One of the most controversial drinks in the specialty coffee industry is the Americano. Baristas have doubts about its ability to be prepared deliciously: it seems illogical to dilute espresso with water, considering that espresso blends are not roasted for this purpose.
Let's delve into what an Americano is and whether it can be considered delicious.
The History of the Drink: How Italians Are Involved in the Emergence of the Americano
The Americano was invented by Italians who encountered an influx of American soldiers during World War II.
By the way, in the American army, coffee was referred to as a "cup of Joe." And sometimes they specifically requested this drink from the barista.
American soldiers ordered coffee, but they did not appreciate Italian espresso: the cup was too small, and the taste was excessively intense. It was nothing like their familiar filtered coffee or regular coffee, which is so popular in America. They asked for something similar to be prepared for them.
In order to satisfy the demands of the American soldiers, Italians started diluting espresso with hot water. Thus, the Americano was born—a mixture of espresso and hot water. Over time, the drink became regarded as a classic.
The Characteristics of an Americano: Why It Differs from Filtered Coffee and Espresso
Sometimes, the Americano is confused with filtered coffee or people expect it to taste like espresso. However, they are different types of coffee. Let's consider how they differ.
Espresso is a coffee prepared in an espresso machine: hot water is forced through a coffee puck under high pressure. As a result, a beverage with a dense body and crema is obtained.
Filtered coffee is prepared using an alternative method: water passes through a layer of ground coffee and a filter. This results in a beverage with a lighter body and a range of flavor descriptors.
An Americano is espresso with the addition of hot water. Diluting espresso with water in ratios of 1:1, 1:2, or 1:4 is permissible. The classic proportion is 1:1, but you can prepare an Americano according to your liking. The more water you add, the less concentrated the drink will be.
An Americano is not something in between espresso and filtered coffee, it is a distinct form of coffee.
An Americano doesn't have the same dense body as espresso. Unlike filtered coffee, it lacks pronounced flavor descriptors. This is because the espresso beans are roasted with a different purpose. Let's delve into this further.
How the Specialty Coffee Industry Views the Americano
The specialty coffee industry has mixed views on the Americano. The reason is that the Americano violates the technology of espresso preparation and consumption processes.
Here's the opinion of Dmitry Boroday, a roaster and founder of The Welder Catherine:
"The problem with the Americano is that it was initially prepared incorrectly. In order to cater to Americans and prepare coffee similar to their filtered coffee, Italians made espresso in an espresso machine and diluted it with water. The beans for this coffee were roasted for espresso.
However, roasting for espresso increases tactility and reduces the brightness of flavor descriptors. In other words, you first increase tactility through roasting and then decrease it with water. Absurd? Certainly. The coffee beans were not roasted for this purpose.
Now let's consider filtered coffee. Here, we want to maximize the expression of flavor descriptors, and the desired body can be achieved through brewing methods.
Roasting for filtered coffee and espresso solves different "taste challenges."
Let's go back in time and recreate the Americano with new knowledge about roasting.
A request comes in for filtered coffee, but using an espresso machine. If you use roasting for filter coffee and brew at a low concentration, it will taste bitter. But what if you use a coarse grind? Bingo! That's what Matt Perger, a barista from Australia, did when he prepared the lungo, which gained popularity.
Is there another solution? Yes. Take the same filtered coffee, brew it at a 2.5-3 brew ratio for 28-30 seconds. Then take soft water, not exceeding 75 degrees Celsius, and bypass it to achieve the desired TDS. Congratulations, you've just developed another solution to the same request.
This option will be brighter and juicier than the lungo, especially if you use an AeroPress filter. It's easier to use a fine grind and apply pressure to pour water through it than to use a coarse grind and extract it for a long time.
An Americano can be delicious. It's just that baristas don't understand how to combine the sacred espresso with dilution. If we go back to the beginning, the request was for a filtered coffee (read: low concentration coffee) through an espresso machine. The mistake was in using an espresso blend.
Imagine that the Americano is a form of coffee flavor expression (coffee passed through an espresso machine and diluted with water). Now let's fill this form with content.
What kind of beans will you choose? Beans with diminished terroir but high tactility? Or beans with vibrant flavor descriptors? It's better to choose the latter. This will require a filter roast.
The syrup you'll end up with will be undrinkable. It needs to be diluted first.
In other words, all this fuss surrounding the Americano has arisen precisely because the request was mishandled—using makeshift methods. However, if we approach the Americano not as a beverage but as a form with undefined content, it can be filled according to personal preference. And it can be delicious.
Think of coffee as a base—an dry mixture from which beverages of different concentrations and flavors can be prepared. This makes it easier.
Coffee is a base. How you bring out the flavor depends on the brewing method you choose.
High concentrations are primarily for sweetness, balance, and body, and secondarily for flavor descriptors. Low concentrations are for flavor brightness and then qualitative characteristics."
Variations of the Americano
Despite the controversy surrounding the beverage, classic Americano has its enthusiasts who come up with various recipes based on it. For example, it can be mixed with milk, have ice cubes added to it, or even include alcohol. The options for beverages based on the Americano are numerous.
- Americano with milk—replace part of the water used to dilute espresso with milk.
- Americano with alcohol—add 1-2 teaspoons of whiskey or rum to a serving of espresso and water.
- Cold Americano—instead of hot water, the barista adds ice cubes or serves it with cold water.
- Long Black—double shot of espresso topped with hot water.
- Red Eye—mix a shot of espresso with a cup of filtered coffee (approximately 120 ml).
- Black Eye—mix a double shot of espresso with a cup of filtered coffee and an equal amount of milk.
Some people may find the Americano enjoyable on its own, while others prefer beverages based on it. Perhaps one of them will suit your taste.
One variation of the Americano is with milk.
How to Make an Americano Taste Better
The Americano is a historical compromise between espresso and filtered coffee. It is currently not as popular in the specialty coffee industry, and not everyone appreciates its taste. However, it does have its fans.
We recommend not limiting yourself to the Americano and exploring something new.
If espresso seems too concentrated, try filtered coffee—a beverage with distinct flavor descriptors. Or try coffee based on espresso, such as a lungo—less concentrated and with a lighter body. These options might suit your taste.
Also, experiment with beans roasted differently, for example, for filtered coffee. Prepare such coffee using an AeroPress filter and then try bypassing it.
Bypass is the dilution of a concentrated prepared beverage with water.