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What is an Americano?
The Low-Down on this Coffee Classic

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By Matt Woodburn-Simmonds

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 to make a more mellow-tasting drink. Usually, a 1:2 ratio is used which means one-third coffee to two-thirds hot water. However, most coffee shops serve their Americanos in such large cups that they use a slightly less intense ratio that’s more watered down.

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 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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Cup of Americano coffee sitting on the edge of a wooden table
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Americano: The Origin Story

We’re going to take a walk through history, back to World War 2.

At the time, nothing like the espresso we know today had been invented. But the popular style in Italy was “espresso-like” made with Bialetti Moka pots. However, the American soldiers stationed in Italy found this style of coffee too strong and not to their liking.

So they added hot water to dilute it down to a style they were used to.

The resulting drink became known as the Americano or “caffè americano”, allegedly in mockery of the Americans watering down their coffee.

As the soldiers returned home after the war and as coffee culture began to spread worldwide, the Americano gained popularity outside of Italy.

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.

Kinda crazy when you think that the Americano was only created because of the different tastes of Italian and American coffee drinkers. Makes it pretty incredible that what is essentially a watered-down coffee has now evolved and spread around the world, becoming a beloved drink in its own right.

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How to Make an Americano

As recipes go, the Americano is a pretty simple one as there are just two ingredients: hot water and espresso.

Infographic: Recipe card explaining how to make an americano

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. Whilst it’s still possible to get a good espresso from light roasts, you’ll need a very high-quality espresso machine and to carefully dial in. Drinking espresso/ americano is a great way to explore different varieties of coffee from around the world.

Psst… Need some help picking the best beans? Check out the best espresso beans as recommended by 14 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 your espresso – a double shot is best but you can use a single if you just want a short drink. Ideally, you’re looking for a 1:2 ratio for the weight of ground coffee to brewed espresso which 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: To the espresso, add double the amount of hot water. Diluting the espresso creates a milder coffee so if you still find it too strong, you can always choose to add even more water.

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Which Goes First?

Chicken or the egg? Hot water or the espresso? Both debates are as old as time and equally contentious.

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.

You’ll find strong voices on both sides of the fence, but the generally accepted wisdom is to add the espresso first then the hot water. If you do it the other way around, you’ve created a long black instead of an Americano.

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. It’s 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 with a Long Black and try it the other way around.

Split image showing two cups of Americano coffee. The left one is made with espresso first, water second. The right one is made with water first, espresso second
Left: Espresso first, water second (Americano). Right: Water first, espresso second (Long Black).
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Adding Milk, Cream, or Sugar

True coffee lovers will argue that coffee should always be enjoyed black to really get the flavor from the beans. But we reckon you should enjoy your drink how you like it and if that means adding something wild, you do you.

Having said that, an Americano coffee should really 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.

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Americano Variations

For such a simple drink, there are a surprising number of variations on the Americano. The coffee world is always looking for new ways to jazz up the classics, creating something exciting and new.

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 of the ingredients.) 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 rather than water. 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.

Iced Americano

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.)

Want the exact details on how to nail an iced Americano? Jump on over to this article:

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Other Espresso Drinks vs Americano

Espresso drinks come in all shapes and sizes, each with its own unique flavor and character. So, how does the Americano compare to other popular espresso drinks? Let’s take a closer look.


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:

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How is Americano Different From Regular Coffee?

Despite the former being named after American soldiers, the good old-fashioned drip coffee is one of the most popular brewing methods in the US. They might look pretty similar, but they’re very different in preparation and taste.

To make an Americano, you need to start with espresso. Espresso isn’t just a drink though, it’s a specific brewing method that produces highly concentrated coffee by using pressure (at least 9 BARs) to extract the flavor from the coffee grounds.

This intense coffee is then diluted with hot water, but the flavor profile maintains that richer, more robust style.

Regular drip coffee, on the other hand, is made by dripping the hot water through the coffee grounds – zero pressure involved. The result may look the same – a cup of black coffee – but the flavor profile is lighter with a more textured mouthfeel.

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Final Thoughts

The Americano is a classic and beloved espresso-based coffee with an interesting history and distinctive taste.

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?”


Matt Woodburn-Simmonds

Matt's coffee obsession started in 2006 when working as a Barista. A tendency to turn up to work hungover kickstarted his coffee journey which quickly turned into a love affair. As he moved on to work as a Restaurant Manager and Sommelier, the obsession continued to grow. Now, his passion is helping others to enjoy better coffee at home.

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