An Americano coffee is not a drink for the purists among us. By no means is it a straight-up espresso. It is not a filter coffee or drip coffee either. And it is not a latte, although some do add milk.
How to make an Americano Coffee was an enigma that took me a while to crack.
I knew it had two ingredients. Espresso and hot water. But how much of each? Being a coffee nerd, I needed to know. So it set upon cracking the code.
What is Americano Coffee?
Simply put: an American is a (double) shot of espresso with hot water added to it.
Yeah, I knew that beforehand.
But I found out that it really is that simple. You take a shot of espresso (or two), and you add hot water to it until you like how it tastes.
The aim with an Americano is to make a drink that has an espresso taste profile but the volume and strength of a regular cup of drip coffee. You want less strength and more volume than the espresso.
You might ask: why then not make a regular cup of drip or filter coffee in the first place?
How is Americano Coffee different from regular drip coffee?
An Americano has an entirely different taste profile than a regular cup of drip or filter coffee. The cause lies in the brew method.
Regular drip coffee is made by slowly adding water to relatively coarse coffee grounds. The water slowly runs through the bed of coffee grounds, steeps for a short while, and is then caught in a container.
Espresso is made by forcing hot steam and water through finely-ground coffee beans which have been packed together. For the Americano, hot water is added to the espresso.
Different brew methods extract different flavors from coffee beans. An espresso obviously has a different taste than a cup of drip coffee. But, less obviously, a cup of coffee made with an automatic drip coffee maker tastes completely different than a manual pour-over coffee, or a cup made with a French Press or a Chemex. Even when using the same beans and roughly the same coffee to water ratio.
How fine the coffee beans have been ground, the temperature of the water, the time the water is in contact with the coffee grounds. It all has some impact on the final taste of the cup you are making.
So, an espresso-based cup of coffee (Americano) tastes completely different than a cup of coffee of the same size.
What are the origins of Americano Coffee?
There are many stories surrounding the origins of Americano coffee. The most interesting, and the most believable one involves soldiers in World War II. During the war, American soldiers in Italy were in dire need of their daily shot of caffeine.
Unfortunately for them, the most wide-spread kind of coffee in Italy was, and still is, the espresso which was far too strong for their taste. The American soldiers were more accustomed to drip coffee. To be able to get a shot of much-needed caffeine and enjoy it, they added a bit of water to the espresso. Americano is the Italian for American, hence the name Americano coffee.
Americano stuck around and is now a staple of expresso bars around the world. Beware, if you want a regular cup of coffee in Italy, order a caffè Americano. If you order a caffè, you will get an espresso.
What do you need to make an Americano?
Equipment to make americano coffee
An espresso machine
An espresso machine: the original Americano coffee uses freshly brewed espresso, and authentic espresso can only come from an espresso machine. It doesn’t matter whether this is an espresso machine which uses a portafilter to load the coffee into the machine or a fully automatic coffee machine or a Nespresso or Keurig.
Later in this article, we will take a look at whether making Americano without an espresso machine is a good idea.
A coffee grinder
a set of scales
ingredients to make americano coffee
As with most coffee types, there are only two ingredients. Coffee beans and water. The water should be the water you always use in your espresso machine. The beans should be espresso coffee beans. Coffee beans for espresso are usually roasted longer and are a bit darker. Get yourself some good espresso coffee beans you know and love, and you are set.
Although you dilute the double shot of espresso with water, that doesn’t mean you can skimp on the beans. If anything, adding the hot water allow less room for error. The added water brings out the more subtle characteristics of the coffee bean flavors, and if these are bad flavors due to a lower quality bean, it can ruin your Americano.
How to make an Americano Coffee?
How to make an Americano is a matter of preference. Even more so than with other types of coffee. In every brew method, you can adjust the recipe. Add more (or less) water, add more (or less) ground coffee, change the water temperature, modify the steep time, etcetera.
But all these additions or adjustment are contained within a specific range. You can put more coffee into your French Press, but 10% more really is the maximum. The same goes for the amount of water you add. The temperature of your brewing water can be adjusted, but not too much. Too hot and the coffee will burn, too cold and there will be no extraction (and a very nasty sour taste).
With an Americano, all bets are off. Do you want a big mug? Add 6 oz or 180 ml of water to a triple espresso. You like it tiny and just a bit less powerful than an espresso? Add a dash of water to a single shot.
For this how-to, we will look at what – in my opinion – is the most basic Americano coffee recipe. Although, that seems to be a contradiction in itself. There are as many Americano recipes as there are Americano drinkers.
Let’s just say that this Americano coffee recipe is an excellent place to start your search for the best Americano for you.
Americano coffee recipe
Step 1: boil water
Boil the water for diluting the espresso and let it cool to about 185 degrees Fahrenheit or 85degrees Celsius while you perform steps 2 to 5.
You can either boil your water separately or draw hot water from your espresso machine.
step 2: measure out the coffee beans
Measure out the desired amount for a double shot of espresso. If you are unsure of how much that is, use between 14 grams and 18 grams of coffee beans.
Step 3: fine grind the coffee beans
An espresso grind is really fine. Almost as fine as you can get. If you are using a Baratza Virtuoso automatic burr grinder (my favorite automatic burr grinder!), adjust the dial to 8. This will result in a really fine grind perfect for espresso.
Step 4: load the portafilter and tamp the coffee bed
The next step is simple. Load your portafilter with the ground coffee beans and tamp that baby. Tamping restricts the water flow through the bed of coffee and allows for proper extraction.
Step 5: load the portafilter into the espresso machine
When you portafilter is loaded with ground coffee beans which have been tamped, lock it into the machine, and you are set to brew.
Step 6: brew your espresso into a cup of hot water
Before you start pulling your espresso (yes, that’s Barista-speak), fill a cup with the water you boiled at step one. Use two parts of water to 1 part of espresso. Usually, an espresso is 1 oz or 30 ml. We are using a double shot, so the size of your espresso should be roughly 2 oz or 60 ml. Therefore, use about 4 oz or 120 ml of hot water.
Step 7: Enjoy your hot Americano
Now all you need to do is sit back and enjoy your perfect Americano. If it isn’t perfect, which is possible: tastes differ, just think about what you would like. Do you prefer it stronger? Then use a bit less water. Is it too strong? You guessed it, use more water next time. Soon you will have dialed in your perfect Americano. You small steps when adjusting the amount of water added (I’d say steps of 0.3 oz or 10 ml). A little bit more (or less) water goes a long way.
Why you need to put the water in your cup first!
It might seem unimportant, but you must brew your espresso directly into the hot water if you want to achieve the perfect Americano coffee. Not the other way around. No matter what you have seen in your favorite coffee bar.
If you pour the hot water into the espresso, the crema (the foamy layer on top of your espresso) will dissolve. If you brew the espresso directly on top of the hot water, it will stay intact. The crema gives the Americano a silky soft mouthfeel, which is incredible. Don’t stir either. The espresso will mix with the hot water enough in the brewing process. Stirring will also dissolve the crema.
Best Americano Brew video on the web
Mike makes a great Americano coffee. He also has a video on how to make Iced Americano for those hot summer days.
Can you make an Americano coffee without an espresso machine? And should you?
The key ingredient to make an Americano coffee is a double shot of espresso. That means you need to be able to make an espresso. Unfortunately, the only proper way to make espresso is with an espresso machine. You could try to make one using another, though. There are ways to make an espresso with a Moka pot, an Aeropress, and a French Press. But, in my opinion, these are not espresso. They are espresso-like drinks. In a way, they are just very strong coffees. None of these methods force hot water and steam through a tightly packed bed of finely ground coffee beans. These methods just can’t build up enough pressure.
When you are just making strong coffee and diluting it, why not just make a good cup of coffee using these methods? Without the diluting?
There is only one method I can think of that approaches the effect of an espresso machine: n hand-powered espresso-making device. Both the Handpresso or the Nanopress allow you to make good espresso without investing in a large and possibly expensive espresso machine.
Both device use pumps to build up enough pressure to force the hot water through the coffee bed at pressure rates comparable to an espresso machine.
All in all, you need espresso for Americano. If you don’t have the means to make espresso, drink something else. You can drink fabulous coffee your whole life and never have an espresso.
A well-made Americano coffee is a great drink. Simple, elegant, and flavorful. I hope this article has helped you figure out what an Americano is and what you need to make one.