To some people, words like cappuccino, latte, or lungo may sound like an alien language.
And I get it:
It’s easy to get lost in the world of coffee drinks, given how many of those there are.
So, let’s start with one of the simplest (yet, delicious) beverages. Today we will answer the question “What is an Americano?” and also learn what it should taste like. Let’s cut right to the chase!
Americanos ExplainedTo find out what an Americano is, you need to learn about its components. To put it simply, an Americano is an espresso diluted with water. Typically, it is made with one shot of espresso and the exact same amount of water. However, some coffee enthusiasts debate about the ratio, as Americanos come in all shapes and sizes. Some people prefer a 1:1 ratio, others love their beverages 1:2, etc. However, ratios aside, an Americano is a mix of espresso and hot water. Yes, it’s ridiculously simple, but don’t let this beverage’s simplicity fool you: Americanos can be incredibly delicious, rich, and full-bodied.
The History of Americano
Now when it’s clear what an Americano is, you might start to wonder:
Where did it come from? Who decided to dilute those rich, bold espressos with water and why?
There isn’t much evidence supporting the story of Americanos, but the legend is pretty famous. When the US soldiers were stationed in Italy during World War II, they did not really enjoy bold Italian espressos. And creamy cappuccinos seems too heavy on froth to them. American soldiers were craving (and missing) the dip-brewed black coffee they used to drink at diners back home.
That’s when (and why) Italian baristas (or maybe the soldiers themselves, the evidence is a bit uncertain here) started adding hot water to Italian espressos. That’s how Americano we know today was invented (1).
Adding hot water to espresso shots made their flavor slightly smoother, less bitter, and more bearable for the American soldiers who were missing the regular coffee from home.
Americano vs. Black CoffeeWith so many coffee types for us to choose from, it’s easy to get confused. After all, they all have the same base – espresso. The main difference hides in the ratio of water and coffee, and the added milk or froth. When it comes to Americanos, many coffee lovers confuse them with other kinds of black coffee. However, once you learn the basic differences, you will know exactly what you order at your local coffeehouse. Here are the most common tangles you can come across:
- Americano vs. drip coffee. Both black and rich in flavor, these coffee types are very different at heart. The secret lies in the way they are brewed. As you already know, Americanos are made with espressos, which are brewed by forcing a small amount of steaming water through the grounds using high pressure. For drip coffee, the process is different. The grounds are placed into the filter and the filter basket of the drip coffee maker. Then the machine pours water all over them and allows the coffee to steep, while releasing the brewed beverage down into the carafe (2). As a result, drip coffee isn’t as strong and has a milder flavor. It typically has a lighter, sweeter taste with some floral notes that may become more obvious after you’ve already taken a few sips. Americanos can often have slight notes of bitterness or that intricate zestiness that espressos often have. They are also famous for the intense earthy notes in their flavor.
- Americano vs. Long Black. Now, this is when most aspiring coffee enthusiasts become confused. Americano is a combination of espresso and hot water. But so is Long Black. So… Are these two just different names of one beverage? Not exactly. You see, in this case, the process of making a drink is what matters. With Americanos, you add hot water to your espresso. A Long Black is when you pour espresso over the hot water. The flavors of these two beverages are not that different, but in Americano, you can enjoy the crema, while Long Black doesn’t have it.
- Americano vs. lungo. Again, because both of these coffee beverages are black, they often get mixed up. Lungo is an espresso shot made with twice as much water. It requires more time to pull a shot using such an amount of water, hence the name Lungo, which translates as “long”. Because in Americano we add water after the extraction, the flavor differs from Lungo. The latter often has smoky notes and a stronger, more distinct flavor.
What Should It Taste Like?
Here’s what I want you to know right away:
You shouldn’t expect your Americano to taste like espresso. Yes, espresso is the main “ingredient” here, but the way Americano is made changes a lot. Americanos are usually milder, smoother, and lighter. This beverage is ideal for those days when you want to taste coffee in its true form (without creamers or sweeteners) but want to spend more than 30 seconds drinking it (as we often do when drinking espressos).
What About Caffeine?
Even though Americanos are diluted and have a smoother, lighter flavor, let’s not underestimate the power of this beverage. Especially if you are trying to watch your caffeine consumption.
Your average Americano contains around 75 mg of caffeine, which is the same amount a regular shot of espresso contains (3). Of course, the amount of caffeine may depend on a number of factors, including the bean type, the roast level, and even the region where the beans were growing.
Should There Be Crema?
If you like espressos, you probably know that crema is that thin layer of tan foam that forms on top of it (4). It is very flavorful and can be a good indication that your espresso was pulled correctly, using fresh, quality beans.
Now, you may be wondering:
If Americano is made with espresso, should it have that signature crema?
Generally, yes. However, the texture will be a bit different. When the water is added to the espresso, it can break the crema, leaving only a thin, almost see-through layer of it. Of course, it will depend on how you (or the barista) pour the water in. So, if your Americano doesn’t have a crema, don’t be upset: maybe the barista simply poured the water a bit more roughly then needed.
Can I Make an Americano at Home?
To answer the question shortly, yes. However, you will need an espresso machine to make an Americano at home. Here, you can watch a quick and easy-to-follow process of brewing a perfect cup of Americano, or check our tutorial here.
What coffee type do you prefer? Do you take yours with a creamer or do you prefer it black? And have you tried good Americanos already? Let us know in the comments!
- Aoife McElwain (October 05, 2019). What’s so American about an americano? Retrieved from https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/food-and-drink/what-s-so-american-about-an-americano-1.4029831
- Alondra (August 28, 2020). Down to the Coffee Basics. Retrieved from https://blogs.library.unt.edu/spark/tag/drip-coffee/
- Caffeine Informer (n.d.). Espresso Shot. Retrieved from https://www.caffeineinformer.com/caffeine-content/espresso
- Lindsey Goodwin (December 11, 2019). Retrieved from https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-is-coffee-crema-765688
My name is Yurii Brown. I am a passionate coffee geek and, concurrently, a certified coffee specialist.
I’ve been learning about coffee for a long time, testing various devices and practicing in home coffee brewing. I like to share my experience and insights with fellow coffee lovers so that my readers could enjoy the real taste of quality-brewed beverages.