Americano vs Latte (To Add Milk or Water?)

It can be pretty incredible to look at a bag of coffee beans and consider all the potential they hold. There are so many different ways to turn these little packages of flavor into the magic elixir we all know as coffee, it’s mind-blowing.

From different brew methods to added extras, the menu of coffee delights is never-ending and there’s a new one to suit every mood.

I love a rich cup of black coffee first thing in the morning, there’s nothing quite like it to get me jazzed for the day ahead. However, when it comes to a lazy Sunday morning, I do love to treat myself to a creamy, smooth latte. It’s sweet and indulgent and just ticks all the boxes for me.

Whilst pondering over these wonderful kinds of java I realized I needed to better my knowledge of these coffee-based beverages. This led me to the question of how do you compare a latte to an americano?

The latte is a coffee-based drink with steamed milk and an americano is an espresso with hot water. They contain the same kind of coffee but are topped up differently.

So that’s a quick summary but to really understand these two variations here is all you need to know about the Americano vs the Latte.

An Americano and a Latte from above

Americano Vs Latte

When you enter most coffee shops these two coffee drinks are typically the key players on the menu. The short answer here is the americano is a cup of black coffee whereas the latte is a milk-based drink. Both start out with a shot of espresso and the Americano is topped up with hot water whereas the latte is finished with steamed milk and a layer of milk foam.

Espresso coffee originated in Italy where the Italians developed a way to brew coffee using a high-pressure system. The result gave a small volume of very rich coffee that’s thick like syrup and smooth in texture. The high-pressure brewing method causes an emulsification of the fats in the coffee so they are essentially ‘whipped’ and form a foamy layer on top called the crema.

Origins of Each Drink

A Latte An Americano and a glass of water

In Italy, espresso (single or double shot) is the drink of choice for coffee lovers, and cappuccino is often the only other choice on the menu and is usually only served with breakfast. When American soldiers arrived during world war II they were used to their cup of coffee is a lot larger and less rich than the espresso. This led to hot water being added to the espresso to dilute it and the Caffe Americano was born.

Now the latte is a little different. The latte as we know it is much more of an Americanized coffee although the drink has roots in Italy. Latte is the Italian word for milk and Caffe Latte translates into coffee milk (or coffee with milk). If you ask for a latte in Italy you will simply get a glass of cold milk. If you’re in Italy then you need to make sure you ask for a latte macchiato whereas in America you can just ask the barista for a latte. The drink was said to have originated in the areas that American tourists frequented and was developed as a means to sweeten the ultra-dark espresso. In the 1980s the drink made its way across the pond and developed into the Cafe Latte we know today.

Start with a Shot of Espresso

a cup of espresso surrounded by coffee beans

Both these drinks start with a shot of espresso. The only way to brew this kind of coffee is with an espresso machine as it needs at least 9 bars of pressure to brew true espresso. The amount of espresso brewed is relative to the size of the drink you wish to end up with. A single or double shot espresso can be used or occasionally a long shot is chosen. This is where more water than usual is pulled through the coffee puck and gives a larger volume of strong coffee that’s a little more bitter. This can be a good option to make the coffee flavors stand out in the milk.

Hot Water

To turn the espresso into an Americano hot water is added. The water used should be hot but not boiling as this can burn the coffee. The volume of water used is very variable depending on the coffee shop you’re at or the recipe used. A 1:1 or 1:2 ratio is usually recommended but Starbucks is a bit different. They will typically add one shot of espresso for an 8oz short, a double shot of espresso (2 ounces) for 12oz tall, 3 shots for 16oz grande, and 4 shots for a 20oz venti so they use around a 1:4/1:5 ratio.

Steamed Milk

Steaming And Foaming Milk

To make a latte whole milk is steamed to warm it up and give it a velvety, creamy texture. When milk is heated by steam the result is a thick, liquid portion and a foamy portion that floats on top. A latte is made by using 1/3 espresso, 2/3 liquid steamed milk, and then finishing it with roughly a cm of milk foam.

Starbucks typically uses single shots for both the short and tall and double shots for the grande and venti options.

Amount of Caffeine

There’s around 60mg of caffeine but this can vary depending on the type of coffee used. Starbucks espresso has 75mg caffeine content. The amount of caffeine in an Americano or a latte is completely dependent on the espresso. A double shot option is the most popular for these two coffee beverages and will give you 120-150mg of caffeine per serving. This is a similar amount that you would find in a cup of drip coffee of 8-12 ounces.

Serving Options

Any Extras

When you order an americano you are usually asked if you want any space for milk. This kind of coffee is delicious when enjoyed black but it’s also fine to add milk, creamer, or any sweetener you enjoy best. You can even ask for hot milk to save on cooling the drink down. Some people even like a splash of cold water so they can get drinking the coffee straight away.

As a latte already has milk in it, it’s naturally sweeter than a regular coffee. You can still add sugar or sweeteners and sometimes a sprinkle of cinnamon or cocoa powder is enough to liven it up. Many coffee shops now offer flavored lattes that incorporate differently flavored syrups to compliment the coffee taste.

Over Ice

Espresso can be brewed over ice to make a lovely refreshing summer’s day treat. This can be topped up with cold water to make an iced coffee or add cold milk and you get an iced latte.

Latte Art

A Barista making a latte

The combination of the espresso crema and the foam on top of the milk can be expertly layered to create a masterpiece in the form of latte art. This skill isn’t the easiest to master but it is a good one to practice to impress your friends and to enjoy beautifully presented lattes.


An americano has all the wonderfully rich and bold flavors of the espresso but is less intense due to the water added. It’s aromatic and complex and a bit more intense than your average cup of filter coffee.

A latte is sweet, smooth, and creamy in flavor. The rich coffee flavor is present but very much dulled by the addition of steamed milk. The milk balances any bitter notes and keeps the taste light and satisfying.

Other Espresso Drinks

There is a range of other drinks similar to a latte or an americano that start out life as an espresso. Here are a few of them and how they differ from these two classics.


A Cappuchino with frothed milk from above

A cappuccino is very similar to a latte in that it is espresso topped up with steamed milk, the difference is the ratio of steamed milk to milk foam. The cappuccino is roughly one-third espresso, one-third steamed milk, and one-third milk foam. The result is a bubbly texture so the coffee stands out more against the creamy milkiness.


A traditional macchiato is an espresso with a dollop of milk foam on top. It’s strong in flavor with just a hint of milk to finish. This option is sometimes referred to as the espresso macchiato with its counterpart, the latte macchiato. The latte macchiato is pretty much just a latte but the milk is added to the drink first, then topped with espresso, and finished with a dollop of milk foam.

Flat White

A flat white is a drink of Australian origin that closely mimics the latte. It’s typically smaller in volume and has only a few mm of milk foam on top. It’s less creamy than a latte and the coffee flavor stands out more.

Long Black

A long black is very similar to an Americano and it’s almost the same drink. An americano is an espresso with water on top and a long black is a cup of hot water with an espresso layer on top. The result is said to keep the crema more intact and give a stronger coffee flavor. The actual end product makes two drinks that are almost identical.


a delicious mocha coffee

One for the chocoholics out there. A mocha that combines rich espresso, chocolate, and steamed milk. It’s often made using a mocha sauce or chocolate syrup but it can also be made using cocoa powder. It’s ultra sweet, very indulgent, and totally delicious.

Caffe Misto

You may have spotted the Caffe Misto on the Starbucks menu and although it looks just like a latte it is a different drink. This one combines strong brewed coffee (not espresso) in equal parts with steamed milk. It’s mild in flavor with an equal balance of smooth coffee notes and creamy milk.


Is Americano stronger than a latte?

An americano has a stronger coffee flavor when compared to a latte as it’s just coffee and water. The milk helps balance out the flavor giving a latte a creamier taste. In terms of caffeine, both drinks have the same amount as long as they contain the same number of espresso shots.

What’s the difference between an Americano and a latte?

Both drinks start out life as an espresso but a latte is topped up with steamed milk and milk foam whereas an americano is topped up with hot water.

Is an americano with milk a latte?

No. An Americano with milk is just an Americano with some milk added. A latte is an espresso with steamed milk on top.

Is Americano coffee healthy?

An americano has around 10 calories per serving and contains coffee-derived antioxidants. This makes it a good choice for most diets and overall a healthy option.

How much caffeine is in an Americano?

A 12-ounce Americano with a double shot of espresso contains 150mg of caffeine.

Final Thoughts

A latte is a milky treat and an Americano is a rich cup of black coffee. Both start out life as espresso coffee and both are delicious in their own way. No matter which one you prefer, they both have an important role to play in the world of all things coffee.


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