While a seasoned coffee lover might be able to go into detail about the café Americano, along with the perfect way to make it, someone new to the world of fancy coffee might be wondering, exactly what is Americano coffee? And who wins in the battle of Americano vs coffee?
The quick answer—contrary to many people’s expectations—is that Americano coffee is not just a fancy name for regular drip coffee. A caffè Americano is a type of espresso drink in which you mix hot water into the espresso shot.
But there is more than one way to make it, and the variations in style can substantially affect the overall taste.
So if you want to head into Starbucks or another coffee shop and confidently order an Americano, keep reading to learn everything!
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What is an Americano?
As you might have guessed, the caffè Americano is Italian for “American coffee”. When in Italy, ordering a “caffè” will not result in the standard cup of coffee you would get in many other countries like America. The typical coffee drink in Italy is an Italian espresso, and ordering a caffè Americano is how you communicate that you want the American style of coffee.
So what is American coffee?
Those familiar with adding milk to their coffee already know that it dilutes some of the more robust flavors of coffee to make the drink more palatable. And an Americano does the same thing but adds hot water to the espresso shot to make something like a 12-ounce drink. It maintains the intensity of espresso but is closer to the ratio and taste produced by a standard coffee maker.
Caffè Americano Origins
Where did the Americano come from, and why did this drink start with Italian espresso coffee?
The history supposedly dates back to American soldiers in Italy ordering coffee during World War II. The Americans were used to drip coffee from a machine, and the traditional espresso in Italy tasted too strong. So to get closer to the standard brewed coffee in America, they added hot water.
Over time, the local Italians started calling this espresso preparation a caffè Americano because it was what the Americans ordered. And now, even in America, the Americano is a drink you can order anywhere!
What is in Americano Coffee?
Besides the misconception that the cafe Americano is simply a fancy name for American drip coffee, another common idea is that the drink is a super bold cup of coffee. And while the ingredients of Americano coffee can result in a strong cup, they do not have to.
Strength depends on how much espresso you use for the drink, and Americano espresso is no different than that used for a latte or a cappuccino. At a fancier café, you may be able to choose a single-origin espresso bean for a unique taste.
How is an Americano Different from a Shot of Espresso?
Since the Americano ingredients are just espresso and water, the drink’s contrast to straight espresso mostly depends on the ratio between espresso and hot water. At 1:1, for example, the beverage will be intense and espresso-forward. Another consideration is the specific espresso recipe you use for the drink.
The definition of an espresso shot will vary depending on where you are, and in the world of specialty coffee, the recipes get complicated and will vary from the standard. But to understand the basics of espresso, let’s use the following amounts as a standard for single and double shots:
- Single shot: 7 grams of coffee yielding 1 fluid ounce of espresso
- Double shot: 14 grams of coffee yielding 2 fluid ounces of espresso
Aside from understanding single vs. double, you can ask your barista about their standard ratio. If you like the espresso flavors, ask them to add less water. And if you want to mask those flavors, dilute the drink with more hot water.
Caffè Americano vs Other Coffee Drinks
If you already drink coffee, one easy way to understand the Americano is by comparing it to some of the coffee drinks you are already familiar with. Let’s see how it stacks up!
Americano vs Coffee: What Are the Differences
A common misconception is that the cafe Americano is a fancy name for regular black coffee. But because you make the Americano by diluting espresso with water, the taste is noticeably different from black coffee.
The primary differences are in texture and tasting notes. Espresso grounds are tiny, and these finely ground coffee beans would clog the usual drip coffee machine. But the high pressure of an espresso machine forces water through the fine powder, resulting in an espresso shot with bold flavor and a thick crema on top.
So while the strength in terms of ratio is similar, the fact that an Americano uses espresso results in a bolder and more flavor-forward taste, with a thick and oily texture.
Caffeine in Espresso Shot
Another common misconception of the Americano is that it has a higher caffeine content–people sometimes shy away from the cafe Americano to avoid getting the jitters. Making this drink with multiple shots of espresso will have much more caffeine. But with the standard recipe, you can expect an Americano to have the same caffeine content as regularly brewed coffee.
And if you do need an extra jolt of energy, you can ask your barista to put two or even three shots into your drink!
It is worth quickly noting that while there is no real difference between drip coffee beans and espresso coffee beans, the latter tends to have a roast profile suited for pulling espresso shots. The coffee bean used in espresso coffee tends to have a darker roast to create a full body with less acidity (not necessarily the case with single-origin espresso).
Caffè Americano vs Long Black
If you have heard the term “long black” going around the coffee world, you might be wondering what it is and how it is different from a cafe Americano. While some sticklers will say that there is a noticeable difference between them, the truth is they both combine espresso and hot water.
Ultimately the taste of an Americano largely comes down to what ratio you use.
De’Longhi Espresso Machine
But the traditional cafe Americano is when you pour water into the espresso, and people claim it helps preserve the crema. And a long black is the opposite: you add the espresso into the hot water. We have never noticed a pronounced difference in taste, but feel free to try both methods to see if you can!
Americano vs Filter Coffee
Brewing coffee on something like a French Press results in an oily brew with lots of sediment, but there is a starker difference between an Americano and filter coffee. Whether you are talking about filter coffee from a drip machine or coffee from a manual pour over, the primary difference is in texture. The filter catches most fine particles and oils, making a clean taste and a lighter body.
So to summarize, compared to an Americano, the flavor of regular coffee will usually have less boldness and a smoother taste. But don’t let that scare you away—many people prefer the texture and intensity of the Americano.
Americano Coffee at Starbucks
The Starbucks Caffe Americano is a hugely popular drink. So in this section, you will get a basic understanding of what to expect and how to order a drink you will like. The standard Americano coffee description holds for a place like Starbucks. But it is worth understanding the different sizes at Starbucks and how much espresso you can expect in your drink.
A regular Starbucks espresso shot results in .75 ounces of espresso. You can alter the flavor of it by requesting either a ristretto or a long shot, and the Starbucks Americano ingredients correspond to sizes as follows:
|Short||8 oz.||1 shot||75 mg|
|Tall||12 oz.||2 shots||150 mg|
|Grande||16 oz.||3 shots||225 mg|
|Vente||20 oz.||4 shots||300 mg|
If we are being honest, Starbucks espresso does not taste great alone, especially compared to a home espresso machine or a fancy coffee house. So without any additions to the espresso, we recommend drinking it as an Americano. Plus, this drink is a great way to have a Starbucks espresso drink without adding in the usual high-calorie things like syrups and milk.
Caffè Americano Recipe
If you have an espresso machine at home, you probably know that adding steamed milk to espresso can blend into delicious drinks, especially for those who find espresso too intense to drink on its own. Even without an espresso machine, you can get a decent taste with cold brew coffee, Moka pot, or French Press Americano. For an in-depth guide with tons of variations, check out our article dedicated to making an Americano at home.
But the basics of the recipe are as simple as adding some amount of hot water to your espresso. Adding less will result in a stronger espresso flavor, and adding more will make a smoother cup.
Without an Espresso Maker
AeroPress Coffee Maker
We find that an Aeropress espresso shot comes closest to the taste of a real Americano if you do not have an espresso machine at home. It will be difficult to get a crema, but the general contrast to brewed coffee will still be there.
You can also use an espresso pod machine—like the Nespresso espresso machine—and follow a standard Americano recipe. Even though they do not make real espresso or come close to a professional espresso machine, these machines are convenient and workable.
Iced Americano Coffee Recipe
Instead of using hot water, iced Americanos add cold water to dilute the shot of espresso, later adding ice to further cool the drink. If you love the taste of café Americano coffee but need something more refreshing in the summer, the iced Cafe Americano is the way to go.
Compared to iced coffee, the espresso notes give this drink the same boldness and strength as an Americano made with hot water. Read more about the contrast between iced coffee vs iced Americano or try out our iced Americano coffee drink recipe.
Americano Coffee: Final Thoughts
As with all decisions in coffee, no amount of research and learning will replace what your taste buds are telling you. The Americano is a flexible drink, but it does have a distinct taste, and it might be the case that you simply prefer your usual drip coffee.
But hopefully, learning about Americano coffee has at least inspired you to give it a try, either at home or in your usual café. The caffè Americano is not for everyone, but it is a fantastic way to enjoy the bold taste of espresso in a smoother and more palatable beverage.
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