Cappuccino vs. Americano: What’s the Difference?

Whether you’re bored of your usual coffee order and looking to try something new, or if you’re just curious about your options, it’s important to know about the various ways espresso is served. In this article, you’ll learn the difference between two popular espresso drinks: an americano and a cappuccino.

The Basics of Espresso

Before diving into the details, it’s helpful to understand the fundamentals behind the espresso bar. Most espresso drinks are characterized by their ratio of espresso to other ingredients, such as milk and foam. The exact proportions of each ingredient, as well as the order in which they are poured, can transform one espresso into another variety altogether.

You may be wondering how exactly espresso differs from standard drip coffee. Drip coffee is brewed when hot water is poured over ground coffee, and filtered into a cup for consumption. Espresso is made with more advanced technology.

Espresso is made from coffee beans that are ground finer than average. In an ideal brew, espresso is made from grounds that are as fine as dust or sand. After that, a barista ensures that the grounds are evenly distributed in a portafilter – part of an espresso machine. From there, boiling water is infused into the grounds at a very high pressure. This is where the extraction process happens.

Once the espresso shot has been extracted properly, it’s fit to be consumed. What makes espresso truly remarkable in comparison to drip coffee is the energy boost it provides. Because of the precise brewing method, espresso has a stronger taste and a higher caffeine content, making it a popular choice for the base ingredient in many styles of coffee.

What’s a Cappuccino?

A cappuccino is similar in structure to a latte, with one key difference. A latte is made of two simple ingredients: ½ espresso and ½ milk, topped with a thin layer of foam. A cappuccino, on the other hand, takes the foam to a new level. In a cappuccino, ⅓ of the beverage is espresso, another ⅓ is milk, and the rest is foam.

Because a cappuccino contains more foam and less milk, it has a lower calorie count than a latte, and it’s very light on your stomach. You can also still add your own personal choice of syrup and toppings if you want some extra flavor.

What’s an Americano?

During World War II, American soldiers stationed in Italy struggled to adjust to the taste of traditional Italian espresso. As a solution, they began slightly diluting the espresso with hot water, making it more palatable. The drink they created, a mixture of equal parts water and espresso, was thus referred to as an “americano”.

On paper, the concept of pouring water into an espresso shot might sound less than appetizing; however, it’s actually a perfect fit for those of us who crave the taste and effects of espresso, but don’t want something bitter.

FUN FACT: The order in which you pour the espresso can change this drink entirely. Pouring the espresso first and water second makes this an americano – but pouring in the reverse order creates a “Long Black”, which is popular in Australia.

How They Taste

Both of these delicious drinks are made with espresso, so you’ll certainly pick up on some of that bitterness that espresso is famous for. An americano won’t have quite the same strength as a straight-up shot, but it definitely packs a punch. It’s stronger in flavor than the cappuccino because the cappuccino is cut with milk, which balances out the bitter undertones.

An americano is a very simple drink, usually served in a 1-2 oz portion, significantly smaller than even your standard small coffee. An americano is meant to be consumed rather quickly, in just a few sips at most, while it’s still fresh. A cappuccino, on the other hand, is meant to be enjoyed and savored. If you’re in a rush, you might want to grab the americano instead.

However, if you have time to sit down and enjoy your morning coffee, a cappuccino is the way to go. The rich, creamy taste of the milk mixed with espresso is absolutely unmatched. Additionally, you can always add in some toppings and flavored syrups, which don’t work well with an americano.

Make It at Home

If you want to create a cappuccino or an americano from the comfort of your own kitchen, all you’ll need is a few simple ingredients and of course, an espresso machine. If you don’t have an espresso machine, you’ll have to visit your local barista instead.

Both of these recipes require that you use espresso roast coffee, which you can find at your local supermarket. Make sure you see the word “espresso” on the packaging. If you don’t, it’s because those grounds are meant for use in a drip machine, and they won’t extract properly.

Making a Cappuccino

Once you have your espresso roast grounds, make sure you also have some milk available. You can use whatever you have in your kitchen at home, whether that’s dairy milk, oat milk, almond milk, or anything else. It’s up to you!

Here’s how to make a cappuccino at home:

  1. Brew the espresso. Depending on which style of espresso machine you have available, this process can look different. Extract as many shots as you feel you want to consume – just remember that you’ll need to match the amounts with milk and foam.
  2. Pour the espresso.
  3. If your espresso machine has a steamer, use that with the milk of your choice to create a perfectly steamed cream. If your espresso maker doesn’t have this, you can always use a handheld milk frother or whisk the milk instead. It can be a bit tricky, but these helpful instructions will come in handy.
  4. Add the steamed milk to your cup. Make sure it’s in equal proportion to the espresso you poured previously.
  5. Next, use a spoon to pour the froth from the steamed milk over your cup.
  6. Last, enjoy!

Making an Americano

Making an americano is about as simple as it gets.

  1. First, brew the espresso. Just like the cappuccino, you want to make sure that you’re using espresso-roast grounds. For an americano, you want to try and pour just one or two shots of espresso.
  2. Next, boil some water. You won’t need much. I recommend using a tea kettle for this as opposed to heating water in the microwave. Water boiled in a kettle tends to taste better.
  3. Gently add the water to your drink. Make sure you have equal parts espresso and hot water to get the recipe just right.
  4. Finally, enjoy!

Find Your Favorite

There are so many ways to enjoy espresso, and the only real limit is your imagination (and your taste buds!). Try out different drinks like these to test your palate and learn your favorites.