Our Guide to the Americano

Feb 26, 2020

The americano is arguably the most controversial beverage on a coffee menu. Some coffee shops flatly refuse to serve this drink! The controversy likely lies in how it has been mistreated over the years. Watch the video or keep reading to find out how to produce the best americano.

What is it?

An americano is simply an espresso diluted with hot water. Though not confirmed, it is believed to date back to World War Il. American troops stationed in Italy were used to drinking drip filter coffee which has a much weaker strength than the traditional Italian espresso. To combat the strength of the espresso they were being served, the troops would dilute the espresso by adding hot water.

Depending on where you read the information, the definition of an Americano is often intertwined with the ‘long black’. In some instances these two drinks are defined by the order in which the water is added: water then espresso for a long black, espresso then water for an Americano. On other occasions they are defined by the amount of water added – less for a long black.

How do you make it?

On the surface the preparation is simple: make an espresso and then dilute with hot water. In practice there are some subtle issues which impact on the final beverage.

Water onto espresso or espresso onto water?

We will generally put water into the cup first and then prepare the espresso onto the water. We do this mostly to regulate water temperature (see below) but if prepared well and served straight away, this method does produce a nice finish on the coffee. 

This method also conforms to that suggested by the Specialty Coffee Association: “Espresso added into hot, but not boiling, water in the cup.”

Water temperature

In a standard espresso machine, the water used to make an espresso is set to around 95°C. However, the water in a standard steam boiler will be at 120°C; this is the water used to make an americano if you do not have a separate water supply. If you dispense this extremely hot water directly onto your espresso, you will scorch or burn the shot you so carefully prepared.

By developing a routine in which you dispense water into a cup first, and then grind and prepare your espresso, you are allowing time for the water to cool slightly. Even better, use an alternative source for your water such as a temperature controlled kettle or boiler. If I ever choose to drink an americano I like the diluting water to be at 85°C.

Water quality

Each and every time you use steam from your boiler you will be increasing the mineral content of the water in the machine. Ok, so the increase each time is only minute, but over time this can become significant. How often do you taste the water being dispensed from your steam boiler? It’s really simple to check: dispense some water into a cup, allow it to cool and then taste it. On many espresso machines it is possible to regularly empty the steam boiler and then refill it with fresh water. An even better solution is to invest in a standalone, temperature controlled water heater.

The amount of water

Often the amount of water used to dilute an americano determines the quality of the resulting beverage. How much water produces the best tasting drink? The only way to discover the answer is to taste the americano at differing dilutions. Which do you prefer? Usually I find less is more when it comes to an americano : use a 6 or an 8oz cup for a better tasting drink. If you want to serve a larger coffee (10 or 12oz) then I would suggest you invest in a filter brewer and serve drip coffee as your standard ‘just a coffee’ offering.

Isn’t americano just a filter coffee anyway?

The simple answer is no. When we brew a filter coffee the paper will capture all the insoluble solids which pass through an espresso basket. A filter coffee contains only dissolved solids while an espresso will have both dissolved and suspended solids. This changes both the character and flavour of the coffee.

Black or white, sugar or not?

That’s for the customer to decide! While some parts of our industry have unwavering opinions on the addition of milk or sugar, I have a simple belief: drinking coffee should be a relaxed and enjoyable activity. If adding milk and sugar enhances that enjoyment then go for it!

Can’t I just run the shot until it fills the cup?

Please don’t! I have come across this a lot recently and it makes me cringe. To understand why this is not a good idea you need to understand a little bit about espresso extraction. When we make an espresso we are extracting both soluble and insoluble solids into the beverage. The longer the shot time and the more water we use, the more solids we extract into the cup. So far so good! There comes a point, however, when these solids have a negative effect and we do not want them in the cup. Usually when shot times extend beyond 30 seconds (particularly when using cheaper grinders) we risk extracting these low quality solids into the cup : we call this over extraction. We can achieve the same over extraction by running too much water through the coffee bed. Try it for yourself! The resulting drink will have a bitter finish and though you might perceive an increase in mouthfeel or body, this is as a result of an increase in low grade insolubles which are being forced through the coffee screen.

How to produce the best americano

We always advise our customers to produce beverages based upon their own preferences so to create your americano you need to:

  1. Decide whether you are going to serve an americano or perhaps drip coffee would be a better fit for your establishment 
  2. Decide how you are going to generate the water for your americano. If you only have an espresso machine then check the quality of your water. How does it taste? What are you going to do if it tastes stale?
  3. Decide on how much water you are going to use. Spend some time tasting different concentrations. Maybe repeat the exercise with milk added, as many of your customers will add milk to their drink.
  4. Finally, establish a routine for making an americano – your brand standard if you like. We would recommend water first and then espresso on top but ultimately the choice is yours and should be based upon taste.

At Carvetii we invest a lot of time in training our customers. All new customers receive dedicated training time at our Roasters and existing customers have access to our ongoing training programme. If you have an enthusiastic and committed barista on your team why not invest in their future through one of our Specialty Coffee Association accredited courses?