Italian-American culture has brought the best of both worlds. Think of New York Pizza and It’s a Wonderful Life, the iconic American film is actually directed by Frank Capra, an Italian born American. Neighborhoods such as Little Italy can be considered as important part of American cities as it is to Italian identity. And where does the Americano fit in all this? Let me tell you, it fits like a glove.
Americano simply means American in Italian. It is said that it was the Italians who coined this term because it was the type of coffee American soldiers enjoyed drinking while stationed in Italy during WWII. Americanos are quite symbolic as its preparation consists of taking a well done espresso and pouring hot water in it, but beyond that, Americanos are a beautiful example of compromise, solidarity, and a special bond between America and Italy.
The American soldiers enjoyed pouring hot water on their espresso because this new drink, the Americano, resembled a filtered cup of coffee, which was already a popular drink commonly served in American homes. Nonetheless it had a few differences. Americano is a darker roast and therefore it has more bitterness than filtered coffee. Americano also keeps the natural crema at the top of the espresso, which filtered coffee never has. It is crucial for a well done Americano, to pour the espresso first and add the hot water later, as that allows the crema to rise to the top and lay close to your lips as you drink your Americano. The crema provides a sweetness and oily touch to the otherwise bitter drink. More on crema here!
The rule for an espresso to turn into an Americano is that hot water must be poured on a ratio from 1:1 to 1:3. Anything below that, would be called a ruined espresso and anything beyond that would be considered coffee flavored water.
Nonetheless, there are multiple variations to Americanos. If you add steamed milk instead of hot water, you get a latte. If you add drip coffee instead of water you get a red eye. With cold water instead of hot, you get an iced Americano.
I find the story of this drink quite nostalgic. Any American expat can relate to the struggle of finding things that remind you of home or simply make you less homesick while abroad. In the case of soldiers, they were facing grueling circumstances, the uncertainty of coming back home, and consequently I can only imagine how much they craved something that tasted like the coffee they would drink at home and perhaps brought back all those memories of a warm and loving place.
I must admit, that Americanos are not on my top favorite coffee drinks, but there is no point in disregarding its valuable history and may the flavor always made us think that it was in this taste where American soldiers found a taste of home during the WWII.