The difference between a long black and an Americano

Any fan of black coffee should try both the long black and the Americano during their lifetime. Both of the espresso-based drinks offer rich flavor, and they are very similar—with one specific difference.

The difference between a long black and an Americano lies in what you pour first. A long black is made by pouring hot water into your cup, then adding espresso. An Americano is made by pouring espresso into the cup first, then integrating the hot water.

Whether you’re looking to brew your own at home or want to be knowledgeable for your next trip to the coffee shop, you’ll need to be clear on this difference. It creates a distinction that is quite pronounced, considering that the drinks share the same ingredients.

You should also note that pouring water and espresso through a coffee filter will create neither a long black nor an Americano. You’ll simply end up with a thin cup of something that vaguely resembles coffee.

Here’s everything you need to know about the long black and the Americano:

How to make a long black coffee

Making a long black is a simple and impressive skill to master. The No. 1 key is to start with your water. If you remember that, you’re golden. Here is the full list of steps you’ll need to follow:

  1. Heat 4 ounces of water to about 195 F
  2. Pour the water into a small coffee cup
  3. From as close to the surface as possible, gently pour in 2 ounces of espresso
Three images showing the three steps of making a long black coffee
Water first, then espresso, leaves you with a nice layer of crema atop your long black. (© Bean Poet)

You’ll know you’ve made a proper long black when you see some crema—the amber or tan-coloured foam that covers the surface of a well-made espresso—floating atop the water. The coffee will also be at ready-to-drink temperature.

How to make an Americano

Learning how to make an Americano should be a priority for any coffee connoisseur or barista in training. Once you have your cup ready, follow these steps:

  1. Heat 6 ounces of water to 195 F and set aside
  2. Pour 2 ounces of espresso into an empty cup
  3. Top up the cup with your hot water
Three images showing the steps in making an Americano
Start with espresso in the bottom, then top it up with hot water and you have an Americano. (© Bean Poet)

Note that the ratio of hot water to coffee is slightly lower in the case of the long black. We typically make an Americano with slightly more overall volume—eight ounces of liquid instead of six. You can adapt either recipe to whatever volume you like, but we recommend maintaining the ratios at 2:1 for a long black and 3:1 for an Americano. Of course, anything larger than 12 ounces and you’ll be flirting with a lot of caffeine for a single serving. Be careful, caffeine is best in moderation.

History and origins of the Americano

We are absolutely certain that caffè Americano is Italian for “American coffee.” We are less certain about the drink’s origins.

There’s a common explanation, and it makes perfect sense when you first hear it. Americans stationed in Italy during the Second World War craved coffee, but Italians didn’t drink the kind of coffee they were used to at home. Whenever Americans drank black coffee, it was percolator or drip coffee. Whenever Italians drank black coffee, it was espresso—small and strong. The Italians tried to make things easier on their American guests by serving a cup of hot water alongside their espresso, so they could dilute it. They called this a caffè Americano.

That’s the usual story, but it is not confirmed. Historians will note that coffee was scarce in Italy and subject to rationing during the war, so the idea of American soldiers just wandering into cafes after 1943—when Italy became an ally—and ordering espresso…well, it doesn’t really add up.

Whether the origin story is correct or not, the drink it describes is exactly what we call an Americano today.

Which is better, a long black or an Americano?

While everyone prefers different flavor profiles for their coffee, I currently favor the long black.

The crema in a long black holds up much better than it does in an Americano, where it’s usually broken up by the addition of hot water. Crema holds a lot of flavor, and it’s like drinking velvet.

Plenty of people prefer a more mellow flavor or aren’t fans of crema. If that’s the case for you, I would definitely recommend an Americano.

Each is delicious in its own way. If you’re a coffee lover and you haven’t yet partaken, then put the long black and the Americano on your bucket list.