Americano coffee is one of the most evident cultural by-products of the crossing between 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 hate Americano coffee, but it’s a very popular espresso drink around the world. Many people think it resembles drip coffee, but it offers a very different taste, aroma, and mouthfeel.
Americano is an Italian word that takes us back to one of the darkest times of our era. Like cappuccino, this popular coffee drink was part of the aftermath of war according to the legend.
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.
Isn’t Drip Coffee The Same Thing?
In short, no. Americano coffee is very different from a cup of drip coffee.
Americano is, put simply, diluted espresso 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 prefer to enjoy 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, for instance.
Espresso requires an espresso machine, so it’s out of reach for most people at home, unlike drip coffee.
However, the differences between both aren’t only about the gear and the brewing methods required.
The standard for espresso machines is to extract coffee at 9-bars of pressure. Home 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 and 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
- Lower bitterness and acidity than espresso, because it’s diluted in hot water
- More liquid, usually double than an espresso. Sometimes triples the volume of regular espresso.
- A single serving of espresso and Americano have the same amount of caffeine in total. However, as the espresso is more concentrated, the caffeine dose is higher per ml
- Americano looks more turbulent than good drip coffee and has a richer, heavier body
The Origins of Caffè Americano
In popular culture, it has become widespread the story about American soldiers diluting espresso while stationed in Italy, during World War II. James Hoffmann, in his World Atlas of Coffee, subscribes to this story, although he acknowledges implicitly its popular origin. 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 exactly the opposite: a dense shot of concentrated coffee.
Eventually, diluting espresso with hot water acquired its own name, and this peculiar, but simple beverage became the popular Americano.
Which has more caffeine?
An Americano has the same amount of caffeine as the shot of espresso is based on. Putting it simply, adding water to a shot of espresso keeps the caffeine content equal.
Concentration, on the other hand, varies widely, depending on the recipe. When an Americano is made with a 1:1 proportion of water and espresso, it will 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, which was a championship course in World Barista Championships, Americano is extremely simple and doesn’t require any milk.
Many coffee connoisseurs don’t consider it a particularly good 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 to prepare this drink the barista should pull an espresso first, and then pour hot water to dilute it.
Some experts claim that it’s better to make it serving hot water in a cup, and then pouring the espresso over it. Hoffmann is one of such proponents, asserting that Americano tastes and looks better when it’s 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 Americano can be compared 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 can overlap with the long black, most traditional recipes are more diluted than long blacks.
In short, the difference between Americano and Long Black is the ratio of water per espresso shot. Although many places use two shots of espresso to make an Americano, it’s more common to use more water as well.
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, I think it depends widely on the barista and your personal taste. Many coffee lovers appreciate the aesthetic value of crema, but others prefer a more delicate flavor.
In my experience, Americano is a good choice to drink coffee at a coffee shop with a good espresso machine, without alternative brewing devices for pour-overs. As Americano offers a different taste than drip coffee, it’s still a good alternative to espresso drinks. Particularly for those who can’t or don’t want to consume milk.