Americano is the name used for a black coffee made by brewing espresso and adding hot water. Simple right?
There is more to the preparation of an Americano than you might think and some factors to consider that will affect the taste and aroma of the end beverage. Variances in ratio, water, quality, temperature, brew time and order of preparation will all affect the flavour of your Americano.
The Americano has long been a staple of the coffee shop menu and for any customer looking for 'just a coffee'. It has a strength comparable to that of a filter coffee but differs in taste. A reason the Americano may have become a popular addition to drink menus is, as it’s espresso-based, it does away with the need to have extra brewing equipment.
In recent history Americano has replaced filter as the ‘go to’ black coffee but the difference in taste achieved by these two styles is big. Filter coffee as the name suggests uses a paper filter where all water used to create the drink has passed through the ground coffee and had chance to extract flavour from it. The paper filter traps oils and solids from the coffee whereas the metal filter in an espresso machine group handle doesn’t.
The name "Americano" has been shortened over time from "caffè Americano". A term supposedly coined by Italian baristas during World War II. The popular but unverified origin story is American G.I.s stationed in Italy were unaccustomed to the intense delights of espresso and preferred to dilute it with hot water to replicate the more familiar filter coffee of home.
A drink less familiar with European coffee drinkers, but easily confused with it, goes by the name Long Black. Originally the Americano was served as an espresso with separate water on the side, which could be added to personal preference. A Long Black, the Australasian version of the drink, is espresso poured directly onto water and served all together. Where things get ambiguous is this is how most coffee shops choose to serve an Americano and which way is best?
Whatever you want to call it, the first consideration we need to think about is the order the espresso and water are put into the cup. If the espresso goes in first and then hot water poured over it, then this could have an adverse affect on the quality of the coffee as we disturb the coffee’s ‘crema’. The reasons for this and the importance of crema are part of what makes coffee such an interesting subject to learn about. Our barista course allows for the tasting, making and understanding of why creating this drink in multiple ways affect the flavours we get in the resulting cup.
Another point to consider is why do we add the water to espresso separately? Surely we could just pass a greater volume of water through the ground coffee to produce an extra long espresso shot? Interestingly, what results is a completely different tasting drink that pulls different flavours from our coffee grounds. Is this better, worse, sweeter, more astringent? This again adds another point to consider; how much water are we, or should we be, passing through the ground coffee to make espresso. Also, how much water should we then be adding to that espresso to create an Americano? All interesting points to consider in the production of our drink.
The quality of the water can also have a big impact on taste depending on where it is sourced. Hot water from an espresso machine, a water tower or a kettle can vary in freshness and mineral content, for example.
The next consideration is the water temperature because this has a huge impact on flavour. The espresso brewing water temperature is one point to consider, as well as the temperature of the water we add to that espresso. For example, increasing the temperature of the water we add will enhance the sweet and bitter notes of the coffee but could make it harder to detect subtler flavours. During our courses we enjoy teaching about the impacts of temperature on the flavours extracted from coffee, something that has to be tasted to be believed! Even more interesting is that as a drink cools, due to the way we perceive flavour, we are able to detect different flavours in the coffee. So how hot should we be producing, serving and drinking our Americanos?
So, that ‘just a coffee’ is more involved in its production than what you might first think. The consideration of water temperature, coffee amount, water volume, the way in which the water is added all affect the taste...to name but a few! Which way is best? We’ll let you decide.