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Let’s Make Americanos Great Again!

Everyone who has ever served me at an espresso shop knows I’m picky about how I order Americanos. I always ask about their recipe first, so I can determine how many shots to how much water. They always get it wrong. Every. Single. Time.

Yes, I’m picky. But I also know what the heck I’m talking about when it comes to Americanos. After all, that’s why I named this blog Mr. Americano’s Notebook. It’s my preferred drink, almost always (I sometimes go for a mocha if I’m on the road and the quality of the espresso is suspect).

The typical coffee shop in Evansville offers Americanos as a 12 oz. beverage with 2 shots of espresso, or a 16 oz. beverage with 3 shots of espresso. That’s too much water! The resulting drink is a thin beverage that stretches out the espresso so much that the aromatics become transparent and the original flavor is lost.

When I say it’s too much water, I am not simply speaking from experience. The Specialty Coffee Association of America has set the standard for how strong coffee should be, to be considered ideal. This is a zone where the right amount of coffee is extracted from the beans to create the most flavorful cup. Too little and the brew ratio goes weak and sour. Too much and it becomes strong and bitter. The ideal ratio is a 20% extraction (coffee flavor extracted from the ground coffee by passing water through it) and a TDS% (total dissolved solids, as measured with a refractometer) of 1.3%.

Most coffee shops who are “doing espresso right” are pulling shots that run between 7% and 10% TDS. This is espresso, not coffee. When we make an Americano, the goal should be to achieve a drink that approximates brewed coffee in strength, but with the flavor of an espresso. The “golden ratio” in the neighborhood of 3.5:1, water to espresso. I should note that this is not a hard and fast number, but is based on my observations of making many Americanos in my own kitchen and measuring both the espresso TDS% and the resulting beverage TDS%.

If you are a barista, you are probably asking yourself, “so what does this big shot think is the correct recipe for an Americano?” I can’t give you any hard and fast rules, because it always will depend on the beans and the extraction level, but with that caveat, I think 2 shots espresso and 6.5 oz. of water is a good place to start, then based on flavor, you can increase or decrease the water in .25 oz. increments until you arrive at the most delicious cup. I tend to pull a 36-40 gram shot, then add water to make an 8 ounce beverage. You can see that this recipe then scales to 12 oz. and 16 oz. cups by adding an additional shot and being careful with the water.

If you are a coffee lover and you want to experience a proper Americano, then specify how you want your drink to be made, paying attention to how much water to add. Most quality espresso shops have a gram scale handy, so for an 8 0z. beverage, 180 grams of water should make your Americano a little strong, then you can add a little extra water to taste, about 1/4 oz. (7 grams)  at a time. For a change-up, you might also prefer a “Long Black”.

A Long Black is a variant of the Americano, which changes its presentation a little. First pour the water into the cup, then pull the espresso to the top of the cup, holding it close to the portafilter, so that the crema floats on top of the water. Serve it with a spoon, and the customer can choose to sip through the crema (with significant bitterness accompanying the experience) or stir it in. There is also a variation on the Americano, that perhaps we should call a Scandinavian, in honor of Tim Wendelboe, where you pour the espresso, spoon out the crema (to remove bitterness) then add the water to make a sweeter taste.

Let’s celebrate the Americano, but first, let’s make the Americano great, for everyone to enjoy!


One comment

  1. I’ve found that the key to getting a perfect Americano is to have you at my side when I order it, Tim. 😉

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