What’s the Difference Between Americano and Black Coffee?

The Americano is so ubiquitous that finding a café without it on menu would quite strange.  As such a staple of the coffee world, many even confuse standard black coffee with the Americano!

This is only one of among many perceptions and misconceptions about Americano; a drink so famous and so well known is bound to have a few such misconceptions! This monolith of the caffeine universe has some secrets to tell, and stories to unfold! Let’s begin by looking at the origins of the Americano’s genesis.

What is the History of the Americano?

The Americano, also known as Caffè Americano, has a somewhat mysterious origin. The most popular folk history of the drink and its name comes from stories of American soldiers in Italy. In this telling, the beverage was first developed during World War II.  This story goes that the Americans, used to the comforts of black standard brewed coffee, used hot water to dilute their espresso in order to more closely match typical coffee back in the States. This could explain where the common conflation between Americano and black coffee originates.

Other theories suggest the term came into use in Latin America or Italy during the ‘70’s.

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What is the Difference Between an Americano and Black Coffee?

An Americano is not just black coffee. The differences between Americano and “regular” (black or drip) coffee include their different brewing methods and types of grounds used. House brewed or black coffee is usually brewed in a drip coffee machine, while Americano is made using espresso shots with hot water added up to 6 ounces.  These espresso shots are made with espresso beans as opposed to regular beans. Espresso beans generally are roasted longer with a finer grind than standard coffee beans.

espresso beans

Specifically, the Americano is prepared by pouring a single or double shot of espresso into a cup or mug and filling the cup or mug to 6 ounces with hot water.  There are many different variations on the exact ratio of espresso to water and where the water is drawn from- some suggesting water must or should come from the same espresso machine that has pulled the shots- but, at its most elementary, an Americano is 1-2 espresso shots with hot water added.

The iced Americano maintains the same principles with the obvious exception of using ice and cold water rather than hot water. Iced Americanos also often remain unembellished by milk or sugar, but this is a matter of taste and many choose to add both.   

americano milk

Not only are the brewing methods and type of coffee used different, but the taste and caffeine levels are also a bit different as well.  An Americano is 1-2 espresso shots, containing from 60-120 milligrams of caffeine. Drip or brewed coffee has 120, black or brewed coffee usually has a bit more caffeine than the average Americano. Of course, some intrepid or busy coffee drinkers will order an Americano with extra shots, giving it substantially more caffeine!

How do you Pour an Americano?

You can pour an Americano two different ways, and people and even entire countries differ on which way is best. You can do this the traditional way by first pouring your espresso into a cup or mug and then adding the hot water. Or, you can start with the hot water already in the cup or mug and then add 1-2 shots of espresso.

Some people prefer the second method because it results in more foam on top when you first start sipping it since it doesn’t dissolve when the water is added into the espresso. The drinks that result from the two pouring methods actually have different names. The original Americano is when the espresso is poured first, but when the espresso is poured second, into the hot water, the drink is referred to as a Long Black. The Australians came up with this name when the Italians first introduced the drink in Australia.

How does Starbucks make their Americano?

Big chain cafes like Starbucks or Peet’s don’t have any special tricks, flavors or other additions to the classic Americano recipe.  Their Americano method is actually quite simple- your barista at Starbucks pulls two regular espresso shots into a cup and then immediately pours in hot water, preserving the freshly pulled espresso shots’ top crema levels. This is how Starbucks’ Americano maintains a rich full-bodied texture and taste!

What is an Americano with Milk called?

As we noted previously, an Americano is typically 1-2 shots of espresso with hot water.  However, a wide world with a varying lexicon of beverages describes slightly different combinations of ingredients (and ratios thereof) for the Americano. By its most standard definition, adding milk to an Americano begins to make the beverage into something more closely representing a latte or cappuccino.  The term “white Americano” is not exactly canon, but does suggest some ratio of milk added to the traditional hot water with 1-2 espresso shots. 

white americano

Rest assured that at most cafes, a barista is able and willing to tailor any beverage to fit the tastes and requests of their clientele. Those wishing to order an “Americano with milk” should go right ahead! Try asking for a “white Americano” and, if that does not work, just ask for an Americano with some milk in it!

Should I Get Black Coffee or an Americano?

So which is better? Americano or black coffee? For those who want a bit more caffeine, opt for the cup of black coffee unless you plan on adding extra shots to your Americano.

However, the flavors diverge- with Americano having a thick, rich flavor. In contrast, drip or black coffee has a thinner texture with more subtle flavors (notes), from chocolatey flavors, to floral hints and fruity notes.

For those who want a richer flavor, thicker texture and more vivacious bitterness, choose Americano. However, those who want more subtle flavors in the background should opt for drip coffee.

Hopefully this article cleared up some confusion and misconceptions for some, and inspired others to go grab an Americano or brew a cup of joe!


“Americano Beverages.” Starbucks Coffee Companywww.starbucks.com/coffee/espresso/americano-beverages#targetText=Americano,a%20light%20layer%20of%20crema

“Caffeine Myths: Espresso vs. Drip.” Kicking Horse Coffeehttp://www.kickinghorsecoffee.com/en/blog/caffeine-myths-espresso-vs-drip

“Caffè Americano.” Starbucks Coffee Companyhttp://www.starbucks.com/menu/drinks/espresso/caffe-americano

“Caffè Americano.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 4 Aug. 2019, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caff%C3%A8_Americano

“Freshly Prepared Food, Organic Coffee.” Freshly Prepared Food, Organic Coffeehttp://www.pret.hk/en-gb/1175-hot-drinks-white-americano.aspx

Jay Arr

Jay Arr is passionate about everything coffee. What began as a simple interest in the history, production, and brewing of coffee led him to a job as a barista at a national coffee chain. That’s not where Jay’s story with coffee ends, however. Roasting and brewing day in and out, he continued to gather knowledge about all things coffee.

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