Americano vs Espresso: What Sets Them Apart?

Americano vs Espresso

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Espresso can be a bit too intense and dark at times. So many coffee drinkers opt for a cup of Americano which tastes similar to the familiar drip coffee flavor at home.

But, did you know that a good cup of Americano actually has more in common with espresso than it does with drip coffee despite the similarity in body and taste?

In this article, we’ll go back-to-basics and get to know Americano vs Espresso – how they’re different from each other.


What’s Espresso?

Let’s take it from the top.

Did you know that espresso isn’t just the name for a type of brewed coffee drink? Before becoming widely known as so, espresso was actually the name of an Italian coffee brewing method.

A small amount of hot water is quickly run through a tightly tamped bed of coffee grounds under very high pressure.

And that method produces brewed coffee with strong coffee flavor and lots of caffeine content known as the lovely espresso shots.

They’re richer and fuller-bodied than your average drip coffee that’s still very popular in the US.

Espresso being extracted into a glass

According to Statista, in 2020, the drip coffee machine is still occupying the home of 41% of American coffee drinkers.

Check out my in-depth article to learn more about what espresso is and how it’s different from regular coffee.


How Is An Espresso Made?

Here are factors you need to take into account to successfully pull an espresso shot.

Coffee Beans

Blend

Traditionally, an espresso shot is made using both the milder and sweeter Arabica beans and the earthier and bolder Robusta beans.

This pairing makes the shots of espresso more balanced in texture and taste to be enjoyed on its own or served as a base for espresso-based drinks like lattes.

But the specialty coffee aficionados are preaching the usage of 100% Arabica coffee for espresso for their more “superior” flavor profiles.

Coupled with the third-wave coffee movement, you can easily find so many coffee brands promoting their single-origin 100% Arabica for the ultimate artisanal coffee experience.

Coffee beans and grounds in portafilters

Depending on your personal preference, either choice is totally fine. And since no one should be dictating how you should enjoy your coffee, as a coffee lover, you should try experimenting more to expand your coffee palate.

Roast Profile

These beans are typically dark roasted to effectively bring out the more intense flavor profiles. Yes, even darker than your cup of black drip coffee.

Finely Ground Coffee

Different from the drip coffee maker which utilizes medium-sized coffee grounds, espresso shots call for very finely ground coffee to maximize the coffee-to-water contact during such a short extraction time.

The fine grind size also makes it easier for the barista to tightly tamp the grounds in the filter basket.

If you want to drink homemade espresso, you’d better grab yourself a quality burr coffee grinder and get the job done yourself right before brewing.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a million times more: Pre-ground coffee isn’t going to cut it. It becomes stale at a much faster rate than whole bean coffee.

So by the time you reach into the bag to get some grounds for a taste of espresso, they definitely won’t be as fresh, which can spoil the taste, aroma, and overall quality of the final cup of brewed coffee.

Hot Water

Like most coffee recipes, to make an espresso drink, you need hot water that’s near the boiling point, between 195 – 205 degrees Fahrenheit (91 – 96 degrees Celsius).

The National Coffee Association USA [NCA] suggests that the general Golden Ratio for brewing coffee is around 1 – 2 tablespoons of ground coffee for every 6 oz (177 ml) of water, which is approximately 1:18.

Keep in mind that regular drip coffee, in the US at least, is usually served in an 8 oz (237 ml) or 12 oz (355 ml) cup. And a shot of espresso is only 1 oz (30 ml) of liquid.

So, can you just apply the general Golden Ratio for the espresso drink recipe and call it a day?

No. To pull such a strong shot with such rich flavor in a very short amount of time (30 seconds as opposed to the typical 4 – 5 minutes), the coffee-to-water ratio here has to be adjusted as well.

The recommended Golden Ratio for making espresso is actually 1:3.

Espresso Machine

And lastly, you need the help of espresso machines to make the magic happen.

Some prefer to brew and drink two shots of espresso rather than just one to have more brewed coffee to enjoy and more caffeine to run on.

Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine, Brushed Stainless Steel

There is more than one type of espresso machine out there, your local coffee shop likely uses a different one from your home brewer as it needs to meet commercial needs.

If you’re thinking of getting a new espresso brewer, check out our helpful espresso machines buyer’s guide to help get you started.

And read my 6 easy steps to know how to make espresso coffee at home like a pro.


What’s An Americano?

The Americano was invented during World War II by American soldiers stationed in Italy. Or so the rumor goes.

Apparently, they missed the taste of the classic black drip machine brewed coffee from their homeland, which wasn’t really a thing in Italy.

People there drink espresso, which is much more intense and concentrated than what they’re used to.

So the Americano coffee was born as they added hot water to the same brewing method to dilute the intensity of the cup of coffee.

Top view of Americano served in a white ceramic mug with visible crema

And it stuck and took a name that honestly couldn’t be more American (it literally means American in Italian).

Since one of the main elements in this brewed coffee drink is espresso, it’s also considered to be an espresso-based beverage.

The Americano is also mistaken with Long Black often, which is another espresso-based drink. The latter is basically the opposite of Americano, so hot water is added first, then the espressos come on top.

If you want to learn more about Caffè Americano, make sure to check out my past article that dives really deep into the topic.


How Is An Americano Made?

As I’ve explained above, a typical Americano contains espresso and hot water.

If the coffee drinker prefers it cooler, rather than adding hot water to the shot of espresso, they can use cold water instead. Yes, it’s a thing. No American is going to kick down your door and tell you it’s offensive.

Americano served in a black ceramic cup

And while you’re at it, feel free to add milk, sugar, and ice. You’re the barista around here. It’s your coffee at home. No one should tell you what to do. It’s your personal flavors preference that should matter.

So, what is the correct ratio when making an Americano?

The general guideline to make your own Americano is one part espresso and two to three parts water (1:2 or 1:3 if you want the homemade Americano to be more diluted).

Rather than a single shot, brew a double shot of espresso to make an Americano. Add hot water to the mix and you get a 6 oz (177 ml) cup of coffee.

If you decide to add ice to make iced Americano, make sure to adjust the espresso-to-water ratio to 1.1.5 as the ice will melt over time to compensate for the other 0.5.

For more details, check the instructions on how to make an Americano in my past article.


How Is Americano Different From Drip Coffee?

Like most coffee menus, the quality of drip coffee depends largely on the coffee beans, the water, and the device used to brew.

For regular black coffee, many brew medium grounds with a medium roast level. On the other hand, Americano has espresso as the base, which is brewed with dark-roasted finely ground beans.

The difference in the method sets them apart as well. Drip machines brew coffee using a paper filter in 4 – 5 minutes to produce a cup with clean and strong flavors but relatively watery.

The espresso base in the Americano cup makes the drink a lot bolder and fuller-bodied in comparison. Not to mention a bit of a creamy texture thanks to the crema.

Braun KF7170SI BrewSense Drip Coffeemaker, 12 cup, Stainless Steel

Another difference is in caffeine. You’d be surprised to know how much water dilutes the caffeine content in Americano.

Although espresso is notoriously known for being an energy shot, with hot water added, Americano has much less caffeine than the regular Joe (12.8 mg/oz vs 20.4 mg/oz according to Caffeine Informer).


Espresso Shots Vs Americano Coffee: What’s The Difference?

Serving Size

An Americano is typically served in 4 – 6 oz cups, while espressos are served either as a shot or double shot (1 or 2 oz).

Taste

The difference in taste should be pretty obvious. Americano is more diluted and less bitter.

The crema in espresso is also more prominent, even if you try your best to preserve the crema when pouring water in Americano.

This can slightly affect the perception of flavor.

 Espresso served in a glass

Strength

Is Americano stronger than espresso? We all know the answer here. The point of Americano is to match the strength of drip coffee.

Caffeine

What has more caffeine: espresso or Americano? Obviously, espresso.

A shot of espresso can have around 51.3 mg/oz, so if you drink the same amount of espresso as Americano (6 oz) which has 77mg of caffeine, you’ll have consumed 307.8 mg. That’s too much, man!

Americano served in a white ceramic coffee cup

Americano vs Espresso Verdict

Drink espresso if you crave the caffeine and the classic intense and deep-dark flavors.

Otherwise, give Americano a try when you’re looking for a bolder drip coffee and want to switch up the usual routine.

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