September 10, 2020

What’s The Difference Between Americano And Filter Coffee?

To people who don’t know too much about coffee, a cup of filter coffee may look the same as a coffee shop americano. However, the two really couldn’t be any more different. 

The fundamental difference is simple: while americano is made by adding water to espresso, filter coffee is made with a completely different brewing method. I spoke to two expert baristas to learn more about the two drinks and how they prepare them.

Lee este artículo en español ¿Cuál es la Diferencia Entre un Americano y un Café Filtrado?

What Is An Americano? 

An americano is made by diluting an espresso with hot water. There is no particular guideline on how much hot water to use. Some people claim that a 1:2 espresso to water ratio is a “standard” americano, while others prefer a “shorter” americano with a 1:1 ratio. In reality, coffee shops may use a ratio as high as 1:15 depending on the intensity of their espresso and customers’ taste.

The long black is a popular drink in Australia and New Zealand that contains the same ingredients as an americano. However, the method of preparation is different. With an americano, water is poured over the espresso, while with the long black, it’s the other way around.

Be careful when ordering an americano in Italy. The exact Italian names for an americano (caffé americano) and filter coffee (caffé all’americana) are similar.

A popular but unconfirmed belief about the americano’s origin is that it was invented by Italian baristas for American soldiers during the Second World War. The soldiers found standard espressos too bitter and intense for their tastes, as they were used to drinking filter or “drip” coffee back home.

To give them coffee that was more to their taste, baristas served them espresso diluted with hot water. In the USA today, ordering a “black coffee” will get you a cup of black filter coffee, while restaurants and coffee shops in somewhere like the UK are more likely to interpret this as an americano.

Tibor Hámori is head barista of Gerbeaud Café in Budapest, which has been operating for more than 160 years. He says that to make an americano, “[he] makes a double espresso and adds extra temperature-controlled (75°C) filtered water”. Tibor uses a 1:2 ratio, with a 34g espresso and 68g hot water.

You may also like Coffee Brew Ratios: What You Need to Know

What Is Filter Coffee?

Espresso is made by forcing high-pressure water quickly through fine coffee grounds. Filter coffee, however, is made by pouring hot water over coffee grounds and letting the resulting brew drip through a filter.

Cole Torode is a two time Canadian Barista Champion and two time World Barista Championship Finalist. He’s also a buyer at Forward Specialty Green Coffee and Director at Rosso Coffee Roasters in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. 

He says that “filter coffee is brewed using a recipe that’s intended for that coffee specifically to achieve a strength and extraction that best showcases its individual expression”. Depending on the coffee used (its origin, variety, and how it was processed, for instance), results can vary significantly.

Cole adds that there are a number of ratios and brew methods that you can tweak to alter the flavour of the coffee. There’s no set recipe or ratio required for filter coffee, and while it can be enjoyed with milk, this can often mask the more delicate flavours of the coffee.

Tibor points out that the equipment used to brew the coffee will also affect its flavour. “Your filter coffee can be made with an AeroPress, a V60, Kalita, and so on… different equipment means you’re getting different coffee at the end.”

So, What’s The Difference?

“To simplify, an americano is a diluted espresso whereas a filter coffee is made with an intentional and individual recipe,” Cole says. 

He adds that from his experience, customers generally assume that an americano is “stronger” than filter coffee. However, the concentration of both beverages will depend entirely on the brew ratio, and specifically how much water is used to dilute the americano.

There are some other points to consider when preparing both beverages.

Different Coffees Suit Different Brewing Methods

Historically, people have associated darker roasts with espresso, while lighter roasts are generally used for filter coffee.

Cole explains that “most cafés will default to making an americano with their house espresso”. He says, however, that when it comes to filter coffee, coffee shops “might have a menu… that clients can pick from, allowing a wider range of experience and availability”.

For filter, Cole prefers a Kenyan coffee with high acidity. However, he adds that it “might not be the easiest to work with as espresso, as the acidity will show with great intensity, but this is likely easier to tone back and bring clarity to a filter coffee”.

Cole says that to his knowledge, there’s no single recipe or ratio for preparing an americano. He points out that it will be up to the café to decide what the final volume will be. “At some coffee shops, [the americano] might be 40g of liquid espresso added to 250ml of water,” he says.

“A café will rarely change this recipe based on the coffee they use, as they generally serve a beverage of a consistent size when a customer orders an americano.” 

Tibor feels that the more subtle traits of a coffee can be better showcased through a filter coffee. “I prefer fruitier and more interesting coffees for filter… I choose a good washed Ethiopian, Kenyan, Guatemalan or Panamanian coffee,” he says. 

“These coffees can have less body and slightly more acidity, which means in the cup you can taste tea-like and sweet ripe fruit notes.” For an espresso (and therefore an americano), Tibor prefers to use sweet, chocolatey coffees with a heavy body, and says he often chooses natural processed Brazilians, Colombians, or Ethiopians.

Consistency Matters

Cole says that espresso (and therefore americanos) is hard to standardise or control. “I believe espresso is one of the most challenging coffees to make consistently and at a high standard of quality,” he says. 

“It’s such a volatile brewing method and the control really doesn’t lie in the barista’s hands. We can be as consistent [with the process] as humanly possible and create very different espressos.

“Temperature, humidity, workload, [machine] cleanliness, and [a number of other factors] will all dictate how an espresso tastes. This leads to very varied results, even among the world’s best baristas. Unless we use state-of-the-art machines that back up our efforts, it’s challenging to deliver consistent espresso,” he says. 

However, Cole adds that if the barista uses an espresso machine with flow profiling technology, “they’ll have more control over the espresso and its brewing process”.

While brewing filter coffee can also produce inconsistent results, it is generally more forgiving as a brewing method. “The resulting beverage is much lower in concentration (approximately eight to ten times [less] concentrated than an average shot of espresso),” Cole says.

“Any error in an espresso is magnified because of the concentration, where it can be slightly subdued in a filter coffee.”

The bottom line and the difference between the two beverages is simple. An americano is made by diluting espresso, whereas filter coffee is made with a completely different brewing process. 

However, some people who are less experienced coffee drinkers might assume that they’re the same thing. So, if customers enter your coffee shop and seem confused about the differences between the two beverages, educate them. It might just be the first step they take into the world of specialty coffee.

Enjoyed this? Then read “Strong Coffee”: Definitions From Around The World

Photo credits: Neil Soque, Julio Guevara

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