“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons,” a verse written by T.S. Eliot in his poem titled “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Coffee has been deeply enmeshed in the human psyche. It is an eventuality that we encounter as we consume the barest sense of Eliot’s penned words. Most of us start our day with a good cup of coffee. Coffee is a ritual. Anything else would simply be an unfortunate substitute.
For many of us, a good cup means an Americano. Its subtle nuances can be seen as the reason for its rife popularity. At the primordial level of artisanship, an Americano is just a quarter cup of espresso mixed with hot water (we can blame Wikipedia for this account). But the social life of an Americano coffee expresses a lot more.
Going “Americano”: Stories of the Cup
The twenty-first century marked the millennials’ craze over coffee houses, caffeinated frappes, and Starbucks planner. Coffee became a global fad as its commercialization reached a whole new level. People express it by frequenting local coffee shops, knowing the right terms to use when they order their drink (e.g. no whip, decaf, double-double, skinny, house, etc.), and even familiarizing wide varieties of coffee.
In reality, the growing consumption is just the latest evidence of our long-standing attachment to coffee. The very first coffee culture started during the 15th century in the Sufi monasteries of Yemen. Coffee reached the Middle East during the 16th century and caught the attention of European explorers. By the 17th century, the crop was already considered as one of the key global commodities. Struggles related to the control of coffee production and distribution added some gears to Europe’s colonial enterprise. And for the sake of expanding coffee production, the industry heightened the slave trade in the Caribbean from 18th to 19th century! Given its historical ripple and present influence, it is really difficult to imagine a world without coffee.
Like most technological changes and social shifts, the cup of Americano coffee that we enjoy today is a product of cultural interaction. Caffè Americano (its Italian name) was invented during the chaos of World War II.
To make things more obvious than they already are, the term “Americano” is derived from the term “American”. During the early part of the 1940s, American soldiers stationed in Italy observed that the local coffee brew called espresso was “too strong”. Since they were accustomed to regular drip coffee and were used to the concoction of coffee with sugar, the intense taste of espresso figured to be “too foreign” for their palate. Whereas regular drip coffee is served in bigger mugs, espresso is placed in smaller cups (served in highly-packed “shots”). This was the reason why American soldiers started to mix espresso with hot water until it resembles the strength of regular drip coffee.
Americano gives the refined tastes of espresso, but with tolerable smoothness and volume (especially for non-espresso drinkers). Back then, this diluted espresso offered a taste of home. Drip coffee, on the other hand, is pretty uncommon in many European countries even until today (it is usually available only among big coffee chains).
Looking at other variables, the preparation of drip coffee also offers a different sensual experience for drinkers. Drip coffee gives a relaxing feel due to the “gurgling sound” of a drip-coffee machine. And as a mundane morning ritual, the waiting time associated with drip-coffee technology is filled by reading daily newspapers or some novels. But for those of who are not confident about the freshness of drip coffee, an Americano can be an excellent change of pace. An amazing thing that drip coffee and Americano shares is the sense of sociality related to their consumption. Since both are served in bigger cups, it naturally takes longer to drink compared to a shot of espresso. Thus, you can devote quality time chatting with others while having a sip.
Intriguingly, an authentic caffè Americano and a regular drip coffee exude comparably different taste experience even though they share almost the same strength. The former is less acidic and the taste of burnt beans is less pronounced.
Drip coffee (whether of an auto-drop machine or a manual pour-over) is brewed by allowing hot water to seep and drip down through the roasted bean grounds. Regular brewing relies on gravity which slowly pulls the water down.
On the other hand, caffè Americano depends on the precise mixture of packed espresso and water. A cup usually contains single-shot of espresso (though others prefer double) added with hot water (usually 2/3 of the cup).
Today, countless coffee places around the world offer different preparations of caffè Americano to their customers. Not to mention that many baristas also present different impressions. An extremely popular type, for example, is iced Americano – where cold water serves as the substitute for hot water (mostly prepared in ‘double-strength’ so that it won’t taste bland when topped with ice). This concoction is usually accompanied by sugar and is very refreshing. Derivatives give varying experiences when it comes to the consumption of an Americanized coffee.
Americano is a coffee concoction that consists a shot of espresso with hot water. It is an espresso-based drink that originated during World War II (a testament that remarkable beauty sometimes emerges out of all the filth). This war brought socio-cultural exchanges at the global level – in this case, their preconceived notion of coffee taste and its entanglements with the European coffee culture. After decades of improvisation (to the point of becoming a science and an art), this drink became known in coffee places especially in the United States. Currently, there are several derivatives to this mixture.
On a cultural note, the expansion of commercialized coffee culture has been dramatic during the start of this century (even though coffee houses have existed for around 500 years). In a world where coffee has become a global phenomenon, we can only expect a more multi-vocal consumer culture and diverse taste in coffee for the coming years.
On the other hand, you may also check out our guide on how to make the best coffee.