What Is an Americano Coffee?

The americano is a classic, but not everyone knows how to make one. In this article, I will tell you everything you need to know about this drink. I will also let you know why super-automatic espresso machine owners should use your fancy machines to make americanos instead of using the "coffee" function.

The americano is a classic, but not everyone knows how to make one. In this article, I will tell you everything you need to know about this drink. I will also let you know why super-automatic espresso machine owners should use your fancy machines to make americanos instead of using the “coffee” function.

Table of Contents

What Is an Americano and How Do I Make One?

An americano goes by several names, including “americano coffee,” “cafe americano,” “caffè americano” or simply “americano.” In this article, we will call it an “americano.”

No matter what you call it, an americano is a black coffee drink that is made without milk. First, you need to make an espresso. (You can make a stronger americano by adding more than one shot of espresso.) Then, add some hot water to the espresso. Simple, right? Indeed, it’s simple to make an espresso, but there is more you should know.

Legend has it that the American soldiers stationed in Italy during World War II thought that the Italian espresso coffee was too strong. That isn’t too surprising, considering the soldiers were probably used to drinking the dishwater that they called “coffee” in the U.S. back then. However, the Italians solved the problem by creating so-called “American coffee.”

Ingredients for an Americano:

  • 1 to 4 shots of espresso
  • Hot water

Water: The water shouldn’t be boiling. Instead, the ideal water temperature for an americano is between 90 and 94 degrees Celsius (194 to 201 degrees Fahrenheit). The amount of water you use will depend on your own tastes. However, when adding the water, you should use at least as much water as espresso. You can even add two or three times as much water.

However, it is less common to do much more than a 4-to-1 ratio of water to espresso. If you use more than one shot of espresso, simply add at least the same amount of water as espresso.

Espresso: There’s one piece of obligatory equipment if you want to make an espresso: an espresso machine. Or, if you don’t have one, a super-automatic espresso machine. Please note that those so-called stove-top espresso makers – also called moka pots – don’t actually make espresso!

An espresso shot measures 20 to 25 milliliters (slightly less than an ounce), and you need approximately 7 grams (around 4 teaspoons) of ground coffee for the extraction. Super-automatic espresso machines use more ground coffee because they need to compensate for a coarser grind. The whole brewing process should take around 25 seconds, although it’s usually a bit faster in automatic machines.

The americano belongs to the “Zero Calorie Drink Club.” It’s also simple to make. If you carefully pour the water into the espresso, you will be rewarded with that lovely “crema” foam and fewer surface bubbles.

What Is the Difference Between a Long Black and an Americano?

There’s also a coffee drink called a “long black.” It is particularly common in Australia and New Zealand.

To make a long black, you just reverse the order of the steps by pouring espresso onto hot water. It’s a real treat to watch someone make it because the crema floats on the top while the espresso slowly sinks into the water below. However, you will want to stir this drink a bit, otherwise the last few sips will be a bit watery.

What Is the Difference Between a Caffe Lungo and an Americano?

A caffe lungo is another black coffee drink that is made with the same two ingredients. However, when making a caffe lungo, all the hot water needs to pass through the portafilter on the espresso machine (or, if you have a super-automatic espresso machine, the water needs to pass through the brewing unit). Because of that, it takes longer to extract and brew a caffe lungo. However, the resulting drink has a fuller body and different characteristics from an americano.

Getting an Americano at Starbucks

I know many people who are biased against americanos because the only ones they have tried were from Starbucks. Starbucks uses an extremely dark-roasted espresso (if you’re snarky, you might even say it has been roasted to death) and then dilutes it with water that is too hot.

The result is a watery, smoky, bitter brew. In this case, you would be better off going with drip coffee, although those beans are also burnt at Starbucks. Actually, you would just be better off going somewhere else.

Making an Americano With a Super-Automatic Espresso Machine

When I review super-automatic espresso machines, I always put them to the test by making lots of espressos and latte macchiatos.

That leads to the question of why I don’t also try out the “coffee” setting, and why I don’t mention the caffe lungo or caffe crema in my reviews. There’s a simple explanation: I don’t think any of these drinks taste good when you make them with an automatic espresso machine.

Still, an americano is a very good alternative. It gives you a much better tasting coffee drink than the other black coffee drinks your super-automatic espresso machine makes. Americanos are also less acidic and more palatable.

If the water takes too long to flow through the coffee puck in the brewing unit, the first 30 milliliters (1 ounce) will be under-extracted, while any more will be over-extracted.

americano super automatic espresso machine

If you make an espresso first and then add hot water, you will get results that are clearly better. That’s my general recommendation for all automatic espresso machines.

To make the hot water, you can either use your machine’s hot water setting, or just get it directly from an electric water kettle.

Making an Americano With a Traditional Espresso Machine

To make a good americano, you will need to know how to make a good espresso. To do that, you will also need to have a good coffee grinder and a bit of practice and experience using the machine’s portafilter.

Personally, I only use traditional espresso machines to make espressos or espresso macchiatos.

americano coffee espresso machine

Although I said that I don’t like caffe lungos that come from super-automatic espresso machines, things are different when you are talking about a traditional espresso machine. It’s a matter of taste, but I think a lungo made with a portafilter machine is a good alternative to an americano.

Making an Iced Americano

As is the case with basically any coffee drink these days, you can also get an iced americano. Or, in other words, you can get a cold version of an americano.

To make an iced americano, you just need espresso, cold water and ice cubes. If possible, it’s best to let the espresso flow from the machine’s spout directly onto the ice cubes. Then, finish off the drink by adding cold water.

After preparing an iced americano, you can feel free to let the drink rest for a minute or two so that the ice cubes can cool the drink even more.

Ice cold americano coffee

What Affects the Taste of an Americano?

The taste of an americano depends a lot on its espresso beans. You should also use filtered water both in the machine and for the hot water you add.

It is important to always use the freshest espresso possible. Ideally, it should have been roasted within the last two or three weeks.

An americano is less full-bodied than pour-over coffee or coffee from a French press. It does generally have a nice crema foam on top, though, as well as an aroma that’s anywhere between fruity and smoky, depending on the espresso you use. The good thing is that you can very precisely adjust the intensity of an americano by simply changing the ratio of water to espresso.

By adding more espresso shots, you can increase the intensity of your americano. That will also give you more crema and a fuller body. On the other hand, if you add too much water, your americano will likely be watery, acidic and bitter.

I would recommend that you play around and experiment a bit. Try different ratios and see what you like best. You can even see how it tastes if you use decaffeinated espresso beans.

Featured Image Copyright: iStockPhoto.com/loveischiangrai

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