong and thick, the amped up coffee-to-water ratio can create a stronger jolt of caffeine than the regular ol' cup of joe, many stories theorize, and another theory, reported by Bon Appétit magazine, and believed by the Greene brothers, is that nitrogen is an accelerant and infuses into the bloodstream much quicker, thus, causing a faster jolt of caffeine in the body.


Although served as is, Linda Bruscia, manager of the Greene's Beans Cafe in Sparta, said she tells all customers to try the coffee black first and then add what they feel they need, including cream and sugar.


Business has been busy with many people trying it out, and many enjoying nitro coffee at both shops, the Greene brothers said.


The brew, which first went up for sale at the Sparta shop in early June, made its first appearance at the Hackettstown shop over the weekend of June 24 and is now being sold at a kiosk at Centenary University.


A 16-ounce glass sells for $4 and a 12-ounce sells for $3.50.


Nitrogen-infused coffee dates back to 2013 when Nate Armbrust, a food scientist at Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Portland, Ore., wanted to figure out how to infuse cold coffee with tiny bubbles to make it rich and creamy, similar to that of nitrogen-infused Guinness, without sacrificing its flavor. In an article by Chemical and Engineering News, Armbrust said he first tried carbonating the coffee, but realized it didn't take acid correctly, so he played around with various times and pressures of nitrogen and ended up finding the correct balance infused into the coffee to leave a smooth taste.


In addition to cold-brewed and nitro coffee, Greene's Beans Café offers 10 flavored and 10 decaf flavored coffees, specialty teas, snacks, accessories and a blend of straight coffees, which are unblended coffee beans strictly imported from locations such as Brazil, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Tanzania, among others.

Norman Eisler
Norman Eisler


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