What Is An Americano Coffee, And Why Is It Called That?

If we had a nickel every time a different type of coffee was shouted over the counter at our local coffee shop, we'd all have plenty of money to buy our morning coffee. There are countless ways to order this morning beverage: espresso, cappuccino, latte, red eye, flat white, and the list goes on so long you need a coffee just to look at it.

Some of us have a go-to order and stick to it like glue. Some mix it up once in a while, but generally, aside from the orders we tend to gravitate toward, we don't really bother learning what all the others even mean.

For you, one of these might be an Americano. You've probably heard it ordered, but maybe you've never had it, and you're not sure exactly what it is. Or perhaps you have had it, but you actually have no idea what it is. Grab your coffee of choice, sit back, and settle in — here's everything we know about the Americano.

What's in an Americano?

It may have a fancy name, but the Americano is one of the most straightforward orders besides black coffee. It's made up of two ingredients: espresso and water (hot water for a hot Americano, cold water for an iced Americano — but you could have guessed that).

Let's talk quantities because not all Americanos will come with the same espresso-to-water ratio. It largely depends on preference for either you or the coffee shop. You can order the drink with one or two shots of espresso. Still, typically the ratio will be either equal parts or a 1:2 ratio of espresso to water for a more diluted version (via Nescafe). The Americano falls between black coffee and a clear-cut espresso; it's diluted with water yet still a pure version of coffee untainted by steamed milk, foam, or sugar.

There's some dispute over how exactly to make the drink — espresso then water, or water then espresso — but Nescafe maintains that an authentic Americano is made by pouring the espresso first and then topping it with hot water. This allows the 'crema' (aka that velvety brown foam that forms on the top of an espresso shot) to mix into the drink rather than sit on top, mellowing out its flavor. Fun fact: if you were to pour the water first and then the espresso to keep the crema intact, that would be called a long black.

How did Caffè Americano​​ get its name?

We've established that an Americano is watered-down espresso, but why water it down in the first place? That brings us to the history behind this drink and its namesake — which, as legend has it, goes back to World War II.

According to The New York Times, America's love of coffee comes from the military; it quickly became a multiple-times-a-day drink for American service members. By World War II, they were consuming copious amounts of hot, caffeinated drip coffee.

The story goes that soldiers stationed in Italy were having trouble adjusting to the strong, bitter espresso that was (and still is) a staple there. So, to mimic the drip coffee they were used to, they watered down the espresso and cut out some of that bite. This is where Caffé Americano gets its name; it's simply Italian for American Coffee.