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Deep Dive: Americano

When is a drink watered down, but not weak?

by Maciej Kasperowicz | May 21, 2020

Key Facts
Pronunciation: Amer·​i·​ca·​no
Definition: Coffee consisting of espresso diluted with hot water
First Known Usage: 1928

What Is an Americano?

An Americano is a shot of espresso diluted with water, usually until it reaches the concentration and size of a regular drip coffee. It’s served in the same sizes as drip coffee, usually anywhere from eight to around 20 ounces.

An iced Americano uses a shot of espresso and half the amount of water as a hot one, filling the rest of the cup with ice, for a strength similar to most cold brews.

History of the Americano

According to the story told to many a coffee professional, Americanos were invented when American soldiers went to Italy during World War II. There, either they or Italian shop owners realized that espresso was way stronger than the drip-strength coffee popular in the US and watered it down to make it more palatable. Have we ever seen a primary source to verify this? Unconfirmed! But it’s, at worst, a fitting creation myth.

How It’s Made

Americanos are made by pulling a shot of espresso using an espresso machine. Some people have strong opinions about pouring the espresso onto the water versus pouring the water onto the espresso, the former preserving the appearance of crema on top of the drink, with the latter supposedly combining the two liquids better. In my taste tests I’ve found that, at least by the time the drink cools enough for a human to consume, the flavor differences between the two methods are pretty much nonexistent.

Flavor Profile

An Americano will have similar flavor notes (specific things you taste and smell) and flavor balance (how sweet it is, relative to how bitter and sour it is) as the shot of espresso it was made with. However, because of the dilution, those flavors will be less concentrated.

Compared to drip coffee, an Americano should be pretty similar in flavor, though with the oils from the espresso (which uses a metal filter instead of drip coffee’s paper filter) the Americano will have a heavier body.

Similar Drinks

The most similar drink to an Americano, as already noted, is a drip coffee. Pretty similar strength, pretty similar flavor profile, just a different way of getting there. In fact, many larger drip machines employ a process called bypass brewing to add a little water down the sides of the brew basket instead of through the grinds, which if you think about it is basically the same as making an Americano.

I’ve also experienced coffee shops successfully augmenting their espresso recipe by pulling a shot and then adding a tiny amount of water after, and just serving that as a slightly longer espresso. In Australia and New Zealand, the Long Black is made the same way as an Americano, but adds only three to four ounces of water instead of, say, 12.

How to Make it at Home

Make a double espresso with your favorite coffee and add water. While some coffee drinks have a preference for using shorter or longer shots, it doesn’t matter a ton here — as you’ll be adding water anyways. If you’re brewing your shots with around 20 grams of coffee, that should be good for an 11 or 12 ounce Americano. Aside from that, it’s pretty simple: make shot, add water, done.

Coffee Recommendations

Any coffee that you can make an espresso with should be tasty as an Americano — though since you’ll be diluting it, coffees that might seem too intense to drink as espresso on their own might work here too.

For a Versatile Americano

Ritual’s ACE - Esperanca Rubi comes from the roaster's line of single origins specifically roasted to be as delicious as espresso as they are as drip-strength coffees, and what could be more perfect for an Americano?

For a Traditional Americano

If you want an Americano with lots of traditional espresso flavors (chocolatey! nutty! caramelly!), without a lot of roastiness, Blueprint’s Tekton is a seasonally rotating espresso that's a great choice.

For a Dark Roast Americano

The original Americanos were made in Italy, so they probably weren’t light roasts. To get a more historically accurate version, try a darker roast like Greater Goods’ Stimulate.

For a Decaf Americano

You know we can’t forget our decaf espresso lovers. The brown sugar sweetness in Novo's Decaf Espresso Novo will taste as delicious topped up with a little water as it does straight.