Among the drinks on the menu of most good coffee shops, you’ll find the Americano (or an Caffé Americano if you're fancy). You might be surprised to learn that the Americano has been around for a long time and is a popular drink among true coffee lovers. But what is an Americano coffee? We’re going to guide you through everything you need to know about an Americano; what it is, where it came from, why it’s different from regular coffee, how to make one, and show you some variations on the original drink. Also, we’ll sort out the confusion between an Americano, and a long black.
The definition: What is an Americano coffee?
An Americano is an espresso diluted with water. Well, it’s not quite that simple, but that’s the core of it. A long black is also made with espresso and water, but the way it is made is different from an Americano. What's important for now, is the Americano is a coffee drink, a way of serving coffee, and not a coffee brewing method. Think of it this way. When brewing coffee, you might use a French Press, pour-over, drip coffee machine, Aeropress, espresso machine, or one of the other popular methods to extract flavor from coffee grounds using hot, or in the case of cold brew, room-temperature water. An Americano, on the other hand, is like a latte, cappuccino, or mocha in the sense that the drink is made from coffee that already has been brewed.
An Americano is made by pouring hot water over one or two espresso shots, resulting in a drink of similar volume and strength to regular coffee. The key to an Americano is that it starts with espresso and adopts the flavors and aromas of the espresso, but with a less powerful taste. We’ll provide a more detailed recipe later, but that’s the basic idea. For now, take note that the espresso shot comes first, and then the hot water is added.
History of the Americano
The origin of the Americano is not certain, but there is a story most people tell. It began during World War II. American soldiers stationed in Italy couldn’t find coffee like they were used to at home. Espresso was the style of coffee served in Italy, and the soldiers found it too strong for their palette. To appeal to the American taste, a cup of hot water was served alongside the espresso and the men poured the water over the espresso to create a more familiar tasting cup of coffee.
Now, the story may or may or may not be true. During WWII, coffee would have been hard to come by in Italy, and if there was coffee, it was certainly rationed. Nonetheless, we do know “Caff è Americano” means “American coffee” in Italian.
How is an Americano different from a shot of espresso?
It might seem obvious, but coffee brewing is the result of exposing ground coffee to water to extract the flavor compounds from the espresso beans. In the case of filter or drip coffee, water is poured over the grounds, and gravity is used to perform the extraction. In the case of French Press or cold brew, the grounds are emersed in water. In both instances, the grounds are being exposed to water, but with the Americano, the water is not being exposed to grounds, it is being added to an espresso shot creating a different flavor altogether. Remember, espresso passes a small volume of water through fine grounds under pressure, causing the extraction to be quick and with little contact between the water and the grounds, keeping more of the flavor components intact. Because an Americano starts with a shot of espresso, it has similar characteristics.
The Americano aroma
An Americano typically will have a richer aroma than regular coffee. Most coffee shops will use two espresso shots as the base for an Americano and add only five or six ounces of water. The high ratio between espresso and water gives the Americano a similar aroma profile to the espresso shots themselves. When you sit in front of a hot Americano, the wonderful aroma of a perfect espresso will waft through the air.
The Americano taste
In comparison to regular coffee, an Americano is a bit stronger with a rich bold flavor. Brewed coffee can present more complex and delicate flavors than an Americano, but the taste of brew coffee can’t compare in terms of richness and depth. Also. Brewed coffee can sometimes be bitter or burnt, but an Americano is not subject to these same defects.
An Americano relies on the espresso for its flavor. A poorly pulled espresso shot can ruin the taste of an Americano. If the shot is over-extracted, the coffee will be bitter and harsh. If under-extracted, the coffee will be sour and acidic. The point here is that the espresso shots have to be perfect for an Americano to shine. Also, most people drink Americanos without milk making it even harder to disguise poorly extracted espresso.
The Americano mouthfeel
Espresso, by its short extraction time, retains much of the oils from the roasted coffee beans and these oils are trapped in a silky foam layer called crema. When hot water is poured over an espresso shot, the crema gives the Americano a velvety mouthfeel with more viscosity than regular coffee.
The Caffeine level
This is a bit of a tricky one. Most people think espresso is high in caffeine, but that's not the case. A single shot of espresso contains around eighty milliliters of caffeine compared to the one hundred twenty milliliters in a twelve-ounce cup of brewed coffee. Generally, an Americano will contain less caffeine than regular coffee, but keep in mind most coffee shops use a double shot for their Americano and just enough hot water to create a 1:3 coffee ratio. Depending on how you make your Americano at home, it may have less of a kick than regular coffee.
Americano vs long black
Here’s where most people have it wrong. They are not the same thing. As we’ve already explained, an Americano is made by pouring hot water over an espresso shot, but a long black is made by pouring an espresso shot over hot water. In other words, with an Americano, the espresso shot comes first, and with a long black, the water comes first.
Is there a taste difference between an americano and a long black? Yes. An espresso shot, at least a good one, has a flavorful fatty layer called crema. When a shot is pulled perfectly, depending on the roast, the crema will be a caramel-colored foam that floats on the top of the espresso. In the case of an Americano, the water disturbs the crema when it is poured over the espresso, and most of the crema is dissolved. In contrast, for a long black, the espresso is poured over the hot water and the shot retains most of the crema. In our opinion, a long black ends up being higher in bitterness at first taste. If it’s too bitter, you can take a spoon and break up the crema a bit. You’ll have to try both drinks to determine which one you prefer.
Congratulations! You are now an expert in americanos and you can give a great answer if someone asks you the same question as you asked us: "What is an americano coffee?".
But enough with the talking. Let's get to the fun stuff - how to brew a cup of americano.
How to make an Americano
The Americano is a simple drink to make, as long as you can pull a great espresso shot with an espresso machine or have a coffee pod machine. Here’s what you’ll need:
- 2 shots of freshly brewed espresso
- About five ounces of hot water just off the boil
- A mug to be proud of. Check out our Chamberlain Coffee Careless Cat Mug
How to do it
- Boil the kettle and let it sit for a minute.
- Pull two perfect espresso shots. We suggest using our Fancy Mouse Espresso Blend. You can make a great Americano with a single shot, but we like the punch and depth when it is made with two shots. If you’re using a pod machine, you can extract a double shot.
- Carefully pour the espresso into your mug being careful not to disturb the crema too much.
- Slowly pour over five or six ounces of hot water. Don’t pour all at once and try to keep the crema from totally dissolving in the water.
- Enjoy your Americano!
Now you never have to spend way too much money at your local coffee shop when you're craving an americano!
Is an espresso machine necessary for Americanos?
The short answer is no, you don't need an espresso machine to make an americano. In fact, you can even use a coffee pod machine or an aeropress.
However, you will get way better results if you use an espresso machine. This is the only way to get enough pressure that is required to get the most out of your precious espresso beans. The espresso shot will simply be better with an espresso machine.
Tired of drip coffee americanos? Variations on the traditional Americano with hot water
As with most things’ coffee, there’s always a way to switch things up. The Americano has been around since at least WWII, but through the years, it’s taken on a few different variations.
An iced Americano is made using the same recipe, but cold water is substituted for hot. Add a few ice cubes and your all set. An iced Americano is not the same as iced coffee or iced latte because you’re not making it with brewed coffee. It’s an amazing treat to make an americano on a hot summer day.
The white Americano is an Americano where only half the normal amount of hot water is added to the espresso. Then, the remainder of the dilution is done with cold or lightly steamed milk.
While this is not the same as an Americano, it is a close cousin. Here, the water is added to the expresso by pulling the shot with a greater volume of water or over a longer time. When the primary extraction is done, the additional water dilutes the espresso in a similar way to an Americano. Some people, us included, think a longo is an entirely different taste because the dilution is part of the actual extraction maintaining many of the same flavors from the espresso itself.
Our Americano quick tips
Let’s leave you with our top tips for making the perfect Americano every time.
- Use a dark roast for a deep, rich flavor
- Use water that is just off boiling point
- Make the Americano with two shots or one double shot of espresso
- Pull the espresso shots directly into the coffee mug before adding the water
- Pour the water over the espresso, not the other way around
- Pour in the water very slowly trying not to disturb the crema
- Use one part espresso to three parts water for the best taste
- Don’t stir the Americano before drinking it
- Try out a long black to taste the difference between an Americano
- An Americano is not the same as drip coffee
- Give a shout-out to the troops!