The Origins of Nitro Coffee

During the Electric Years of Burgeoning Specialty Coffee, He Had an Epiphany

Cuvee Coffee CEO Mike McKim knew it was a great idea from the outset. The difficulty was actually trying to convince people to try something new. Back in the 90's the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) had just over a decade under its belt and people were pining for a truly great single origin coffee. By the early 2000's, the term "Third Wave Coffee" was newly minted and great coffee was becoming more commonplace. People were excited about great coffee and finding it was easier, especially if you lived in the Pacific Northwest. It was in these electric years of burgeoning specialty coffee that McKim had his epiphany.

"The idea came to me in 2005 when I was selling La Marzocco espresso machines and saw that a customer had installed a coffee beverage on one of his beer taps," remembers McKim. "The drink was just a flat, cream and sugar kind of thing, but the idea of coffee on tap stuck with me. For years I mentioned the concept to other business owners, but no one seemed all that interested. But I kept talking about it, because I always thought coffee on tap was a great idea. I couldn't believe people weren't seeing the opportunity."

During the Summer of 2012 Cuvee Coffee Serves First Pint of Nitro Coffee It wasn't until Cuvee Coffee was well established that McKim revisited his novel idea sometime in 2011. That's when McKim began several months of R&D, serving samples to friends and family along the way. The initial goal, according to McKim, "was simply learning how to make a more complex, flavorful cold brew coffee. I experimented with several different brew vessels, filters, brewing temperatures, brew times, agitation and various storage containers until I found that perfect balance."

McKim knew the product was good but felt the experience of drinking it lacked something truly unique. Then it hit him while he was drinking beer. "I was with a friend drinking a Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro out of the bottle, and that's when it all came full circle for me," McKim states. "I watched the cascading nitro and thought, 'Why can't I do that with coffee?'"

McKim now had a new challenge: learning how to nitrogenate cold brew coffee. At one point early on he even tested carbonating the coffee to see the effects, "but it just tasted plain awful." Finally, test batch after test batch, McKim figured out the ideal method to infuse nitrogen into the product for a creamier, smoother texture. Once the initial kegs were hooked up to nitrogen the results were beautiful. At long last, during a Slow Food Austin event during the summer of 2012, Black & Blue was first served to the public.

The Advent of Nitro Coffee in Cans

Though cans weren't introduced until the fall of 2014, McKim knew that canning Black & Blue was always the end goal. An admitted craft beer enthusiast, McKim loved all the benefits of having beer in fully recyclable aluminum cans. "So many of the beers I loved were coming in cans, and I wanted to enjoy my coffee on the boat and at festivals the same way I was enjoying my beer. Cans can go so many places that bottles can't."

Once Black & Blue in kegs had solid regional distribution, McKim began searching for can manufacturers. They immediately purchased as many cans as possible (along with a used manual canning machine) and began canning. Initially, each can was painstakingly filled by hand and sealed one at a time. The process was laborious, time-consuming and frustrating. And images of the cans circulating online didn't help either. Social media attention created a nearly insurmountable demand on the company's capacity.

As of today, Cuvee Coffee is in the midst of a large-scale expansion. The roastery cans and distributes tens of thousands of Black & Blue nitro cans each month as demand continues to soar. "People cannot seem to get enough. I love it," McKim laughs. "We're grateful for the support and thankful that people love drinking this as much as we do. I want everyone to know we're working very hard to get Black & Blue on every shelf in America."

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