Starbucks Nitro cold brew vs Espresso: Which one is stronger?

I have followed the coffee world for a long time, starting from my college days when I moved to New York from a small town and experienced coffee culture for the first time. In recent years, I have seen plenty of talk about cold brew coffee, thanks to its growing mainstream popularity.

This made me think about the differences between the two drinks, and the detailed knowledge I will share in this article will help you to make your orders confidently the next time you are at a Starbucks café and want to try both of them.

What are the differences between Starbucks nitro cold brew vs Espresso?


Nitro cold brew



Nitrogen gas, coffee beans or cold-brewed coffee concentrate, optional sweetener or milk

Water, coffee beans

Taste profile

Dark flavors ranging from earthy to cocoa, less acidity

Quite intense and acidic, depending on roast

Caffeine content

About 215mg

About 50-64mg


Not widely available, except in major stores in major cities

Widely available and cheaper

Roast levels and water temperatures

Dark roast, Cold water

Medium and Dark roasts, Warm to Hot water

Starbucks nitro cold brew vs espresso – How they compare

Starbucks Nitro cold brew vs Espresso

Ingredients and brewing time

Nitro cold brew uses cold water in brewing, which explains why its process is very long (lasting for up to 24 hours). Nitrogen gas is then added at high pressure using a canister to create the foam layer at the top and smoothen out the brew.

Espresso only requires hot water and coffee beans, and its brewing is a simple process that takes up to 2 minutes and produces an intense, strong beverage.

Espresso has fewer ingredients, a simpler process, and a shorter brew time, making it the winner of this round.

Taste profile

The taste of the nitro cold brew is distinct from espresso, a hot coffee, even after it cools. Nitro cold brew has more ‘earthy’ flavors and less nuance in its smell that indicates the coffee’s origin. Espresso, on the other hand, has plenty of taste profiles thanks to its sharp, intense smells and flavor. Its bitter taste also gives it deep undertones that are absent from the nitro cold brew.

In terms of flavor, espresso gives a richer aroma and taste profile that is very intense and complex, making it the winner for drinkers looking for complexity.

Caffeine content

In the standard Starbucks nitro cold brew, the caffeine content is 215mg. This is due to the higher quantity of coffee beans used to achieve its flavor, which are double or triple the usual amounts you would use to make espresso. Espresso is surprisingly low on caffeine despite its intensity, as it only contains about 64mg of caffeine, depending on the roast levels and brewing time.

Nitro cold brew wins in terms of the caffeine quantities for people looking for a stronger drink.


Due to the more expensive equipment needed to make nitro cold brew coffee, it is not as widely available as espresso coffee, and you rarely find it in the smaller Starbucks stores. Espresso is widely available and cheaper since its production process is simpler, and it acts as the base for other drinks the establishment makes.

Espresso wins this round due to its wider availability and cheaper price.

Roast levels and water temperatures

Nitro cold brew always uses cold water and coffee beans in a dark or medium roast to achieve its earthy flavors while remaining easy on your stomach. Espresso can use medium or dark roast beans, but it requires hot water at 200OF temperature to extract the caffeine as quickly as possible, which makes it have a stronger taste and creates its crema layer.

Nitro cold brew wins here because of the richer taste without the ‘jittery’ effects of espresso.

Starbucks nitro cold brew vs. espresso – A comparison overview

Starbucks Nitro cold brew – Overview

Starbucks Nitro cold brew

Originating from Japan, the nitro cold brew brewing process begins by exposing coarse or medium ground beans to cold water for up to 24 hours to create a cold brew. The brewer then transfers the brew to a keg and uses a tube to connect it to a dispensing tap, then pulls down the tap to release nitrogen bubbles.

The result is a coffee drink that has a creamy, smooth feel with a consistency similar to draft beer. The nitrogen also adds natural sweetness, making the brew compatible with vegan, paleo, and keto diets.

What I liked
  • It has a creamy, smooth taste
  • The long process gives it a rich flavor
  • Contains more caffeine than regular cold brew coffee
What I didn’t like
  • It is challenging to find in most Starbucks cafes
  • The brewing process is quite long
Who it’s best suited for

It is best to take Starbucks nitro cold brew if you want a rich, creamy coffee drink with a smooth texture.

Starbucks espresso – Overview

Starbucks Espresso

An espresso is a classic form of coffee that originated in Italy and is a concentrated drink that is served in small shots. Since it uses smaller servings than other coffee drinks, it tends to have a lower caffeine quantity per serving.

An espresso machine is all a brewer needs to make the drink, and the result is strong and has a crema top layer that contributes to its lingering taste. You can drink it on its own or use it as a base for other drinks like cappuccinos, Americanos, and lattes.

What I liked
  • Few calories per shot
  • Does not need expensive equipment
  • Versatile enough to work as a base for other drinks
What I didn’t like
  • Tends to have a bitter taste
Who it’s best suited for

If you are an experienced coffee drinker, Starbucks espresso may be best for you. Avoid it if you are new to coffee because of its taste.

Final verdict: So, which is better? Starbucks nitro cold brew or espresso?

The nitro cold brew is the stronger choice compared to espresso due to the inclusion of pressurized nitrogen gas that enhances the coffee flavor and smoothness of the drink. It will not be hard on your stomach either because the brewing process takes a longer time.


Is nitro cold brew sweeter than espresso?

Yes, nitro cold brew has a sweeter taste compared to espresso, alongside a smooth and thick texture, as well as low acidity.

Is nitro cold brew stronger than espresso?

Yes, it contains more caffeine than espresso because of its use of whole coffee beans and the long brewing process.

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