The difference between an Americano and brewed coffee

Closeup of a cafe Americano
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The world of coffee is fairly diverse, with many coffee varieties beyond a basic cup of joe. You’re probably familiar with the name “Americano” but perhaps you’re wondering about the difference between an Americano and brewed coffee.

What is an Americano?

An Americano is a style of coffee made by combining espresso with hot water. Espresso is an intense, flavorful coffee made by forcing hot water at high pressure through finely ground coffee beans.

How to make an Americano

To make an Americano, you first need to be able to make espresso. Making espresso requires a special coffee machine or device—you can’t just use the coffee maker you brew your regular coffee with.

Make a three-ounce shot of espresso and pour it into a larger cup or mug. Then, pour about double the amount of hot water into the cup, mixing the two.

Pouring water into an Americano
Just top up an espresso with hot water and you have an Americano. (© Andreas Akre Solberg | Flickr)

Finally, add any cream, sugar, honey or other desired additions and you’re ready to drink your Americano. It’s worth noting, though, that traditional Americanos are always served black.

How to make brewed coffee

In contrast to espresso and Americano, the coffee you’re most familiar with is brewed in a simpler way. The water isn’t pressurized. Instead, it’s poured by hand or dripped by machine over the ground coffee beans.

Scooping ground coffee into the filter of a drip brewer
A drip brewer automatically distribute water evenly over the grounds in the filter basket. (© Your Best Digs | Flickr)

Note that the pour-over method, in which a person manually pours hot water over their grounds, is slightly different from making coffee with an automatic coffee maker. An automatic drip brewer mechanically controls how the water makes contact with the coffee grounds, usually through a “sprinkler head” that aims to disperse water evenly. With the pour-over method, the person making the coffee has full control over the pace and volume of water they pour. It is preferred by many coffee connoisseurs for this reason.

Brewing pour-over coffee
Pour-over coffee gives the brewer full control over the addition of water.

Taste of Americano vs. brewed coffee

An Americano is essentially a less concentrated version of an espresso. As such, an Americano tastes like an espresso, but less intense.

How does that differ from brewed drip coffee? An Americano will tend to have more complex, roasted flavors that may be a bit more vibrant than brewed coffee. However, the addition of water to the Americano should means that the flavor’s intensity is close to that of brewed filter coffee.

Caffeine in Americano vs. brewed coffee

A cup of Americano will generally have a bit less caffeine in it than a cup of brewed coffee. This is true even though espresso has more caffeine per ounce than brewed coffee.

While espresso is more caffeinated per ounce than brewed coffee, the addition of water dilutes the Americano, meaning the brewed coffee has just a little more caffeine.

Variations on the Americano

Like with just about everything in the coffee world, there are variations and customization options for the Americano. Here are some of the more popular ones.

What is a tall Americano?

The tall Americano is essentially a super-sized Americano. It is espresso plus water, but will typically contain about double the amount of espresso as a regular Americano, along with an equivalent amount of water.

What is a short Americano?

A short Americano comes closer to an espresso than a regular Americano. When making it, the ratio of espresso to water is 1:1 rather than 1:2. This results in a bolder flavor that’s more similar to the taste of a standard espresso.

Short Americano coffee

What is a white Americano?

The white Americano is for those who prefer some milk or cream with their Americano. The Americano is traditionally served with no dairy products added. In a white Americano, after adding the hot water, a layer of cream or steamed milk is poured atop the drink before it is served.

Long black vs. Americano

The long black is an Americano variation that is particularly popular in Australia. The hot water goes into the cup first, then the espresso is poured on top of it, often resulting in a nice layer of crema on the surface. The long black is usually made with a higher espresso-to-water ratio than the standard Americano, about 1:1.

Long black coffee with crema on top
Pouring the espresso on top of the water lends a nice crema to the surface of a long black.

Can you make an Americano with a Nespresso machine?

Many of the newer Nespresso machine models like the Essenza Mini have an Americano feature built right in. Simply press the button and it will top up your cup with hot water after the espresso is brewed.

Nespresso Essenza Mini brewing an Americano
The Nespresso Essenza Mini has an Americano setting that tops up your espresso with water. (© Bean Poet)

On older machines, you can brew a ristretto or lungo shot as usual, then top up with hot water from a kettle.

The difference, summarized

The difference between an Americano and brewed coffee comes down to the fact that an Americano is made with espresso, while brewed coffee is made by dripping hot water through coffee grounds. The taste of an Americano is akin to that of a less concentrated espresso, more in line with American coffee.

If you have access to an espresso maker, you can make an Americano at home, but otherwise you’ll have to head to your local cafe for one.

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