Bold, rich, satisfying. Regardless of whether you are sipping an Americano or starting your day with a quick espresso, these adjectives describe both. Not for the faint of heart, espresso is known around the world for its intensity.
Americanos, an espresso-based drink, became popular after World War II. Yet both are made with the same delicious espresso roast. Therefore, you may be confused about what differences exist between these two beverages.
This article will cover the subtle and nuanced differences between the Americano vs Espresso and how they are prepared and served. No matter which you choose to sip on, you will have a delightful experience.
Americano or Espresso?
Whether you are in a fancy coffee house or making your own creations at home, you may be wondering what is the difference between an Americano vs Espresso is and which is right for you?
Espresso is both a brewing method and a coffee beverage. As a beverage, an Espresso is a strong black coffee, made by forcing steam through ground coffee.
If you order an espresso (or make one at home) it will typically be served in a small shot-sized coffee cup. It is highly caffeinated and bold in flavor. It serves as the basis for many coffee house favorites but is also enjoyed on its own.
When traditionally made, an Americano is a diluted espresso drink, however, in some places in Italy, it simply means a long-filtered coffee.
Traditionally, an Americano has the strength and feel of traditionally brewed coffee, with the flavor and robustness of espresso.
How are they made?
Espresso is made by forcing very hot water through finely-ground coffee. While different coffee makers can be used, espresso is often made with a specialty machine.
To start, finely ground coffee beans are packed tightly into the “basket” of the coffee machine which is a metal cup attached to a handle. A “tamper”, a round disk, is used to push the grounds together until they form a puck.
At this point, the machine boils water and forces it through the puck at very high pressure, and the resulting thick liquid that emerges is espresso.
This highly concentrated coffee has an almost syrup-like quality as well as a creamy “crema” layer on top. At this point, the espresso can be enjoyed alone, or used to make a beverage.
An Americano starts with 1-2 espresso shots produced from the machine. The espresso is added to the bottom of a coffee cup and hot water is added to the cup to reach the desired strength.
Many prefer a 2:1 water to coffee ratio, but it can be adjusted to individual taste.
What are they made of?
An espresso maker can be complex and have multiple parts, but in general, the machines have a water reservoir, and a metal basket attached to a handle that sits tightly in the machine. Some fancier models have a milk steamer attached as well.
While not attached to the machine, a coffee tamper, usually made of a metal round disk, is an essential part of the process. Additional equipment includes a drip tray to catch any spills, espresso cups (which are smaller than coffee cups), and espresso beans if desired.
While espresso can be made from any coffee bean, espresso beans are roasted more than a regular bean, which is what helps to create its characteristic bold flavor and crema.
Americano is made with an espresso base and therefore requires the same equipment to start.
How did they each get their name?
The name, espresso, comes from the Italian word esprimere, meaning to “press out.” The name refers to the pressure used to make the drink, seemingly pressing the brew out of the grounds.
The Americano got its name from American soldiers in Italy during World War II. The soldiers added water to espresso to give them a coffee more similar to what they were used to sipping on, and the name, “Americano” stuck.
Presentation, Flavor, Caffeine Percentage, Cost Comparison
- Presentation: Specialty coffee cup or shot glass
- Flavor: Intense, bold, robust
- Caffeine: 64 mg/ 1 fluid oz
- Cost: $1.75 on average
- Presentation: Traditional coffee cup or tall glass
- Flavor: Bold, robust, slightly less intense
- Caffeine: 64 mg/ 1 fluid oz, traditionally served with 2 oz
- Cost: $2.65
While both beverages are similar, there are a few key differences. The biggest is in the presentation. Due to their concentrated nature, espresso is served in mini coffee cups or shot glasses and is not meant to be consumed fairly quickly.
Americanos are served in a traditional coffee mug or a tall glass that is meant to be sipped on. While the flavor profile is similar, the Americano is slightly less intense due to its 2:1 water to coffee ratio.
Although the caffeine per fluid oz is the same, an Americano typically requires 2 espresso shots meaning most people will be consuming double the amount of caffeine while drinking it compared with a plain espresso.
Finally, while hot water is the only addition to differentiate the Americano’s ingredients, it does raise the cost by about one dollar if you were purchasing it at a coffee house.
How To Drink – Americano vs Espresso
The Americano is best enjoyed as it is prepared, with espresso and hot water. It is meant to be sipped on casually and enjoyed during a leisurely breakfast or brunch.
There are great variations as well, and many people now enjoy their Americano over ice, giving it a whole new profile. If you prefer a sweeter drink, an Iced Hazelnut Americano may be what you are looking for!
Iced Hazelnut Americano
- 2 oz espresso
- 4 oz hot water
- ½ oz hazelnut simple syrup
- Cold Foam to taste
Prepare your Americano by pouring 4 oz of boiling water over 2 oz of espresso. Allow the beverage to come to room temperature (or shake over ice to speed the process up).
Add ice cubes to a tall tumbler and add ½ oz of hazelnut simple syrup. Pour the Americano in and top with cold foam or milk if desired.
Espresso can be enjoyed from the shot glass it is pulled in, though some prefer to sip it out of a mini coffee cup. Some add it to a larger mug and stir in sugar in the raw to give it a little sweetness.
Espresso is also the base of many familiar drinks such as lattes and cappuccinos. If you are looking for something more fun, the Espresso Martini is always a popular choice. Here’s a twist on this classic:
A Twist on the Espresso Martini
- 1 oz espresso
- 1.5 oz vanilla vodka
- .5 oz coffee brandy
- Whipped cream and coffee beans to garnish
In a shaker add ice, 1oz of cooled espresso, 1.5 oz of vanilla vodka, and .5 oz of coffee-flavored brandy. Shake vigorously and pour into a coupe glass. Top with whipped cream and three coffee beans for garnish.
While nothing beats true espresso, an espresso maker is not always available. You can still get a robust coffee flavor using the French Press method, which uses immersion coffee and a plunger to produce a flavorful brew.
This method will even produce a crema at times. The Moka pot produces another great alternative, using a stovetop device to push hot water through coffee grounds and using pressure to extract flavor.
If you like Americanos but don’t have espresso available, you can also use drip coffee brewed to be stronger. Additionally, you can use coffee concentrate that you can purchase at the store.
The coffee concentrate is meant to have water added to it, so you can have the same control over the strength as you do with an espresso-based Americano.
Americano Vs Espresso – FAQs
Which came first?
The espresso came first, originating in Italy in the early 1900s. The Americano developed in Italy as well during World War II.
American soldiers stationed there found the espresso coffee too strong for their palate and watered it down with hot water to match the brewed coffee they were used to. Thus the name, “Americano.”
Which is stronger?
Since Americano is espresso based they both have a caffeine ratio of about 64 milligrams to one fluid ounce. However, the Americano typically uses 2 oz, therefore as a beverage it has more caffeine.
In terms of flavor, both have a similarly robust, bold taste with traditional espresso being slightly more intense.
Which is the most popular?
Espresso is more popular as it is served not just as its own drink but forms the basis of many additional drinks such as the macchiato and the latte.
However, the Americano has been around since World War II and is popular in both Italy and the United States.