The Americano: Your New Go-to Coffee Order

The Americano: Your New Go-to Coffee Order

Ordering regular black coffee is really a crap shoot: it could be burned, weak, or sitting for a few hours. To get a fantastic cup of joe that’s full of flavor and not too bold, try an Americano.

Coffee, according to a chain of cafes built around a Moby Dick character, is a ritual: Some people function fine without it, while others can’t live without it. If they miss their morning cup, they go through their day feeling as though there’s something missing.

I am, unfortunately, the latter.

My friend Kyle gives me hell every time I order coffee. To perhaps everyone but me, coffee is an unsaid order. Any question to my beverage choice is worthy of vocal resentment.

“And how about you, sir?”

I sigh loudly. “Coffee. Black.” As if they should know.

I’m a coffee drinker. I have been for years now—I started drinking before any normal person probably did. I drink it every day, rain or shine, sleet or snow, weekend or not. I am, therefore, quite possibly a junkie. That’s the important thing to really establish here: I am not a coffee snob. Quite the opposite, actually.

While I’m not to the point of breaking into houses and stealing TVs to pay for my addiction (yet), any excuse to drink more coffee for “science” or “research” is like someone telling you to sleep in on a Monday. Writing about coffee for a real reason is like a dream. Hell, I defend regular black drip coffee for its own sake all the time.

What I didn’t count on, however, was coming to the sobering realization that the ooh-la-la, the “I’m-so-much-better-than-you” version of coffee—the Americano—is good. Better than good, actually. It’s delicious.

At its most basal level, the Americano is just espresso with hot water added to it. On a sensual level, it’s a lot more.

The birth of an underdog

History has the Americano starting as the concoction of U.S. GIs as they fought through the European theater of World War II. When they just wanted a good cup of joe, they got espresso. It was, to say the least, different.

Traditionally, espresso is served in a smaller cup than the standard mug of coffee. As an insultingly simple explanation, think of espresso the Sparknotes version of coffee. So, the American GIs, who were used to drip coffee like most of us are, added hot water to the espresso (in bigger cups, of course) and the Americano was born.

But it’s not the same—drink a cup of black coffee then drink an Americano. You’ll taste the difference.

As for the difference between regular drip coffee and an espresso, it comes down to more than just the “brewing.” When espresso is made, it doesn’t have the soothing, homey gurgling sound of a drip-coffee machine. There’s no sleepily scooping coffee grounds into the filter, closing the machine’s lid, hitting a switch and reading the paper while your coffee brews. There’s (a little) force involved in espresso making when you have to tamp the grounds together tightly and the somewhat disconcerting sound of a high-pressure jet of nearly boiling water shooting through them. And out comes that sweet, sweet wake-up juice.

Why your next coffee order should be an Americano

An Americano is everything you love about drip coffee but not burned, bitter, sour, from a rest area, or from the drive-thru of a fast food restaurant. It’s quick, relatively cheap and it’s delicious. It’s almost like what coffee was meant to be.

The nice thing about Americanos—and espresso to begin with—is its variability in flavor. Like a nice blended Scotch, espresso grounds often come from various sources around the world and brewers have their own specific formulas. It’ll take a very long time to try all of them.

But don’t get variability in flavor mixed with variability in quality. Messing up an Americano made with good espresso would be like setting cereal on fire during breakfast. An Americano is, at best, life-changing and, at worst, still a hell of a lot better than most black coffee you can get from a guy in an apron behind the counter.

If you get a bold espresso and just take little sips, you might get burned, you might have a bitter taste in your mouth for a few minutes. It might be overpowering. Like a shot of stiff Scotch, you’ll be able to really unlock the taste of espresso with water.

Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Adding some—not a lot— of water to Scotch is the way to really bring out the florals. Or the smokiness, the peat, the dark chocolate, the orange peel or any of those flavors lurking in the background. Similarly, you’ll be able to truly appreciate coffee if you add some hot water to espresso. You’ll get the full effect of what was meant to be tasted and coax out all the flavors you may have never expected to be hidden away.

As someone who grew up on legitimate vacuum-sealed bricks of coffee grounds, tasting the different varieties of roasts and coffees from countries all over the world wasn’t so much as a joy as it was an experience. Coffee, it was made clear to me because of the Americano, could be something you truly enjoyed.

And it’s that lovely, rich flavor that translates into each Americano, that lingering, creamy texture that keeps you coming back. No matter how many espresso shots you put in, there’s just something a little more elegant, a little more complex and hauntingly subtle about the taste of espresso. You can get more caffeine in a drink that tastes better. It’s a true win-win situation that will leave you never wanting regular drip coffee again.

And, as a final note, who said ooh-la-la was bad to begin with? Maker’s Mark built an entire campaign off it (“It tastes expensive… and it is.”) and you deserve it. There’s nothing frou-frou about a drink invented by the greatest generation of this country’s history while in the theater of war.

Gin Ando is a news junkie and coffee addict. He currently works in advertising and cannot stop writing. As a post-college twentysomething, he too is navigating the adult world. And he needs friends. Follow him on Twitter @GinAAndo.

  • Aniruddha Barapatre

    I got to know Americano 3 months back when I said the exact same words as you have mentioned here…She recommended me this and that day onwards I have never looked back…

  • TallEnglishman

    I switched from lattes a year to Americano. I get steamed half and half in it too, and it’s delicious.  Half the price of a latte, and tastes much better!

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HK4XXSG2WAEVCIR47WJZRFGFVQ CS

      So you order an Americano with steamed Half and Half. Would that make it a diluted Caffe Breve? Just curious. 

      • AD

        I have customers ask for room for cream and have me steam the half and half instead of adding it in cold. It makes a bit of a difference, taste wise. I’m assuming that’s what he means.

        • TallEnglishman

           You’re exactly right, AD.  I ask for a tall Americano, with a quarter inch of steamed breve.  The breve changes the flavor, and by having it steamed the drink stays hotter longer.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kory.leach Kory Leach

    When I go to the afore mentioned first mate of the Pequod’s coffee shop I have been ordering Americanos for years.  I used to bartend at an Italian restaurant and would make them before I even knew what they were called.  It’s amazing that one year after ceasing my paratrooper days I found something that those great knights of the skys had discovered 50ish years before.

    It wasn’t until I met my wife when she was a barista that I found out the name of this fine morning ritual.

  • Russ

    Yes sir. Americano has been my drink for a few years now. Iced in the summer. 

  • Vegas

    Funny you mention this as I sit down to work and happen to be reading my RSS feeds, I’m drinking one right now! In fact I drink one almost everday

  • Kyle TM

    An easy way to make Americanos at home is with an AeroPress. Used mine this morning to make one. Americanos are a great cup of coffee.

    • Andrew D’Auria

      YES! I basically make an Americano every morning with my AeroPress, unless the wife is on the sauce in which case we go to the french press. Anyway, I’ll also add that the Americano is a great choice at places that over-roast their beans (I’m looking at you giant chains out of Seattle). 

    • Flarn Buckholter

      Yes! Me, too! My Aeropress and really nice organic coffee makes me very happy, indeed!
      The aroma alone is worth the price. No bitterness or burnt smell. Just lightly toasted scents and a really pure and smooth taste. Americano every morning for me!

  • Dancingfoolintherain

    The advertisements are covering the article these days. Please correct this!

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Im not sure what you mean, can you explain further?

  • Danno

    Drinking a Mericano right now. Haha love them! I switch between an Americano and a Red Eye, which is a regular cup of joe with shot of espresso in it, which is amazing (awesome flavor and texture).

  • Kid-A

    …as I sit here drinking a Melville character’s bold, black that tastes like burnt dirt

  • Brett

    I’ll also throw my support behind the Iced American when the weather finally turns. 

  • Will

    Never took the Americano seriously.  I may have to now.

  • StarbucksRuinedCoffee

    Better yet, add sugar or steamed milk to an espresso & see what develops.

  • http://twitter.com/Davidmuful David Bailey

    Curiously, the vast majority of people in the UK are the opposite; if they drink black coffee it is probably Americanos, not filter/drip. Filter coffee is actually pretty uncommon (starbucks is the only chain place that sells it here), and independent places that aren’t specialist coffee houses practically never have drip/filter (I have been to one that has). Recently V60 and chemex are appearing in specialist coffee joints, but you have to know where to look, and its only in big cities. What you do see sometimes is individual french presses (which we call cafetieres). I think it is probably due to being much closer to Italy and France that we have such an espresso based coffee culture here, given that we have no coffee history of our own. That said, drinking espresso by itself is fairly rare.
     If I hade to rate in order of commonality it would be: Latte/Cappuccino (often they are just the same here, unfortunately), Americano, Tea, Hot Chocolate, Everything else.

  • http://www.facebook.com/GinAAndo Gin A. Ando

    So interesting. I know in Japan at least they drink a lot of Milk Coffee. Their black coffees are bold and the others are sweet like candy. 

    I’d like to try real coffee from a bean-producing country. (An Americano, of course.)

    • Allen

      I tried an Americano is Jaco, Costa Rica. It was far from disappointing.

      • Allen

        *in

    • Flarn Buckholter

      I’ve lived in Japan for a number of years and they either like their coffee super sweet and milky or completely black. Most men drink black coffee or just take a small bit of cream. There are probably 40 varieties of canned coffee there and they are all…not great. Just adequate.
      S&B Coffee supplies Mickey D’s over there, so you can get a decent cup of brewed from there. But, for my money, the next time I go back, I’m making friends with a barista who pulls a decent shot for my Americano.

  • anathoth

    When desperate enough to resort to a java house – have always gotten an Americano. Have raised a few eyebrows ordering an “african americano” however – so am back to just saying “americano, black please”. *grin*

  • Guest

    James Bond drinks Americanos in the books

  • Brian Chun

    The link below has a coffee chart that breaks down all different methods of extraction as well as what inclusions to ask for in order to get a particular style of drink.

    http://popchartlab.com/collections/prints/products/the-compendious-coffee-chart

  • B.Wayne

    I tried it today… and it left something to be desired. Won’t try the Bou twice. 

  • http://twitter.com/yulvas Yul Vas

    Nice article, I’ve been drinking Americanos for years and I don’t think my order will ever change………however just wanted to point out that it should always be made by adding an espresso on top of hot water, never the other way round. This ensures that the crema sits on top and gives a nice smooth coffee……..and yes I am a coffee snob…….cheers!

  • Troll

    why would anyone drink brown water?

  • Adrian

    Tell the true story. The Americans couldn’t handle the strong Italian Espresso. As a result the Italians watered it out and named it “Americano” to mock the Americans. Deal with it!

  • http://travelenjoylife.tumblr.com/ Alicia Sleep

    Espresso americano is one of my favorite coffees, especially in the morning because it’s strong and it make more active the whole.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/lrh8197 Lucas Heller

    I love coffee, but I stopped drinking it 3 months ago because of the way it made me feel. I miss drinking it. I miss being a coffee drinker, but I don’t think I’m going back. I was starting to wonder if I had developed adult onset adhd. I couldn’t focus on anything and I got nervous about EVERYTHING. Stopped the coffee, now I’m focusing like charles xsaviar and kicking a$$ all day long. I guess I will have to live off the memories I get when I smell it.

    • Flarn Buckholter

      Decaf is coming into prominence (a year after you posted this) and roasters are starting to see how coffee purists (who don’t care about the drug, just the FLAVOR) are an untapped market for really high quality beans and blends.
      Try some Intelligentsia Black Cat Espresso or a Counter Culture Decaf. They’re ace.

  • Pingback: What’s the difference between these common espresso drinks? | What's The Diff!

  • Flarn Buckholter

    Last year I saw that at just about every coffee house, I could get an Americano for the same price as a cup of brewed….and that first sip had me HOOOOKED. Instead of coffee that has been sitting around for an hour or more, I’m getting what’s essentially on-demand freshness for no extra charge!

    A freshly-pulled shot and some hot water. Maybe a little heavy cream if the espresso is really bitter. That gives my tongue and nose about 5 to 6 different flavors to sample and enjoy. Even when my doc told me to give up caffeine for my heart health, I still find a decaf Americano to be JUST as delicious, since decaf espresso beans at gourmet and specialty shops is still top quality bean.
    I’ve made several converts just by buying them a single Americano. From then on, brewed simply won’t do! It’s the difference between buying that greasy, compacted ham loaf you see in the deli versus a jambon from a charcuterie.