A long black coffee is a virtually nonexistent offering in American (and many European) coffee shops, and there’s a reason for that. It has an almost exact twin – the americano – which is the better-known drink of the two and the one you’re more likely to find on the menu of an American coffee shop.
Much of the americano being the more worldly drink can be attributed to Starbucks, which has spread a standard menu of coffee drinks all around the world.
The long black is a popular drink in Oceania, though, typically found on coffee shop menus in Australia and New Zealand.
So, what’s the difference between a long black and an americano? Ridiculously simple, that’s what.
First, what is a long black coffee?
The typical shot used in a long black is a ristretto, and around four ounces of water is typical. But, like an americano, what makes a long black appealing to many is that any amount of water can be added to taste.
Long Black vs Americano
A long black is created when a (usually double) shot of espresso is added to hot water.
An americano is created when hot water is added to a (usually double) shot of espresso.
That’s it. That’s the difference. The order. Water, then espresso for the long black. Espresso, then water for the americano.
However, preparing a long black water first and then coffee does result in one major difference between the two drinks.
It all comes down to the crema.
Crema is that tan foam that sits on top of a pulled shot of espresso or creates a brownish ring or spot on top of a cappuccino or latte. The crema holds a lot of an espresso shot’s flavor and aroma, which can change your experience of the drink.
When you encounter crema first (it sits on top), the oily foam clings to your palate. For some people, crema is what makes espresso espresso, giving it that bold, bitter edge that brewed coffee lacks. Fresher coffee beans also produce more crema, which makes crema a telltale sign of a peak roast.
For other people, too much crema (and its bitterness) ruins an otherwise good espresso drink.
Since a long black pulls a shot into water, instead of the other way around, some people argue the crema is better preserved than in an americano. Though, it’s possible for a good barista to preserve the crema in a shot while crafting an americano as well.
Long Black vs Americano: Taste
Devotees of the long black claim the drink has a stronger flavor and aroma than an americano, and since the crema is typically better preserved in a long black this claim holds up. Though, it should be noted, the stronger flavor typically has the bitter edge common to crema.
While it’s sometimes said a long black is actually stronger than an americano (more caffeinated per ounce), this claim is more misleading.
A long black is typically two shots (2 ounces) of espresso pulled into four ounces (or twice as much) water. An americano could be made using exactly the same ratio and it would still be an americano.
The only requirement for an americano is that the water is added after the espresso shot. That can be done in any amount and varies wildly in coffee shops around the world.
Again, it’s likely Starbucks has added to the confusion here, as they make notoriously watered-down americanos, using only two ounces of espresso to ten ounces of water in their tall drink.
So, while americanos may be weaker than long blacks in practice at coffee shops around the world, they are not weaker by definition.
Generally speaking, you can expect to find stronger americanos served in places that favor stronger espresso drinks (Italy, Spain) and less strong americanos served in places that favor brewed coffee (the United States).
A long black, on the other hand, tends to be more consistent – two parts water to one part espresso.
Long Black vs Americano: Which should I order?
When it comes down to it, the only important difference between a long black and an americano is whether you prefer one to the other.
The potential of a long black can go either way when it comes to flavor.
One, you can drink a long coffee crema on top, and get a stronger (but more bitter) espresso flavor.
Two, you can get it with the crema on top and skim the crema off, resulting in a milder (less bitter) espresso flavor.
If you get a true americano (crema mixed in), the crema will already be well-distributed, which retains the signature flavor of espresso without the palate-clinging bitterness up top.
This also makes it impossible to remove the crema, though, if the espresso tastes too strong.
With those things in mind:
Order a long black if you want to –
Retain the crema to drink on top
Retain the crema to skim off the top
Order an americano if you want –
The crema mixed in, resulting in a more balanced drink
Whether you’re interested in a long black or an americano, always ask the coffee shop first. To keep a more espresso-like finish, many coffee shops have started brewing long blacks in the place of americanos. (They are still called americanos on the menu, but the water is added first.) And sometimes specific baristas just make the switch.
Any barista should be able to switch up the order of an espresso shot and water, though, making it possible to order a long black coffee anywhere in the world, even if you don’t see it on the menu.