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Espresso is one of the most enjoyable elements of coffee drinking. Pure, punchy, and perfect with its delicate layer of tan-colored crema, it encapsulates the pleasure of coffee in a sip or two. 

Except that the shot-like jolt of caffeine and overwhelming bitterness isn’t for everyone.

Enter, the Americano.

What’s in an Americano?

At a commercial coffee shop, the Americano coffee recipe is typically a double shot of espresso with approximately 10 to 12 ounces of water. That’s it.

Traditionally, however, what’s in an Americano coffee is a little different: it’s made with equal parts espresso and water, or 1/3 parts espresso and 2/3 water. It’s intended to be a way to still taste the flavors of the espresso without experiencing the weightiness of the shot—or the energy that comes with the immediate intake of nearly 80 mg of caffeine. 

It’s worth mentioning that the Americano coffee drink recipe does not contain milk and is not intended to have it. 

To get the most out of the espresso nascent and itching to be enjoyed in the drink, the shot should be poured in the cup before adding water. The oils and carbon dioxide that make up the crema should then integrate into the water and rise to the top.

Maybe that crema won’t be as satisfying as with the first sip of an espresso, but it’s easily the most satisfying part of the Americano drink experience.

The History of the Americano

The story behind the Americano is practically a comedy, to the extent that the tale is true.

American soldiers stationed in Italy during World War II were put off by the boldness of the espresso typical of the culture. To replicate the coffee experience they were familiar with back home, they added hot water.

Thus, the “Caffe Americano,” or American coffee, was dubbed. 

Some soldiers took to the taste of the Americano and brought the recipe back with them after the war. It later even caught on in both the United States and Europe.

What Does an Americano Taste Like? 

Because the ingredients of Americano coffee are so straightforward, the drink will taste like a diluted version of the espresso paired with the hot water. Which, in turn, makes espresso selection—and grind, since that’s what determines crema quality—all that much more important.

Always aim for quality, 100% Arabica coffee beans if preparing an Americano on your own and consider whether you like sweeter or more bitter flavors. Aim for a light roast espresso if you prefer the former, and a darker roast with a baker’s-chocolate-like flavor for the latter. Also, adding less water will give you a more concentrated drink; instead of a full 12-ounce mug, start with 6 ounces of hot water added to a double shot and see how well you tolerate the bitterness. Add more or less water the next time around, based on that impression. 

In general, the Americano is—as a pro tip—a reliable way to get a quality, freshly brewed cup of coffee at any time of day. Craving an evening pick-me-up but iffy about the drip brew that’s been sitting in the shop’s warmer for hours? Order the Americano—if nothing else, it’s the soldierly thing to do.

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