NorCal Nitro Coffee - Cold Brewed in Paradise
● By Melissa Mendonca
By Melissa Mendonca
Photos by Paula Schultz
Twenty-one years ago, well before the big fresh juice craze took hold, Geoffrey Greitzer opened Java and Juice in Paradise using only fresh fruits and veggies for his juices and smoothies, no sugar-fueled base from a plastic jar. While he was arriving at 3 am to roast coffee beans daily, he held the notion that eventually, “People could switch over from coffee to smoothies.”
“We were the first place to have a real juice bar in Paradise and Chico,” he says. The 3,000-square-foot building was also the first in Paradise to have a drive through.
Today, people still fill Yelp reviews with the virtues of the Swinging Monkey and Ninja Turtle smoothies, but Greitzer and his wife Nicole are feeding the coffee addiction with the introduction of nitro coffee, a process they helped revolutionize just a few years ago.
“It’s been such a whirlwind, I don't know how to describe what it means,” says Greitzer of what he refers to as “the nitro thing,” a process of adding nitrogen to slow, cold-brewed organic coffee through a pressurized valve, creating a smooth, creamy finish with a foamy head reminiscent of a Guinness draught.
“It doesn’t taste anything like a normal coffee,” he adds, noting that it is typically taken with no to very little sweetener and that “people who have stomach problems can drink this.” The natural creaminess of the pour eliminates the need for dairy.
Ironically, it was as the nation's obsession with fresh juices was finally taking hold that Greitzer turned his attention to the nitro thing. Nicole found an article about it and shared with him. His curiosity soon turned in to a full-on obsession. “When I get hot on something in my head...,” he says, going on to describe the countless hours reading and experimenting with the process and flavor profiles involved in making a quality product.
“At the time, a couple of years ago, there were fewer than 10 people in the country who were doing it,” he adds. The concept was so intriguing though that he knew immediately he wanted to pursue it. The result of his early experimentation was so popular that Juice and Java would routinely empty five-gallon kegs on a daily basis. Coffee houses Cal Java and Beatniks, as well as Upper Crust Bakery, also began serving his product.
It didn't take long before he was approached to wholesale the coffee. His attention turned to figuring out how to bottle the product in glass so a hard pour would still bring the effect of a keg tap. “It took six months every single day to figure out how to do this,” he says. “I'm sure my staff got sick of tasting it.” They also had to label each bottle by hand. “It took almost a minute per bottle. My wife, Nicole, almost got carpal tunnel,” he adds. Still, he says, “I believe we were the first people to figure out how to bottle nitro in glass bottles.”
Greitzer admits that at first, he thought glass was the only legitimate way to contain the nitro coffee with integrity. Others started using aluminum cans and he silently disparaged the practice. Then Sierra Nevada Brewery made the case for aluminum and he began with his own experiments. Turns out, cans were the way to go. “You give a couple of good shakes and a hard pour,” he says, “and you get a creamy, cascading Guinness-like thing.” It's superior to the glass bottling technique he spent so much time perfecting. “With cans, it will hold more pressure because it's all under nitrogen.”
With the ability to can comes the ability to grow, something Greitzer is simultaneously excited and wary about. “We want to do everything correctly, to not expand too quickly,” he says. Still, the self-professed shorts and t-shirts guy bought himself a suit and drove to Safeway headquarters in Pleasanton to discuss expanding distribution of NorCal Nitro beyond the few stores in Chico and Paradise. “We're outperforming any cold brew coffee that they have on their shelves,” he says with pride. “Ours just tastes different.”
He can't move much beyond the North State, as he and his crew are still roasting and brewing in small batches, but he's excited that more people will be able to readily access his product.
While he makes each move toward expansion with measured steps, he's fully cognizant of the importance of this phase of his business. “You don't have too many opportunities in life that present themselves like this,” he says.
NorCal Nitro Coffee • norcalnitro.com
Juice and Java • 7067 Skyway • Paradise