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Coffee Heresy: Americano Our Way

Before I go any further, I might suggest that unless you’re a coffee geek, you might skip this post, since you’ll most likely find it boring!

Anyway, some years ago, my brother was frustrated by the quality of the americanos in our shops. Basically, there are two ways people make americanos – one is more traditional – to add a single or double shot of espresso to a cup of hot water (or else add hot water to an espresso).  The second way is how most cafes do it in this country – simply run a normal espresso long enough to fill a small coffee cup.

From a taste perspective, we’ve never really been happy with either method. We’ve always preferred filter coffee or caffetiere as a way to make a good drinking coffee, but unfortunately, that’s not what most of our customers want. They want americanos, and we’ve found it quite futile to convince them otherwise. So, we spent years playing with the americano, and never made a coffee we truly liked.

Then, one day Sean wondered what would happen if he threw out general wisdom and tried another method – to grind the coffee much coarser and run a very long shot through the espresso machine, long enough to fill a small coffee cup, using only taste as a guide to decide the grind setting. Of course a course grind means the shot runs very quickly, and any coffee guru who has seen us doing this has been horrified. “Your coffee is gushing,” they would gasp. “That is not a proper americano!”

However, our customers preferred their americanos made our heretical way (we’ve done numerous taste tests), so we persevered, buying in second grinders just for americanos. Although we still prefer filter coffee and caffetieres, we agree with our customers that our method makes a better tasting americano than the traditional method.

Recently, Colin over at 3FE gave us a loan of his coffee refractometer, and I thought it would be interesting to test how our way of making an americano falls in terms of the generally accepted levels of extractions and solids.

Here’s what I discovered:

Interestingly, Sean’s method (the top one) is just about bang on the money, as far as a cup of coffee goes, and a double shot with hot water in a small cup (the second one) has extraction levels that are too low and solid content that is too high. (I know it’s a small dose that we use for this particular espresso bean, but I assure you that the extraction levels and solid contents are in an acceptable range).

Anyway, taste has always been the driving factor with us, even if it means breaking the rules. What I find interesting is that the results of this method not only taste good but also fit into current orthodoxy in terms of extraction. We’ll see if the coffee experts remain horrified…

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10 Responses to “Coffee Heresy: Americano Our Way”

  1. November 8th, 2010 at 10:19 pm

    Mick mc laughlin says:

    Leaving aside the why’s and wherefores of the taste of your americano, I’ll leave that to the pros to try to make sense of, I am assuming to get a beverage weight of 138g you are running a 30 – 40 second shot, just an assumption mind! I would worry about your machine, I’ve seen shots run that long, admittedly with a much finer more traditional grind and the baskets get very sludgy, leading to burnt hands or a pressure build up between the shower plate and the group handle, which can cause them to pop off, depending on your machine. If you have overcome this problem or it doesn’t happen, tell me, going to be trying this in the shop tomorrow.

  2. November 9th, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Kieran says:

    No – it’s a much faster pour – around 23 seconds to fill a small coffee cup (I know! I hear the gasps now!). I’d love to hear how you get on. Haven’t heard from the pros yet…

  3. November 9th, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    James Hoffmann says:

    I am a bit confused about your doubleshot onto water numbers. It looks like you are inadequately diluting an undersextracted double shot? Would a correctly extracted single shot, diluted slightly less not be a more comparable drink to compare the lungo/cafe creme style drink to?

  4. November 9th, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    Michael mc laughlin says:

    I see why you brought in a separate grinder then, must be a really really coarse grind, how does it compare to your filter grind? Have you tried it with other coffees o is it the house blend? Excuse my ignorance on that one

  5. November 9th, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    Stephen Leighton says:

    I’ll have to taste it myself, but without the pressure and resistance of grind, I can not think how it could be good.

    And numbers mean nothing I’d have to taste, will take a look tomorrow for myself

  6. November 10th, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    Caroline@Bibliocook says:

    You knew your first line would attract us all! I can only imagine the horror – but if it tastes works, what’s the problem?

    Those coffee refractometers are cool but I don’t think I’ll ever be enough of a geek to actually use one.

  7. November 12th, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    Kieran says:

    Steve: I know – it doesn’t really make logical sense to me either. We’ve been trying to replicate it with your biodynamic bean and can’t seem to. This bean is an organic columbian from Maher’s in Cork. Maybe it’s just a fluke with that bean.

  8. November 12th, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    Kieran says:

    James: Don’t know. The double shot reads as 9.8% tds and 20.5 ext. I’m putting it into an 8oz cup with hot water. Too much dilution? Not enough?

  9. November 25th, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    Colin Harmon says:

    Hi Kieran, I’ve had a look at your stats and I’m not sure you’ve applied them correctly.

    The first one is fine as you’ve correctly measured TDS and the extraction based on the water used in the extraction process.

    However, for the “double espresso in a small cup” you’ve used 126g as the brew water weight when in fact you’ve probably added about 90g of that total water after. The extraction should be measured on the espresso weight only (i.e circa 30g) and then water added after. The TDS should be measured on the espresso/water mixture as you did in this case.

  10. November 30th, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    Kieran says:

    Interesting. I’ll have to try that!

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Kieran Murphy is a director of Murphys Ice Cream living in Dingle, Co. Kerry, Ireland.

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Murphys Ice Cream

Murphys Ice Cream has shops in Dingle, Killarney and Dublin 2 (Wicklow Street).