Long Black vs. Americano - What Are The Differences? Once And For All

BY BORIS POVOLOTSKY - 01 Feb 2023 [updated on 29 Aug 2023]

How To Make An Americano At Home

Caffè Americano is very easy to prepare:

  1. Brew espresso using your preferred method

  2. Fill your desired cup or mug with water (at least 2x the amount of espresso)

  3. Stir lightly, Enjoy!

What Is An Americano?

Caffè Americano is espresso diluted with water to soften the strength of the espresso. If you look online for a recipe, you’ll find various recommendations of espresso to water ratios, because everyone has their preferences. Besides, there isn’t one way or a perfect way.

In my case, I usually opt for a 1:2 or 1:3 espresso-to-water ratio, whereas Maya (my wife) prefers a more diluted blend, embracing a 1:4 or 1:5 ratio. My recipe often shifts since I don’t precisely measure water.

The ratio essentially means that for 40ml of espresso and 200ml of water, we got a 1:5 ratio. Many associate an Americano with a high-volume drink and tend to brew double shots of espresso into 8-9 oz mugs and fill the rest with water. It dilutes the espresso too much for my taste.

A Single Or A Double Shot For Americano?

It depends on whether you’d like more or less caffeine and how big of a drink you’d want. If you want a larger drink, as many do, if not simply to enjoy it longer, then brew 2 shots of espresso. If you don’t mind a shorter Americano, then a single shot will suffice.

Technically, you can pour 1 shot of espresso and add more water. You will, however, dilute the espresso too much and lose the deliciousness. It’s pointless and quite tasteless.

That being said, do whatever tastes best for you. My wife, for instance, doesn’t care much whether it’s a single or a double shot with the same amount of water. She doesn’t care if it’s upside down Americano or a downside up Americano.

pulling espresso into a cup

Americano Water Or Espresso First

What goes into the mug first, water or espresso? It depends.

The traditional method of preparing Americano is preparing the espresso first and then slowly and carefully pouring hot water, allowing the crema to mix up with the water, hence balancing the flavors without disturbing the crema too much.

In the second method, we pull the espresso right into your hot water mug. That way the crema sits on top beautifully, it feels right and is definitely worth a picture. This is how I make my Americano every morning. I take a moment to enjoy the sight of the crema and then stir everything up (gently)!

But, to be honest, sometimes I do the opposite and I don’t really care much, it’s still delicious. Some people don’t like the fact that crema is on top because the crema itself is bitter and unpleasant. There’s truth to that, but to counter that argument, I gently stir my Americano and, Ecco fatto!

Some regard the second method of preparation as the process of making a long black. Let’s see.

What Is A Long Black, Or An Upside Down Americano

Strictly speaking, a long black is prepared with a double shot of espresso poured over hot water. In other words, it’s reversed Americano and typically it’s made with less water, adhering to my recommended low ratio of 1:2. That is to say, some have a 1:5 ratio of espresso to water with Americano, but technically, they can have the same ratio making a long black, would that still be considered as a Long Black drink or an Americano? No. That would be an upside-down Americano.

An upside-down americano is simply a long black but with more water. You’d pour espresso last but with a higher espresso-to-water ratio. I think Starbucks serves this drink cold, so you can have iced water and get an iced upside-down Americano.

Long Black vs. Americano: The Difference

Americano: Hot water poured over espresso.
Long Black: Espresso poured over hot water.

There’s a ratio difference between the two. A Long Black is typically made with a 1:2 or 1:1 espresso to water ratio, while an Americano is made with a broader range of ratios, usually falling between 1:3 and 1:5.

Difference in taste: The differences are subtle. However, the Long Black may come across as more intense and harsh due to the crema staying on top, which can be very bitter. On the other hand, the Americano offers a more balanced flavor profile and maintains homogeneity throughout the drink.

The Long Black finds its popularity mostly in New Zealand and Australia, although its influence extends to the US as well. In contrast, the Americano is known worldwide and is more popular perhaps. A funny anecdote: Russians tried to split with the Americans by naming the drink “Russiano”.

Distinguishing the difference between a Long Black and an Americano becomes simpler when comparing their typical espresso-to-water ratios. A Long Black is defined by its moderate addition of water, ranging from 1x to 2x the espresso amount. On the other hand, an Americano is characterized by a higher water content, typically featuring a ratio of 1:3 to 1:5, typically a mug-like-volume. This approach offers a clear and straightforward way to understand the contrast between the two beverages, bypassing the traditional espresso-first, water-last method.

A Long Black is a relatively small beverage with flavors that, while not as intense as espresso, are still robust. An Americano is a larger and a smoother drink with a lighter body.

What Is A Lungo

A lungo is an espresso brewed longer than the typical extraction, resulting in a notably more bitter and stronger taste due to over-extraction. While a regular espresso extraction lasts about 25 seconds, a lungo can extend to up to 1 minute. Personally, I can’t help but dislike it.

Most of the time, the result is an over-extracted, bitter, and overall unpleasant coffee. Achieving a good lungo requires precise adjustments to your grind settings and ensuring a clear extraction through your coffee grounds; otherwise, the outcome will fall short.

Nespresso’s marketing efforts likely contributed to the popularity of the Lungo, and while some bloggers praise it, I largely don’t get it. I haven’t attempted to make a good lungo, most of my lungos are shots I have forgotten to stop them in time. They were disgusting.

Although I technically perform longer extractions, these are only lungos in terms of time, with the yield remaining largely the same. For instance, I might employ a 10-second pre-infusion followed by approximately 35 seconds of brewing using my lever Profitec 800.

In all fairness, certain coffee roasts allow for notably varied brewing techniques and ratios. Coffee enthusiasts utilizing machines like the Lelit Bianca leverage flow control paddles to create various coffee styles, even mimicking French Press and Pour-over brewing within the espresso machine realm. This topic warrants an in-depth discussion, and you might find value in exploring Jim Schulman’s perspectives on the matter.

Americano vs. Lungo

  • Americano: An espresso shot with water added on top.
  • Lungo: An espresso shot brewed for a longer time, up to 1 minute, without additional water.

There are three main reasons one might consider a Lungo:

First, it’s a method to dilute the espresso’s intensity with water, extracting more flavors over time for balanced notes, rather than the concentrated nature of a Ristretto.

However, I think it’s far more likely that you’ll mess up your shot and have a horrible cup of coffee than a great, balanced and delicious one, and the effort isn’t worth it in my opinion.

Second, you might want to reduce the espresso’s intensity to make it more palatable.

In this case, just make an Americano. The chances of going wrong with an Americano are much slimmer than with a Lungo. Just aim for the standard 25-second extraction and a 1:2 / 1:2.5 espresso-to-water ratio.

Third, you’re seeking a higher caffeine content.

Well, simply increase your coffee dose.

How To Make An Iced Americano

Now, what about making an iced americano? This is one of our favorite drinks in the summer. As with any espresso-based drink, the key to a great iced americano is solid fundamentals, i.e. a good espresso. Like I said, if I ruin the espresso, I ruin the americano. We can’t shamefully mask our mistakes with sweet, foamy milk. We’re at our espresso’s mercy.

Next, add as much water as you’d like as well as the amount of cubes. Remember, don’t exaggerate with the amount of water you add, diluting your coffee too much will result in a dull, bad-tasting coffee. I’m going to experiment with a really small amount of water along with a couple of cubes, effectively drinking an iced long black coffee.

Should you pour espresso over ice or not? I honestly don’t know whether there is any difference, I don’t think there is much. If it’s aesthetically pleasing, then please go ahead. I believe that the visual experience is very much an essential part of the whole coffee experience.

Personal Preferences

We are not able to detect significant differences in flavor between the two recipes. Therefore, we don’t have clear preferences as to what is the best drink to have. This highly depends on whether I want a fast drink with strong and intense flavors and mouthfeel or take my time with a larger drink. Most of the time I have a long black or straight espresso, especially in the morning. Occasionally I’d drink a larger, Americano.

No matter what I have, I take a little sip from the espresso first. If it’s bad, it goes into the sink. Why? Because bad espresso makes an utterly horrible drink! So, I do a little sip-check, then pour the rest onto the water or the opposite, pour the water into my espresso.

Always, always check the espresso before making an Americano or a Long Black

Last note, I find that the more I dilute the drink with water the more I lose the coffee’s richness and flavors. Thus, a less intense doesn’t mean it’ll be more pleasant to drink, quite the contrary. Experiment. Try having your Americano a little shorter, OK?

Tip: Taste First

Especially if you changed a setting like temperature, grind settings, dose, coffee beans, etc. Taste your espresso before turning it into an Americano, Iced Americano or a Long Black. It’s faster to iterate that way. If you’ve got a terrible shot, make a new one. I also follow that rule when I’m preparing a cappuccino, too. Some shots are so terrible even milk won’t cover them.

I hope you’ve learned what is an Americano and how to make a great one at home. We’ve also shed some light on the subtle differences and similarities between Americano and Long Black, we’ve also briefly touched on lungos. Go make good coffee, and if you want me to cover anything else in particular, let me know.

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