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Jul 26, 2008 08:47 PM

what's happening to "americano" coffee?

it's been 3, 4 times now, from different cafe/coffee vendors , where i ask for an Americano, expecting a stronger and richer brew (espresso + a little hot water) than the regular drip, but instead i got this uniformly weak, light brown water that resembles the espresso machine rinse water....

I'm speculating that there maybe something not quite right with some presets that these cafe use? Does anyone have similar experiences, or know about the specifics in the programming of the commercial push-button coffee machines? Is it a particular brand only? Guess i should have been paying attention and making mental notes what machine is being used.

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  1. Might be trying to save some money by cutting back on the espresso and adding more water to give you the same volume, but less coffee.

    1. I dont think an Americano is, in general, stronger than a good drip coffee. It's not 'a little hot water', it's 'a cup of hot water'.

      If that's what you want, say so: a double strength americano (either 2x the espresso or 1/2 the water, whichever you like).

      6 Replies
      1. re: xanadude

        That's my impression as well. Whether a "true" Americano (I'm not certain there really is one) is well defined, what I normally see in the far-too-many coffee houses I've been in is a shot of espresso in whatever size cup one asks for and that cup then filled with hot water. For most customers, an Americano is designed to come out at a similar strength to drip coffee (and in some places that don't do drip at all, Americano is the replacement for drip coffee when someone says "I'd like a small coffee" for instance).

        There isn't a preset for "Americano" on the espresso machines, so far as I know, its just espresso into the cup, then add hot water. As xanadude suggests, if you specify how many shots of espresso and/or the cup size (which will define how much water is added) you should be able to get what you like pretty quickly and consistently.

        Good luck. Now I have to go get some coffee.

        1. re: ccbweb

          An 8 oz, 12 oz, and 16 oz should all be 2 shots standard. Most customers order a 16 oz because they can't handle super strong coffee, or order an 8 oz because they want a lot of energy from very little beverage.

          Most people understand this. For one, every 2 shots you add to the beverage requires coffe to be ground, tamped, pulled each time. This triples your customers wait time, lets the non coffee component of their drink get cold, and 99% of the customers ordering will demand a refund for receiving a 4 shot 16 oz latte, when they assumed that regardless of size, it would be a double shot. Everyone will and does assume this.

          Your choice of drink size, is asking how strong you want your coffee, not how thirsty you are.

          If you're going to order a 16 oz Americano, which is 2 oz of espresso, and 14 oz of hot water, either don't complain about it being a cup of water which is what you ordered, or ask for more shots.

          Either you are a proper coffee consumer, which us baristas would love to please, but can't if we don't want to waste coffee serving more than what is commonly expected from us. Or you drink at Starbucks in which case I expect you to be confused.

          Also brand is a stupid thing to look for in presets. As long as the employee knows how to press a program button, fill up a shot glass, and push another button, your presets will be good regardless of brand name. Assuming it's programmed right, bam, you have 2 shots of coffee, which is all a preset does, measure ounces of coffee.

          But alas, if God programmed a machine himself, he'd still sell you a mind blowing perfectly measured 2 oz of coffee, and 14 ounces of hot water.

          1. re: Kellendon

            Does anyone actually prefer a beverage with two espresso shots and 14 oz of hot water? That should not be called an Americano.

            1. re: calumin

              Americano is espresso with hot water instead of steamed milk. Is a latte not called a latte if you use more or less espresso than normal?

              If you don't want a cup of hot water, don't order 16 oz of hot water lol

              1. re: Kellendon

                I think this is where Starbucks and Peets changed the way we order coffee, for the worse. In the past you would characterize a coffee drink by the way it tastes. Now a coffee drink is just defined by ingredients, and the size determines the ingredient proportions.

                With beverages other than coffee, if you specify a larger drink, you get more but it doesn't imply that you're actually changing the recipe.

            2. re: Kellendon

     the coffee house I go to regularly, an 8 ounce americano has 2 shots of espresso. The 12 and 16 ounce americanos both have 4 shots. I usually get the 16 ounce.

        2. Agreed, no presets. Just poorly trained employees.

          18 Replies
          1. re: scubadoo97

            Maybe the OP was drawn a lungo at some caf├ęs and an Americano at others. A good barista is as rare and precious as a good sommelier.

            1. re: mrbozo

              The first time i asked for a lungo in NY i was met with a puzzled look. I then asked for a long coffee and blank stares there, too. Then after explaining what i want they say, "oh, that's called an Americano here".....but that was 12 years ago. Now with so many more coffee houses thriving, it seems that terms just got muddier.

              i think, now, what i want is a "Long Caffee Ristretto" would that go over?

              1. re: HLing

                A ristretto is a short pulled espresso, basically (so far as I understand it and I'm certain I'm oversimplifying, but I think the essence is true here). So, a "long cafe ristretto" would be, for intents and purposes, a shot of espresso. I think what you ought to order is however many shots of espresso you want with a specific amount of hot water added. So, ask for two shots of espresso and two shots worth of hot water, or whatever ratio you like.

                1. re: ccbweb

                  ah, you're right, that is still unclear on my part. I think what i want is more like 2 ristretto + 4 to 6 oz of hot water. Does that make sense? I mean, i'm under the impression that the concentration of espresso of 2 ristretto would be stronger than one shot of espresso since the amount of water will come out the same, but the amount of grounds used in ristretto will be doubled? Or am i still under the wrong impression?

                  1. re: HLing

                    90% of coffee houses can't pull a decent shot of espresso. They probably wouldn't even know what a ristretto is. And then if you told them, they couldn't produce one because the beans they use are probably stale, they have preground the beans and ..... well you get the picture.

                    1. re: chipman

                      Oh, my goodness. You have coffee shops making drinks with preground beans? I am about to go kiss my bag of stumptown beans and be grateful to live in the PNW.

                      When I lived in Portland, I never had a problem getting a ristretto latte at Stumptown. Oh, how I miss that aspect of Portland...

                      1. re: Vetter

                        I never said we don't have good coffee houses. We have Blue Bottle, Ritual, Barefoot, and soon four Barrel among some others that I'm too lazy to mention. I just said generally speaking, the majority of the espresso served in the country is just not very good.

                        1. re: Vetter

                          Vetter, i'm under the impression that the Pacific Northwest is an exception with haute coffee culture, not the norm. Not having the best readily available is good makes you get in on the action and try to make them at home. Never bored, always room for improvement.

                      2. re: HLing

                        you probably don't want two ristretto shots + water - that sounds like what you're getting now. ristrettos are usually caused from poor tamping, improper water through the portofilter or incorrect grind (usally a combo of a couple of those). two short shots will still be less flavorful than two properly pulled shots because they don't really contain the "body" and "crema" of a proper shot. i think your best bet is a find a place that pulls a good shot (starbucks excluded, since they changed their machines) and ask for an extra shot in your americano. my go-to drink for years was a 16 oz americano w/four shots (most will use three).

                        1. re: azhotdish

                          I'm totally confused by this:
                          "ristrettos are usually caused from poor tamping, improper water through the portofilter or incorrect grind (usally a combo of a couple of those)."

                          Caused? Is a ristretto a term for a mistake of some kind? I've always understood it to mean a specific thing (used to be a more quickly pulled shot using the same setup as an espresso, now the method varies, it seems). But it wouldn't be something that was an error....that would just be a bad shot of espresso.

                          1. re: ccbweb

                            in my circle of coffee geeks, we used this term only to define "short shots". after a little research, it seems my understanding of it is flawed. here is a good place to start.

                            1. re: azhotdish

                              azhotdish, i was going to ask the same thing ccbweb asked.. though i wouldb't have been as articulate.

                              I enjoyed the link you posted. It's universal how illusive the good things are in life and how diverse the discussions and descriptions of that fleeting moment can be.
                              A word such as ristretto can mean so many different thing to different people, ultimately though we all want that perfect, sublime cup of coffee.

                              I'm curious to hear about Starbucks' change of machine you mentioned? Could you expound on what happened there?

                              chipman, i understand the depressive state when you can't make your own coffee and are at the mercy of others. I wonder though, maybe 50 years from now the art of coffee will be on parr with...say, the Italians? Let's just hope that they keep their fine traditions instead of throwing it away to imitate us.

                              In the mean time, I will take everyone's advice and just tell them the ratio of espresso and wtaer i want of my coffee instead of mentioning "americano".

                              1. re: HLing

                                Up until about three years ago, Starbucks used La Marzocco machines which required a grinder, doser and manual tamping by the barista. Notice how you don't hear the banging behind the counter anymore (the sound of the barista pounding the portofilter to extract the used espresso)? Now, the stores use Verismo machines, which basically automates this process. So now, instead of trying to pull an 18-23 second shot, the baristas hit a button. Ristretto shots? Not possible, unless the machine is out of calibration.

                                I've never used the new machine, so I can't say how it performs. As a customer, I did notice that the shots never have quite tasted the same (under-extracted, imo). Of course, if you're drinking a vanilla latte, you probably won't notice too much anyway. But as an americano drinker, I've since switched to iced coffee.

                                1. re: azhotdish

                                  It was more than two or three years ago now ... I think they first started showing up in like 2001? They probably finished the change over by a couple years ago, though. With their recent talk about focusing on quality, I wonder if they'll go back to real machines. I'd guess not because that's an awful lot of training they didn't do.

                                  1. re: azhotdish

                                    aha! I knew there was something about push-button and about the absence of the banging noise that was unsettling. I haven't been going to starbucks, but if even they are changing to a simplified machine i can imagine the other less serious cafes thinking it'd be alright to follow suit.

                                    I found this thread when i googled Verissimo:

                                2. re: azhotdish

                                  For a cute essay on the subject of ristrettos. here is another link to CG


                                  1. re: chipman

                                    thanks for the link - that's a great article.

                                    1. re: chipman

                                      thanks for a poignant read, chipman. I can almost see a movie in the making here...