A little nitrogen in your coffee or tea?
Paul Del Mundo loved drinking Thai iced tea, but afterward, he would get a stomach ache from the condensed milk.
He longed for the creamy texture without the dairy.
So he and his girlfriend, Julie Nguyen, using a concept they were introduced to in November and their food science degrees from Cal Poly Pomona, began to brew up nitrogen-infused coffees and teas.
“It’s noticeable across all palates that the nitrogen adds an extra-creamy body to the coffee,” said Del Mundo, 25, of Santa Ana. “When we first had a nitrogen drink last year, it changed our coffee and tea experience. We tried to look at the process of the nitro and what it could do to other beverages so you can get that creamy texture without the added calories.”
Del Mundo said the dense gas from the nitrogen adds not only a cream-like texture but also an opaque look — as if there’s milk in the drink.
By March, the couple had left their full-time jobs in the food science industry to found Contra Coffee. They don’t have a physical location for their business, and up to now their only public exposure has been through events like the 626 Night Market in Arcadia. But later this month, they will serve their drinks in a pop-up shop located in the Scoops Ice Cream building in Santa Ana.
Contra Coffee flash brews Vietnamese iced coffee, black coffee, horchata and, of course, Thai iced tea — all with a nitrogen boost.
The drinks are healthier because they are free of dairy and low in added sugar, Nguyen said.
However, the business offers a honey-almond, non-dairy creamer for customers who want it.
Nguyen said the couple were inspired by nitrogen-infused beers, like Guinness, as well as other nitrogen-infused coffees.
And like those craft beers, their coffee comes out of a tap. Contra Coffee pays homage to the beer industry, which Del Mundo said he originally wanted to work in, with its India pale coffee, or IPC. The drink has a bitter taste and texture similar to an IPA — India pale ale, a hoppy beer style.
What truly sets Contra Coffee apart from other shops is its variety of flavors.
“Other coffee shops that do nitro coffee only do it with black coffee,” said the 23-year-old Yorba Linda resident. “Their specialties are in roasting the beans, or they have their standard espresso lists. Cold brew kind of took off within the last few years and became its own thing, and that’s kind of where the nitro came into play too.”
Del Mundo said the partnering with Scoops was a matter of “perfect timing.” Contra Coffee and Scoops’ owners learned about one another through social media.
“I emailed them, and they responded right away, telling us they had already heard about us and (were) interested in our product,” he said.
Peter Ji, owner of the Scoops location in Santa Ana, said Contra Coffee is a perfect addition because the non-dairy coffee goes perfectly with the shop’s non-dairy ice cream. (Scoops also offers dairy-based ice cream).
“I had never seen nitrogen coffee before, and they have such eclectic flavors,” Ji said. “We thought what they do and what we do kind of matched well. I think Orange County needs something this different.”
Scoops and Contra Coffee plan to team up to craft ice cream floats.
Del Mundo said he and Nguyen hope one day to open a shop of their own with a social vibe similar to that of a craft brewery.
He also said he’s in disbelief over how quickly their business has grown.
“The reception has been better than expected, to be honest,” he said. “I knew that we had something, but I didn’t expect for us to get as much notoriety as we have this quickly. We were very set on starting our own business during Thanksgiving time last year. The eureka moment was about half a year ago. That’s crazy.”