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There have been a few questions now asked about the difference between a Caffe Americano vs a Long Black and the merits of each (here and here). The main difference seems to be that the Long Black method of adding the espresso after the hot water preserves the crema better.

I conducted an experiment and created an Americano and a Long Black simultaneously using a La Marzocco. Immediately after brewing the result was as expected with the Long Black having more crema. However, by the time they had sat a bit and cooled enough to drink (approximately 2 minutes), the crema had broken down and they looked almost identical.

Does the crema breaking up during brewing (Americano) or shortly thereafter (Long Black) really make a difference/affect the taste? If not, is the difference merely academic or is there some other reason why the order of operations matters?

  • ... and don't forget this how-to-pour question. Looks like we a proper solution to this problem! To me, if you want intact crema, you have a shot of espresso: black and fresh... as (metaphorically) close to the portafilter as you can get. But I hope there's other options... – hoc_age Mar 3 '15 at 16:59
  • What kind of beans did you use for your experiment? – Tim Post May 4 '15 at 10:36
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The crema definitely affects the initial taste of the coffee, that's where the concentrated notes of whatever bean you're using is going to be found.

I make a long black by:

  • Pour 3/4 cup of hot water (right from the machine)
  • Wait 2 - 3 minutes
  • Pull a double shot into it, holding it right under the group to minimize splashing
  • Let sit for about 30 seconds, serve

In contrast, I make an Americano by just pulling a double shot into a cup while also taking care to minimize splashing, then I serve it with a small steel or ceramic carafe of hot water (everyone likes a little more or a little less than everyone else).

In both instances, I heat the cup, and that's important because the crema will quickly break up on the walls of the cup if you don't. Most good espresso machines allow you to heat cups on the top of them.

Now, my testing is somewhat limited because I drink good quality Arabica beans pretty much exclusively. Arabica has some subtle flavors and it's easy to tell when they're more pronounced. Long blacks do hit the caramel notes more, in my experience. But, I usually just make myself an Americano because it's easier and the taste isn't all that different.

Done at home using a Breville Barista Express in manual mode. You don't really need a super expensive machine to replicate this, you just need the ability to pre-infuse, warm the cup, and be able to wrangle one under the group to minimize splashing.

Concluding, I think there's some substance to this. However, I'm not sure how much it really matters to someone kind of fumbling around to get their first cup of the day. It took close to a dozen tries to finally get a process down where the taste was noticeable and I could reliably reproduce it.

If you order either at your average coffee shop, I don't know that you'd be able to tell the difference, I never have.

  • While the crema certainly affects the initial taste of coffee - that is not where the most concentrated notes for that coffee will be. Crema is not pleasant to taste. As a simple experiment, scrape it off with a spoon and put it in your mouth. It's oily and bitter. However, there has been discussion that crema coats the tongue, and actually diminishes the inherent bitterness that espresso has, and thus can be beneficial when drinking espresso beverages. – Induction Jan 31 at 3:31
  • If you really like the crema, you might want to mix a bit of Robusta into your Arabica beans. ;) – JJJ May 18 at 18:49

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