More reminiscent of a craft brewery than a coffee shop, Smooth Nitro Coffee, located in a kiosk at the Huntington Bank Center lobby at 525 Vine St. downtown, is revolutionizing the café experience with cold brew coffee on tap.
Daniel Thaler opened his shop three weeks ago, but got his start more than a year ago selling his coffee at local venues such as FigLeaf Brewing Company and Dirt at Findlay Market. And while Thaler does serve one hot coffee, what sets Smooth apart is the expansive selection of cold-brew coffee infused with nitrogen gas, kegged and poured from a tap. Nitrogen infusion — a popular method of carbonation for craft beer — makes for an extra creamy, smooth drink.
“We started literally hand-shaking each keg for 30 minutes, but we’ve grown up since then,” Thaler says with a laugh about his initial nitrogen-infusion technique. Now, he has better technology to create his mix of flavors and brews.
Smooth has 12 taps that serve a variety of cold brew flavors. Thaler uses wholesome ingredients such as almond or coconut milk, hazelnuts, real dark chocolate and raw honey over artificial syrups and sweeteners to make Smooth stand out. Grind, Smooths’ standard cold-brew mix, has zero calories and 1.5 times the amount of caffeine than a normal cup of hot coffee. Darkside, mixed with natural dark chocolate, is less than 100 calories and tastes like chocolate milk with a strong coffee aftertaste. For a lighter option, there’s Elevate, a coffee with notes of cinnamon and hazelnut.
Thaler says he wanted to create a drink for caffeine lovers that was a better alternative to options packed with artificial sweeteners. Comparable flavored brews at Starbucks may have up to four times the calories as those at Smooth, he says
But coffee isn’t all that’s on tap. A zesty nitro lemonade makes for a refreshing drink on a hot day. The shop’s menu also includes a classic Arnold Palmer, as well as an in-house creation: the Rise and Shine, a combination of jasmine green tea and their specialty lemonade.
Although the coffees are unique and tasteful by themselves, customers also have the option to mix and match as they choose. Thaler is open to creating a personalized café experience by offering any combination of tea, coffee or lemonade to whomever walks up to the sleek, minimalistic counter. One common mix is pairing Darkside and Elevate for a chocolate-cinnamon taste.
“People want a splash of this and a splash of that,” Thaler says, motioning to the taps behind him. He says he’s always looking for new creations and drink titles.
Along with providing healthy, wholesome ingredients, Thaler spotlights local products in an effort to support the Greater Cincinnati area. Churchill’s Fine Teas supplies the base of his teas, Cate’s Cookie Kitchen bakes sugary treats and Lil’s Bagels serves up satisfying snacks to pair with the cold brews.
“I’m born and raised in Cincinnati,” he says. “It has a special place in my heart.”
With a prime location right outside of Fountain Square, business types and casual tourists alike are already praising Smooth as their new favorite caffeine hub.
One woman, who stopped by the café around 1 p.m., exclaimed that she visits Smooth every day now and loves the low-calorie, smooth and creamy brews that Thaler concocts himself. With a nitro coffee in hand, she gave a big smile before bouncing away to conquer the rest of her Tuesday.
Thaler says he isn’t running on a strict timetable. He’s content with his single shop for now, but does see additional storefronts in his future. He says his next main goal is to can his nitro coffee so that customers can enjoy it at home.
Until then, head to Smooth’s new storefront for a caffeine-packed pick-me-up to beat the 3 p.m. workday blues.
Smooth is open 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday at 525 Vine St., Downtown. More info: facebook.com/smoothcincy.