Who’s so stupid as to spoil their espresso with an extra shot of water?
Who’s so stupid as to spoil their espresso with an extra shot of water?
Anyone who owns a super-automatic machine and wants really enjoyable coffee, that’s who!
In nearly every one of my super-automatic espresso machine reviews, I grimace when the device spits out a café crèma, lungo or any other version of super-automatic coffee. If it’s a longer coffee you’re after, I’d just as often advise you to go for an americano.
This article will explain why I advise this, what exactly an americano is, how to prepare one correctly and what ultimately distinguishes an americano from other coffee varieties.
This is an updated version of a really old article in which I managed to cause quite some confusion. Hopefully that won’t happen this time – even if “confusion” is an important theme with the americano anyway.
Table of Contents
What Is an Americano?
There are often countless descriptions for one and the same coffee drink, with the differences between them minimal at most. Nowhere is this more true than with the americano. It goes by several other names, too, including ‘americano coffee’, ‘American coffee’, ‘caffè americano’ and ‘café americano’. Essentially, we’re always talking about an espresso with extra added water. The term “espresso”, however, is a bit controversial.
That’s because super-automatic machines make a certain type of espresso, but not the Italian original. That requires a portafilter machine. This might sound like nitpicking, but it does make a big difference when describing the long versions of each drink.
For me, an americano is always an espresso ‘stretched’ by adding an extra shot of water after extraction – regardless of where the espresso comes from. No matter what you call it, there are three things to keep in mind when it comes to americano coffee:
- To make a quality americano, the proportion of coffee to water must be 1:3, as per the recipe. Theoretically. You can just as well lengthen one to four espresso shots with a drop or large dash of water – let your taste buds decide. Most of you seem to love the 1:1 ratio best.
- To make an attractive americano, it makes sense to add hot water to the cup first and to then pull the espresso shot(s) directly into the same cup. This ensures the crema remains more stable than when doing things the other way around.
- To make a deliciously hot americano, the temperature of the extra water must be around 194 to 201 degrees Fahrenheit.
Why Is It Called Americano Coffee?
Legend has it that the americano was only ever invented because Americans were too soft for proper espresso. During the Second World War, the GIs stationed in Italy couldn’t cope with the caffeine bombs produced by portafilter machines.
So, the Italians rolled their eyes like mad and, for the sake of the soldiers, spoiled their nice espresso with an extra dash of hot water. The soldiers thought this was great, the name Caffè Americano was born, and the drink gained a foothold both in the American homeland and all over the world.
I’ve no idea how much truth there is to all that. The story definitely proves, however, that despite its wide distribution and the many trends, American coffee still retains its traditional Italian coffee soul – because at the heart of every americano is always a good strong espresso.
What’s the Difference Between an Americano and a Caffè Crema?
When I read caffè crema or café crème somewhere, I roll my eyes like mad. That’s because these are just words used to extract money from your back pocket. Caffè crema is a term exclusively used to describe the espresso from super-automatic machines that’s lengthened with water during preparation.
In essence, this means:
- (Real) espresso plus extra water results in an americano.
- Super-automatic espresso prepared directly with extra water results in a caffè crema.
- The eye rolling usually concerns the caffè crema or café crème “bean type” offered for sale on the supermarket shelf.
Supposedly, these are special beans that make this preparation concept possible in the first place and which lead to a fuller-bodied aroma once the drink has been ‘stretched’. There’s no such thing, of course.
What's the Difference Between an Americano and a Lungo?
To further muddy the waters, let’s also bring the lungo into play. It’s the original portafilter precedent for the caffè crema – in this case then, a real espresso prepared directly with extra water.
In the trio consisting of ristretto, espresso and lungo, a lungo describes the Italian preparation style with the highest water content per cup.
Should you want to do it right, calculate double the water compared to the amount of espresso. If a normal espresso shot is 0.85 oz, a lungo will therefore be 1.70 oz.
You should theoretically adjust your coffee grinder to a coarser setting in this case, too. However, this is usually something only done by professional baristas in coffee bars.
As part of this article’s update, I ran a test and brewed a lungo with the Solis Barista Gran Gusto (only available in Europe) using coffee of the same unchanged grind. It was still three times fuller and more convincing than its crema kinsman made using almost any super-automatic machine I know.
What’s the Difference Between an Americano and a Long Black?
For me, the fun stops with the ‘long black’ – at least when it comes to the mania of giving every little deviation from the recipe a new name. A long black is the Australian name for what I called an attractive americano above:
As mentioned previously, the crema remains more stable if you add the hot water to the cup first and then pour the espresso over the top. The Australians act as if this knowledge is a stroke of genius that deserves its own name. But then, in the case of the flat white, too, they pretend as if the original cappuccino never even existed.
The long black “recipe” has just one snag: since the coffee is a slightly different density to the water, it “floats” more on top. Without stirring, you end up drinking a mixture that’s just as watery as that produced by a super-automatic machine.
Can You Prepare an Americano Without a Machine?
In the past, I was strictly against directly equating coffee from a moka pot to that from a portafilter or super-automatic espresso machine.
Unfortunately, this video is only available in German.
With the Bialetti, though, my affections have grown and I admit that stovetop coffee is quite nicely full and dense. I therefore see no reason why you can’t prepare an americano without a machine.
However, following the convention that’s been set, we’d have to call the ‘stretched’ stovetop espresso something else. Caffè stufa, perhaps?
Which Super-Automatic Espresso Machine Offers Americano at the Touch of a Button?
Let’s summarize things briefly: do yourself a favor and ignore all the beverage settings on your super-automatic machine that lengthen the super-automatic espresso with water during preparation. These include Caffè Crema, Coffee, Lungo, Long Coffee and above all the Coffee Pot function.
In my Super-Automatic Espresso Machine Review, I’ve so far come across only one device for which this advice does not apply: the Jura Z8 is amazingly good at making just such long coffee preparations.
Putting things another way, I have absolutely nothing against machines dispensing americano coffee automatically. As long as you can regulate the amount of water, you’ll save yourself a lot of work each time while also maximizing the coffee aroma.
The following machines from my review selection offer an americano setting:
- DeLonghi Maestosa
- Saeco Xelsis (the latest model)
- Melitta CI Touch
- Krups EA8918 Evidence
Basically, you can assume the americano function will be included only if the respective machine wants to show off a good number of “coffee specialties”.
Until the manufacturers finally catch on to the latest developments, however, any other form of long coffee will always be more important than the clever americano alternative.
A Summertime Tip: Iced Americano
If you use quality coffee beans, then every coffee will taste good cold too. Iced americano is therefore a hot tip for the summer. To make one you’ll need espresso, cold (!) water and ice cubes.
Pour the espresso shot directly onto the ice cubes and then fill up the glass with cold water. Leave the frosty americano to stand for a while after preparation so that the ice cubes can further reduce its temperature. Cheers!
What other tips do you have about the americano coffee-to-water ratio? Let me know in the comments section!