Americano coffee is one of the most evident cultural by-products of crossing Italian and American traditions. I can imagine that diluting an espresso shot with hot water was, at some point, the equivalent of cutting pasta or serving it with ketchup instead of a proper Italian sauce.
Nowadays, some hardcore espresso lovers still hate Americano coffee, but it’s a trendy espresso drink worldwide. Many people think it resembles drip coffee, but it offers a different taste, aroma, and mouthfeel.
Americano is an Italian word that takes us back to one of the darkest times of our era. According to the legend, like cappuccino, this popular coffee drink was part of the aftermath of war.
Keep reading to learn more about Americano, why it is different from drip coffee, its origin, and some tips to make a better one.
The rise of coffee culture is exciting for some coffee enthusiasts. However, it can be overwhelming for some to navigate the menu of a coffee shop.
Read on for the full breakdown on what’s in it, why it is different from drip coffee, its history, and some tips to make a better one.
Americano vs. drip coffe: Aren’t they the Same Thing?
In short, no. Americano coffee is very different from a cup of drip coffee.
Americano is a diluted espresso shot with hot water. The most common way to make an Americano is using a shot of espresso balanced in halves with hot water. Some prefer a smoother Americano, so they use 1/3 of espresso with 2/3 of hot water.
Espresso has a very peculiar taste and mouthfeel, and although we dilute Americano in hot water, its taste is very different from drip coffee. Brewing drip coffee can be as simple as using a cheap coffeemaker or as complex as brewing by hand, using a dripper like V60 or Chemex.
Espresso requires an espresso machine, so it’s out of reach for most people at home, unlike drip coffee.
However, the differences aren’t only about the gear and the brewing methods required.
The standard for espresso machines is to extract coffee at 9-bars. In contrast, drip coffeemakers don’t exert pressure over a finely ground coffee bed. Automatic and manual drippers work by pouring hot water over coffee grounds instead. The French press or cafetière is another popular coffeemaker for home use. It produces a very different cup of coffee than a dripper and espresso because it extracts coffee through immersion.
Among coffee brewing devices at home, Moka pot and Aeropress are the exceptions since they use some pressure for coffee extraction.
Overall, Americano is different from drip coffee because:
- It’s has a stronger body and it tends to have some espresso crema on top
- If you use the same coffee beans for both drinks, and Americano with a single shot of espresso is likely to have a slightly lower caffeine content
- Americano looks more turbulent than drip coffee and has a richer, heavier body
- Drip coffee has a more subtle taste than Americano. The latter bring more of the character of the coffee beans to the cup.
The Origins of Caffè Americano
Popular culture has spread the story about American soldiers diluting espresso while stationed in Italy during World War II. James Hoffmann subscribes to this story in his World Atlas of Coffee, although he acknowledges its popular origin implicitly. I haven’t found any serious evidence to back this story, but it’s plausible.
Americano means American in Spanish and Italian. Traditionally, Americans have been keener to enjoy drip coffee in large mugs, while Italian espresso it’s precisely the opposite: a dense shot of concentrated coffee.
Eventually, diluting espresso with hot water acquired its name, and this peculiar but simple beverage became the popular Americano.
Which has more caffeine? Espresso vs. Americano
An Americano has the same amount of caffeine as the shot of espresso you use to prepare it. In other words, adding water to a shot of espresso keeps the caffeine content equal.
On the other hand, concentration varies widely, depending on the recipe. When making an Americano with a 1:1 proportion of water and espresso, you’ll halve its concentration.
In other words, if you aim to reduce caffeine content drinking Americanos, you’ll need to share it!
Americano: Simple but controversial
Unlike cappuccino, a championship course in World Barista Championships, Americano is straightforward and doesn’t require any milk.
Many coffee connoisseurs don’t consider it an excellent choice, but as in everything coffee, is a matter of personal taste.
Yet, there is some controversy about how to make an Americano. Tradition dictates that the barista should pull an espresso first and then pour hot water to dilute it.
Some experts claim that it’s better to serve hot water in a cup and then pour the espresso over it. Hoffmann is one of such proponents, asserting that Americano tastes and looks better when brewed in this way.
In the World Atlas of Coffee, we can read that it’s better to remove crema from Americanos, as it contains fine particles of coffee that can add an unpleasantly bitter flavor to the cup of coffee.
Caffè Americano vs. Other Coffee Drinks
If we can compare Americano with any other coffee drink, that would be the long black coffee, a popular Australian espresso drink.
As you may know, Australian coffee culture is one of the richest in the world at the moment, albeit very young. Still, Australian coffee shops have been innovating during the past few decades. While there is an odd feud between Australians and New Zealanders about the origin of the flat white, it looks like the long black is a true Australian original.
According to Matt Holden, the perfect long black has 2 shots of espresso diluted in 100 ml (3.38 oz). While some Americano recipes overlap with the long black, most traditional recipes are more diluted.
In short, the difference between Americano and Long Black is the ratio of water per espresso shot. Although many places use two espresso shots to make an Americano, it’s more common to use more water.
Is Americano Worth it?
If you ask me, a good reason to ask an Americano in a coffee shop is to enjoy coffee a bit longer and a slightly smoother taste without drinking any milk.
About removing crema, it depends widely on the barista and your taste. Many coffee lovers appreciate the aesthetic value of crema, but others prefer a more delicate flavor.
In my experience, Americano is an excellent choice to drink coffee at a coffee shop with a good espresso machine, without alternative brewing devices for pour-overs. Americano offers a different taste than drip coffee, an excellent alternative to espresso drinks with milk.
Are you curious about non-espresso-based coffee drinks with milk? Check our article about caffè misto!