What is an Americano (Plus History and How to Make One)?

what is an americano

Last Updated on February 21, 2023 by Marie Cooper

Aside from loud conversations and loud phones, one other thing that can get you annoyed, slightly annoyed in this case, in a coffee shop, is the confusing menu. What exactly is an Americano? That’s exactly what I asked myself as I stared at the menu on one occasion before I tasted an Americano for the first time. 

You’re never going to find yourself in that situation if you haven’t already had that experience once you finish this article because I’m about to describe and explain it to you. 

What is an Americano? 

Do you know what an espresso is? If you do, then you already have half an idea of what an Americano is. The latter is simply espresso topped with hot water. In other words, you pull a shot of espresso from your coffee maker and pour it into a cup of hot water, then you get an Americano. So, it’s simply diluted espresso, which some Italians who don’t like its taste and flavor refer to as “dirty water”. 

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Presence of Crema 

Americano coffee also has crema. The aromatic oils present in carefully processed beans are extracted during the process of brewing espresso thanks to the hot water used in the process. This results in crema – the creamy, light-brown stuff that precedes the hot, dark coffee when it comes out of your machine. 

This crema finds its way to the top after the dilution of a shot of espresso, but in order to fully enjoy your brew, you have to use beans that is at least 2 days old because the carbon dioxide that gives the crema a sour taste disappears after 48 hours. 

If you want thicker crema at the top of your brew, choose dark-roasted beans. This type of beans also has the added advantage of being less acidic. 

History of Americano 

During World War 2, substantial amounts of coffee were being consumed by soldiers, as much as 32 pounds per year. It was of great importance to them as they needed it for the same reasons we drink it today – to stay alert and keep our energy levels high. They needed it more than we do today, of course. 

In Italy, the local espresso they drank was too strong and bitter for the American soldiers stationed there, so they devised a way to make their own type of coffee that was easier on the taste buds. This was the birth of caffè Americano as the locals called it over there. 

How to Make an Americano 

The very foundation of this kind of coffee is espresso, so the quality of the espresso determines the quality of your Americano. To prevent any confusion, I’m going to explain the difference between the brewing process of espresso and drip coffee, and then we’ll proceed. 

Both are similar, except that espresso is made by passing hot water through coffee grounds forcefully and with a great deal of pressure while drip coffee is made by dripping hot water slowly, hence it’s name “drip coffee”. The former is made using fine grounds while the latter requires medium to medium-fine grounds. 

A smaller amount of water is used in brewing espresso too, which is why it has a much stronger flavor and a darker color. Brewing this kind of coffee takes just 20 to 30 seconds, as opposed to about 5 minutes for drip coffee. 

Now, here comes the most important part – making the Americano. You can go about this in two ways – you can either pour the espresso over a cup of hot water or do it the opposite way (pouring the hot water over it).  The former is known as the original, while the latter is called Long Black, but both are one and the same drink. 

The most important thing to bear in mind is that they’re not mixed, rather, they are layered. The order in which you layer them is up to you. For a fuller body and less acidity, we recommend you use dark-roasted beans to make your espresso. As already mentioned in the crema section above, dark-roasted beans also leads to thicker crema.

What Kind of Water to Use?

First off, it’s important that you use fresh and clean water because there is no substitute for this when brewing any type of coffee. Using fresh water improves the smoothness of your drink and the quality of the crema at the top. Another thing to consider is temperature.

Since espresso is made with hot water, you might be wondering how hot the water has to be. In my opinion, anything above 185°F is good enough, but that is obviously the recommended temperature for regular Americano. Iced Americano is made with cold water instead of hot water.

Layering the Espresso and Water

This is easy to do and as explained above, you can either choose to pour the espresso over the water or do it the opposite way. What you get in the end is the same drink, but some aficionados believe there are slight differences between both, which means some favour the former method while others favour the latter. The truth, however, is that there is no clearly superior method. Do it however you want.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, there’s probably just one question left on your mind, and it pertains to the amount of water needed, and this one’s easy. Use up to six ounces of water for 1 to 2 shots of espresso. Job done.

Americano vs Drip Coffee

Aside from the brewing process, there are a few other differences between both types of coffee. Americano has crema, is made with fine grounds since it’s made with espresso, contains 40mg of caffeine per cup if 1 shot of espresso is used or 80mg if 2 shots are used, and has nutty/earthy flavours and deep coffee notes.

Drip coffee on the other hand contains no crema, uses medium grounds, contains 120mg of caffeine per 12oz serving, and has more delicate, floral, subtle, sweeter, and lighter flavours.

What If I Don’t Have an Espresso Machine?

Well, it’s going to be quite difficult to make a good Americano without an espresso machine, because you need well-brewed and strong shots of espresso for it, which can only be made with the right machine. Therefore, I strongly recommend you invest in an espresso machine if you like to make your own coffee at home.

However, if you usually get your coffee from coffee shops or Starbucks, then you may not need one and you don’t even need to know how to make an Americano in the first place.

What is White Americano?

This is Americano with milk added to it. Milk can be used to tone down the bitterness of your drink if you find it too bitter for your liking. Don’t get confused, though. A white Americano is not the same as a latte. The former is an Americano mixed with any amount of milk. There’s no specific amount of milk you need to add — it’s totally up to you. A latte on the other hand is considerably creamy and contains a considerable amount of milk, and the milk is foamed.

Milk isn’t the only thing you can add to an Americano to tone down its bitterness. You can also add sugar or honey depending on your preferences. Try both and see which one you like the most.

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