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What Is An Americano? how does it differ from a long black or drip coffee?

Are you one of those people that gets confused by the menu boards in coffee shops? Do you panic when you’re faced with a million different terms for what are, essentially, mixtures of coffee, water and milk?

You aren’t alone. You’re handed a black coffee…but it could be one of 5 drinks. What is it? So what is an Americano then?

What Is An Americano?

The most simple answer = it’s a shot of espresso topped with hot water. If you’re American you’ll know that a Starbucks Americano comes hot or iced…but whats really in that drink? and where did it come from?

A graphic depiction of what is an americano and its layers
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The Americano is an extremely popular type of coffee yet most people know nothing about where it came from. The story goes that when American soldiers were stationed in Italy during WWII, they balked at the strong flavor of the espresso drunk by the natives.

Raised on drip coffee, the full-bodied and rich flavors of an espresso were unfamiliar. So, they hit on the idea of adding more water to a shot of espresso, and the famous black drink was born. This was explained by the New York Times (1):

Legend has it that when soldiers in Italy encountered espresso, they watered it down to make a concoction similar to the coffee they drank at home.

By the way, Italians aren’t that keen on drinking coffee in any other way besides espresso (they call diluted espressos ‘dirty water’). An espresso (meaning ‘quick’) is made by forcing water at high pressure through finely ground coffee. It creates a small amount of richly flavored coffee. Perhaps the most characteristic element of espresso is the crema.

Does An Americano Have Crema?

An americano with creama on top
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Yes, an Americano can have Crema

Coffee beans which have been carefully processed will be full of aromatic oils. When an espresso is brewed, the hot water first forces those oils out of the beans.

You might have noticed a light brown, creamy substance coming out of the espresso machine before the dark coffee. This substance rises to the top in what some people call, ‘the guinness effect’. For a long time, crema was seen as a mark of a great brew. (2)

Unfortunately, as with most things coffee related, it’s not as simple as that. If you’ve read our article on the coffee bloom, you’ll know that beans also give off Carbon Dioxide for 48+ hours after roasting. If your espresso has been made with freshly roasted coffee the cream may taste sour due to the favor of CO2.

An Americano is simply an espresso that has been poured over, or been diluted with hot water. The cream rises to the top, giving you a longer coffee drink, with the oily richness preserved.

So YES: a true Americano will have a layer of crema.

Watch Mike Jones of Third Rail Coffee, New York, make a perfect Americano. We also have a tutorial here.

3 steps to making an americano coffee
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Isn’t Drip Coffee The Same Thing?

No. While espresso might be considered ‘fast’, a drip coffee is anything but. Whether you use an auto-drip machine, or you’ve invested in a stylishly beautiful piece of manual drip kit like the Chemex, drip coffee takes time.

Drip coffee in a coffee maker
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To make a cup of drip, pour water just off boiling point over grounds and let gravity do the hard work. Time allows some of the grounds to dissolve and pass through the filter along with those flavor particles. A cup of drip has a more subtle coffee flavor than an Americano.

Americano vs Other Black Coffees

You could be drinking a black coffee and have no idea what it is….is it a drip coffee? a long black? and espresso? a … (the list goes on). That’s confusing …. Lets clear up the differences once and for all, so you know what to order, or what you’re drinking!

Related: Americano vs brewed coffee.

Drip coffee being poured
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A drip coffee

Americano vs Drip coffee

So you know that the former is brewed using a shot of espresso, and a drip coffee is filtration. But apart from the brewing methods, what’s the real difference?

In both scenarios you end up with a full cup of coffee, right? Naturally, there are some differences for us coffee geeks who like to explore the details. Lets use a table. Everyone like tables, right?

AMERICANO DRIP
Flavor Intense, deep coffee notes. Nutty, earthy flavors – floral and lighter notes are destroyed by the high temperature. Subtle, lighter flavor. Sweeter, more floral and delicate flavors are allowed to develop with time.
Caffeine 40 mg per espresso (average). It’s common to use 2 shots per 12 oz serving, so 80 mg per cup on average.. Average of 10 mg per ounce of coffee. 120 mg per average 12 oz serving.
Crema Yes, if the espresso is not broken No crema.
Grind Fine grind for espresso. Medium-Coarse.

Americano vs Long Black

Ok, i’ll be honest: in my opinion, there is NO difference between these 2 drinks. The only minute difference some people may say is:

  • An Americano is made when you pour hot water over the espresso shot.
  • A long black is where you pour the espresso shot over the hot water.

It’s called “Caffè Americano” in the USA and parts of Europe – “Long Black” in Australia, New Zealand and is fast becoming the standard in the UK.

You’ll get the same drink, but when you pour the hot water over the espresso, you’ll break the crema. In reality, there is no difference. A Long Black is what they call it in Australia. Enough said.

Americano vs Espresso vs Latte

I feel silly for even writing this, but there are some folk out there who insist and have asked this question.

Americano vs espresso – If you’re still reading this and you don’t know the difference between these two; you must be stoned because you are not paying attention. An espresso is just a shot of pressurised coffee which forms the base of this, and many other drinks.

Americano vs latte – A latte is a shot of espresso topped with creamy foamed milk. Its a totally different drink; milk based and creamy.

latte coffee on table
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Clearly NOT an Americano. Clearly a latte.

Final Thoughts

So now you know! The difference between the two drinks is the way they are brewed, and what that means for the flavor.

Were you surprised to find that a drip had more caffeine? Which of these brewing methods do you prefer?  Drop us a comment in the box below and let us know what you think. We’d love to hear from you.

FAQs

The usual espresso to water ratio in an Americano is 1:2 or about 30-50 ml (1-2 oz.) espresso to 60-100 ml water. But there are no rules. You can add as much water (or espresso) as you like, depending on the strength and texture you prefer. Do you want a lighter coffee? Add more water. Do you want your drink stronger? Add less water.
If you’re ordering this drink from a coffee shop, you might have to tell your barista how you like it.

Yes, you can add milk to your Americano. If you enjoy the drink’s intense flavor but find it quite bitter, you may add milk and sugar to tone down its bitterness. Unlike a latte, which is very creamy and has lots and lots of milk, you can choose the amount of milk to add to your Americano. The milk in this drink is usually not foamed like in a latte or frothed like in a cappuccino.

Contrary to popular belief, the Americano is actually weaker than drip coffee. A 12-oz. Americano normally contains 1 to 2 shots of espresso or about 40 to 80 mg of caffeine; a 12-oz. drip coffee, on the other hand, contains 115-175 mg. (3)


  1. Haft, M. and Suarez, H. (2013, August 16). The Marine’s Secret Weapon: Coffee. Retrieved from https://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/16/the-marines-secret-weapon-coffee/
  2. What is the Crema in an Espresso Drink | Bean Box. (2019, March 11). Retrieved from https://beanbox.com/blog/what-is-crema-in-espresso/
  3. Caffeine in Coffee. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.caffeineinformer.com/caffeine-content/coffee-brewed
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Alex is an Editor of Home Grounds, who considers himself as a traveling coffee fanatic. He is passionate about brewing amazing coffee while in obscure locations, and teaching others to do the same.

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