Even if you don’t know any of the other fancy Italian terms for coffees, it’s a fair bet that if you’ve visited a coffee shop in the last fifteen years or so, you will have encountered the Americano in some form. The same applies if you brew your own coffee at home.
While many coffee shop menus now use it to mean a “standard black coffee”, and while “flat white” appears to be one of the most popular options currently, there’s a lot more to an Americano than initially meets the eye. Yet where did this delicious drink originate?
What Is An Americano Coffee?
“Americano” is the Italian word for American-style coffee, and it’s thought that it probably dates from around World War Two, when American GIs were posted to Italy. While Americans have always been known for drinking large amounts of coffee, especially since the times of the Boston Tea Party, many of them found the strong beverage commonly served in Italy too strong for their tastes.
At that time, the drip coffee method was the primary method used in America to whip up a brew. Since it was a slower method than that used to make espresso, the results were much milder in taste than the espresso drinks prevalent in Europe. To try to make the drink more palatable, the GIs diluted the strong espresso coffee with water, making it much milder. MIlk or cream and sugar were added to make it a gentler drink still.
Originally it’s thought it was called “caffè Americano”, but over the years it became shortened to just “Americano”. You’ll now find it listed as an option on pretty much every coffee shop menu. But what, exactly, is an Americano?
How To Make An Americano – Our Great Recipe
Start by boiling a kettle of freshly drawn water. Ideally, the water should be filtered so that the flavor of the finished drink is as pure as possible. Fill a cup (preferably ceramic) with the water to suit your taste buds – this is usually somewhere between two parts of water to one part of espresso. Remember that adding milk and sugar will result in a weaker, milder tasting drink.
It’s straightforward enough to make a basic Americano: all you need is espresso and water. As with so many coffee drinks, the key to quality is to get the right blend of espresso beans.
The grind needs to be much finer than for typical drip coffee, and for a double shot of coffee, you need half to around three-quarters of an ounce of ground beans. Tamp the coffee into a clean portafilter and prepare the espresso in the usual way. Allow the water to drip through for somewhere between 23 and 28 seconds.
We’ve suggested brewing a double shot of espresso as that usually results in the best flavor. To keep the lovely crema, we’d then suggest pouring the espresso into the water. The hot water is therefore much less likely to burn the coffee, which can be an issue if you pour the espresso first.
Once upon a time we were pretty much limited only to milk (or cream) and sugar as additions to our coffee, but in recent years many delicious tasting syrups and other extras have come on to the market. Feel like a shot of caramel in that milk? No problem. Or would you rather have a gentle aftertaste of butterscotch or bubble gum?
Can An Americano Be Home Brew?
Americanos are one of the easiest coffee drinks to make in the comfort of your own familiar surroundings. If you’re using one of the single-serve coffee machines on the market, their subtle flavor will almost certainly be one of the options available in pods and capsules, and most of the major manufacturers have an Americano or similar in their range.
Some companies, such as Nespresso, may call the beverage something other than a Coffee Americano, but the effect, and the flavor, are fairly close in taste. In their range, for instance, a Lungo is close to an Americano; Lungo literally means “long” as opposed to “short”, or Cortado if we’re staying with the industry-standard Italian names.
Other firms, such as Keurig, offer pods that offer you the flavor of the high-street coffee shop chain or global company. Some of these pods are called Americano. New blends are frequently released on to the market for your delectation.
Does Americano Have More Caffeine Than Coffee?
On average, a typical 8 ounce serving of coffee contains between 80 and 100 milligrams of caffeine. For filter coffee, it’s around 95 milligrams, and even decaffeinated, despite its name, still contains around 2 milligrams per serving. Cold brew coffee, where the ground beans are steeped overnight, is generally higher in caffeine, somewhere between 153 and 238 milligrams.
Instant coffee is considerably lower, with around 62 milligrams on average per cup, and a single 1 ounce shot of espresso has about the same. When it comes to the caffeine content of a typical Americano, however, it can vary dramatically between coffee chains. At Dunkin Donuts, for instance, it’s in the region of 249 mg, while at international group Costa, now owned by the Coca-Cola Company, a medium Americano can contain 277 mg of caffeine.
As is so often the case, the answer to, does an Americano contain more caffeine than your average cup of coffee is: it depends. There are so many factors at play: the size of the beverage, the strength of the beans used in the first place, and what, if anything, has been added to the drink.
The Difference Between Black Coffee, Espresso and Americano
So, given that these are three of the most common choices you’ll find on a menu in a typical coffee shop, what are the differences between Americano, Espresso, and ordinary black coffee? Well, some of the differences result from the brewing process.
In most cases, an ordinary black coffee is prepared using the drip through or pour-over method. If you’re using ground beans, then the grind can be coarse or fine, depending on preference. For most ordinary black coffees, Arabica beans will work well.
For Espresso, you use beans which are much more finely ground, and they are tamped down firmly before the water is poured over. Typically, the brewing time is much shorter than for an ordinary black coffee and the amount of water used much less, resulting in a stronger-tasting brew, best enjoyed black. If you want to horrify an Italian (or a coffee purist, come to that), just tell them you’re going to add milk or cream to an espresso.
For Americano coffee, espresso is still used as the base of the drink, but considerably more water is used than for a standard espresso. For an Americano, you need around 2 parts water to 1 part already-brewed espresso. You’re much more likely to be offered by a barista, or decide for yourself to add, syrups, sugar, cream, or, more recently, a variety of types of milk to your Americano.
Variations Of The Cafe Americano
You’ll often find iced Americanos, or variations on a theme, offered now, and Americano is a very good choice as a base for iced drinks. To begin with, many iced coffees add syrup, milk or sugar; some use ice cubes, others crushed or blended ice. Since the whole point of an Americano is that it’s a gentle, well-diluted form of coffee, the addition of ice makes sense.
While most coffee shops will offer a type of Americano on the menu, you might need to check with your barista to find out what the name of their closest equivalent is; the same advice applies if you’re buying coffee capsules or pods. Whether you refer to it as an Americano coffee, a caffe Americano, an Americano drink, or simply an Americano, it’s usually one of the mildest caffeinated drinks on the menu.
Americano also offers an excellent base for some of the truly gorgeous limited edition drinks offered by chains like Starbucks. These might include pumpkin spice in the autumn, salted caramel, or mulled varieties with nutmeg as we approach Christmas.
If you’re feeling in the mood for something of a celebration, and you’re of an age where you are, did you know the Americano is also the name of a cocktail? The Americano is a deceptively simple and very refreshing drink. It’s no more than a splash of Campari, sweet Vermouth and soda, poured over ice, with maybe a slice or so of fresh orange.
Suggested proportions for the perfect Cafe Americano cocktail are around 1.5 ounces for each of the liquid ingredients. Like the coffee drink, it’s mild and gentle; both the soda and the ice help to dilute the other ingredients.
It doesn’t really matter how you like your Americano. Some of us like it hot, dark, and just as it comes. Some of us prefer it white and sugary; with syrups, cream and decadent toppings. And then some of us prefer an iced Americano, or even, or in the form of a cocktail.
So, whatever your preference, bottoms up! After all, if it was good enough to help American GIs and marines keep going, in Italy and elsewhere, we reckon it must be worth a try.
Hi my name is Larry, a coffee aficionado and passionate traveler from the US. I have already visited Colombia, Sumatra, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ethiopia and Jamaica in my pursuit of finding the best-tasting coffee beans that make you feel like you are in heaven. I currently write from Bali and enjoy the relaxed life that you can find only in Indonesia. Welcome to my coffee world!