Espresso vs Americano: How to Tell the Difference?

If you don’t know the difference between espresso and Americano, you’re not alone. There are many people who only have a vague idea that espresso is very strong coffee, and an Americano might have something to do with the addition of milk. Not so! Americanos are simply espresso coffee to which you add hot water. But that’s not all. There’s a lot more to an Americano than that, and this article will discuss the ins and outs of the differences and nuances between a shot of espresso and Americano.

a cup of espresso

What is Espresso?

Espresso is a coffee that you can differentiate from drip coffee by the fact that you make it from finely ground roasted coffee beans. You make it in an espresso machine, where you force nearly-boiling water through a puck of tightly-pressed coffee grounds with the help of very high pressure.

The result is a thick, creamy, aromatic, and slightly bitter concentrated brew. Traditionally you serve it as 1 oz shots, in small cups called demitasse.

Cup of coffee and American flag on grey background

What is Americano?

An Americano is basically the addition of hot water to a shot or two of espresso in a ratio of 1:4:

  • 1/5 espresso
  • 4/5 hot water

You can either add the hot water to the ready-poured espresso, or you can add your hot water first, and the espresso afterward. It all depends on the flavor you seek. If you wander down to your local coffee shop, be sure to ask how they prepare it. The order in which you add the elements makes quite a lot of difference to the taste.

The result is a coffee drink that’s lighter in taste than espresso, but has just as much caffeine.

metal cup coffee on top old books

History of the Brews


Espresso came about when someone invented an espresso machine way back in the late 19th century. It was only later called espresso, but the history of the dark coffee dates back to those times.


The story of how the Americano came to be allegedly dates back to the Second World War. Some American soldiers were stationed in Italy, and couldn’t quite stomach the espresso they were offered. Hot water was added, and so the Americano was born.

Why an Americano?

An Americano is similar to drip coffee, but without the bitterness or sourness of other coffees. An Americano has exactly the same brewing method as espresso, just with the addition of hot water. It has an espresso to water ratio of 1:4.

Does an Americano taste weak? No, it has a personality of its own. Its flavors are distinct, and full-bodied. If you find espresso a bit strong, or the brew leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, you may try the Americano and love the slight change. You can ‘unlock’ the flavors of the coffee beans by adding hot water. You’ll experience a floral taste, with chocolate and hints of citrus not far behind.

Both the Americano and the espresso have a wide range of flavors, because the coffee beans come from a variety of places on earth. This makes them very interesting to try.

In short, the Americano is not just a diluted version of espresso.

man enjoying coffee

The Taste of an Americano

Just because one part espresso forms the basis of an Americano doesn’t mean it tastes the same. It tastes more like black coffee—only richer and stronger. It doesn’t have the dense creaminess that espresso has, because you add water, but it still has a smoothness to the taste. In fact, if you want to make it stronger, you add less water. So you can customize your drink to your personal preference.

Another unique feature is that it will normally be hotter than other coffee drinks because of the addition of hot water.

crema on espresso

The Crema in an Espresso and an Americano

The crema is a rich, flavorful texture that gets left on top of an espresso when the oils are forced out of the coffee beans under high pressure during the extraction process. It’s one of the distinctive marks of the espresso, and is very highly prized among coffee aficionados.

With the Americano, it disappears when you add the hot water after the espresso, but if you add hot water first, you retain the crema on top. The latter is called a reverse Americano.

Caffeine Content in Espresso and the Americano

There is about 65 mg of caffeine in espresso. The amount of caffeine doesn’t change when water is added, so the Americano contains the same for a single shot of espresso. Of course, if you have a double shot, that will be double the amount of caffeine for both.

pouring milk into americano coffee

Can You Add Milk to an Americano?

You can certainly add milk, cream, or milk-substitute if you like. It would differ from a cappuccino in that cappuccinos don’t have hot water, only milk. So, your ideal drink for the moment depends on whether you’d like the hot water of an Americano to open up the flavors in the espresso or a completely milky flavor.

Table of Comparison: Espresso Vs Americano

Espresso Americano
Flavor Strong, bold flavor Lighter, less bitter flavor that is opened up by the hot water, with floral, chocolatey notes
Servings Served in 1oz servings in demitasse Served in taller cups, up to 5 oz
Content and Ratio Espresso-only Espresso to hot water—1:4 ratio
Alternative Options No milk, seldom and sugar added Can add milk and sugar
Crema Has a rich crema on top Can have a rich crema on top, depending on whether hot water goes in first or not.

What Really Stands Out?

So, in summary, what stands out for the espresso is:

  • Its concentrated formula provides a strong, bold, slightly bitter taste.
  • The crema is formed from the oils released by putting the grounds under pressure. It gives it its characteristic creaminess on the top layer.

What stands out for the Americano is:

  • Its lighter, delicate flavor, which comes from the addition of hot water to espresso. It opens up the flavors of the espresso to include some floral, chocolatey flavours.
  • You still enjoy cream and the creaminess, but none of the bitterness.

The only drawback about the Americano would be if you added the water after the espresso. Many aficionados say that it upsets the texture and flavors of the coffee, and shouldn’t be drunk this way.

Espresso and Americano, despite having the same base of espresso, are very different drinks indeed, with their own personalities and flair.

The espresso is dark, bold, and strong, but is only served in small amounts. In contrast, the Americano is lighter, still creamy, but filled with all the notes of the coffee bean: floral, chocolate and citrus included. The addition of hot water in the Americano simply gives it a different personality; it’s not merely diluted coffee.

Use espresso when:

  • You want a strong statement, for instance in the morning, or as an after-dinner drink to wind up the evening.
  • You wish to take your drink fairly quickly.

Drink Americano when:

  • Someone wants a less bold drink, with more flavors, and without the bitterness of an espresso.
  • You wish to linger over your drink. It would be a good mid-morning drink with a group of friends.
  • For people who enjoy adding some milk-based products or milk substitutes.

In many ways, there’s space for both espresso and Americano on any coffee drinker’s list of favorites. Some people will still prefer one or the other, but it’s a good idea to try them both before you make up your mind. Keep your options open and you may discover the perfect complement to a certain meal or snack.