It is no secret that the demand for both cold and ready-to-drink (RTD) coffee is rapidly increasing. The versatility, convenience, and unique texture of these beverages make them extremely popular, particularly among younger consumers

But just how is RTD nitro cold brew made? What gives it this signature mouthfeel? And just why is it so popular among Gen Z and millennials? 

To answer these questions, we spoke with Esteban Mejia, the Founder and CEO of Galante. Read on to find out what he said. 

How is RTD nitro cold brew made? 

RTD nitro cold brew is made by infusing cold coffee with nitrogen gas and then sealing it in a convenient format, such as a bottle or a can. Because it is expensive to purchase and maintain canning equipment, it is often prepared in-house by large coffee roasters, or outsourced to an RTD specialist.

The first step is to prepare the cold brew. Traditionally, this means steeping coffee in room temperature water, in most cases, for eight to 24 hours. However, with the right equipment, such as Hardtank commercial cold brew machines, it can be prepared in less than an hour. Either way, this unique extraction method gives the coffee a smooth, mellow flavour with more delicate acidity. 

Once brewed, the coffee is infused with nitrogen, giving it the distinctive texture and aesthetic that makes it so popular. This can be done before or after the coffee is canned. It is then labelled, shipped, and sold by businesses wholesale or direct to consumers.

Esteban walks us through each step and explains in more detail how RTD nitro cold brew is made. 

A scoop of coffee beans

Step 1: Choosing and brewing the coffee

Esteban tells us that the best place to start for RTD nitro cold brew is the coffee you choose.

“The quality of the cold brew is directly associated with the quality of the coffee, as well as the care and attention in each of the processes,” he says. 

Using the right coffee for cold brew is important. Many roasters and coffee shops prefer medium and dark roasts, as this kind of extraction brings out rich and chocolatey flavours that really shine. However, light roasts can also excel when brewed cold, especially if they are particularly citrusy or floral.

No matter what, Esteban explains brewing coffee like this changes its flavour profile: “The natural sweetness of the coffee becomes central, since the flavours are more balanced. This creates a sensation of freshness.”

Step 2: Nitrogen infusion & canning

Once the coffee has been brewed, the next step is to infuse it with nitrogen. This gives it its distinctive velvety mouthfeel. 

There are two ways that manufacturers achieve this. The first is with a keg fitted with a nitrogen dispenser. Once the keg is filled with coffee, nitrogen is added through a special nozzle as it is dispensed into individual cans. 

In the second, the coffee is canned individually, and then each can is dosed with nitrogen individually. 

“This means the sweet flavours of the coffee are complemented by a creamy body created by the nitrogen microbubbles,” Esteban explains. “It is closer to a carbonated beverage and appeals to a much larger market.”

The nitrogen infusion process also flushes oxygen out of the cans, meaning it stays fresher for longer. This is because oxidation removes the more subtle and delicate flavour compounds in coffee. The more oxygen it is exposed to, the worse the effect is. 

Altogether, this leaves you with a shelf-stable RTD product with a much longer lifespan than traditional cold coffee. Typically, it has a shelf life of just a few days. However, once the cold brew is pasteurised or sterilised, it can last for up to 12 months. 

“[Canning] maintains the quality of the product for a longer period, ensuring that the flavour and freshness of the coffee is preserved,” Esteban explains. Unlike cans, bottles cannot hold liquid nitrogen – and do not keep the coffee fresh for as long.

As part of this process, each piece of equipment, as well as the cans themselves, are thoroughly cleaned. This ensures that your RTD nitro cold brew will be safe to consume and comply with food safety standards

Five cans of RTD nitro cold brew

Step 3: Brand your RTD nitro cold brew cans

So, once the coffee is brewed, nitrogen infused, and canned, there is one last stage before it’s ready to sell: branding and labelling.

This is where the process differs. If you’re preparing this independently, you’ll have to label your cans independently, while private label RTD suppliers like Hardtank will create custom cans for you. 

Labelling cans with your branding is important for two reasons. Firstly, it means customers realise they can only get this specific beverage from your brand – and that they have to keep coming back to you for more. 

Secondly, it helps you communicate authenticity to your customers. This is especially important for capturing mindshare with younger consumers, such as Generation Z – for whom authenticity and trust is a key differentiator. This is key, as Generation Z are the main demographic driving the increasing popularity of RTD coffee.

Sourcing your own RTD nitro cold brew

While there is no denying how popular RTD is becoming, manufacturing it to the standard that your customers want is easier said than done.

Working with an external partner has several benefits, but crucially, it allows you to start selling your own RTD quickly without a significant upfront investment in equipment or a production line. 

Esteban explains how working with the right partner can make the process smoother and easier: “By partnering with an experienced manufacturer, you can avoid common mistakes and accelerate the launch process, achieving greater efficiency and making it easier to access new markets.”

When you partner with Hardtank to manufacture your RTD nitro cold brew, there are two options: you can either choose a coffee from our range or provide us with a custom formula that we can use to prepare something wholly unique. 

To find out more about sourcing RTD nitro cold brew, get in touch with our team. If you’d like updates about our processes and technology, sign up for our newsletter here

Hardtank nitro cold brew coffee.