What is Café Americano: everything you’ve ever wanted to know

What is Café Americano

No doubt you’ve seen Caffe Americano on the menu at your local coffee shop. But what is it, exactly? I wondered the same thing myself at first. But, as I soon discovered, the answer to the question “What is an Americano?” can vary depending on who you ask.

Some people say it’s simply an Italian term for black coffee, while others maintain that it’s essentially a large shot of espresso. So, I thought I’d clear the air once and for all. Consider this the definitive guide to the Caffe Americano!

Is it Just Plain Black Coffee?

This is a question I’ve seen many ask about the Americano. It comes from a misconception about what the Americano actually is. At first glance (and taste) the Americano seems similar to a regular American cup of black coffee.

However, a standard cafe Americano is really a single shot of espresso mixed with hot water. This mixture approximates a standard cup of American coffee by diluting the powerful, concentrated flavor of espresso.

A regular cup of Caffe Americano, therefore, contains about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of plain black coffee.

When it comes to the Americano’s flavor, some find that it’s a little stronger than traditional black coffee. This is likely because the strength of espresso can vary depending on the process used to brew it.

So, if you make an Americano with a particularly strong Espresso, you can expect a little more kick than what you would find in black coffee.

The most important takeaway here is that, while they are similar, black coffee and the americano are not the same. One is brewed traditionally, while the other is prepared according to a set recipe.

So, if you order an americano the next time you go to your local coffee place, be prepared for something familiar, with a slightly different personality.

Americano Variants

While the standard americano is a relatively simple drink to make, there are a few different variations of the drink that have gained in popularity.

Iced Americano

This is one of the most common Americano variants. The iced Americano is similar to the standard Americano. The only difference is that the espresso shot is mixed with iced water instead of hot water. Often, cream and sugar are also added.

Long Black

When it comes to coffee, differences in preparation can create subtly, but distinct variations in flavor. The Long Black is a result of pouring espresso over a hot cup of water instead of the traditional Americano preparation wherein hot water is poured over the espresso. This may seem like a meaningless distinction, but it does make a difference. When the espresso is poured over the water, the delicate cream of the espresso is preserved, allowing the drinker to experience the full aroma of the espresso.

Caffe Crema

For this variation, the espresso is allowed to extract for longer, resulting in a smoother, creamier Americano.

Red Eye

Not for the faint of heart, this version of the Americano is great for those in need of a strong pick-me-up. A red eye is made by pouring a cup of black coffee over the espresso instead of the usual hot water. The result can be eye-opening, to say the least.

Americano: Origins

Americano is either an Italian or Spanish word that translates to “American”.

While the precise origins of the Caffe Americano or unknown, the drink seems to have originated in Europe during WWII. Supposedly, American G.I.’s stationed in Europe during the war were unused to the bold and often overbearing flavor of the espresso of which the Europeans were so fond.

Without having access to the equipment used to make traditional drip coffee back in the states, the soldiers began mixing espresso with water, and the Americano was born. Gradually, the drink began to grow in popularity across Europe before jumping overseas to the states.

In Italy, you’ll find the Caffe Americano at pretty much any espresso bar. It’s a common way for Italian’s to take their coffee to go.

How to Make it

So, what if you want to try your hand at making your own Americano?

While the recipe is simple, the preparation can be a little tricky. The first thing you’re going to need if you want to make an Americano at home is an espresso machine. This machine can be as complicated as a commercial machine with all those steam valves and gauges, or as simple as a press.

Whatever method you choose to make your espresso is up to you, but here are some general points to consider:

Crema: Should you include crema in your Americano? Well, it depends on which variation of the Americano you’re going with. If it’s a traditional Americano, the crema may not be that important to you. However, if you like the sound of a Tall Black, the crema will make all the difference in the flavor.

It’s important to keep in mind that crema is where much of the aroma of the espresso comes from. If you choose to go without crema, you will be sacrificing a dimension to your coffee’s flavor that many consider crucial.

Number of Shots: While the standard Americano is traditionally made with one shot of espresso, some people take their Americano with double or triple shots. This is something to consider if you want your Americano on the stronger side. Just remember, the more shots you add, the less your Americano will taste like a standard cup of coffee.

Extract Time: The length of time for which you allow your espresso to extract will give you different variations of the Americano. The longer the extraction, the smoother and more mellow the flavor will be.

Finally, let’s take a look at the recipe. While there is some debate among coffee makers, the general ratios for an ideal Caffe Americano are 1/3 espresso, 2/3 water.

And that’s all there is to it! If you want to make a regular Americano, add your espresso first; if you want to make a tall black, add the water first.