Americano vs Latte: All The Differences Explained

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The americano and the latte are both espresso-based coffee drinks. Their main difference is that the latte contains milk while the americano doesn’t.

With so many coffee drinks on the menu out there these days, you often don’t know what to choose or what the differences are.

Let’s take the americano and the latte for example? What makes them what they are and how exactly are these two drinks different from one another?

No need to worry! I am here to break it all down for you and I promise that by the end of this article you’ll know the differences better than a coffee geek.

The first thing you need to know is that both of these drinks have espresso as their base. You basically can’t make a latte or an americano without an espresso, it’s the heart of both drinks. But what exactly is an espresso?

Let’s find out!

What Is An Espresso?

The word “espresso” conveys one of the most important things we should know about this drink: it all happens quickly. Basically, “espresso” is the Italian word for “express” (it’s which means this is a drink that is quick to make and quick to consume. The caffeine kick of espresso is also quick.

A good espresso is made by pressing hot water (88-94 degrees Celsius) under high pressure of 9 bars for about 25 seconds through very finely ground coffee powder. This process causes the espresso to be much denser and more concentrated than filter coffee.

Espresso is not only enjoyed straight from a small cup, it is also the basis for various drinks. Americano, cappuccino, flat white, and latte are prepared with espresso shots.

The Anatomy of An Espresso

An espresso is not only extracted thicker and more concentrated than filter coffee, an espresso has two different layers:

  1. The crema
  2. The liquid body

The Crema

This is the golden brown top layer of an espresso, which is created by high pressure. Proteins, coffee oils, and melanoidins, which are produced as a by-product of the Maillard reaction, are pressed out of the coffee beans and form the crema. Not every type of coffee forms a lush crema.

In general, the crema of a pure Arabica espresso is slightly thinner, which is why Robusta beans are often added to the espresso blends to give an espresso depth. The crema of the espresso is a divisive issue: some people find it too bitter, while others see it as a sign of good coffee extraction.

The Liquid Body

This is the main component of espresso and has acidity and sweetness in terms of taste. You could say it is the heart of espresso. Here all the fine aromas and nuances of taste are dissolved. All water-soluble components such as acids, caffeine, sugar, and proteins are responsible for this.

​​Americano vs Latte: The Differences

So, what exactly does it mean that espresso is the basis of these two drinks? Well, it simply means that both of these drinks contain at least one shot of espresso.

How many shots of espresso go into the drinks depends on how you take your coffee. Some people can’t handle a double shot of espresso while for others it’s essential!

The main difference between the two drinks is that the americano doesn’t have any milk in it while the latte does.

Let’s have a closer look at the history and preparation of these two espresso-based drinks!

Brief History of the Americano

Rumour has it that the Americano was invented during World War II. When American soldiers marched into Italy, they got to know and love Italian coffee culture. But the American palate was not used to the intensity of Italian coffee and the espresso was considered too strong.

Therefore, the soldiers came up with the idea of simply adding hot water to the espresso to make it taste a little weaker. With the blossoming of tourism during the 70s, the americano started spreading throughout the world and found its way into coffee menus worldwide.

What is an Americano?

It’s basically an espresso, diluted with water. Depending on your taste, you can use 50% water and 50% espresso, or only 1/3 espresso, if you like it milder. The Americano is the dairy-free alternative to milky drinks like the cappuccino or the latte.

However, nobody is stopping you from adding a splash of milk to your americano!

By the way, I love having the cold version of it during the hot summer months! You just need to top the espresso with chilled water and ice cubes and you got yourself the perfect summer coffee drink.

How to make an Americano

There are two ways to prepare an Americano:

  1. First, you fill the cup with hot water and then pour in a single or a double shot of espresso. If you do this, you will notice that the espresso crema I mentioned above, forms on the top of your americano. The method is used by most coffee shops for this exact reason, because the cream looks really good on top.
  1. Alternatively, the espresso is poured into the cup first and then the hot water is added to it. The crema is somewhat destroyed when the water is poured in and mixes with the actual espresso.

This makes the Cafe Americano taste a bit more bitter. The reason for this is that tiny bits of ground coffee, which are contained in the crema of the espresso, make the drink more bitter.

Which way to make your americano is of course up to you! Another interesting fact is that in some countries like Australia when you use the first preparation method the drink is called a long black, not an Americano. Americano for them is the second preparation method.

Is Filter Coffee similar to an Americano?

Theoretically, americano and filter coffee are linked by the same concept. Hot water is poured over the coffee and flows through a filter into a vessel.

The main difference between a filter coffee and an americano, however, is that the water is not pressed through the coffee powder under pressure, but due to gravity alone, it slowly makes its way through the coffee grounds.

For this reason, the brewing process of filter coffee takes a little longer and the result is completely different in taste from an americano. The filter coffee has less acidity and at the same time more complex aromas than the americano.

This is a great way to make a unique single-origin coffee because the long-brewing time allows all the fine aromas to develop and the coffee oils and fragrances are transported into the drink with the water. In contrast to an americano, the filter coffee is more of a clear drink with a milder mouthfeel.

Brief History of the Latte

If you look up the word “latte” in the Oxford English Dictionary you will find it dates back to the 19th century. This is the first time it was defined as a coffee drink. The word “latte” itself is the Italian word for milk.

Before espresso came around in the 20th century, adding milk to coffee was already popular in many countries. Instead of espresso, people were simply using freshly brewed filter coffee.

Once the Italians invented the espresso machine during the early 1910s, it was only a matter of time before they started adding milk into it. Many milk-based coffee drinks rose to popularity during the 20th century like the latte, the cappuccino, and the macchiato.

As for the latte, it started gaining a lot of attention during the ‘80s thanks to a Seattle coffee company called Starbucks. Ring a bell?

Today, a latte is the preferred order of many people and it actually comes in different versions as people like to add extras in it such as flavored syrups and non-dairy milk alternatives.

What is a Latte?

When creating the latte, the idea was to come up with a milder version of a cappuccino. The cappuccino is a drink that contains a lot of milk foam, which can be quite heavy and sometimes unpleasant for some, so the latte came in as an alternative.

So, in most coffee shops if you order a latte you will be served a single shot of espresso topped with creamy steamed milk and a layer of microfoam on the very top. If the barista is really fancy about latte art, your microfoam will have the shape of a rosetta or a heart!

How to Make a Latte

To make a latte, you need two things: coffee and milk. First, you prepare a single or a double shot of espresso, depending on your own taste. Then you need to steam your milk to the point where it’s hot but not boiled. The ideal temperature is 55-65°C or 130-150°F.

If you are using a non-dairy alternative keep in mind that it usually heats faster than dairy milk. If you are using dairy milk then I suggest you go with whole milk as it’s more uniform and results in a fantastic milk texture and flavor in your cup.

After you heat your milk, simply start pouring it on top of your espresso shot. The most common size of the cup for a latte is 8-10 oz.

Which One Has More Caffeine?

Well, since both of these drinks have their basis on the espresso, we just need to take a look at how much caffeine an espresso shot has.

A single shot of espresso contains 10g of coffee and approx. 30 mg of caffeine. A double shot on the other hand contains 18g of coffee and has approx. 60 mg of caffeine.

So both, the latte and the americano might have the same caffeine content depending on whether they contain a single or a double shot of espresso. Adding milk or water to the espresso does not affect the caffeine content, it just alters the taste of your coffee.

Last Thoughts

I bet that after reading this article you feel much more confident to navigate your way through a coffee shop menu! And perhaps you feel more curious about trying both drinks and figuring out which one you like best.

Some people consider themselves black coffee drinkers, others swear by milky coffee. Which one are you? I, for one, prefer choosing my drink based on my mood. That way I can enjoy many different types without limiting myself. Perhaps you could try that too!

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