Nitro Cold Brew vs. Cold Brew: Everything You Need to Know About the Popular Coffee Drinks, According to a Former Barista

Bring on the caffeine

nitro cold brew vs cold brew: person drinking cold brew out of a plastic cup with a straw
Boy_Anupong/Getty Images

As a former Starbucks barista, I know folks have lots of questions about cold brew. Is it the same as iced coffee? Can it be made at home? And what’s the deal with that nitro stuff? The answers are no, yes and I’m so glad you asked. As different as nitro cold brew and regular cold brew may look and feel, they’re actually pretty similar beverages. Allow me to explain nitro cold brew vs. cold brew below, where I’ll break down how they’re made, their caffeine content and how to decide between them.

We Vetted the Best Coffee for Cold Brew, from Whole Beans to Brew Bags

nitro cold brew vs cold brew: cold brew
bhofack2/Getty Images

What Is Cold Brew?

Cold brew is…exactly that. To make it, coffee grounds are “brewed” by soaking in cold water for at least 12 hours, then the mixture is filtered. What’s left is cold brew concentrate, which is cut with water then served over ice. The cold brewing process helps the grounds retain more caffeine than hot brewing, so cold brew will make you more energized than drip. It also results in a smoother, mellower, sweeter flavor that’s minimally acidic. Caffeine content varies from cup to cup, but at Starbucks, a 16-ounce cold brew contains approximately 205 milligrams of caffeine, versus 165 milligrams in an iced coffee of the same size.

nitro cold brew vs cold brew: nitro cold brew
golfcphoto/Getty Images

What Is Nitro Cold Brew?

Nitro cold brew is infused with nitrogen via a keg or can. Other than that, it’s made exactly the same as regular cold brew. The tiny nitrogen bubbles give the joe a supremely velvety texture and a slightly more acidic, balanced flavor. Its signature characteristic is a rich, creamy head of foam. Like cold brew, it boasts natural sweetness and a chocolatey flavor profile, but also bright, fruity notes. According to Tasting Table, the nitrogen also acts as a preservative by occupying space that oxygen normally would, which keeps the coffee tasting fresh for longer by preventing oxidation. In terms of caffeine, a 16-ounce nitro cold brew from Starbucks contains approximately 280 milligrams of caffeine.

nitro cold brew vs cold brew: infographic explaining the differences between nitro cold brew and cold brew
Dasha Burobina for PureWow

Nitro vs. Cold Brew: What’s the Difference?

While both coffees are equally smooth and mellow due to the cold brewing process, there are a few key variations:

  • Nitro cold brew is infused with nitrogen
  • Nitro cold brew has a richer, creamier mouthfeel (think of a standard stout beer versus a Guinness) and more body
  • Cold brew is usually slightly sweeter than nitro
  • Nitro is typically higher in caffeine because it’s served without ice
  • Nitro is more expensive than regular cold brew
  • Nitro is harder and pricier to make at home than regular cold brew
nitro cold brew vs cold brew: person stirring milk into cold brew
d3sign/Getty Images

So, Which One Should You Choose?

If you want a richer, smoother morning coffee, it doesn’t get silkier than nitro cold brew. If you want a naturally sweeter taste as opposed to one that’s more balanced between acidic and sweet, regular cold brew is the move. If cost is the top factor, regular cold brew is cheaper. (And if you’re really feeling frugal, stick with iced coffee.)

Frequently Asked Questions

How Is Cold Brew Different from Iced Coffee?

Iced coffee is brewed with hot water, cooled and served over ice. Cold brew is steeped with cold water for a longer period of time then filtered and cut with water. Cold brew is higher in caffeine, smoother in flavor and mouthfeel and less acidic and bitter than iced coffee. It also takes hours longer to prepare.

Why Is Nitro Cold Brew More Expensive?

Both types of cold brew are more expensive than regular iced coffee because more grounds are required to make them. That said, the necessary equipment for the nitrogen infusion makes nitro cold brew more expensive than both cold brew and iced coffee.

Is Nitro Cold Brew Carbonated?

No. Nitrogen bubbles are smaller and denser, while carbon bubbles are light and airy. Nitrogen bubbles gives the bev a foamy, smooth crema, but it’s not effervescent the way soda or other carbonated drinks are.

taryn pire

Food Editor

Taryn Pire is PureWow’s food editor and has been writing about all things delicious since 2016. She’s developed recipes, reviewed restaurants and investigated food trends at...