All You Need to Know About Serving Nitro Cold Brew

How to Serve Nitro Cold Brew on Tap

By now, most people are familiar with cold brew coffee, the brew method which brews coffee with cold water, fully immersed for 12 - 20 hours, depending upon recipe and taste preference. The result is a smooth, rich and uniquely sweet coffee with distinctively different taste than traditional iced coffee.

The cold brew market segment has exploded in recent years, growing 115% from 2014 to 2015.

Large coffee retailers across the US have rushed to add cold brew to their menus, to capitalize on the demand for cold brew.  This has created more awareness and demand, and now is a great time for independent retailers to add cold brew to their menus!

If you don't yet know how to make cold brew, check out our recipe and How to Make Cold Brew blog post.


Why Keg and Serve it on Tap

If you don't yet have a cold brew program at your cafe or restaurant, or if you are serving cold brew but not through a keg and tap system, you should really consider the benefits of brewing and kegging your cold brew and serving through a tap.

  • It's Fresh - My Mother used to call me fresh and it was a bad thing, but when we are talking cold brew, it's a really good thing! When you keg your cold brew coffee, and store refrigerated under pressure with nitrogen (i.e. no oxygen), the cold brew coffee stays fresh a long time - as in weeks.  We have tested coffee several weeks off brew with very little discernible taste difference.  
  • It's Fast - Once you have the keg and tap system setup, you can serve tasty cold brew in seconds.  No more opening the fridge, getting out the iced coffee, pouring the drink, putting it back in the fridge, and yet get the idea.  Nope.  Just get your cup, rock the handle and you have fresh cold brew flowing.  You can speed up that line and serve more customers!
  • It's Unique - With the competitive coffee market, you need to stand out to your customers, and this is a great way to show you are up with market trends, and on the forefront of a unique coffee experience.


What You Will Need

For a reasonably small investment, you can get a cold brew keg system up in running in your cafe.  Here are the basic hardware and accessories you will need.

  • Cold Brew System - This is how you will make the cold brew.  The long trusted method and most popular commercial system is the Toddy Commercial System.  This will allow you to make about five gallons of cold brew at a time.  It is simple, inexpensive, and easy to use.
  • Kegerator - A kegerator is a refrigerator for kegs, with a tap on top.  Like with refrigerators, there are many options, and vary quite a bit in quality and price.  If this is for a restaurant, pay attention to NSF certifications.  Also, it is important to note how the units vent and cool.  If your plan is to slide the kegerator under a counter, be sure to shop for kegerators that vent out the front of the unit.  Typically, these are higher quality and more expensive, but well worth the investment for a commercial setting.  If you kegerator will be free standing and stay on casters, the vent location is less critical. Lastly, pay attention to interior height, to make sure the kegerator will accommodate your kegs.
  • Kegs - The most common and easy keg to use with a cold brew is a ball lock Cornelius keg.  The top unlocks and makes for easy filling with cold brew.  These were used by the soda industry for years, so they are also readily available reconditioned.  Over time, the maintenance will be minimal, replacing the gaskets every so often.
  • Regulator - The regulator is what controls your flow of gas to the keg.  You will need to buy a nitrogen regulator, and we suggest a double gauge regulator.  One gauge will read the nitrogen tank level, and the other gauge will provide your pressure through the tank (your pouring pressure).
  • Gas (Nitrogen) - You will need to find a local supplier of nitrogen in your area. Your best bet is often times local welding supply companies.  Usually you can purchase your own tank, and then have it filled when you need, or some suppliers will just swap you for an already filled tank.  Similar to your grill propane tank.  IMPORTANT: want to use only 100% nitrogen, not a Co2 or blend of the two (often referred to as beer gas).  Co2 will dissolve into the coffee, and impart a metallic taste, fairly quickly, and it is not very pleasing.


Infused or Not?

Once you keg your cold brew, you will have two main choices for how to serve your cold brew.  First, would be what we refer to as still, and looks like more traditional cold brew iced coffee.  Second, would be infused, and pours with a cascading effect, similar to a Guinness beer, and has a creamy texture and head on top.  Let's look at each in some detail.

Serve Still 

This method is the easiest, and essentially once you have the cold brew kegged, and the tap setup, you just pour and go.  You can pour at a very low pour pressure (5-10psi), meaning your nitrogen consumption will be very minimal, and a tank should last you quite a while.  

This drink is normally served over ice as your traditional iced coffee.  We recommend offering a smaller serving size (12oz) if you don't already have one, for a more attractive price point.

Serve Infused 

This method requires a bit more hardware, and effort, but it results in a very unique drink experience.  In order to serve the infused cold brew, you will need to keg your cold brew, fill with nitrogen at 40psi, and then agitate the keg for 7-10 minutes.  What do we mean by agitate?  We find the best method is to grab the keg with two hands, and take a wide stance (think sumo wrestler), and then rock and shake the keg as best you can.  This is fairly exhausting, we recommend a keg shaking buddy.  

In addition to agitating the keg, you will need to purchase a stout faucet for your tap.  The stout faucet has a restrictor plate inside, that will restrict the flow of the cold brew, and help produce the cascading pour effect.  

To pour infused cold brew, you will need to maintain a higher pressure in the keg, and also pour at the higher 40psi pressure.  This means you will consume noticeably more nitrogen as you pour drinks.  Lastly, you will want to be sure to keep the keg nice and cold, we recommend a kegerator temp between 38 and 40 degrees.

The infused cold brew is normally served without ice, to fully appreciate the texture of the drink.  You will need to factor this into your cup sizes, and pricing.  

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By the Numbers - Nitro Cold Brew Coffee