Americano Vs. Long Black Coffee: What's The Difference?

Even the most committed coffee snob would have a hard time telling the difference between a long black and an Americano at first glance. Each is a deep, robust brown, making them look identical. They're also similarly made, because neither is brewed like drip or pour-over coffee. So, what's the difference? Taking a closer look at the two drinks will provide the answer, starting with the (possibly better-known) Americano.

Americanos are famously the European approximation of American drip coffee, typically made with water and a shot of espresso. Of course, that gives them a distinct flavor profile from regular black coffee or even coffee produced from a French press: nutty and earthy as opposed to aromatic and smooth. This is partly because traditional brewed coffee takes several minutes to filter or steep, while pulling a shot of espresso is a relatively speedy, high-pressure affair, using much finer grounds. Each Americano consists of an espresso shot pulled from 18 to 21 grams of ground coffee beans — about 1 ½ tablespoons — and twice as much water. While this is roughly the same as the coffee-to-water ratio for a standard brewed cup, the comparative darkness of the espresso roast gives it a completely different flavor to brewed coffee.

Ristrettos and the long black

The coffee drink called a long black is similar to an Americano, with two vital differences. The first is the use of ristretto shots instead of espresso shots. Ristretto, from the Italian meaning "narrow," is a fruitier, sweeter version of espresso. These shots are made with more finely-ground espresso beans and use half the water. (For this reason they're also known as "short shots.") The result is less acidic than espresso without its darker, caramelized flavors. Two shots of ristretto are used in a long black as opposed to the single espresso shot usually found in an Americano. You might think that would make the drink much more caffeinated, but that's actually not true.

The second crucial difference between an Americano and a long black is that in the former, water is added after the shot, and in the latter, it's poured into the cup first. Why does this matter? Because of the crema, the caramel-colored top of a well-pulled shot of espresso or ristretto that looks similar to the foam at the top of a draft pint of Guinness. Crema, which is comprised of CO2 microbubbles that have attached to the coffee's natural oils, tends to indicate the freshness of the grind. By pouring the ristretto into the water, the crema of the two shots sits on top, making for a more visually appealing drink.