I first connected with Julie and Paul over Instagram. They reached out to me and told me how they had entered the Nitro Coffee business. Nitro brew swept the scene nearly as fast as cold brew did. I felt pretty familiar about it - I mean how many Stumptown Nitro Taps can one come across at a coffee shop these days - but after only a few minutes into my conversation with Julie and Paul while slowing sipping one of their delicious nitro brews, I said to myself, "You know nothing John Snow."
Contra Coffee's story is really a love story.
It was 2012 and 22-year-old Paul had begun his studies in Food Science and Technology at Cal Poly Pomona. He walked into the Food and Chem lab and was introduced to his lab group. Lab groups go one of two ways; there's chemistry within the group or they are pretty much useless. His group, unfortunately (or fortunately for our story) was the latter.
You see, Julie was in that same lab class.
"Sadly, [we] were the only chemistry in the room at the time. It was actually a pity party for Paul and his terrible lab group. But look what changed and where we are now."
Today they are owners to a quickly growing Nitro Coffee business that is breaking barriers in the industry.
Paul's love affair with coffee began just a few years before that after frequenting Dark Horse Coffee and Bird Rock in San Diego. Julie had her first fling with coffee at Kéan Coffee - pretty much the only specialty coffee house in Orange County at the time.
So let's get to it and let's talk Nitro.
Q: Let's break it down for everyone: What is Nitro Brew?
Nitro Brew is the basic process of infusing pure nitrogen gas into a liquid. When our beverages are dispensed, they look and taste creamier as if cream was added!
To break it down simply, you can think of sodas. They’re really bubbly, bright, and provide a bit of a tingle, or “burn” if you chug one really fast. That’s due to the carbon dioxide gas forced into it. Carbon dioxide reacts in water to make a compound called carbonic acid that contributes to the “burn” found in sodas.
Keeping this analogy in mind, Nitro Brews are parallel to sodas. They have a gas forced into it but, instead of carbon dioxide, it is nitrogen gas. Nitrogen gas doesn’t react and make an acid like carbon dioxide. So, instead of having a “burn” like sodas, Nitro Brews have a smooth and velvety mouthfeel, and enhances the drink to make it taste creamier!
Q: How does Nitro effect the taste of coffee?
As stated above, the nitrogen makes your beverage taste creamier and smoother! However, the flavor of the coffee or tea is not affected.
We’ve had a lot of customers come to us saying how they don’t enjoy coffee that’s too bitter or acidic and they have to combat that by adding cream and sugar. When they tried our nitro brews, it changed their view on coffee. Our brewing and infusion process really helps mellow out any perceived bitterness or acidity and locks in the flavor notes and aroma of the coffee.
Q: How did you go about first combining nitrogen with coffee and gradually, other beverages?
The nitrogenation process has been around, but has mainly been applied in the craft beer industry. We enjoyed and were intrigued by the effect it had on beers, so we figured why not try and apply it to something that wasn’t beer. After having a nitro coffee, we were convinced that coffee is just scratching the surface of this process.
Q: Alright, now that we have a little background, tell us how your business is different from other places offering nitro cold brew?
Contra Coffee & Tea’s main focus is specialty beverages on nitro and on tap, whereas other places serve nitro cold brew as a secondary option to their menu. We are a coffee and tea brewery and look to deliver a new and unique angle to the industry. We don’t consider ourselves baristas, but more as formulators and brewers.
We now flash brew our coffees. Flash brewing produces a more flavorful and aromatic cup than cold brewing due the general science behind hot extracting and flash- chilling. Most coffee establishments only offer nitro cold brew, and that’s it. Some even claim and market that they have nitro cold brew, but the nitro is nowhere to be seen when dispensed.
At Contra, we treat coffee also as an ingredient. We want to show that there’s more you can do with coffee than just what’s on the standard espresso/café list. Not only do we like to showcase the different flavor profiles of coffee from different regions, but we also like to showcase how coffee and tea is enjoyed around the world. The flavors of coffee can be combined with other ingredients to create a whole new experience. That’s something we strive to do.
Q: What are some of your favorite creations thus far?
That’s a tough question!
We personally enjoy more of the unsweetened beverages that we create:
IPC (India Pale Coffee) – Hops infused flash brew on Nitro. Our homage to the craft beer industry and IPA lovers!
Nitro Flash Brew – Featuring whichever roaster and bean at the time
Jasmine Earl Grey Crème – Our own blend of earl grey jasmine tea with added orange zest and a hint of vanilla. The Nitro makes it taste like an earl grey tea latte! So yummy.
Customer Favorite…hands down:
DIRTY HORCHATA – Our own Vietnamese iced coffee mixed with our house-made horchata.
[All of our drinks on tap do not contain any dairy, even the Vietnamese iced coffee! People who are vegan or lactose intolerant get so happy when we tell them.]
Q: Any Fall creations you have in store for us ;) (Can't wait to try!)
We are working on more infused coffees where we blend natural spices/herbs with specific beans. We’d like to show that flavor can be achieved naturally and not through using flavored sugar syrups.
As far as Fall creations, look out for a pumpkin or chai spiced nitro flash brew! We may even have our own PSL. ;)
Q: What farmers markets can we find you at?
We are no longer selling at any markets as of right now. We have a few events and fundraisers lined up since the school season has resumed. Other than that, we’ve been focused on getting our Pop-Up opened up at Scoops OC in Santa Ana! We are aiming to have our nitro bar in there by the end of September, early October.
Q: What does the future look like for Contra Coffee? (Perhaps a partnership or a shop?)
It looks horrible and we don’t know what we got ourselves into! Totally kidding...
Ultimately, we’d love a space of our own. Not sure how long it’ll take for that opportunity to come about, but we dream of having our own brewing facility, distribution center, and café all in one.
Ya'll - I personally was blown away from the few beverages they let me try. The Mint Mojito one was amazing.
Paul and Julie would like to hear from YOU. They got into nitro because they wanted to be able to create freely. Are there any uniquely flavored coffees you'd have and you really liked? Would you want to see a certain beverage on nitro or even sparkling? Comment below!
Mugs Up to the happy, nitrogen-infusing, dream-chasing, excellent candid-photo-taking couple and Mugs Up to taking new concepts to greater heights,
The Coffee Nomad
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