Coffee has always been a staple in many cultures, and since the rise of espresso, the possibilities expanded immensely.
The Americano and flat white are just some of the popular drinks that stem from it, but how do they differ exactly? Let me help by discussing what you need to know about the two, from their ingredients and ratios to their recipes and respective flavors.
By the time you’re through with this 5-minute read, you’ll have a clear understanding of the similarities and differences between the Americano and flat white.
Key Takeaway – What’s the difference between a Flat white and an Americano?
The Americano is made by adding 2 parts water to 1 part espresso, giving it a milder taste. In contrast, the Flat White uses a double espresso mixed with 2 parts steamed milk, offering a creamier and bolder flavor. Depending on your preference for dilution or milky creaminess, each drink provides a different coffee experience.
Now let’s have a look at their differences in detail.
What is an Americano?
The Americano has a wartime origin. When American soldiers stationed in Italy during World War II craved a coffee that was less intense than the Italian espresso, they improvised by diluting espresso with hot water, giving birth to the Americano.
An Americano uses the standard espresso, with a 1:2 to 1:3 ratio and 7g of coffee grounds for a single shot and 14g for a double shot. Third-wave coffee uses more coffee, brewing with 9g for a shot and 18g for a double. After that, one part espresso is poured with 2 parts of hot water to make an Americano.
I also like to do it the other way around and pour the espresso over the hot water. The result is another variation called the Long Black and I find that it retains more of the crema from the espresso.
So a standard Americano made from a single shot comes in servings of 3 oz and is served in either a glass or ceramic coffee mug that can hold 120 to 150 ml (4 to 5 oz). Each serving is packed with 60 to 80mg of caffeine and just 2 calories.
Diving into its taste, an Americano offers a nuanced flavor profile, balancing the robust characteristics of an espresso and the subtleness of black coffee. The texture is smooth, fluid, and medium-bodied, making it ideal for those who find straight espresso just a bit overwhelming.
Here’s how you can make an Americano at home:
- Prepare to make an espresso as usual.
- Brew your espresso and pull your shot into a mug.
- Pour hot water over the espresso shot.
For a more detailed guide on this, check out my recipe on how to make an Americano.
Now let’s get to know the Flat White.
What is a Flat White?
Originally from Australia, the Flat White is a popular coffee option that has similarities to lattes and cappuccinos. What sets it apart though, is the higher proportion of espresso/ristretto which gives it a unique taste and feel.
The Flat White involves using double espresso or double ristretto mixed with two parts of steamed milk. As usual, you make espresso with 14g of coffee grounds (18g for third-wave coffee) and aim for a 1:2 to 1:3 brew ratio. If you’re going for a ristretto, you use a 1:1.5 coffee-to-water ratio instead. Here is how to make a ristretto by the way.
The coffee is then topped with 2 parts steamed milk with a thin microfoam layer. This gives you a serving size between 5 and 6 ounces (150-180 ml) served in a cappuccino cup which can hold between 150-210 ml (5-7 oz). A flat white serving comes with 120 to 160mg of caffeine while a 150ml flat white has 58 calories.
Aside from full-fat milk, you can also use plant-based alternatives like soy, almond, or oat milk.
In terms of flavor, the flat white has a robust yet well-rounded profile. It’s a combination of the strong punch of the double espresso and the creaminess of steamed milk, which create a velvety feel in your mouth at every sip.
And adding a nicely poured latte art design at the end is a true treat for all of our senses.
To whip up a Flat White, here’s a quick look at the steps:
- Prepare a double espresso or double ristretto.
- Fill a steaming pitcher with cold milk up to the spout’s bottom.
- Heat and steam the milk to around 160°F, ensuring it’s aerated to produce a silky texture with microfoam.
- Pour the steamed milk over your coffee.
- Stop pouring once the microfoam layer aligns with the top of your cup and add latte art if you want.
For a more thorough walkthrough, you can read my guide on how to make a flat white.
Americano vs Flat White: An In-Depth Comparison
Let’s take a closer look at how these two popular coffee drinks stack up against each other:
|Taste and Texture||Mellow, nuanced, medium-bodied||Strong, balanced, velvety|
|Coffee-to-Water Ratio||1 part coffee to 2-3 parts water||Espresso: 1:2 to 1:3; Ristretto: 1:1|
|Ingredient Ratio||1 part espresso + 2 parts water||Double espresso + 2 parts steamed milk + microfoam on top|
|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||120-160 mg for the double shot|
|Calories||2 calories per shot||58 calories for a 150 ml drink|
|Acidity||Moderate||Low to moderate|
|Brewing Difficulty||Intermediate||Home barista|
|Bean Roast||Light to medium roasts preferred||Medium to dark roasts preferred|
Now, here’s a detailed breakdown of the comparisons between the two:
- Ground Coffee Weight & Ratios: An Americano uses a single shot of espresso which requires 7g of ground coffee for the traditional espresso and 9g for third-wave coffee, aiming for a 1:2 to 1:3 yield. One part espresso is then combined with two parts water.
Meanwhile, the flat white doubles down on the coffee using 14g of ground coffee (18g for third-wave coffee) to pull a double espresso or double ristretto as its base. This coffee is then added with 2 parts steamed milk and a thin microfoam layer on top.
- Taste: The Americano offers the nuanced flavors of espresso but they’re mellowed down by the water. Meanwhile, the milk in the flat white blends into the strong punch of coffee, making it a creamy drink where you can still taste the large amount of coffee.
- Volume, Calories, & Caffeine: The flat white generally has bigger servings of 150 to 210 ml (5-7 oz) compared to the Americano’s 120-150 ml (4-5 oz). Since it has double shots of coffee, the flat white also has double the caffeine at 120 to 160 mg while the Americano has 60 to 80mg. The milk also gives it 58 calories per 150ml while the Americano remains at 2 calories per shot used.
- Bean Roast: Because the Americano remains clean by diluting the espresso with water, light to medium roasts can provide vibrant acidity and complex flavor profiles. As for the flat white, medium and dark roasts work best as their boldness creates a rich balance with the milk.
- Steamed Milk: While the Americano doesn’t come with milk, the flat white combines steamed milk and a thin microfoam layer with two shots of potent coffee. Aside from full-fat milk though, you can also opt for alternatives like soy, almond, or oat milk. You can follow my guide on how to steam milk properly here if you want to learn the tricks of the trade.
- Serving Suggestions: Each drink fills a gap for certain coffee cravings. Americano works for you if you want the complexity of espresso but not much of its intensity. If you prefer a milky espresso-based drink but still seek a strong caffeine punch, then go for the flat white.
As you can see, Americano and flat white are two very different coffee drinks. Americano waters down the espresso while flat white offers a more intense combination of espresso and milk.
To get started though, you want to pull a great espresso. You can check out my list of the best espresso beans in 2023.
Between the two drinks, I lean towards the flat white at cafés, but will have an Americano at home. The velvety texture of a flat white combined with the strong espresso kick is just what I need to re-energize during slow mid-afternoons, but if I crave the flavors of my espresso but in a longer form, I’ll prepare the Americano.
But hey, that’s just me. Which one resonates with you more? Ultimately, it’s your palate that will decide which drink feels just right, so try them both and see how you like each.