Coffee Blues: The “Americano” Daze

I’m a coffee person.
I like my cold-brews and my soy lattes. I like a barista who knows the difference between a latte macchiato and a piccolo latte. I lean towards 100% arabica instead of a 20/80 blend. I like my espresso extraction timed at 23 seconds, and yes, I am that annoying customer who insists on having her milk poured into the espresso within a 4 second window frame after extraction.
I enjoy a cup of good coffee, but there are some days, when all you want is a good, old-fashioned, black coffee.

Most cafes are espresso based establishments, so a black coffee is often an “Americano” or a “Long Black”, which is basically, in laymen’s terms, a shot of espresso and hot water.
Sounds simple, right?
Except, like all things that look and sound simple, it’s anything but.

There’s always great debate within the coffee community about what type of coffee’s what: the most controversial being the “Flat White”. How a Flat White is done differs greatly between baristas and countries.
In London, most baristas will tell you that it’s served in a cappuccino sized cup, with a double espresso and topped with milk that’s sort of a latte foam, but less.
In the New World (ha! wine lingo!)/3rd wave coffee countries, they’ll insist that a flat white is served in a typical latte cup with a ristretto topped with micro foam.

Similar to the great Flat White debate, there’s also much confusion about “Black Coffee”.

A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, but a coffee by any other name… well, that changes everything. The names suggest different techniques and extraction times, and all of this affects the final taste of the served beverage… intense, eh? Yes, I’m aware this opens flood gates for a lot of jokes, but, it all pays off when you have, in your hand, the perfect cuppa Joe.

So, my lovelies, “what are the differences in Black Coffees?” you ask, with a heavy sigh and a dramatic roll of eyes?
Aside from the nitty gritty of beans and blends which I won’t go into, the extraction time, extraction techniques, coarseness of the grind and even the heat of the water affects the final product. Sounds complicated, right? Well, think about this logically: coffee brewing is a little bit like tea brewing. The first time you pour water into your bag of tea, the flavour is more intense, right? But the longer you steep it, the more it loses its taste. Same underlying logic applies to coffee.

Acids are extracted first, followed by balancing sugars and then bitterness. Now, the golden rule to remember is that Caffeine is always extracted early. So the next time you’re feeling super tired and head down to your local Starbucks (shame on you! :P) remember, bigger cup does not equal more caffeine, what it means is that you’re basically drinking a shot of extremely diluted espresso. And sugar. Especially if you’re ordering a grande caramel macchiato. OK, that’s the end of my Starbucks judging tirade. On to the differences of Black Coffee:

There are mainly 3 types of Black Coffee.
1) Americano, a Second Wave coffee style, which is served internationally.
2) Long Black, most commonly served in Third Wave Coffee countries; New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
3) Brewed/Drip coffee, most commonly found in old-school diners and Starbucks.

Most cafes serve espresso based coffees, so I’ll delve into the differences between a Long Black and an Americano.
(all images are googled cause I'm lazy like that…)
A Long Black is a Third Wave Style coffee, which is typified by being made from a medium-dark roast. Different roast styles = different flavours; medium-dark roasts produce low-level bitterness and more flavour along with higher acidity. A Long Black is a full double shot with an equal amount of hot water, kind of like a half-and-half, which means that it’s a strong tasting coffee.

The Americano, on the other hand, is a Second Wave Style Coffee. 2nd waves are usually made with dark roasts. Again, different roast styles = different flavours. Dark roasts are more bitter, with a sharp flavour and lower acidity. This results in the typical “bitter coffee” taste. An Americano is a restricted shot with twice the amount of water, so it’s a weaker tasting coffee, which is typical of 2nd Wave styles where coffees are large and weak as opposed to 3rd wave style of strong flavour packed coffees.

So, next time you’re experiencing that blah-morning and in desperate need of a pick me up, or in the middle of your exam haze and need a strong, simple, black coffee immediately, ask for a Long Black over an Americano for that immediate and effective caffeine kick.

Or do what I do, and ask for a double espresso with an equal shot of water to keep things simple.
And remember to ALWAYS TIP YOUR BARISTA. ‘Cause they deal with asses like me all day. 😀

And for an added bonus: the European Caffe Creme. Sounds poetic, doesn’t it? The creme refers to the “crema” of the espresso, which is basically the milky-looking part that lies on top of your espresso. And a Caffe Creme is also a type of black coffee, typified by the creamy layer of crema that lies on top of the coffee. It’s a coarser grind, extracted at 20-30seconds (so kind of like a giant espresso) but with water that runs from the extraction instead of added into the espresso. It is essentially, a giant, watered down espresso because the water runs quickly through the “holes” in the coarse grounds, which results in a beautiful layer of crema on top.

caffe creme looks like this!
Ahh. Winter days, leg warmers and coffee… Who says there isn’t a recipe for happiness?


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