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What is an Americano? (What Makes The American-Italian Classic So Special)

If you go into Starbucks or any neighborhood coffee shop, you will see a list of specialty drinks on the menu. While we are pretty familiar with the lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, and syrup-filled drinks, the americano is usually on a separate list of more basic coffee drinks. You will probably find it lumped in with the long blacks, drip coffee, french press drinks, and flat whites. Almost every faithful coffee drinker has a basic idea of what an americano is. But, what sets it apart from other espresso drinks?

A caffe americano is a shot of espresso with hot water poured over the top. Although the amount of caffeine in an Americano is similar to a cup of drip coffee, its flavor will be slightly more robust. It is rumored to be named after the American soldiers who popularized this drink during World War II.

Here is a bit of the history behind the drink, how you can make it, and what sets it apart from other coffee drinks.

An Americano with some sips out of it

An Americano in Italy, The History Behind the Drink

The americano came into existence long before Starbucks was a thing. While Starbucks tends to fling around a few Italian words such as “grande” and “venti” to show off, the drink name “Americano” was coined by Italian baristas.

The americano as we know it today, came into existence in World War II when American soldiers were trying to find an American-style coffee drink in Italy. It seems the strong espresso taste was too much for many Americans missing their black coffee from back home. So, they would ask the baristas to add hot water to it. Since an espresso with hot water was such a common order among the American patrons, this drink was named “caffe americano” (American coffee). Although the flavor may have varied a bit from the percolated coffee they were used to, Americano coffee gave the soldiers a small taste of home in a foreign land.

How to Make an Americano

An Americano pictured from above

To make an americano, you will need an espresso machine. There is not a set of strict parameters to follow, so you are free to mold this recipe to suit your tastes. Here are the basic steps to follow to try out this coffee drink:

Step 1: Grind Your Beans

Choose your coffee beans. Many Italians choose the more highly caffeinated Robusta beans for their shots of espresso. However, Arabica beans tend to make a smoother-tasting brew. Use whole beans and a burr grinder for the freshest taste.

Step 2: Pull Your Shot

Tamp the coffee grounds into the portafilter and pull a shot of espresso. Or, to pack an extra punch you can pull a double shot.

Step 3: Heat the Water

Heat water to your desired temperature. Some prefer to add boiling water, while others prefer to keep the water temperature the same as your average drip coffee (195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit or 90 to 96 degrees Celsius.)

Step 4: Pour Water Over Your Shot

An americano is usually made with 1 part espresso and 2 parts water. A shot is approximately one ounce, you should add about two ounces of hot water. Others choose to use less water in a 1:1 ratio so that the strong espresso flavor comes through.

Step 5: Enjoy

An Iced Coffee with ice cubes falling

That’s how you make a caffe americano. It is usually served unsweet and without milk. Sit back and enjoy your coffee drink in Italian-American style.

Ice is Also Nice

This drink also works well in its iced form (especially on those sticky-hot summer days. To turn this coffee drink into an iced americano, don’t heat the water at all. Just use cold water and leave room for ice. This can be a light and refreshing beverage to take on the go.

How Much Caffeine Will an Americano Give Me?

The caffeine content in an Americano will vary based on what type of beans were used and your espresso to water ratio. For example, robusta beans contain much more caffeine than arabica. Also, if you make an americano with a double shot instead of a single, this will obviously influence the caffeine content of your drink.

Most americanos will contain about the same amount of caffeine as an average 8 oz cup of joe. But, how much caffeine content is that? The FDA suggests that an 8 oz cup of coffee will usually contain 80-100 mg of caffeine. The main difference between your drip coffee brew and an americano is not the caffeine, but the flavor.

What Does an Americano Taste Like?

An americano was originally made as a stand-in for an American-style black coffee. However, some will choose to drink an americano instead of a regular drip coffee if given the choice. This is because the americano has a slightly fuller taste from its espresso base. The Americano is most similar in taste to a black drip coffee and the long black. Let’s see how these drinks compare.

Americano vs Black Coffee

A cup of black coffee left sitting out

A regular drip coffee is made by hot water dripping slowly through the coffee grounds in your coffee maker. The water has time to steep the grounds individually as it runs through the filter. This even extraction of the grounds creates a smooth coffee taste.

An americano is made by first brewing espresso. The espresso is brewed with at least 9 bars of pressure to extract the flavor from the bean. Since this is a quick brewing method, it circumvents many of the unfavorable flavors of the bean and leaves you with a rich flavor. Even though the americano is watered down, you can still taste the underlying espresso flavor in this drink.

Americano vs the Long Black

Should you pour the hot water or espresso first when you make an americano?

This question is debated by coffee enthusiasts and may seem like an unimportant detail, but it can actually (slightly) change the way your coffee tastes. This debate comes down to what happens to your crema.

When you pour the water first, and the espresso over the top, that nice, rich layer of foam called crema remains on top of your drink. When you make your coffee drink this way it is technically no longer an americano but instead is referred to as a long black. This coffee-making method is similar to a macchiato, except the long black uses water instead of milk. The long black often uses a double shot of espresso or a ristretto and is made with less water than an americano for a stronger brew. The long black is a popular coffee drink in New Zealand and Australia.

An americano is made by making your espresso first, and pouring water over the top. The crema will mix evenly into the rest of your drink and you generally won’t see much (or any) foam on top. The amount of water used in an americano will often be more than a long black.


Although the americano was originally created to replicate American-style black coffee in a foreign land during World War II, its story didn’t stop there. You can still find this drink being served in coffee shops across America decades later. Whether you decide to try out the recipe at home or ask your local barista to make it, this retro drink still deserves a shot!


What is a breve?

A caffe breve is like a caffe latte only it is made with half and half rather than milk. The half and half will make a thicker, creamier foam as well, which compliments the espresso flavor. This decadent drink is often considered a dessert coffee beverage.

Why is my coffee bitter?

Bitterness is an inherent element in coffee. That’s just how the cookie crumbles. Still, your coffee can be made smoother and less bitter by adjusting a few things. High quality Arabica beans will make a smoother cup of coffee. You can also change up your brewing method or your coffee to water ratio for a less bitter cup of coffee. For more tips on how to make the smoothest brew check out this article.

How do you make red eye coffee?

A red eye coffee is a cup of coffee with a shot of espresso added to it. This is a pick-me-up that will give you an extra dose of caffeine to start off your day. If you can’t decide if you are in the mood for espresso or drip coffee, a red eye will give you a 2-in-1 experience.

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