The perfect cup of coffee begins with a variety of techniques for coffee drinkers. Some coffee drinkers purchase a $20 coffee pot and wake up to Folgers. While other coffee drinkers use a French press to pour hot water over freshly ground beans. Then there are those who just say hello to their favorite barista every morning as they grab a cup of coffee to go.
But more recently, coffee drinkers have flocked to a tricycle equipped to serve nitrogen brewed coffee owned by Grant Garland and Will Newton, the founders of NitroCup.
College roommates while studying at the University of Illinois, Garland and Newton often met up at their apartment during lunch breaks. Grant, who worked at a local coffee shop, was intrigued in the process Will used to brew hot coffee over ice so that he could take it with him on his way out the door, heading back to work or class.
“I was the “high class” coffee guy and Will was the “convenience” coffee guy,” Grant said.
As the two friends finished up their degrees, they continued to brainstorm on ways they could start a business together.
“I thought back to Will and his coffee needs: wanting to drink something quickly that tasted good every single time,” Grant said.
When the duo caught wind of an east and west coast craze of brewing coffee with the help of nitrogen, Will immediately began to tinker with a kegerator he found on Craigslist. After a few explosions in the kitchen, the friends tweaked the perfect recipe.
As friends began to come by their house in the morning asking, “Do you have (any coffee)?”, both Will and Grant knew that this nitrogen coffee would be something that would take off.
Will, who drank coffee in college just to fit in with the Literature major stereotype, said he never really liked the drink. But as Grant taught him more about what cold brew coffee does to the beans, he enjoyed drinking coffee more.
“Coffee tasted burnt, but I drank it just to stay up,” he said. “Cold brewing fixes everything I don’t like about coffee and the nitrogen really softens the bitterness and bite so it’s smooth and creamy.”
Grant said a lot of patrons who have not enjoyed drinking coffee previously agree with Will.
“People who aren’t coffee drinkers try it, and they are like, ‘Oh, I can drink this.’ The cold brew cuts the acidity out of coffee, so a lot of the things people associate with not liking coffee, (this process) gets rid of a lot of it.”
To get the smooth effect with a “creamy head”, Grant and Will brew the roasted coffee beans in cold water for 24 hours. They then fill the keg with coffee and pressurized it with nitrogen. Because nitrogen does not want to stay in water the way CO2 does, Will and Grant have had to develop a few tricks of their own to pull the nitrogen coffee off.
“It’s pretty simple, but it just takes a lot of time,” Will said.
With lines for a NitroCup at the Urbana Farmer’s Market, Urbana’s First Fridays, Urbana’s Food Truck Rally, the time spent has been worth it.
Last year, NitroCup sold out at the Farmer’s Market before 10:30 a.m., but now Grant and Will say they have perfected the process and have enough product for these big events. And with being mobile, selling off of an adult-sized tricycle, NitroCup fits right in with other food vendors on wheels.
Grant believes the whole outfit is part of the draw of NitroCup.
“It’s a spectacle,” he said.
And by being visible in the community, Grant and Will have also been able to connect with community members and business owners in a way that has helped their product to grow. Currently they are working with offices near the University of Illinois Research Park to sell their product during business hours. NitroCup may also be available at local restaurants by the time winter approaches.
Grant and Will are also looking into the process to bottle or can the nitrogen coffee, although they know it is a tricky process. They are also interested in producing nitrogen tea for their customers.
“I would really like for people to think NitroCup when they think of nitrogen coffee,” Will said.