What is an Americano Coffee? Espresso and Hot Water in Harmony

Last updated on September 22nd, 2023 by Jules Winnfield

What is an Americano coffee

An Americano, also known as Caffè Americano, is a commonly ordered type of coffee. Most coffee lovers can get their hands on one and be good for the rest of the day…or at least until the afternoon fatigue hits!

But who among us can actually say they know what an Americano coffee is? Most people assume that it’s simply a black coffee, but the truth is it’s a bit more complex than that. 

So today we’ll discuss what is an Americano coffee, its history, how it compares to other similar coffee drinks and how you can brew a cup for yourself at home with exquisite barista like quality.

What’s the Difference Between an Americano and a Black Coffee?

how long can coffee sit out

Let’s tackle this common question first. A black, brewed drip coffee is made using a slow filtration method. Hot water is filtered through coffee grounds slowly to produce your final cup of coffee. So basically what you get from your standard drip coffee maker or pour over.

In contrast, Americanos are made by combining a shot of espresso with hot water. Espresso is made using a quick high pressure extraction process, which changes the flavor of the resultant coffee drink.

As a result the espresso is more concentrated in caffeine than a regular cup of drip coffee for the same volume. But when you pour hot water in to the espresso to make an Americano, the caffeine content may end up being the same.

What is the History of the Americano Coffee?

It is believed that Americanos grew in popularity during the Second World War. A number of American soldiers were stationed in Europe, specifically Italy.

The average soldier was consuming in excess of 32 pounds of coffee annually, which was difficult for the American government to send. On top of that, Italian espresso coffees were very strong and too much for the American palate.

Many soldiers lusted for their American style drip coffee from home and tried to come up with an alternative drink. They began to add hot water to the espresso shots, creating the closest thing available. Over time, the Americano became a staple espresso drink in its own right. 

While this is the general consensus for the origins of the Americano, it was mentioned as far back as the 1920s. An author known as Somerset Maugham wrote in his book about the characters drinking an Americano, although no further detail was offered. 

Qualities of an Americano

what is an americano coffee

What is the Flavor Profile of an Americano?

This will depend on the type of beans used for your coffee grind. Different growing regions and roasting processes result in different flavor profiles. Generally speaking, Americanos have an intense and deep coffee flavor.

You may notice nutty and earthy tones. You are unlikely to detect lighter or floral flavors as these are destroyed by the high temperature needed for extraction and brewing. 

What is the Caffeine Content of an Americano?

The average caffeine content of an espresso shot is around 40 mg. Usually, a double shot of espresso is used to produce a single Americano, meaning that each cup contains 80 mg of caffeine. 

What is Crema?

Crema is the thin, tan brown, foam layer that is generated on the top of a shot of espresso. This is a hot topic in the coffee world. Some coffee enthusiasts believe that the crema is irrelevant to the flavor of the coffee, whereas others think it has a strong impact. 

The layer is produced due to the coffee oils and the carbon dioxide combining as the espresso shot is pulled. The hot water forces the aromatic oils out of the coffee beans and into the cup. As the oils are lighter and less dense than the coffee, this layer floats on the top. 

If you top your espresso shot with hot water, this will disrupt the crema layer and cause it to combine with the espresso underneath. This is typical of an Americano, and the flavor you get will be milder and more mellow. 

How to Make an Americano?

white coffee made black

The Basics

You make an Americano with just 2 simple ingredients – hot water and espresso shots. Typically these are combined in a 1:1 ratio to make a classic Americano.

Some places reduce the ratio so that it is 1 part espresso to 2 parts water. Most of the time an Americano is 6 ounces, but it can be bigger.

There is some controversy and debate over the order in which Americanos should be made. The general consensus is that espresso is added to the cup, and this is topped up with the hot water. This prevents the crema from being disrupted. 

This creates weaker and more mild espresso drinks that some people find more palatable. This ratio is often used in chain coffee shops as it is cheaper to produce and generally more liked. 

A proper Americano will not contain any milk or milk alternatives. Some people will request steamed milk to come in or alongside their coffee, but you shouldn’t expect this if you order an Americano.

You can also make an iced Americano. This is made with cold water and espresso, and is often shaken with or poured over ice cubes. This is also different from iced shaken espresso.

What Grind Should be used for an Americano?

You should use a finely ground coffee bean to produce the espresso shots for an Americano. The particles of the beans should be slightly finer than that of table salt. 

The finer the grind, the larger the surface area of the coffee grinds. This makes for a faster extraction rate, meaning that the hot water needs to be in contact with the beans for less time.

This fine grind can also slow the flow rate of your water. This means that the contact time is increased and the flavor is more intense. 

As we mentioned before, an espresso is produced under high water pressure (about 9 bars) and over a short period (20-30 seconds). So it makes sense to use fine coffee grounds in your espresso machine.

If you don’t pull espressos as often, you can get yourself a high quality manual coffee grinder like the 1Zpresso that subdues coffee grounds into fine humble obedient servants! Or go for an electric grinder if its going to be a family affair.

Can You Add Milk to an Americano?

Yes, you can! It is your drink and you can tailor the flavor to suit your personal preferences. Some people like to add milk (or a milk alternative) in their coffee but not as much as what you get in a latte.

In this case, you can ask for your Caffè Americano to be served alongside a small amount of hot or cold milk. This is also sometimes referred to as a white Americano.

Some people also opt to add a flavored syrup or sugar to their coffee. This is good if you tend to find coffee too bitter and hard to get down. The syrups can mellow out the flavor and make the coffee more palatable and delicious. 

I prefer to use non dairy alternative like coconut milk and MCT oil powder with natural flavored extracts to give my coffee that enjoyable flavor with out the excess milk and sugar. But remember this is your coffee drink, do as you please!

How Does an Americano Compare to Other Coffee Drinks

What’s the Difference Between an Americano and a Long Black?

A long black is pretty similar in makeup to an Americano. It involves all of the same ingredients, but they are made in a different order.

A small amount of hot water is added to a cup then 1 or 2 shots of espresso are pulled into this.

You may not think the order would make a difference but it does! The results are a stronger, more bold flavor than an Americano due to the aromatics of the crema layer.

The crema is not disrupted, meaning the drink is typically more aesthetically pleasing. This is an incredibly popular coffee order in Australia and New Zealand. 

What’s the Difference Between an Americano and a Drip Coffee?

As we mentioned earlier, Americanos are made with a shot of espresso which is pulled quickly. Drip coffee, whether from a Chemex pour over or an auto-drip machine, takes a lot longer to brew. 

To make a drip coffee you pour slightly cooled boiled water over fresh ground coffee. Gravity will take effect and pull the hot water through the grounds to produce a cup of drip coffee.

This slower production method allows some of the smaller coffee grounds to be dissolved. They can then pass through the filter to create a more subtle coffee flavor than an Americano. 

Which Coffee Beans Should You Use: Arabica v Robusta Beans 

Since the flavor of your Americano is dependent on the type of beans used, it helpful to understand the various types available.

For more info on the best coffee beans for espresso, check out our full guide and review.

The Arabica and Robusta beans. These are the 2 main types of coffee beans used in commercial coffee production. These beans are from the same family but have different flavor profiles.

Arabica Coffee Beans

Within the Arabica family, you will find 2 varieties of coffee bean – Typica and Bourbon.

Typica was the first to be discovered and is generally considered to be the original coffee of the New World. Bourbon beans have more balanced and complex aromas. They have mutated a lot since their discovery.

Arabica beans have a lower caffeine content than Robusta and are generally considered to taste better. The flavor profile is sweet and smoother, and you will commonly be able to detect sugary and chocolate flavors. You may also notice berry and fruit notes. 

Arabica coffee beans are by far the most popular, with over 60% of the world’s coffee produced by Arabica cultivators. It originates from Ethiopia and tends to grow best at high altitudes. Arabica plants can grow to a height of 15 feet but are often pruned to limit their growth to 6 feet. It is capable of self-pollination as the plant contains 2 separate sets of chromosomes. 

Robusta Coffee Beans

Robusta beans are considered to have a less refined flavor profile than Arabica. These beans are often used to make espressos as it produces a better crema than the Arabica beans. These beans have more caffeine, grow in better yields, and are more resistant to diseases. 

It is believed that Robusta beans are more disease-resistant due to their caffeine content and chlorogenic acids. These are naturally pest-resistant and help to protect the plant. These acids are part of the reason why Arabica beans are often preferred for coffee, as the low acidity can impact the flavor of the brew. 

Robusta is shorter and about twice as wide as Arabica plants. They can grow well at high humidity levels, and the Robusta plant is self-sterile. This means that the plant can only reproduce as a result of cross-pollination by the elements and wild animals. 

Final Thoughts

If you are looking for a simple way to enjoy the distinct flavors of an espresso, then a Caffè Americano is a great option. Originating from soldiers who wanted a lighter version of the espresso, the Americano is an espresso topped with hot water. It is milder and mellower compared to other espresso based drinks, and is a staple in many coffee shops.

Now that you know what an Americano is (in depth), you can order with confidence at your local coffee shop, and educate your friends who mistakenly reach for a Long Black or regular drip coffee.

You can even make an Americano yourself on your own espresso machine at home and experiment with various coffee grounds, roast profiles, amounts of water, and coffee flavor and sweeteners.

The world is your oyster! And its got a cup of Americano coffee ready for you!

If you don’t already have your own espresso machine, check out these reviews on high quality espresso machines like Breville, De’Longhi, and even Nespresso to find what might be a good option for you.

For more quick, but in-depth guides on different coffee drinks, check these out!

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