An old debate “Espresso vs coffee.” This title reminds me of those old sci-fi movies…
Do you get annoyed when someone takes five minutes to order a coffee? Do they need to use a half-dozen or more adjectives? For example, a half-caf, quad-shot, skinny vanilla caramel no-foam latte. Coffee sure has come a long way from the days when cowboys boiled coarse grinds over an open fire.
Humans first discovered the power of the coffee plant in Ethiopia centuries ago. Since then, we’ve come up with so many ways to prepare the fruit and bean.
Today, there are many ways to prepare a cup of coffee. Americans historically prefer drip coffee prepared with a filter. That began to change when the first Starbucks opened in Seattle in 1971. Since then, Americans have slowly learned to appreciate the taste of espresso and other specialty coffees.
These days, it seems like you can find a place that makes espresso drinks on almost every corner. Many of the drinks they serve are closer to dessert than coffee. But some people still prefer a simple, honest drink that tastes like coffee. If you’re one of those, read on to learn about one of the simplest espresso drinks: the humble Americano.
Read on to find out what is an Americano and how to make an Americano.
Espresso is the main ingredient in an Americano coffee. Espresso is a strong, dark coffee drink that dates back to the early 1900s. Italian Luigi Bezzera first developed the technology.
Bezzera was frustrated by how long it took to make coffee. He began testing ways to make the process quicker. He discovered that steam pressure made the process faster. It also produced a richer, better tasting brew.
The espresso machine quickly caught on. It soon became the preferred method in Italy and other European countries.
Yet, back in the US, we still made coffee the old-fashioned way. We poured hot water over ground coffee beans. This produces a much milder taste than espresso. But surprisingly, a serving of drip coffee actually contains more caffeine than a serving of espresso.
Coffee consumption spiked in America during the 1940s. During World War II, U.S. soldiers sought their caffeine fix in Italian cafes. However, they did not care for the much stronger flavor of espresso. To please the Americans, baristas diluted the shot of espresso with hot water.
This produced a drink much closer to what the servicemen expected coffee to taste like. Italians dubbed this new drink the Americano.
What is an Americano coffee? The Americano is simply a watered-down shot or two of espresso. You can make it with hot water, or you can enjoy it iced.
Some countries refer to the Americano by different names. In other places, the name of the drink depends on whether you pour the espresso into the water or add water to the espresso. It might even vary based on the water to espresso ratio.
When you find yourself in line at a coffee shop, what phrase should you use?
In the U.S. and parts of Europe, you should call a mixture of espresso and water a Caffè Americano. Different coffee shops have their preferred ratio of water to espresso. However, some places will assign a different name to the drink based on that ratio.
If you want your drink with a certain ratio of water to espresso, you can tell the barista your preference. But, with some baristas, you can just use the term Italiano or Little Buddy to order a drink that is equal parts espresso and water.
In Australia, any form of espresso diluted with water is called a Long Black. But for some people, Long Black refers to a specific method of making the water and espresso drink.
Generally, in the U.S., you make an Americano coffee by pulling the shot of espresso first. Then, you add the hot water to it. An alternative method is to start with hot water and then pour the espresso over it. Some consider both methods an Americano. But for others, this other method makes a Long Black.
An Americano tastes like the espresso used, but with a milder flavor. Some people can detect subtle differences in espresso depending on the source of the coffee bean. Espresso flavors range from light and citrusy to robust and earthy.
You can also change the overall taste by varying how much water you add. The ratio of espresso to water is by no means standard.
When asked what is an Americano coffee, purists may claim that a standard Americano consists of one part espresso to two parts water. If you ask others, they would insist that the drink should be equal parts water and espresso. When you order an Americano at a coffee shop, you may get as much as 15 parts water per shot of espresso.
An espresso is simply the result of hot water forced through finely ground coffee beans. Once you have the shot of espresso, you can make a whole host of different drinks.
When you add water to the shot, you get an Americano. You can also make a latte by adding steamed milk or a mocha by adding steamed milk and chocolate.
The time it takes to brew your coffee beverage depends on the method. For drip coffee, the water should be in contact with the coffee grounds for five minutes. With an espresso, the contact time should be between 20 and 30 seconds. Afterall, the whole reason Bezzera invented the espresso machine was to speed up the time it took to make coffee.
An experienced barista will throw out a shot that took too long or too short to draw. If it took too long, you end up with a bitter shot. A shot that pulled too quickly will taste flat.
How finely you grind the coffee bean depends on what method you use for brewing. For espresso, you must have a fine, almost powdery grind. For drip coffee, you use a medium to coarse grind.
The primary difference between an Americano and drip coffee is the method you use to brew the coffee.
For espresso, you force hot water through the coffee grinds. The pressure drives the oil out of the coffee bean first.
This oily substance is the light brown liquid that comes out of the espresso machine first. This foam is called crema. It is these oils that gives espresso its rich flavor.
For drip coffee, you pour the water over the ground coffee beans. You need a filter for this process.
The filter performs three functions. First, it keeps the water from running through the coffee grounds too quickly. Secondly, the filter actually removes some of the oils from the coffee. Lastly, the filter keeps the grounds out of your drink.
An Americano recipe is very simple.
The exact steps you take to make an Americano depends on the type of machine you have. High-end machines may have everything automatic. This includes grinding the beans and steaming the milk. A more affordable option for making espresso is a stove-top model.
Whatever type of machine you use, several factors are essential in making a perfect Americano.
Think all coffee beans are created equal? They’re not. You can’t just take any bean, grind it to the appropriate texture, and expect it to give you a perfect shot.
Some coffees perform better using a specific method of brewing. For instance, a Kenyan coffee is typically more acidic. It will deliver its best results when you use a paper filter.
If you think that an espresso bean is just a darker roast, that is also incorrect. Using the same example, even if a Kenyan coffee is dark roasted, it won’t make the perfect shot of espresso.
So how do you choose the right varietal? If you’re buying coffee beans at a grocery store, you could just grab the bag marked “espresso.” But you do have other options.
For espresso, you’ll want to choose a full-bodies varietal. Some prefer a bean that has a sweet, chocolatey tone. Sumatran, Brazilian, Colombian, or Ethiopian beans can all make a fine shot of espresso, and therefore, a perfect Americano.
Two freshness factors are important when it comes to coffee. The first involves the time between roasting and grinding. The second refers to the time between grinding and brewing.
Purchase your beans as soon after roasting as possible, and purchase small amounts. You can find places that roast beans in small batches. This can increase their freshness.
Once you purchase your beans, be sure to keep them in an airtight container. In addition to air, protect the beans from moisture, heat, and light.
Some people might recommend that you keep your coffee beans in the freezer or refrigerator. The problem is that the beans absorb moistures. This means that they can absorb the odors and tastes from your refrigerator. No one wants a fishy cup of coffee!
Then there’s the time between grinding and brewing. You’ll get the best results when you use the grounds immediately after grinding. The compounds in coffee that deliver aroma and flavor quickly deteriorate the moment you crack it open. Ground coffee that sits for a time can end up tasting flat.
First, put the correct amount of grounds into the metal portafilter based on how many shots you are making. Some espresso makers brew only a single shot at a time. Others have a split drip, so you can make two shots at a time.
Be sure to tamp down the grounds. This ensures that you don’t have any air pockets in the grounds. Loose grounds may make the water pass through the grounds too quickly, resulting in a flat-tasting coffee.
Next, place the portafilter into your machine. Then, immediately start the brew process.
When detailing an Americano recipe, most people will tell you to transfer the brewed shot into the serving cup and then add water. Yet, some prefer to put the hot water in first, then pour the shot over it. By pouring the espresso into the hot water, some swear that you preserve more of the crema.
Do you consider coffee a major food group? You’re not along. An estimated 500 billion cups of coffee are consumed every year.
When making coffee at home, it’s important to remember a couple things. First, start with the freshest beans possible. Second, grind the beans to the right texture for the method you are using.
Following those two rules does not guarantee a perfect Americano. However, not following them does guarantee that you’ll have an inferior cup of coffee.
How you want to drink your coffee is purely a personal decision. While it might be tempting to add lots of adjectives to your order to sound more sophisticated, you don’t need to. For those who want to savor the pure taste of coffee, an Americano is a great choice.