Americano vs Drip Coffee: Everything You Need to Know
What do americano and drip coffee have in common? Everything and nothing at once!
This puzzle has been driving me crazy for years. And while I subconsciously understood that two drinks could look the same but taste totally different, it took a few tries to organize my thoughts and share them in this post.
By the end, you'll learn everything there is to know about the significant differences and decide once and for all which is more suitable for you. But first, let's go over the major differentiators.
Drip Coffee vs Americano: Core Differences
|Differences in||Americano||Drip coffee|
|Brewing||Espresso extracted under 9 bars of pressure and diluted with hot water||Hot water filtered through a layer of grounds and paper filter into a cup or carafe|
|Coffee machine||Manual, semi-automatic, automatic, or super-automatic espresso machine||Pour-over kit (Chemex, Hario V60, Kalita Wave) or an automatic drip machine, like Mr.Coffee|
|Caffeine per cup||64 mg per an 8-ounce serving (up to 300 mg in a four-shot Venti)||94 mg per an 8-ounce serving (up to 200 mg per a 12-ounce cuppa)|
|Flavor||Full-bodied, powerful, with hints of bitter toastiness of the dark roast||Mellow, smooth, with slightly acidic fruity and flowery notes|
|Crema||Present if the shot is poured over hot water, not the other way around||No crema|
Hardware and Brewing
For all that drip coffee makers are present in nearly every home and office thanks to Mr.Coffee, the automatic drip machine was born in Germany. Moreover, the drip coffee's younger cousin, pour-over, is yet another German invention, as it was the birthplace of a paper filter.
Whether you go the manual route or prefer an electric coffee maker, there are dozens of ways to make drip coffee. You can use an elegant Chemex, a utilitarian Hario V60, or an ever-popular Kalita Wave. And the selection of drip machines on offer is mindblowing.
Still, they all rely on the same principle of pouring hot water over the medium-coarse coffee grounds inside the paper filter and letting it drip through to the cup or carafe. For the most delicious drip cuppa, keep two things in mind: even saturation and blooming. The former means you cannot pour water into the center of the filter and expect good results. Drip machines use showerheads to moisten the full volume of the beans. And if you use a pour-over pot, go in a spiral from the edges to the center of the filter to get every last coffee particle wet.
Blooming intensifies java aroma and flavor. And all you need to do is to splash a bit of water onto the grounds and let them sit for 30 seconds before pouring the rest of the water, keeping even saturation in mind. While blooming is easy to achieve with pour-over pots, drip machines can automate it, though not all do.
Finally, if you go with an automatic drip machine, opt for a thermal carafe. It is a bit pricier than a glass pot with a warming plate, but your coffee will taste better. The hot plates are usually too hot, and leaving your java on for hours makes it bitter and undrinkable. High-end thermal carafes remain warm for two hours, and if you're not done with the brew in this time, you're better off starting a new batch.
Cafe americano is said to be an Italian concession to American soldiers' tastes. Unused to the espresso's intensity, they came up with an idea to dilute the shots with hot water to create a brew that seemed more familiar for the American tastebuds.
With this historical tidbit in mind, the difference between americano and coffee should be obvious. After all, americano is a mix of hot water with an espresso shot, and you can't make one without an espresso machine. It must come with a pump to push the hot water through the coffee puck at 9 bars of pressure to be considered an espresso maker.
Renowned for their fast brewing, espresso machines produce a single shot in around 30 seconds, though the whole cycle can take longer, considering the type of espresso maker used. The four most common ones include:
- Manual lever espresso machines. Instead of using electric pumps to control water pressure, they provide total control over the pull by using a manual lever. Beautifully crafted and reminiscent of the early 20th century's classic machines, they can take weeks and months to master. Still, they make beautiful additions to any kitchen and call to those who appreciate minute control over every aspect of the shot.
- Semi-auto models. These are the closest to fully-manual machines, but instead of a lever, they use a button-controlled electric pump to push hot water through the beans. You still have to grind the beans, fill the portafilter, tamp and lock it in place, as well as decide the duration of the pull. Despite some automation, coffee makers in this category are usually the cheapest.
- Automatic espresso makers. Another step above the semi-automatics, these machines are a bit more autonomous. For instance, they can start and stop the extraction process without your input. Some come with built-in grinders or milk frothers for extra flexibility.
- Super-automatic espresso machines. Falling into this category are the Swiss army knives of coffee makers that combine grinding, tamping, blooming, extraction, milk steaming and frothing. Most are ridiculously easy to operate. You can get an espresso, americano, cappuccino, or latte at a single press of a button. Unfortunately, the prices are steep, on par with high-end lever machines. Expect to pay $600 or more for a super-automatic espresso maker.
Americano vs Drip Coffee: Taste
Hopefully, I don't have to explain what drip coffee tastes like. It's usually mild and mellow, with barely a hint of bitterness and some vibrant acidity. It tastes great black and with a spoonful of sugar. You don't need to add milk or cream to smooth out the overwhelming flavor. As long as you don't leave the carafe on the warming plate too long, your drip coffee should taste just fine for an hour or two.
As a watered-down espresso, americano is understandably more intense and punchy than drip coffee. It lacks the overpowering bitterness and toasty notes characteristic of espresso but keeps the full body and deep, complex flavor. Considering dark roast is most common for espresso, an americano can win from adding some sugar and milk to mellow out the intensity. As a single-serving drink, americano tastes best freshly brewed.
You won't know how your favorite beans will fare in an americano or a drip coffee until you give both brewing methods a try. Remember to use the right grind setting: medium for drip and pour-over, fine for espresso.
Americano vs Drip Coffee: Acidity and Bitterness
Roasting and brewing parameters are two critical factors deciding the acidity and bitterness of your cuppa. Drip coffee is usually more acidic than americano because the light and medium roasts are used for the former, while the latter relies on medium-dark and dark roasts.
If your drip coffee tastes bitter, over-extraction is the likely culprit. When water goes through the grounds too slowly, the brew turns bitter. It might be a result of a grind setting too fine or a tamping too tight. Next time you brew a cuppa or a carafe, try using a coarser grind, and don't tamp too much coffee into the filter basket.
If your espresso tastes too sour for your liking, under-extraction is usually at fault. It occurs when water passes through the coffee puck too fast. If your shot is ready in under 20 seconds, use a finer grinder setting or tamp the grounds tighter in the portafilter. On a manual lever espresso maker, you can also slow down your pull and time it to stay within a 20 to 40 second window.
Americano vs Drip Coffee: Caffeine
According to Mayo Clinic, a smallish cuppa of drip coffee (8 oz) has around 94 mg of caffeine. However, you can find claims that a single 12-ounce serving can hold up to 200 mg of caffeine.
The exact amount depends on the beans you choose, the roasting, grind setting, brewing temperature, and time. For instance, if you go with a medium-roasted Arabica and Robusta blend, you'll get a stronger kick than if you choose a 100% Arabica roasted to the second crack. Using a finer grinder setting or increasing extraction time can also lead to higher caffeine content.
The same is true for espresso and americano, though the average caffeine content is 64 mg for a one-ounce espresso shot, according to Mayo Clinic. Starbucks claims their single-shot Americano packs 75 mg of caffeine, and each extra shot adds 75 mg on top of that. So with a four-shot Venti, you'll get 300 mg of caffeine.
These numbers say that Americano may taste more powerful and intense, but it's usually weaker than drip coffee when it comes to caffeine content.
Americano vs Drip Coffee: Crema
Crema is that blond to caramel color foam you get on top of your espresso shot. It's said to be a sign of fresh beans and professional brewing. Though some coffee makers (Nespresso Vertuo, for one) create an artificial crema regardless of the beans used, true crema made through high-pressure extraction is different. It's soft with tiny bubbles and is rarely over a quarter of an inch high.
If we sneak a peek into the physics of pulling a shot, we'll see water speed through the tightly packed coffee puck in the portafilter. Every teensy grain of coffee produces a mix of sugar and essential oils. Mixed with the first batch of hot water, these compounds create an emulsion or a mix of microscopic oil bubbles within the hot water. This light foam is the first to come out of the group head when you're pulling a shot, and it makes espresso what it is.
According to many an americano vs drip coffee Reddit discussion, if you want to preserve the crema in your Americano, you should fill a mug with hot water and leave enough space for one or two shots of espresso, then pull them into a second cup. Finally, you can pour the espresso into hot water slowly, and the crema will remain on top.
Pull espresso shots into a mug and top them with hot water if keeping the crema isn't critical. In this case, it will look no different from pour-over or drip coffee.
With these tricks in mind, you can now tell how your favorite barista makes americano. If there's no crema, you know they pour hot water into espresso, not the other way around. Or they might be serving you drip coffee instead of americano, as pour-over brewing relies on gravity rather than pressure, and there's no way to form a crema.
Americano vs Drip Coffee: Price
Manual pour-over kits are cheaper than automatic drip machines, though you can find espresso makers under $100 too. If you're looking for a coffee maker to last at least a couple of years, you'll have to pay $200+ for a drip machine or $400 for an espresso maker. While there are plenty of more affordable options for sale, there's no telling how long their shoddy designs and cheap materials will last.
You might also need to buy a burr grinder to go with your espresso machine and supply you with the fine grounds. On the other hand, drip coffee machines need a constant supply of paper filters, even if they are cheap (unless you go for Chemex bonded paper filters). A kitchen scale is another worthy investment for drip coffee lovers and americano fans to find the perfect bean-to-water ratio and stay true to it.
Now let's consider the price per cup of americano coffee vs drip coffee.
1:16 is a recommended bean-to-water ratio for automatic drip machines and pour-over. So for every 8-ounce cuppa, you'll need 0.5 ounces of coffee grounds. That means a one-pound bag of coffee will go as far as 32 cups of drip coffee. Depending on your bean of choice, it's around 50 cents per serving.
1:2 is a traditional bean-to-water ratio for espresso, which translates into 0.5 ounces of grounds for a single 1-ounce shot. An 8-ounce americano with a single shot of espresso uses the same amount of beans as a drip coffee serving, so the price should be in the vicinity of 50 cents per cup. But if you want a double-shot, you'll need to use a full ounce of grounds, and every americano cup will cost $1.
If you order a freshly brewed drip coffee in a Starbucks, expect to pay $1.85 for a short (8 oz) serving, while a single-shot cafe americano will cost you $2.25 for the same short cuppa.
As long as baristas don't try to pass black drip coffee for an americano and the other way around, I'm happy to have both. For all their differences, I don't think one is better than the other. I'm just glad the caffeine addicts like me have the option to go with a mellow drip coffee brewed by the carafe or a punchy americano to jolt the brain into action mode in the morning or after lunch. I say enjoy your favorite brew and let the others enjoy theirs.
What Is in a Starbucks Americano?The only two Cafe Americano ingredients are hot water and brewed espresso, though you can customize your drink with additional shots, toppings, sugar, milk, or syrup.
How Much Caffeine in a Cup of Drip Coffee?According to Mayo Clinic, an average 8-ounce serving of brewed coffee holds 94 mg of caffeine.
How Much Caffeine in Americano?Starbucks claims a single-shot Americano gets 75 mg of caffeine, while a double-shot drink has double the amount. Mayo Clinic claims an average espresso shot holds 64 mg of caffeine, so that's how much you can expect in a single-shot Americano.