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Pure Nitrogen or Beer Gas for Serving Nitro Coffee?

beer-gas-nitrogen-for-serving-draft-coffee

We get a lot of coffee shops and avid coffee drinkers inquiring about what gas they should be using to serve nitro coffee on draft with.

Should we use pure nitrogen or a beer gas mixture for serving nitro coffee?

If you are unfamiliar with beer gas, it is nothing more than a mixture of Nitrogen and CO2.  Typically around 75% Nitrogen and 25% CO2.

Beer gas is used typically when serving a nitrogenated style beer, such as Guinness or Boddingtons, out of a stout faucet.  Beer gas will help to carbonate the liquid since there is a small amount of CO2 in the gas, but since the majority of the gas is nitrogen, you will be able to serve at high pressures through a stout faucet without pouring a full glass of foam.  Pure nitrogen will not carbonate your liquids like CO2 will.  Also, having CO2 in your gas will help to give your pour that nice cascading effect that everyone loves seeing in a freshly poured pint of Guinness.

With that being said, Beer gas seems like the obvious choice to use when serving Nitro coffee on draft, BUT we actually prefer using pure nitrogen for a couple or reasons:

To help avoid any confusion, we will refer to 2 types of draft coffee below.  Nitro coffee (which is served out of a stout faucet at high pressures, like a Guinness), and Flat or Iced Coffee (which will be kept flat to be served over ice for iced coffees and served out of a standard beer faucet).

  1. Off Flavors:  What we found was that anytime CO2 was introduced to coffee it would change the flavor and mouth feel of the coffee slightly.  It would make the coffee slightly bitter tasting and give it an almost sticky mouth-feel.  When serving the Nitro Coffee it was less noticeable since this was served out of a nitro faucet at high pressures, giving your coffee that creamy/frothy mouth-feel anyway. However, over an extended period under pressure, the coffee does start to take on more carbonic acid from the CO2 and give an undesirable bitter flavor. As mentioned above, using beer gas will allow you to achieve a cascading effect with your nitro coffee pour much quicker than using 100% nitrogen if that is something that is important to you.

  2. Bubbly/Carbonated: Many people like to have both Nitro Coffee and Flat/Iced Coffee on draft.  When doing this you typically use the same gas for both coffees with a dual body regulator.  The pressure will be set differently for each, but there is no point in having 2 different tanks for 2 different coffees when you can have a regulator control pressure to multiple kegs.  So if you plan on serving both nitro coffee and iced coffee on draft you are almost forced to use pure nitrogen. With iced coffee on draft you will notice any hint of carbonation that makes its way into your coffee because this should be completely flat.  With beer gas, that small amount of Co2 will be noticeable as little as a day or two, even when kept at low pressures.  Using pure nitrogen eliminate any worry about carbonation appearing in your iced coffee, and you wont have to worry about any flavor changes either!

In the end, we have learned it is just better to use 100% pure nitrogen when serving cold brew coffee on draft.  You want to enjoy that rich flavorful cold brew coffee, without compromising the flavor or mouth-feel by using beer gas.  There is nothing worse than making a large batch of cold brew coffee and having it get ruined by CO2!  The one, and really only drawback to using pure nitrogen is that you usually have to keep your nitro coffee under pressure for a longer period of time to establish that rich, frothy head on your pours. We typically leave our keg in refrigerated temperatures, at 35-55 PSI for 24-48 hours before serving and we get a great pour every time!

About Cary

Cary is an avid homebrewer and a proud father. When he's not blogging, he unwinds by mountain biking, snowboarding, playing basketball and volleyball. You can connect with Cary on Google+.

  • Patrick McElgunn

    Thanks for the post Cary, this is the type of info I’ve been looking for! Also just downloaded your free cold brew coffee e-book. Can you provide any insight as to whether or not the same principles for serving coffee on tap apply to kegging and serving iced tea? I imagine it would be the same given that my goal is to use the nitrogen as a source to move the iced tea through the line rather than as a carbonating agent, but have yet to test it.

    • Keg Outlet

      Hey Patrick – you could absolutely use the same system and principles for serving iced tea (or any other beverage).

  • Missy Leverrett

    At the end of the post you said “We typically leave our keg in refrigerated temperatures, at 35-55 PSI
    for 24-48 hours before serving and we get a great pour every time!” After the initial 48 hours, what do you set the PSI at?

    • Keg Outlet

      Currently serving nitro coffee on my home system at 40psi, and flat coffee at 6psi.

      • Thomas Kiernan

        Do you have these in two different kegs or both the same keg?

        • Keg Outlet

          Hey @thomaskiernan:disqus – for the 2 different types of coffee, you’ll need 2 kegs as they’ll each use a separate pressure.

  • Biltmore Coffee

    Thanks for the great info. If I wanted to have a keg of CB for nitro on deck for when the fully charged one empties in service, is there a way to “precharge” and hold a keg so we’d have another for a quick “mid-shift” keg change?

    • Keg Outlet

      Absolutely! We could help you setup a “charging station” that would allow you to pre-charge anywhere from 1-8 (or more kegs).

      Email us at info@kegoutlet.com for more details.

  • Josep Franco

    Thanks! Great Post!! To serve the Nitro Coffe, only with pure nitro,
    What’s the PSI pressure must be applied?

  • Jose Maria Franco

    Hello!

    Today I made Toddy Cold Brew.
    Tomorrow will be ready!
    I have some doubts, I hope you can help me.
    Should we put carbonated stones? If so, when should we put them?
    Should we fill up the keg of coffee, tu the top?
    Once we close the keg with coffee, we introduce the nitrogen ¿35-55 PSI for 24 hours? then, we have to shake the keg?
    After 24 hours, we connected to the barrel nitrogen (what pressure, 40 psi?)
    And ready to serve!?

    Thank you very much!!

  • BOKinLarksville

    Awesome post! Any clue how much a tank of nitrogen costs, not counting the purchase of regulator and tank? Is this the same as Nitrous oxide used in dentists offices? Any hassle getting this?

    • Keg Outlet

      The gas in the tank usually will range between $15-25 depending on the size of the tank. Tanks generally sell for about $100, and the regulator could be anywhere from $40-75.

      Not Nitrous Oxide (N2O), but Nitrogen (N2). Nitrous Oxide (laughing gas) might be fun… no pun intended. Would love to learn more about this!

  • Arthur Rangini

    Please Kegoutlet can you tell me what i need to buy to set up flat coffee and nitro all in one kegerator?..like all the components i need to serve two types of coffees under one kegerator.

    thank you!

  • Todd Gun

    Where do you get the N2 refills? Or is there local distributor who sell or rent the tank with N2 prefilled?

  • Matt

    Can you give me an idea of how many cups of nitro coffee you can serve from a 20 cubic tank of N2?

    • Keg Outlet

      Hey Matt –

      We usually get around 8 kegs (about 50 12oz servings per keg).

      We’ve had reports of as few as 4 kegs and as many as 12. It greatly depends on usage, whether you’re serving flat/nitro. Whether your charging your coffee with the same tank, what pressure you charge and serve at.

      • Matt

        Perfect. I just needed a ballpark number . Thanks!