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How to Make Americano

by Victor @ Taste of Artisan

My favorite coffee drink is Americano. I love a good espresso and drink it almost daily but, more often than not, I go for an Americano. I like it black and without any sugar. Needless to say, to be enjoyable without sugar or milk, it needs to be nearly perfect. You will notice a difference even with milk and sugar added. Sadly, most coffee shops don’t care or know how to make perfect coffee drinks. The good news is that this is not a problem if you know how to make an Americano at home. It’s not that hard if you know a few tricks.

Americano drink in a brown demitasse cup.

To make a perfect Americano you really need a double or a triple shot of really good espresso and hot water. This is it. The rest is just a process and a little bit of math.

Great espresso makes a great Americano

In my recent post How to Make Espresso at Home Like a Pro I wrote in detail about how to make a great shot of espresso. Once you have that down, and it’s not that difficult to achieve with a little bit of practice, you will be well on your way to a cup of a fantastic Americano.

An espresso tastes more bitter when made into an Americano because the addition of hot water dilutes the oil content. This prevents the oil from completely coating the tongue explains Scott Rao in his The Professional Barista’s Handbook. What this means to us, Americano drinkers, is that shortcomings in the espresso will be amplified when it is turned into an Americano. A bitter espresso will make an awful Americano.

Espresso shot in a large cup before water is added to make Americano drink.

An Americano is all about ratios

I think it goes without saying that how much water you use to dilute your espresso will determine how your Americano will taste. Add too little and your Americano will taste very strong. Add too much and your Americano will be too diluted and will taste like coffee flavored swill. So, what is the perfect ratio of water to espresso? Well, there is none. I’ve seen recommendations that you should go by taste. This means that a good Americano for me may not taste that good for someone else.

Is there a more scientific way though? Thankfully, there is, and it works quite well as a starting point. A user on Home Barista forums posted a table that shows how much water needs to be added for an ‘Ideal Americano’ based on the mass of the ground coffee beans.

Ground Mass 7 g14 g18 g21 g
Extraction Yield19%19%19%19%
Extracted Mass1.33 g2.66 g3.42 g3.99 g
Desired Strength1.35%1.35%1.35%1.35%
Beverage Mass99 g197 g253 g296 g

This table is not easy to read, but what’s important to understand is that an Americano made from 18 grams of coffee beans should weigh 253 grams. To be more specific, a triple shot of espresso pulled from 18 grams of coffee beans, will ideally result in 36 grams of espresso. The 36 grams of espresso plus the added water should weigh 253 grams to make an ‘ideal’ Americano – 36 grams of espresso plus 217 grams of water.

This table gives me values that are nearly identical to what I feel is the best Americano for my taste. I add about 225 grams of hot water to my 18 gram triple shots of espresso.

There are other ratios used by coffee shops and baristas. For example this one is used by Metropolis Coffee Company as  discussed in their Youtube video:

Espresso Shots Amount of water
 Double shot8 oz
 Double shot12 oz
 Triple shot16 oz
Quadruple shot20 oz

These ratios emphasize water, and the resulting Americano drinks are not to my personal liking. However, I like stronger coffee drinks. I recommend that you try different ratios and pick what suits you best. By the way, the 8 oz and 12 oz of water for a double shot in the table above is not a mistake. I suppose they have both to accommodate customers who like stronger and those how like less strong Americano drinks.

You don’t have to measure the water every time. Just do it once, figure out how much is ideal for you and remember the corresponding level in the cup you use. Plus or minus a few grams of water won’t make a noticeable difference.

Water first, then espresso

If you pay attention you will notice that in most coffee places they first make an espresso than add hot water to make an Americano. Isn’t this how it’s supposed to be made? Is there a difference between pulling a shot over water vs adding water to a pulled espresso shot?

Technically, no. However, as was noted by Metropolis Coffee Company in their Youtube video, pulling a shot over hot water helps retain crema on top of the drink. This creates a nice mouth feel when you drink your Americano. At least initially. I do notice the difference and I tend to prefer pulling espresso shots over water, not the other way around. Here is how my Americano looks when I add water to an espresso shot:

Americano drink made by adding water to espresso.

Now that you can make a great espresso shot and know how much water to add, the steps to make a perfect Americano at home are ridiculously simple.

What about water temperature?

Ah, good question. I recently wondered to an online barista information exchange portal and picked up a new piece of information. It appears that many baristas are under the impression that 185F is the optimal water temperature for making Americano drinks. A smaller group tends to use hotter water, around 200F plus or minus a couple of degrees. They maintain that if espresso is brewed at roughly 200F, depending on the bean, then there is no benefit of using lower temperature water. Unless you want to avoid serving a drink that is scalding hot.

The initial pour into a slightly heated cup from my espresso machine results in water that is about 186F – 188F in temperature. Dumping the water out and refilling results in water that is about 199F. I made two Americano drinks, using both methods, and found that I had a clear winner. The drink prepared with the lower temp water initially tasted better. It was more balanced, more rounded. The Americano made with hotter water accentuated bitterness and subdued sweetness. It was subtle but noticeable. Interestingly, as the drink cooled down it began to taste more balanced.

So, what is the right temp? I think it’s best to do some tasting and decide for yourself. Personally, I tend to gravitate toward the 185F camp as I like to enjoy my Americano immediately and don’t want it to be burning hot or taste slightly bitter.

Step 1 – pour hot water into a cup

Pour as much water as you need to come up to the total target wight based on the amount of coffee beans and espresso weight you are using. I use 12 oz demitasse cups for making Americano drinks which seem to be the ideal size.

A large brown demitasse cup will with hot water.

Step 2 – pull a shot of espresso

Pull an espresso shot over the hot water and enjoy your Americano.

Espresso made by pulling espresso over hot water.

Steps for Americano nerds and those who like precision

  1. Measure coffee in grams (e.g. 18 grams)
  2. Pour hot water (e.g. 217 grams for a tripe shot)  in the cup
  3. Pull your best espresso shot over the cup of hot water (e.g. 36 grams of espresso pulled over a 26-30 second period of time)
  4. Do not stir to make sure crema remains on top for best mouth feel
  5. Enjoy and observe (more or less dilution next time)

 

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