What Is An Americano? A Complete Guide To A Classic Drink

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caffe americano in a glass

The caffe Americano – a favorite of black coffee lovers everywhere.

But what is an Americano, exactly?

In this article, I’ll tell you everything there is to know about this classic coffee drink. We’ll talk about how it originated, how it’s made, and how it differs from other black coffee beverages. 

Ready to find out more?

Let’s dive straight into it!

What Is An Americano?

iced caffe americano in a mason jar

In a nutshell, an Americano is an espresso drink with hot water added to it.

By topping it up with water, the espresso shot is diluted, and you end up with a drink that resembles a cup of filter coffee. (It only resembles it, though – it’s actually very different. But we’ll get to that a little further down.)

If you:

  1. Are a fan of black coffee
  2. Like to take take your time drinking it
  3. Want a rich, flavorful coffee, but with more volume than an espresso

The caffe Americano might just be the perfect coffee drink for you.

And the best part is – you can choose how much water you want to add depending on your personal preference. If you want a shorter, stronger drink, just add less water. If you’d rather have it a little milder and longer, add more. 

You can also throw it over ice cubes and enjoy it cold. There’s nothing like a refreshing iced Americano to quench your coffee craving on a hot summer day.

A Brief History Of The Caffe Americano

soldiers standing in line

Caffe Americano (quite obviously) translates to American coffee.

But, why is it called that?

Well, this popular black coffee beverage actually has a pretty interesting story behind it.

It begins in Italy, back in WWII. 

American soldiers who were stationed there were unaccustomed to drinking straight Italian espresso. So, to make a drink that was more like the drip coffee they were used to drinking back home, they added hot water to the espresso.

And thus, the caffe Americano was born. 

At least – that’s how the legend goes.

If you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that Somerset Maugham actually made reference to the caffe Americano in a collection of short stories. The thing is, these stories were based on his experiences during WWI. And in one of them, he describes ordering an Americano in a cafe in Naples.

So, the Americano has actually been around for a lot longer than you might think. 

Still, it very well may have originated the way legend has it. Just a little earlier, perhaps. 

Related Reading: Best Italian Espresso Machine: Our Top 7 Choices

How To Make An Americano

espresso being poured over hot water to make an americano

OK, so you’re probably thinking: “A recipe for an Americano? It’s just espresso and hot water, do I really need instructions?” 

Here’s the thing, though.

The order in which these 2 ingredients are poured into the cup is actually a topic of hot debate.

Some people stand by the traditional method, where the espresso goes in first, followed by the hot water. On the other hand, some insist that pouring the espresso over the hot water is a better way of doing it.

In this case, I’d be inclined to agree with the latter.

Pouring hot water over espresso might be the way it’s been done traditionally for decades. However, you actually get a more satisfying cup of coffee if you do it the other way around.

See, by adding the espresso in last, you get more of the beautiful crema on the surface. It won’t dissolve as quickly, so you’ll be able to enjoy it for longer.

Still, both methods are totally legitimate. It’s just a matter of personal preference and opinion, at the end of the day.

how to make an americano

Americano Vs Other Black Coffee Drinks

You might be wondering how exactly an Americano differs from other black coffee drinks.

After all, it looks pretty similar to a cup of drip coffee, right?

Well, even though it might resemble drip coffee, or French press coffee, or a long black – it’s actually distinctly different from each of them.

Americano Vs Long Black

The long black is definitely the most similar drink there is to a caffe Americano.

However, the main difference is that a long black is stronger, with a more intense flavor.

That’s because a long black is made with either a double shot of ristretto, or a double shot of espresso. An Americano, on the other hand, is made with just a single espresso shot.

Other than that, another difference is that a long black is always made by pouring the coffee over the hot water. An Americano, as I mentioned above, can be poured in either order. 

Americano Vs Drip Coffee

coffee brewing in a hario v60 drip

Now, an Americano might look just like a cup of drip brewed coffee. But the resemblance is where the similarities end. 

Visually, you can tell them apart by the crema. An Americano has crema on the surface, while drip coffee doesn’t. But the real difference lies in the taste.

See, Americano coffee is made by brewing espresso, while drip coffee is extracted through a filter. The different brewing methods result in a very different cup of coffee.

Drip coffee is brewed at lower temperatures than espresso, and the process takes longer. Because of this, you get a completely different flavor profile. The subtle fruity or floral notes in the coffee bean come through, and you end up with a sweeter, lighter tasting brew.

Espresso has more intense, deep, chocolatey, nutty, and even earthy flavors. This is because of the extraction process, where the espresso machine pushes hot water through the coffee quickly, under high pressure. 

Because it’s made with espresso, a caffe Americano has the flavors that are specific to espresso coffee. That’s what makes it very different to drip coffee in taste and aroma.

Americano Vs French Press

coffee being poured from a french press into a mug

Same situation as drip coffee. 

A different extraction process results in a very different brew.

French press coffee is much more similar to drip coffee than it is to a caffe Americano.

That’s because French press coffee is made by steeping ground coffee beans in hot water, and then filtering them out. It’s a process which, like drip coffee, takes more time than espresso, and uses water that isn’t quite as hot.

It also allows more subtle flavors and sweetness to come through. This gives it a very different flavor profile to the intense espresso notes of an Americano.

The Caffeine Content Of An Americano

In most cases, an americano will taste stronger than a cup of drip coffee.

But, as it turns out, the drip coffee actually has quite a bit more caffeine in it.

Exact figures will depend on the type of coffee bean, how it’s roasted, and how long it’s brewed for. That being said, Medical News Today estimates that an 8 oz cup of drip coffee has around  95 mg of caffeine in it. 

A single shot of espresso, on the other hand, only has around 63 mg, according to their estimates.

So, if you want a nice, tall black coffee drink that’s a little lighter on the caffeine than your regular cup of joe – you should definitely give the Americano a shot.

And, if you dig the taste of an Americano coffee, but you want a stronger caffeine kick, you can always have one with a double shot of espresso.

The Bottom Line

So, what is an Americano?

A black coffee drink made by mixing espresso and hot water.

It was probably thought up by American soldiers, trying to make espresso more like the drip coffee they were used to drinking back home – hence the name.

But at the end of the day, the Americano is very much a drink of its own. 

Even though it looks like it, it’s nothing like drip coffee. Because the brewing process is so different, the flavors and aromas are nothing alike. 

All in all, if you like your coffee black, chances are you’ll love the caffe Americano. But, if you prefer milky espresso drinks, find out the difference between americano and cappuccino to see if that one suits you more.

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Viktorija Jovanovic
Viktorija is a trained barista and chronic iced coffee addict. Aside from great coffee, she loves photography, road trips, and spending time in nature with her dog, Bane.