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Americano Vs Espresso: The Difference And How To Make Them

Two pretty staple coffee drinks in any coffee shop are an Americano and an espresso.

But what’s the difference between an Americano vs espresso, anyway?

Well, espresso is a single shot of espresso-brewed coffee while an American is an espresso mixed with hot water. 

However, it’s a bit more complex than that. Keep reading to dive into everything you need to know about these two coffee-based beverages. 

What Is an Americano?

americano coffee

Caffè Americano (or American coffee) is an espresso-based coffee that is like a lungo, but with hot water added.

The intensity and caffeine content are more or less like that of a regular drip coffee.

However, Americano coffee has more body, richer aromas, and a more sustained acidity.

Americanos first originated back in World War II. During the war, American soldiers found that the Italian espresso was way too strong for them. 

To make it more drinkable, they watered their espresso shots down with hot water to make them taste like the coffee they were used to back home.

From there, the Italians coined the name americano for this drink, referring to the American soldiers who had invented it. 

If you want to drink an American yourself, all you have to do is mix 1 part espresso with 3 parts hot water. That’s it! 

From there you’ve got a steaming Americano coffee that you can sip on just like the soldiers did several decades ago. 

What Is an Espresso?

espresso coffee

Espresso coffee is famous for being a shot of energy. That’s because espressos tend to be quite strong and powerful. 

Espresso is basically a method of brewing coffee by passing hot water very quickly through finely-ground coffee beans.

In most cases, people use an espresso machine to do so. It’s a type of coffee machine that uses high pressure to help get you that silky-smooth, micro-brew you’re going for. 

The origins of espresso can be traced back to 20th century Italy. A man named Luigi Bezzera stumbled across the drink when trying to find a way to speed up his brewing process.

Who knew taking shortcuts could result in such a delicious beverage!

From there, he began working with a close friend who developed the modern espresso machines we use today. 

Since its early conception, espresso has come a long way. 

Today, in addition to being drunk as straight shots, it also serves as the base for drinks such as lattes and cappuccinos

Difference Between Americano and Espresso

Alright, so you’ve got a general idea of what an Americano and espresso are. 

But, what’s the real difference, and what makes each one unique?

Well, there are a couple of things. 

Here are a few of the major differences between these two types of coffee. 

Grinding

coffee grinder

Let’s start off with the grinding. 

If you know anything about coffee, you know that brewed coffee typically uses a coarse grind. 

So, you’re probably thinking, the Americano must use a coarse grind too, right?

Wrong!

Since the Americano is an espresso-based beverage, you’ll want to use a fine grind. Fine grinds are appropriate for espresso. 

Why?

Because the fine grind ensures that the water comes into contact with as much of the coffee as possible. That way, you can extract more coffee from the ground coffee bean in a faster period of time. 

Brewing

Another thing to talk about when breaking down an Americano vs espresso is the brewing method. 

Let’s start by talking about an espresso. 

A single espresso shot is made up of about 45ml of coffee (1 fluid ounce). To make a true espresso, you force hot water through the finely ground coffee under high pressure.

This extracts a highly-concentrated amount of coffee from your beans. 

In most cases, you’ll use an espresso machine to achieve this result. 

Now, with an Americano, there’s just one slight change. 

Since Americanos are watered down, they tend to be weak if you use a single shot. Because of that, most baristas prepare an Americano with two shots. 

In other words, to brew an Americano you’ll have to brew 90ml of espresso (2 fluid ounces). 

Then, you’ll top the cup up to the brim with hot water. 

Taste

Espresso drink tastes at least twice as strong as Americano and two to four times as strong as a drip coffee.

Americanos are closer in flavor to strong drip coffee than espresso, but their flavor profile tends to be stronger than coffee.

Caffeine and Calories

coffee beans

Okay, let’s talk about the important stuff: the caffeine and the calories!

As a caffiend, the first thing in the back of my mind when I order a drink is “will this actually wake me up?”

Well, since an Americano typically contains two shots of espresso, it’s more caffeinated. In fact, it usually contains double the caffeine content. 

What’s interesting, however, is that both an Americano and espresso contain less caffeine than a cup of brewed coffee. 

An espresso shot usually contains 150mg of caffeine, so an American contains 300mg of caffeine. Brewed coffee contains about 330mg of caffeine. 

In terms of calories, an espresso contains about 9 calories. 

Americanos usually contain 18 calories, thanks to the extra shot. Even though they’re much larger, the extra volume is just thanks to hot water.

That means it doesn’t add any extra calories! 

Appearance

The appearance of espresso vs an Americano is pretty noticeable. 

An espresso shot is small, usually served in a shot glass or miniature mug. 

It’s dark brown to black, with a hazelnut-colored foam on the surface of the drink. This is called the crema and should completely cover the surface of the fluid. 

You can check the quality of the foam by depositing a few grains of sugar in it. If the granules stick to the surface, the espresso is brewed correctly.

If a drink shines through the foam and the sugar grains drown without stopping on the cream, then the coffee isn’t up to snuff. 

An Americano, on the other hand, looks like a cup of brewed coffee. 

The only difference is that it may have a light crema on the surface of the drink, thanks to the espresso. 

The crema on an Americano doesn’t cover the entire surface of the beverage. 

Volume

glass with coffee

The real difference between an Americano and an espresso lies in the volume. 

Espresso is drunk in small portions in tiny, thick-walled cups. The thicker the walls of the cup, the hotter the espresso stays and the longer it retains its flavor. 

To help maximize the flavor of the espresso, most baristas will heat the cup beforehand. This helps maintain the quality of the espresso. 

An Americano, on the other hand, is served in your typical coffee mug. That clocks in at somewhere between 150 and 200ml (about 8 fluid ounces). 

Sometimes the drink is served already diluted. Other times, you’ll receive a large cup with the espresso and a kettle of hot water for you to dilute the drink itself. 

In other words, the difference in volume between an Americano and espresso is somewhere between 120 and 170ml.

FAQ

Do you still have a few questions about americanos and espresso? I hear you.

Check out this quick FAQ with a few additional points about these coffee beverages. 

What is a Double Americano?

The number in front of the Americano refers to the number of shots of espresso in the drink. A double Americano will have two shots, a triple three, and so on.

Are Americanos Healthy?

It is healthy as long as you do not take it in excess. Just don’t forget that the drink contains caffeine and can become addictive.

However, as long as you’re not drinking 6 Americanos a day, I’d say you’ll be fine. 

Can You Put Milk in Americano?

Even though milk isn’t part of the ingredients list for an Americano, you can add a splash of steamed milk to help break up the acidity and bitterness. It will not taste the same as other milk-based espresso drinks such as cappuccinos, because americano is diluted with water.

Final Thoughts

Whether you go for an Americano or you opt for a simple espresso, both are pretty tasty. 

They both give you a good caffeine kick, too!

So, which will it be? Will you sip on the large Americano or will you down a straight shot of espresso like a Spartan?

Whichever you choose, check out these beginner’s espresso machines and you can get a barista-standard coffee drink at home even if you are not so experienced!

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Jessica Ruth Lee Fleming
Jessica is a seasoned caffeine-addict who spent 3 years behind the bar. Her early coffee days took her from the commercial Starbucks scene in urban DC all the way to helping launch a craft coffee shop in California. Today she prefers sharing her years of coffee capers through media, although you’ll find she does it with a trusty cup of coffee by her side.