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Americano vs Latte: Which Espresso-Based Wake-Up Call is Best?

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Just about every coffee lover knows the feeling of standing in line at a coffee shop, a little too early in the morning, staring up at this menu that might as well be written in a foreign language.

All you want is to have a nice drink to wake you up, but the idea of getting the barista to define each word on that board makes your skin crawl. Enter Roasty, here to save you from at least a few of your morning woes.

Americano vs latte

If you just want something to put some pep in your step, an Americano or latte can be a great option… for different brands of coffee fans. So read on to find out the difference and which drink suits your taste buds.

Coffee TypeEspressoEspresso
Size6 ounces8 ounces
Caffeine ContentMedium-HighHigh
FlavorTraditional "coffee" flavor, with a slight punch to itCreamy, milky espresso, customizable with flavor shots and sweeteners

Shots, shots, shots

…of espresso—both the Americano and the latte start with a base of espresso. This lends both drinks a richness that does not necessarily come with your typical cup of joe.

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The word espresso means “quick,” and the drink is brewed by using high pressure to force water through finely-ground coffee. It is a pretty fast process (taking about 30 seconds) that produces a small amount of rich, highly caffeinated coffee.

If you really want to avoid those early-morning coffee shop lines, you can make espresso at home if you are willing to put in some serious cash to buy a machine or time to make it yourself. If neither of those tickles your fancy, you can still read on to figure out which drink to order when you finally make it to the front of the line.

What makes an Americano?

Honestly, the answer is basically just water. The Americano is made by adding hot water to 1-2 shots of espresso. This no-milk alternative to drip coffee tends to be richer while still getting the same simple and dark vibe.

Americanos are prepared in one 6-ounce cup. The recommended ratio varies from half-and-half to 1/3 espresso and 2/3 water. Most chain coffee shops will produce a drink closer to the latter, which tends to be weaker as it is more diluted.

The big debate around the Americano is about when one should add the water.

The general consensus is that the espresso comes first and the water comes second.

This order dissipates the crema (a reddish-brown foam that contributes to the fullness and aroma of an espresso shot and results from the mixing of oils and carbon dioxide during the pulling process). This crema is left intact if you reverse the order (water then espresso), but the resulting drink is generally called a long black (popular in Australia).

Fun Fact: The Americano was supposedly created during World War II when American soldiers found the traditional Italian espresso to be too strong and opted to dilute it with water, making a drink that was closer to the drip coffee they had back home.

What about a Latte?

A latte is formed by combining three things: espresso (1/6 or 1-2 shots) + steamed milk (4/6 or 5-6 oz.) + milk foam (1/6 or a thin top layer). Thanks to the milk, this drink is ultra-creamy and is often described as having a velvety texture.

The term “latte” comes from shortening the Italian term caffé latte, meaning “milk coffee”- an appropriate title for this drink dairy-based drink. It is typically served in an 8-ounce cup and offers a gentler but still caffeinated wake-up than the more assertive Americano.

As an added bonus, baristas tend to add their own Instagram-able flair by creating delicate designs with foam on top. So if you are just as excited by the idea of a photo-op with your drink as you are by drinking it- a latte is probably a good option.


Both Americanos and lattes are pretty versatile coffee options, but that versatility mostly comes from very different variables.

While both drinks are traditionally served hot, they can also be prepared cold, making them great for any time of the year. For an Americano, simply switch the hot water out for some cold water and add a little ice. For the latte, pour espresso over water and add cold milk. Simple.

Outside of temperature, both drinks can be customized in their own ways. You can put sweetener in your Americano, but it is usually frowned upon by coffee gurus because it hides the drink’s distinctive taste. So, if you want to maintain the integrity of the drink, you can get a little more experimental with the grounds used in the espresso of an Americano than you could with a normal espresso- so go wild. However, if you do decide to put creamer or sugar in the cup, you will find it is quite similar to your home-brewed coffee, except with a little extra oomph.

Lattes on the other hand get more customizable after you brew them. You can add flavored syrup or sugar to sweeten the taste, which is great for people who are not particularly jazzed about the flavor of the coffee. Plus the creamy texture is typically smoother than a normal drip coffee, further recommending it to your drink order.

What’s the verdict?

Either drink will work if you want something to wake you up that is outside of the typical cup of coffee but still not too intimidating. If you want a drink that is dairy-free, low-calorie, or close to the average home-brew, go for the Americano. However, if you are a dairy-lover, have a sweet tooth, or dislike a strong coffee flavor, your best bet is the latte.

Happy Caffeinating!

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