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What is an Americano?

As an American living in South America, I often get asked one particular coffee question.

When I go to a coffee shop, the waiter nearly always asks: “Do you want to drink an Americano?”

The stereotype is there: the American wants a watered-down coffee drink and turns away from the intense impact of an espresso.

As much as the stereotype irritates me, I do have to admit there’s a reason – and quite a bit of history – behind the question.

In this article, I’ll talk about what is an Americano coffee, how it came to be an important part of a café menu, and how you can prepare one at home.

tall espresso and hot water

What Is Americano Coffee?

Essentially, an Americano, or Caffè Americano, is a shot of espresso that’s been diluted with water.

But let’s pause on that and go back a bit further and discuss what an espresso is to give some context. 

Espresso is coffee that has been extracted using pressure that forces steam through coffee grounds.

The water for espresso is hotter than that used for drip coffee, the coffee is ground more finely, and the whole process takes only about 20-25 seconds. Just an ounce or two of espresso is produced at one time.

It’s something that’s adored for its fuller body and complex flavor. Something quite different from an auto-drip machine.

Related Read: Espresso based drinks

Americano Isn’t Drip Coffee

All these factors make espresso very different from drip coffee and more flavorful. 

Drip brewing relies on gravity and a longer brewing time to get the flavor from the beans but never results in such an intense cup.

That pressure also gives espresso its characteristic intensity and the crema. Ahhhhh, the crema.

Crema is a layer of foam that sits on the top of a shot of espresso. The foam forms during the extraction process when carbon dioxide in the beans is released mixes with the oils in coffee and settles on the top of the brew.

Crema can add to the texture of espresso and is often stirred in before drinking.

americano in a cup

Americano: History Of The Coffee Drink

Espresso has a long and colorful history in Italy.

For afternoon coffees, they added steamed milk foam to their espresso drink and called it a Cappuccino. But they didn’t water down their strong espresso drink.

When did they start to add a bit of additional liquid to the mix? Legend has it that American soldiers stationed in Italy during World War II inspired the change.

The soldiers wanted a black coffee that reminded them of the drip coffee they used to drink at home. They wanted more volume and less intensity. That’s when Italian baristas started watering down the espresso shots to please the soldiers.

And Caffè Americano has been a permanent fixture on many a coffee shop menu to this day.

This Italian invention is loved by coffee drinkers who are looking for more body and more intensity than drip coffee but a smoother drink than espresso.

How To Make An Americano

An Americano is a simple brew to make at home. It only requires two ingredients: coffee and water. Of course, you do need an espresso machine to brew one. We’ll get to that in a minute.

In a traditional Americano, the espresso is added first and then topped off with water.

If you add the water first, the crema from the espresso will be more evident. But that’s actually a different drink! It’s a Long Black, a drink that we’ll discuss a bit later.

For now, let’s go over the steps of how you can prepare an Americano at home.

black coffee in a cup

What equipment do you need to make an Americano?

To make an Americano at home, you’ll need coffee, a scale, a timer, a tamper, and cups. 

Obviously, to prepare an Americano, you will need an espresso machine. You can use a traditional one or a manual one. Each way works!

Of course, not everyone can afford to have one on their kitchen counter at home, both in terms of monetary investment and space. What should you do if you want to prepare an Americano but don’t have an espresso maker?

Don’t get discouraged – you can still prepare it at home, or at least a good imitation of one.

You can use an Aeropress or Moka Pot to make an espresso-like drink. 

Related Read: Making espresso without an espresso maker 

Both of these brewing methods were designed to brew strong drinks resembling espressos without the cost of the machine. 

Simply brew a strong cup of coffee in either your Aeropress or Moka Pot brewing methods and treat it as your shot of espresso.

You’ll also need a way to heat up water if your machine doesn’t have that feature. That might involve a kettle or a burner and pot, which we’ll talk about in a bit.

Step 1: Use fresh coffee beans

As with any coffee preparation, you want to use fresh, high-quality beans. Consider buying whole beans and grinding them right before you brew to get the purest coffee experience.

Weigh out your coffee beans with a scale. How much will you use?

First, decide if you want a single or double shot in your Americano. Each shot should be about 9-10 grams. If you’re brewing a double, you can use between 18-21 grams for the shots.

Step 2: Grind your coffee

Grind your coffee using a high-quality grinder. That will get you consistent results that extract evenly, which is especially crucial to a good result.

Espresso is made by bringing the grounds into very brief contact with water. You want the grounds to extract well in those brief seconds, so grind your coffee quite fine.

Step 3: Pull an espresso shot

Remove the portafilter and place it on the scale and tare the weight. Purge the grouphead with hot water. 

Fill your portafilter and tamp the coffee grinds.

Put the portafilter in the grouphead and start your espresso shot (and your timer!). Don’t forget to place a cup underneath. Just before the 30 seconds are up, stop the shot.  

Step 4: Heat water to about 195 F

Most people add hot water rather than cool to an Americano. If your machine doesn’t have a hot water tap, what can you do to heat it up at home? The easiest option is to heat it up in a kettle, but you can also heat it up on the stovetop.

Make sure you keep the temperature at or below 195F. Higher temperatures will burn the coffee and make the flavors taste off. They will also make it too hot to drink.

If you’re using the hot water tap on your machine, serve the hot water in a cup before you pull the shots of espresso, so it can cool down to the right temperature.

Step 5: Add the water to the espresso

Pour the water into the cup with the coffee.

You can stir, or not. It’s up to you. The same goes for adding sweetener. 

Enjoy your Americano.

Now let’s talk about ratios.

small coffee

How much water is in an Americano?

Here’s the short answer: an Americano can be made with 1/3 espresso and 2/3 water.

However, as with everything in coffee, this depends on several factors. This is good because you can tweak the drink to suit your tastes or the preferences of the person who will drink it.

If you live in an area where people prefer strong coffee, the water ratio will tilt towards more espresso. 

In fact, people will often order double shots in their Americano instead of just one. Double the coffee, double the caffeine, and a more intense drink.

But if coffee drinkers in your area long for a milder drink, you might find that the Americano will be more diluted. 

f that’s not to your taste, feel free to ask the barista to make your Americano with a double espresso.

If you’re making it at home, you can use the amounts you prefer.

Generally, dairy products aren’t added to an Americano. If a person is looking for a creamy coffee, they’ll order a Cappuccino or Latte, which works better for flavor.

Is an Americano stronger than coffee?

An Americano tastes quite a bit stronger than regular black coffee or drip coffee. The intense qualities of the espresso and the creamier texture can make it seem like it delivers a real caffeine kick.

But when we get down to numbers, does an Americano have more caffeine content than drip coffee? Let’s talk about those numbers.

As always, with coffee brewing, everything depends on how much ground coffee you use. In general terms, drip coffee may be brewed with 10-20 grams of coffee per mug. 

The longer brewing time for drip coffee and huge coffee mugs mean you could get anywhere from 95-200 mg of caffeine in a mug of drip coffee.

Of course, this gets a bit more complicated if you compare an Americano to a French Press coffee or cold brew coffee, where longer extraction times mean even higher levels of caffeine per serving.

Now let’s move on to caffeine levels in a shot. Each one might have about 47-75 mg of caffeine, depending on how many grams of coffee you use to brew it.

Bringing the numbers together, an Americano may have anywhere from half to a quarter of the caffeine in a drip coffee. Yes, quite a bit less.

Don’t be fooled by the more intense flavor. It’s just a result of the brewing process and not due to the caffeine. Also, the tastes of an Americano will depend on the coffee’s origin and how dark it was roasted.

What About A Long Black?

A Long Black is a different story. It is not an Americano, although the difference may be hard to understand if you’re not used to drinking the two.

While an Americano adds water to espresso, a Long Black adds the espresso last.

When you look at it that way, you could actually call a Long Black a reverse American.

Does it sound the same to you? Technically, it almost is.

Does it really matter which you add last? Technically, yes.

The difference between a Long Black and an Americano is that you retain the crema when you add the espresso last. 

Related Read: Long black vs Americano.    

Also, a Long Black usually has a lower ratio of coffee than an Americano. Not way different…But different enough! 

Created in the land down under, Australians and New Zealanders love the creamy texture.