Is it American? Is it Italian?
Why would someone want to water down their coffee, and how did Americano coffee come to be such a popular drink, gracing the menus of cafes and commercial coffee joints alike?
Today, we’ll dive into the history and facts to help you better understand Americano coffee.
What Is Americano Coffee?
When you pull up at the Starbucks drive-thru and order an Americano coffee, or Caffè Americano, for all the coffee connoisseurs out there, what is the barista doing behind the scenes to whip up that delicious drink for you?
In short, an Americano coffee is one shot of espresso topped with hot water. Typically, the mix is a half and half blend of water to espresso, but sometimes the ratio can slide to ⅓ espresso and ⅔ water. Short, sweet, and to the point.
It offers a pared-down version of the taste of traditionally rich, bitter espresso. Americano coffee instead gives an earthy, nutty, smooth flavor that, thanks to methods we’ll discuss below, manages to have a hint of creaminess despite its lack of milk or sugar.
Despite its simple recipe, it’s still versatile. Although a traditional americano is an espresso and water and nothing else, it can be served hot or iced or with any sort of toppings or flavorings added in. Cinnamon, vanilla, honey, whipped cream—it’s up to you!
But many coffee-lovers will be burning with the question of why anyone would water down their coffee. The regular black coffee you would pick up at Starbucks or other cafes doesn’t need watering down, right?
The History of the Americano
Well, the American G.I.s in Italy during World War II didn’t exactly have that same problem. The story goes that the American forces were unaccustomed to the strong and bitter Italian espresso provided in their rations for their morning cup of joe.
Much more popular back home in the U.S. was drip coffee, which is the coffee-making method employed today by the more traditional coffee makers. It is also used on a more modern level by Keurig coffee-making machines.
The American soldiers would mix in hot water to make their Italian coffee more reminiscent of home and delectable to their American palates.
While the thought may crush some of the most avid coffee-lovers, keep in mind that Italian espresso is, well, the strongest of the strong.
This practice soon caught on in many Italian coffee shops. Instead of serving espresso to American soldiers in the typical, tiny espresso cups, they began serving them in normal-sized cups and added water to fill the remaining space.
The Italians, understandably, felt a little jilted at this modification despite their kind accommodations, referring to it as dirty water. Still, it’s wildly popular on coffee menus around the world even today.
Americano coffee is a pretty simple way to get your caffeine fix, albeit practical and efficient! Today, when you order an Americano, you’re likely to receive a drink not very different from the one those American G.I.s created in Italy.
Because the recipe is so straightforward, not much about the Americano has changed or developed. But one crucial factor in the “recipe,” so to speak, is the order in which the ingredients are added.
Although coffee connoisseurs don’t see eye to eye on the topic, most agree that the best, richest Americano coffee flavor is created by pouring the espresso first and then the hot water over it. There is a very good reason for this, and that reason is called the crema.
What is the Crema and Why is it Important?
When you order an espresso, the thin layer of foam that forms at the top is called the crema.
It’s different from normal milk-frothed foam because it’s tan in color and formed from the oils in the espresso mixing with carbon dioxide when the shot is pulled.
If the preferred water-over-espresso method is used when the Americano is made, then the crema mixes naturally into the rest of the espresso, adding an extra, natural sort of buffer to the rich and bold espresso flavors that the Americano mixture is so famous for.
The crema, aptly named, even lends a hint of creaminess to the Americano coffee, which is famous for its lack of milk or sugar.
How Does Americano Coffee Compare To Other Coffee-Making Methods?
While Americano coffee is a popular choice at a cafe or Starbucks, there are many other coffee-making methods that we’re more familiar with since we use them nearly every day at home.
Americano Coffee vs. Drip Coffee
Although those American G.I.s were trying to replicate drip coffee when they created this drink, the reality of Americano is much different from modern drip coffee or regular black coffee.
To make drip coffee, you’ll need either a traditional coffee maker or a pour-over device. When your water is almost boiling, pour it over the grounds in the filter and wait while gravity makes your coffee for you.
This process takes a far longer amount of time and produces a more subtle coffee flavor than the Americano does.
Because it employs an espresso-maker (or premade espresso shots), the process of making Americano coffee is often much quicker.
Americano Coffee vs. Lattes
Americano coffee and lattes take the same basic, foundational ingredient—espresso—and build on it in completely different ways.
Whereas the Americano adds water and nothing else, lattes open up the recipe to different kinds of milk (even popular dairy-free ones) and flavors.
Because they’re foundationally similar but practically different, think of the Americano coffee as a dressed-down latte before it gets ready in the morning.
Is Americano Coffee Healthy?
For most of us, coffee is a non-negotiable in our morning routine. We’re going to drink it anyway, so we’ll take any reason we can to feel good about it. Thankfully, Americano coffee can supply us with several great reasons to feel good about drinking it.
Compared to many other types of coffee drinks, Americano coffee is simple and to the point.
While many items on the Starbucks menu will have your head spinning from reading the calorie and sugar contents, the Americano coffee is a breath of fresh air.
Its lack of sugar and milk makes it one of the healthiest forms of coffee that you can drink. While dairy and sugar in moderation aren’t serious health risks, if you add them to a drink that you make at home as a part of your daily schedule, then the health consequences can pile up.
Coffee drinks from chain cafes can be especially harmful to your health also. High fructose corn syrup, shelf-stable creamers, and other commercially used ingredients are unhealthy and best regarded as a treat for special occasions.
But for those who need their coffee every day, and not just on special occasions, the Americano coffee offers great taste and a lack of artery-clogging ingredients.
What is the Caffeine Content of an Americano Coffee?
It’s well known that espresso has a higher caffeine content than regular black coffee. It’s what gives the Red Eye coffee drink its name. But as always, the Americano coffee throws a bit of a wrench in traditional caffeine content measurement.
Although espresso has higher caffeine content, an Americano coffee often has only one espresso shot, with added water, to comprise one serving. When it comes to normal black coffee, many coffee-drinkers won’t just stop at one.
That’s why one serving of Americano coffee, leveled off with water, has around 40 mg of caffeine and 80 mg if served with two shots to comprise a 12 oz. serving. The same amount of black coffee has about 120 mg of caffeine in a 12 oz. serving.
We know it seems to defy logic that a drink with two shots of espresso could have less caffeine than your normal daily serving of black coffee, but it’s true.
So if you’re looking to scale back on your caffeine intake without sacrificing flavor, then switching to Americano coffee could do the trick for you.
Who would have thought that the humble creation of home-sick American soldiers during World War II would have gained such a cult following and still be a favorite on cafe menus to this day?
If you look at the facts, though, it makes plenty of sense.
The Americano coffee is strong, rich, and flavorful but also smooth, creamy, and balanced.
It’s a snap to make with a recipe that anyone could remember off the top of their head. What’s more, it’s one of the healthiest ways to take your morning coffee and has surprisingly low caffeine content.
If full-blown espresso just isn’t for you, but you dislike the thought of polluting your morning coffee with too many extra unhealthy bells and whistles, take a note from those American G.I.s and try your coffee in the dirty water way.
Chances are, it’ll be a keeper for you, too!
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