Is There a Difference Between An Americano and Espresso? (Answered!)

Last Updated on May 16, 2023 by Barry Gray

Suppose I had to conduct a survey regarding the most widely-known ways of drinking coffee. In that case, I think an Americano and espresso would come out on top. However, while most people may have heard of both names, how much do you know about the drinks?

Well, I’m here to help clear up any confusion while explaining what you should expect from your Americano and your espresso.

An Americano uses espresso as the central part of the drink. Still, hot water is added to make it a larger coffee, making it significantly easier to drink. An espresso is just a shot of coffee with nothing else added, making it taste more intense than the Americano.

I’ll be honest; my own personal preference out of the two is the Americano.

Don’t get me wrong, I can enjoy a good espresso when made with decent beans, but I’ve concluded I’m much more of a visual guy. The Americano just looks bigger, because it is, which somehow appeals to me.

But size is not everything, as you are about to find out. Over the next few minutes, I will take you through what you should expect to get with both an Americano and an espresso.

By the end, I get the feeling you will have discovered there are more differences between the two drinks than you thought possible. I know that’s how I felt when I really dived into this topic.

What is An Americano?

Americano coffee

Served as a black coffee, an Americano is highly popular. I couldn’t even tell you how many cups of the stuff I have had to drink over the decades. It’s just far too many.

But do you know what the base of an Americano must be for it to be called this?

Well, it’s simple.

You take a shot of espresso, or perhaps two shots depending on personal preference, or even the coffee shop you are at, and throw in some hot water to make a bigger drink.

In short, it’s an espresso that’s just not as concentrated as the espresso I will discuss shortly.

Yet here’s the key point for me. Sure, the Americano contains espresso, but the two drinks are entirely different, and this is a difference you would experience if you had one of each sitting side by side.

What is An Espresso?

espresso coffee

An espresso is a single shot of concentrated coffee. Seen as the purest form of coffee, it has an intensity you just do not get with any other type of coffee.

However, it’s that intensity that draws coffee lovers to an espresso since it allows you to really get the different tastes of various coffee beans used in the brewing process.

But you also do not add anything to an espresso.

It’s just you and the coffee in a single shot or a double if you feel like taking a risk, and there’s no doubt it does deliver a taste explosion.

Yet an espresso comes with so many individual nuances that people miss out on or don’t even realize.

Take the top layer as a prime example.

Called the crema, it’s frothy but can also be quite bitter. It’s full of bubbles from making the espresso, but it’s one of the main characteristics associated with this drink.

What are The Differences Between An Americano and Espresso

As I’ve already alluded to, several differences exist between an Americano and an espresso, so let me go through the list because there are a number of differences you may not have expected.

Difference in Size Between Americano and Espresso

First, there’s a size difference between the two drinks. 

An espresso will have either 1 or 2 ounces of liquid, depending on whether you are going for a single or double shot. However, an Americano has significantly more liquid, varying from 10 to 16 ounces.

That’s a huge difference, and when you consider it’s just hot water that’s the difference, it also shows how an Americano is indeed a “watered-down” version of an espresso.

Is An Americano Prepared Differently From An Espresso

While an Americano and espresso start off from the same base, they soon diverge into their own particular drink during the preparation phase.

As mentioned earlier, an espresso is a pure form of coffee. You will typically use steam and pressure to push water through the beans to then get that concentrated coffee at the end. 

However, with an espresso, you leave it alone after this initial step. There’s nothing else to do, and your coffee is ready.

An Americano is different. 

With the Americano, you prepare the espresso shot, then top it up with some hot water. 

However, there’s no need to add anything else, so no sugar or cream to complete the drink. 

But do you know something?

It’s amazing the difference the hot water will make to an Americano. I find it takes the edge off the espresso, but it would do that since you are lowering the intensity of the coffee. 

Is There a Difference in Appearance Between An Americano and Espresso?

americano is larger than an espresso

Suppose I go ahead and make both an Americano and espresso. In that case, while they may initially look the same, that’s not actually true.

Look more closely, and you will see one major difference in their appearance.

Thanks to adding water to the espresso, you then manage to effectively dissolve the crema on the top of the espresso. Keep in mind that the crema is a significant component of the overall appearance of the espresso, so removing it by adding water constitutes a big difference.

But that’s not the only difference.

I would suggest you take a close look at the color of the coffee. An Americano will take on a lighter appearance, and it’s simply because of the added water.

It’s still a black coffee, but the reduced concentration of the coffee is also apparent if you have both drinks side by side. 

Do You Use the Same Coffee Beans for An Americano and Espresso?

the wrong type of coffee beans for espresso

My short answer is that you can use the same coffee beans, but some would argue against it.

Instead, some would state you should use beans specifically selected to make espresso, but only when you want to have the espresso in its pure state.

They argue you can use any coffee beans for an Americano since the hot water is diluting the intensity of the coffee bean anyway.

While I see where they are coming from, I feel it complicates matters, and it does so when it’s not entirely necessary.

However, I would state that you should focus on using an Arabica or Robusta bean and ensure it’s dark roast to get the best possible outcome.

Then, you can make your Americano or espresso and be quite content with the finished taste.

Does Adding Water Completely Change the Flavor in the Americano?

Staying with the beans aspect for just a few minutes, let me address some people’s concerns regarding adding water to make an Americano.

I’ve mentioned more than once that it dilutes the espresso’s concentration and intensity, but that’s not always bad.

Actually, I should state how adding the water manages to soften the flavor, and it allows you to perhaps enjoy more layers to the flavor than you would have done with an espresso.

Some people feel the intensity of espresso overpowers their enjoyment and ability to differentiate between the flavors. If that sounds like you, then an Americano is the way to go.

The Flavor Profile Between Americano and Espresso

This point regarding the flavor clearly determines your experience, and there’s no doubt this is an area where both an Americano and espresso differ.

You will obviously be hit with the intensity of the flavor with an espresso. It’s hardly something you can ignore.

But here’s something you may not have initially noticed. That intense flavor is something that continues to build as you explore your espresso, and that’s not something you will experience with an Americano.

Well, not to the same extent.

But here’s a problem with that intensity if you are the coffee drinker who loves to effectively explore different flavors within a coffee: you cannot do that with an espresso.

Well, unless you have a natural nose for the different flavors.

That’s why an Americano is easier to enjoy if you prefer to pick up on those hints of caramel or chocolate undertones in your coffee. The slightly less concentrated coffee part makes a huge difference.

Yet I want to stress something. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking an Americano is the same as a regular black coffee.

That’s not the case. It’s still significantly stronger in flavor than black coffee. 

What’s the Same Between an Americano and Espresso?

I’ve discussed a number of the differences between these two ways to drink coffee, but what about the similarities?

Well, they certainly have several areas where they are identical.

First, the espresso part is made the same way, no matter which drink you intend to make. I know some people will change the beans, but it’s not 100% necessary to get a great end result.

But here’s the surprising part.

Aside from neither being served containing cream or sugar, this is the only real similarity. I find that amazing, considering we are hardly talking about a long list of ingredients.

A Recap of the Differences Between An Americano and Espresso

So, to prevent any additional confusion, I will quickly run through the differences between an Americano and an espresso.

  • Espresso offers a more intense flavor experience
  • An Americano is larger due to the addition of hot water
  • An Americano is lighter in color thanks to the added water
  • There is no crema with an Americano
  • The flavor is less intense with an Americano
  • The espresso can taste more bitter

Overall, it’s the flavor where you will notice the most significant difference. However, I still suggest trying both drinks using a variety of beans to experience how the taste can change depending on the beans used. 

To Conclude

I find both an Americano and an espresso a delight to drink, as they both give you a different coffee-drinking experience. I feel the one you will enjoy most depends on the strength of coffee that you enjoy.

There is a significant difference when it comes to taste and strength, so your experience will also change.

But my final point is you should invest some time trying out different beans to get those varying tastes in both your Americano and espresso. That is where the fun of it all really comes into play and is one reason why I feel coffee is such an intriguing thing to drink.