Cappuccinos and americanos are enjoyed by millions of people every day, but not everyone knows what differentiates these espresso-based drinks.
You’re probably wondering the same, that’s why you’re here. Don’t worry, because I’ll share with you everything you need to know about these two coffees, from their ingredients and ratios to their flavors and the best ways to enjoy them.
After reading my article, you’ll have a clear understanding of what makes the Americano and cappuccino different.
Let’s get started.
What is Americano?
The Americano has roots tracing back to World War II. The creation was a result of American soldiers stationed in Italy looking for a less potent espresso, so they diluted it with hot water. The result is a coffee with an intensity that’s similar to drip coffee but still has flavors of espresso.
An Americano uses an espresso with the regular 1:2 to 1:3 brew ratio and 7g of coffee grounds used per shot (9g for third-wave coffee). One part of espresso is then combined with 2 parts water, and you get a 3 oz (90 ml) Americano that you can serve in a glass or ceramic mug that can hold 120 to 150 ml (4 to 5 oz).
Sip into it, and you can savor subdued yet complex flavors. It combines the intensity of espresso with black coffee’s smoothness, resulting in a harmonious yet robust beverage. The texture? It’s more fluid than espresso, giving you a medium-bodied consistency.
There’s also another variant called Long Black, where the espresso is added over the hot water instead of the other way around. I noticed that doing the Long Black order retains more of the crema from the espresso, but you need to pour slowly, otherwise it just dissipates.
Here are the steps to make an Americano:
- Prepare a normal espresso.
- Pull the espresso into a mug.
- Pour the hot water into the mug with espresso.
For a detailed guide on crafting this coffee, check out my article on how to make an Americano.
Now let’s get to cappuccino.
What is Cappuccino?
Going back a few centuries, the invention of the cappuccino can be credited to Capuchin Friar Marco d’Aviano in the 17th century. Since then, the drink has evolved to become the cappuccino we love today.
A cappuccino is made from equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and frothy milk foam on top. The espresso used has a standard 1:2 to 1:3 coffee-to-water ratio with 7g of ground coffee for a single shot. Third-wave coffee uses a bit more, brewing with 9g for a shot. Frothed or steamed is is used to top off the espresso in equal parts. You don’t need the microfoam of steam milk though, so any of these home milk frothing methods is OK.
Aside from full-fat milk, alternatives like soy, almond, or oat milk can also be used.
On the flavor front, a cappuccino strikes a balance between the robust taste of espresso and the frothy creaminess of frothed milk. The texture of the milk is also thick and creamy, which complements the rich espresso. That top layer of macrofoam also adds an airy mouthfeel that’s unique to the drink. Most cafés add a hint of cinnamon or dark chocolate powder on top as well.
It comes in 5 to 6 oz (150 to 180 ml) servings in a dome-shaped cappuccino cup with a capacity of 150-210 ml (5-7 oz).
Here’s a quick look at how cappuccino is made:
- Prepare a single espresso.
- Pour cold milk into a steaming pitcher up to the spout’s bottom.
- Heat and steam the milk to around 160 degrees Fahrenheit, creating a bubbly, frothy texture.
- Pour the steamed milk and froth over your brewed espresso shot.
Get your cappuccino right by following my detailed recipe on how to make a cappuccino.
Comparing Americano & Cappuccino
Here’s a table that lays out the differences and similarities between an Americano and a cappuccino:
|Taste and Texture||Mellow and nuanced; smoother and more fluid||Balance of bold espresso and creamy sweetness; creamy and frothy|
|Coffee-to-Water Ratio||1:2 to 1:3||1:2 to 1:3|
|Ingredient Ratio||2 parts water to 1 part espresso||1 part espresso, 1 part steamed milk, 1 part frothy milk foam|
|Typical Serving Size||3 oz (90 ml)||5 to 6 oz (150 to 180 ml)|
|Caffeine Content||60-80 mg per 1 oz shot of espresso||60-80 mg per 1 oz shot of espresso used|
|Calories||2 calories per shot||74 calories for a 150 ml serving|
|Acidity||Moderate||Low to moderate|
|Brewing Difficulty||Intermediate||Home barista|
|Bean Roast||Light to medium roasts||Medium roasts are best; dark roasts can also be used|
Now, let’s break down the characteristics that differentiate these two coffee drinks:
- Ground Coffee Weight & Ratios: Both drinks use espresso that’s made from 7g of ground coffee for a single shot and 14g for a double shot (9g and 18g respectively for third-wave coffee). After pulling an espresso though, the Americano is diluted with a 2:1 water-to-espresso ratio while the cappuccino has a 1:1:1 ratio of espresso, steamed milk, and frothed milk.
- Taste: Americano is smoother than espresso, almost like black coffee, but it still maintains some of the espresso’s intensity and complex flavors.
Meanwhile, a cappuccino offers a delicious blend of the robust espresso and the sweet, creamy milk. You can even add some hints of spice or chocolate by sprinkling some cocoa or cinnamon over the froth.
- Volume, Calories, & Caffeine: An Americano is 3 oz (90 ml) while the cappuccino has a larger serving size of 5 to 6 oz (150 to 180 ml). But the volume of the cappuccino actually looks larger, due to the froth bubbles’ appearance.
Cappuccino has more calories at 74 while Americano only carries 2 calories. Both drinks have 60 to 80mg of caffeine.
- Bean Roast: Light to medium roasts are my go-to choices for making an Americano, as these roast types allow the vibrant acidity and intricate tastes to come through even when watered down. For cappuccinos, I typically lean toward medium roasts. Dark roasts make for a stronger taste, too strong for me, but it still might be OK for you.
- Steamed Milk: A cappuccino combines equal amounts of espresso, steamed milk, and a layer of frothy milk foam. Full-fat milk is the usual choice for this drink but plant-based milks such as soy, almond, or oat can also work. If you need tips on frothing, you’ll find my step-by-step guide on how to froth milk quite handy.
- Serving Suggestions: An Americano is appreciated for its delicious blend that’s less intense than espresso but stronger than drip coffee.
When drinking cappuccino, pairing them with chocolate treats, biscotti, or nuts can take it up a notch. Sprinkling ground cinnamon or cocoa on top also gives it some extra nuance.
As you can see, these two beverages are both espresso-based, but they have a lot of differences, coming from the fact that Americano has water added while cappuccino uses steamed and foamy milk.
If you want to start right on brewing these espresso-based drinks, you can check out my list of the best espresso beans this 2023.
If it comes down to these two drinks, I prefer the cappuccino over the Americano. For me, this delicious blend of espresso and frothed milk is really comforting, especially as a mid-afternoon pick-me-up at a café.
That’s just me though. What about you, which one do you prefer?