Why (You Think) Americanos Suck

Why (You Think) Americanos Suck

Americanos have a bad rap. They are the bane of busy baristas, who would so much rather pour a quick medium drip and keep the line moving. In truth, many an Americano orderer might well be better served getting a decent cup of batch brew, if what they’re after is just a large cup of something warm and coffee-flavoured without a load of milk. But is this always true? Could there be such a thing as a good Americano. A drink that offers all that while being its own thing, with a touch of that espresso magic left in it?

Before we get to that question, why do most Americanos suck? Well, let’s do some math.[1] A lot of the time, an Americano will be made with a double shot of espresso, in something like a 12 oz cup - a typical “medium” in a lot of places. With a bit of room at the top, that cup holds about 300 mL of fluid. An industry standard double espresso uses around 18g of ground coffee. The “extraction yield” - the percentage of mass of the ground coffee beans that actually gets dissolved into the drink - is about 20%.[2] These will be our starting assumptions.

So here’s the problem. This is a formula for strength in coffee:


Strength is a measurement of how much of a drink is actually coffee and determines how intense the coffee flavour of a drink will be. For example, the rule of thumb for batch brew is 60 g of coffee per 1 L of water, aiming for 20% extraction. Taking into account that some water will be left behind and thrown away with the coffee grounds (around twice the weight of the coffee), this works out to a strength of about 1.36%. Many people like to brew even stronger than this - 1.5% is not uncommon.

Meanwhile, how does our typical Americano stack up? Plugging our starting assumptions from above into our strength formula yields a measly 1.08%. That means an average cup of drip would have anywhere from 25% to nearly 40% more actual coffee in it than this Americano! That’s an enormous difference.

So that reputation Americanos have for being poor, watered-down substitutes for drip coffee? Most of the time, that’s about right. But the solution is simple - less water.  If you want something that’s going to have close to the same feel as a good cup of drip, add your espresso to about 200 mL of water for a strength around 1.35%.

My recommendation for the best possible Americano though? A standard double shot in around 160 mL of water. This will yield a strength just north or 1.6%, meaning this is actually a stronger drink, different from what you can get out of a batch brewer - its own thing, worthy of a spot on the menu. It’s also easy to order, because 160 mL of water and a double espresso is exactly what fits in a typical 8 oz “small” cup at a cafe, with a bit of headroom.

Give it a try! Maybe become somebody who only used to think Americanos suck.

Until next time, coffee fans!

Written by: Jonathan Cox

[1] Don’t be scared. I’ll be right here with you the whole time.

[2] Actually, this is a bit generous. Higher extractions are possible with good equipment and excellent technique, but most cafes are probably falling short of 20%.

[3] For simplicity, we’ll assume our beverages have the same density as pure, room-temperature water. So the drink’s mass in grams is the same as its volume in mL.

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