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Americano vs. Long Black: What’s the Difference?

CoffeeAffection_Americano VS Long Black_v1_Sep 1 2023

The world of espresso is one filled with specialty drinks and niche vocabulary, which can be intimidating to first-time coffee shop patrons. From long shots to peppermint mocha frappes, coffee shops can be confusing if you don’t know precisely what you want. While each drink may seem the same, there is a method to the madness behind the barista bar. So long black vs Americano: what’s the difference?

The Long Black and the Americano are both drinks that may look and even taste similar, but making them are different. They are both made with hot water and espresso, but the ratios and order of pouring are not the same with both drinks. Let’s take a look at the Long Black and the Americano to see what makes them different:

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Overview of Americanos:

The Americano is one of the most popular espresso drinks made with espresso diluted in water. The Americano was invented in Italy, and Café Americano translates to “American Coffee” in Italian. The idea is that the Americano was made for Americans because Italian espresso was too strong, so watering down the espresso made it taste more like coffee.

How It’s Made

The order in which espresso and water are poured cannot be overstated since most drinks rely specifically on what order they go. For an Americano, the espresso is poured first into the cup, then the water on top. This creates two layers with a small amount of cream swirling in between them. If it is not done in this order, then it’s not an Americano. You can make an Americano with ristretto, a different form of espresso.

Black Coffee
Image Credit: MKDigitalArt, Pixabay

Flavor Profile of an Americano

The Americano is the middle ground between espresso and drip-brewed coffee, where it has the best of both worlds. It has the sweet notes and body of an espresso drink, but the water dilutes the bitterness that espresso often has. Americanos are often compared to regular coffee brewed very strong, without the sweetness that espresso naturally has.

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Overview of Long Blacks:

The Long Black is an espresso drink first made in Australia and New Zealand. One theory is that it was invented to appeal to American tourists’ coffee preferences, though this drink is popular with locals as well. Some people simply pass it off as an Americano, but experienced baristas know the difference. While it is made with water and espresso-like an Americano, the order in which you pour is crucial.

How It’s Made

The Long Black is made by pouring hot water first into the cup, then adding espresso on top. This will create two separate layers, with the frothy espresso crema staying mostly on top. If it’s done in the opposite order, it’s not considered a Long Black. You can also make a Long Black with ristretto.

a cup of black coffee
Image Credit: Sixteen Miles Out, Unsplash

Flavor Profile of a Long Black

The Long Black will have a similar flavor profile and taste of the Americano, but it will be slightly stronger due to the espresso sitting on top. It will also taste different because the two layers aren’t mixed up as much as the Americano, which is more mixed because of the water being poured after the espresso. Some people prefer the stronger taste of the Long Black, without the bite that a full espresso shot has.

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Overview of Espresso

Before understanding the fine art of specialty drink making, it’s essential to understand espresso itself. Many people think espresso is made with espresso beans, which isn’t wholly untrue; there are “specialty” coffee blends made with Robusta beans that are specifically meant for espresso. However, espresso is usually regular coffee ground to a fine powder and packed into cake-like portions. Espresso can be made with most coffee blends, though the darker roasts are preferred for body and flavor.

double espresso
Image credit: Unsplash

How is Espresso Made?

Espresso may be more concentrated and taste much stronger, but it’s brewed within thirty seconds. An espresso maker brews espresso by pressurized water that is near boiling, creating a robust and concentrated form of coffee. It’s popular in a wide variety of coffee shop drinks and for the fast brew time, creating a separate market from traditional coffee.

Compared to typical brewing methods that can take a few minutes, espresso is much quicker to make. An espresso machine technically isn’t necessary, but they’re much less work than without one. There are expensive espresso makers that are on the market, but a lot of coffee maker brands have their own espresso makers as well.

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What is Ristretto? Can You Use it in Americanos and Long Blacks?

If you’re about to make your own drinks at home only to find your recipe calls for ristretto, don’t start to panic. Ristretto is a shorter version of the espresso, brewed with less water and even finer-ground coffee than espresso. It’s more concentrated in flavor, so the sweeter notes stand out compared to espresso. Although it tastes stronger, ristretto doesn’t really contain more caffeine than espresso.

Thankfully, Americanos and Long Blacks can also be made with ristretto. In fact, most drinks that call for espresso can swap it out for ristretto. It’ll make Long Blacks and Americanos stronger in the expresso flavor, with a less bitter taste. Try both drinks with both espresso and ristretto to find your preference.

ristretto top view
Image Credit: CC0 Public Domain, Pxhere

What is Crema?

Crema may sound like it’s a dairy product, but it surprisingly has nothing to do with milk or cream. Café crema, the original term, is simply the reddish foam that appears on top of freshly brewed espresso. Crema is a point of contention in the coffee world because people argue its importance, but most coffee experts will say that crema is crucial to espresso.

Crema forms because of the hot boiling water and fast brewing process, creating a light-colored foam after the brewing process. If your espresso has no crema, it might be stale and will not have a full taste. Crema also matters with specific drink recipes and can help you distinguish between them, like the Americano and Long Black.

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Americano vs Long Black: Which Should You Choose?

The Americano and the Long Black are two espresso-based drinks with similar features, but they’re made in different ways. The Americano is espresso with water added, which tastes more like strong coffee. The Long Black, however, is water with espresso added, which is stronger and fuller in taste. Although they seem like the same drink, the results will give you two slightly different-tasting espresso drinks. If you like the way an Americano, you might enjoy the stronger flavor of the Long Black.


Featured Image – Left: Americano (Source: Bill Weiss, Flickr), Right: Long Black (Source: Katherine Lim, Flickr)


Sean Brennan

Sean’s obsession with coffee started when he received his first French press as a gift almost ten years ago. Since then, his love of coffee – and the number of coffee gadgets he owns – has grown considerably. A scientist by training, there is no stone he has left unturned in the never-ending quest for the perfect cup of coffee. He has spent many hours tuning his pour-over technique, thinking about how to best compare grind quality, and worrying about whether the Nicaraguan or Kenyan beans will make the best cold brew. These days he favors the Hario V60, and starts each day by hand grinding his coffee before enjoying a cup prepared with care and attention to detail.

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