Coffee Talk: Nitro

Java Central in Westerville is a location scout’s dream of a coffee shop. Situated on the corner of State street and a charming brick alley, right across from Otterbein College, the location has a variety of spaces to perch, each room and seating area opening up like a set of Russian dolls. In the front space, a two-top is taking umbrage with someone who declared that books are dead; tucked into the window seat is a Jack Kerouac-type madly typing away on his MacBook. All the way in the back, a group is discussing the art of exiled Cuban artists. There’s an active calendar of acoustic jams sessions and open mic nights. This is the Platonic form of college town coffee hangs.

The chalkboard menu has all the usual suspects, including house made sandwiches and snacks. However, in addition to the mochas and chais and smoothies, an all caps word stood out: NITRO. This was a new one. It made me think of American Gladiators and bodybuilders. A quick Q & A with co-owner and Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) certified coffee roaster Andrew Piper put those associations to rest with a quickness.

Stock and Barrel: When did you first hear about nitro coffee?

Andrew Piper: I first heard about Nitro coffee in 2014.  Stumptown Coffee in Portland invented it as a solution to extending their cold brew’s shelf life. They started to play around by offering it on tap, similar to how Guinness or other stouts and porters are offered. In 2015, I started to experiment with how to put cold brew on nitro. I approached our local home-brew store, Buckeye Brewcraft, for input on beer brewing and how we could apply the nitrogenation process to cold brew.

S&B: Describe the taste.

AP: As with beer, nitrogenation blocks some of the more acidic and bitter compounds from being expressed.  If you use a nice earthy coffee – like Java Central’s espresso roast – the result is a rich, chocolaty, nutty and slightly sweet flavor that differs from hot-brewed coffee.

S&B: How do people respond to the nitro when they first try it?

AP: Haha. The joke here is that 90% of the first-time nitro customers’ eyes light up and they say “wow! I’ve never had coffee like this before!” and the other 10% say, “that was really strange.”

S&B: Are you the first to offer it in Central Ohio? I know Crimson Cup is about to roll it out.

AP: We are not the first to put cold brew on tap in Central Ohio. However, we are the first to process nitro coffee in the way that beer is processed. Our cold brew is made using a method I developed in-house.  Most cold brew is made by using a handful of established methods; I took the best chemical processes from three different methods and combined them. Our cold brew then undergoes a true nitrogenation, which takes three days and involves all the equipment used in beer brewing. This approach is completely unique to Central Ohio and much of the country.

S&B: Do you think it will catch on with the “masses”?

AP: Yes! I think cold brew and nitro coffee are going to be part of the Fourth Wave. Currently the independent coffee industry is keen on what’s called the Third Wave. This trend promotes technical accuracy in coffee brewing and manual methods like pour-overs. When Java Central was deciding which direction to take its coffee business, I decided at the last minute to forego pour-overs and manual brewing devices for cold-brewing and nitro – which I found far more fascinating as a food scientist. I think Fourth Wave coffee will bring back the traditions of the coffee trade that date back to when coffee made its way across the Arabian Peninsula. All people are welcome. All viewpoints are welcome. The community is the focus; coffee is what brings community together. 

Java Central Coffee House is located at 20 S. State Street in Westerville. Like its facebook page for updates on events and menu updates.