One of the simplest and most popular espresso drinks in the world is the Americano. For many, it’s the safest option in an ever-growing array of confusing drinks available at their local coffee shop. But exactly what is an Americano? Why is it called that and how do you make one?
An Americano is simply a shot of espresso that is diluted with hot water in a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio. (In other words, half and half coffee to water, or one-third coffee to two-thirds hot water). Most coffee shops will serve their Americanos with the slightly less intense ratio of 1:2.
But, like all things in the coffee world, there is so much more to it than meets the eye. So grab yourself a cup of coffee (Americano or otherwise) as we explore its origins and variations. As baristas, the Americano was our bread and butter for years so we’ve also included our foolproof guide to making it at home. Let’s dive right in:
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At the time, nothing like the espresso we know today had been invented. But the popular style in Italy was espresso-like and made with Bialetti Moka pots. However, the American soldiers stationed in Italy found this style too strong and not to their liking.
So they added hot water to dilute the coffee to a style they were used to.
The resulting drink became known as the Americano, allegedly in mockery of Americans watering down coffee.
After the war and as coffee culture began to spread worldwide, the Americano gained popularity outside of Italy. Today, it’s a popular coffee drink that can be found on the menus of coffee shops and cafes across the globe.
It’s astonishing to think that the Americano started as a representation of the different tastes of Italian and American coffee drinkers. So it’s pretty incredible that what is essentially a watered-down coffee has evolved and spread across borders, becoming a beloved drink in its own right.
Step 1: Finely grind your coffee beans. For the best results, use freshly ground coffee beans rather than pre-ground (they retain the flavor better.) Depending on your type of espresso machine, it might grind your beans for you or you’ll have to do it manually.
Medium, dark, or medium-dark roasts are best for espresso. But it’s still possible to get a good espresso from light roast coffee as long as you have a good espresso machine. It’s a great way to explore different types of coffee beans from around the world.
Psst… Need some help picking the best beans? Check out the best espresso beans as recommended by 12 experts throughout the coffee industry by clicking here.
Step 2: Next up you’re going to need an espresso machine to brew a shot of espresso. Dose and tamp the grounds following the instructions for your machine to extract a concentrated, flavorful espresso.
Step 3: Pull a single espresso shot. Ideally, you’re looking for a 1:2 ratio for the weight of ground coffee to brewed espresso. This should take between 20-30 seconds. If you have a super-automatic espresso machine, simply press the “espresso” button. If not, you’ll need to follow the steps for your machine.
Once poured, this will form the base for your Americano.
Step 4: Heat water either on the stove or with an electric kettle. But be careful not to boil it as you don’t want to burn the espresso. You can use hot water directly from your espresso machine if it has this feature but be careful if it’s meant for tea as it will likely be too hot for an Americano.
Step 5: Add hot water to espresso using either a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio, depending on your preference. Diluting the espresso creates a milder coffee, so use the higher water measurement if you find your Americano is too strong.
Our Top-Rated Espresso Machines for All Budgets
If you want to split a room full of coffee nerds simply ask whether you add espresso or hot water first to make an Americano. Then back away slowly.
Whilst there are many strong advocates on both sides of the fence, the general consensus is to add the espresso first then the hot water. And if you’re reading this and thinking ‘Does it really matter?’, it does actually affect the flavor and the crema.
Crema is basically that layer of thin foam that sits on top of an espresso shot formed by mixing CO2 and the coffee bean’s natural oils. When an Americano is made by adding water to espresso, the crema is broken up. If made the other way around, the crema remains intact.
So, the option of espresso first and water second is preferable as it mellows out the flavor. And this is the very essence of what the American soldiers were trying to achieve in the first place. But if you want something a little bolder, experiment and try it the other way around.
Having said that, an Americano coffee should always be served black as it’s simply hot water and espresso. So if you want to tone down the bitterness, most coffee shops will serve milk (or cream) on the side if you ask for it.
As the brewed coffee recipe isn’t dependent on milk, it means you have total flexibility to add as much as you need to suit your tastes.
There is also always the option to add flavored syrups or sugar if you fancy something a little sweeter.
When playing around to create your own customized version of the Americano, we’d recommend experimenting with different coffee bean varietals and styles. For example, a lighter roast will give a milder and more nuanced flavor with citrus notes more prominent. While a darker roast will give a bolder and more intense taste which leans more towards dark chocolate and caramelized sugar.
The Long Black
First up is a longer coffee drink, originating from Australia and New Zealand.
A Long Black is made by pouring the hot water into a cup first, followed by a double shot of espresso. (So flipping the order and doubling the espresso quantity.) This method helps to preserve the crema, resulting in a fuller and more complex flavor.
When I first started working as a Barista back in 2005, this is how I was taught to make an Americano before learning the error of my ways!
Red Eye Coffee
Another popular variation is the Red Eye coffee. It often goes by many different names but is always a super-charged caffeinated punch to the face.
To make a red eye, you simply add a shot of espresso to a cup of drip coffee. This gives the drink a stronger and more robust flavor that’s perfect for coffee lovers who need a serious caffeine kick. The sleep-deprived parent or night shift worker, for example.
When the summer months hit, there’s nothing more refreshing than an iced coffee. So why not make it an iced Americano?
Instead of adding hot water to the espresso, you can swap it out for room temperature or cold water. Then add some ice and you’re good to go. (Top tip: use whiskey stones instead to stop it from diluting further in the heat.)
Another of the world’s favorite coffees, a latte is made by adding steamed milk and a thin layer of froth to a shot of espresso. Unlike the Americano, which has a bold and robust taste, the latte is a smoother, creamier option that’s perfect for those who prefer a milder taste.
A cappuccino is a classic coffee drink that is made by combining equal parts of espresso, steamed milk, and frothed milk. It’s thicker and creamier than a latte, making it a great choice for those who love a velvety, textured mouthfeel.
The espresso is the foundation of all espresso drinks, obviously. It’s a concentrated shot of coffee brewed under pressure and is bold and intense in flavor. It’s this intensity that the Americano seeks to mellow. However, if you’re looking for a pure, unadulterated coffee experience, an espresso is the way to go.
A macchiato is similar to an espresso but with a small amount of steamed milk added to it. Macchiato means “stained”, as in the coffee is stained with a touch of milk. This gives it a milder taste than pure espresso, but it still has the bold and intense flavor that espresso lovers crave.
Want to take a deeper dive into all the different espresso drinks available? Then this in-depth guide is for you:
This uncomplicated but incredibly enjoyable drink has a global following among us coffee geeks and the less-obsessed drinkers alike.
Whether you prefer strong and robust flavors or a smoother, creamier profile, the Americano can be customized to your taste. It’s a must-try for any coffee drinker.
So next time you walk into your local coffee shop and stare up at the complex menu, you’ll no longer question “What is an americano?”, simply “How many should I order?”
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