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The main difference between an americano and a long black is in how the hot water is mixed with the espresso. While an americano is made by pouring hot water over espresso, the opposite is true for a long black. By pouring the espresso over hot water, the drink retains more crema, more than it usually would for an americano.
Typically, a long black is also prepared with less water than an americano. It is therefore more concentrated, meaning that the flavour of the espresso is more pronounced. It should not be mistaken for a lungo, which is an espresso shot extracted with more water than usual.
As its name would suggest, the long black is generally enjoyed without milk. Levent says: “The added water allows the coffee flavour to open and highlights the characteristics of the coffee bean and roast profile… [and you can] enjoy your coffee for a lot longer!”
Outside of Australia and New Zealand, the drink is usually advertised on café menus under a different name. Mulia Handayani owns Smile Koffie, a café in West Java, Indonesia. He says: “The name in my café is kopi hitam (black coffee)… [we give it to customers] when they say they want a long black or americano.” He says that a long black will appeal to “anyone who loves black coffee”.
At Smile Koffie, Mulia and his team prepare a long black by adding 160ml of espresso machine-heated water to a glass, before pouring one espresso shot over the top. When asked how he would describe the flavour of the drink, Mulia says: “It is similar to americano, but has a stronger aroma and taste.”
He adds: “There is a heavier body as there is more crema on the surface.”
A long black is meant to be savoured. It is traditionally drunk without milk, meaning that the flavours of the underlying espresso blend are more noticeable than they would be in a cappuccino or flat white.
For this reason, it’s important that you use good-quality coffee. Levent says that he uses a Colombian single-origin coffee which is perfect for espresso. Mulia uses two different blends: one arabica and one robusta, both from the Temanggung region of Indonesia.
Mulia says he chooses coffee from Temanggung as it has “distinctive, special coffee aroma with a low acidity level, [and] smooth, soft, floral and fruity flavours”. He describes the taste as “[penetrating] the tongue” and having a “feeling of sourness”.
Mulia says he has also experimented with different variations. For example, he explains that he sometimes makes a long black with ice cubes when customers are after a cooler drink. He also says that he has added sugar, syrup, and even whipped cream in the past.
Alongside adding other flavours or milk, you can also change the espresso itself to create give the drink a different flavour. One such variation involves adding a more concentrated, double ristretto-style shot of coffee to the water. By adding a more concentrated coffee, the long black will be bolder, less acidic, and have a slightly more “syrupy” mouthfeel.
While making a long black is relatively simple, as with any beverage, you need to be careful. Pouring an espresso over water that is too hot will affect the flavour of a long black. It will also mean that customers will have to wait for their drink to cool down, and won’t be able to enjoy it immediately.
Levent recommends using water that is heated to around 70°C. He says this gives a long black “greater clarity in flavour and a clean finish”. It will also keep the drink sweet, and help it to retain the layer of crema over the top. If the water is too hot when the espresso is poured over, the crema will dissipate more quickly.
The long black may seem similar to the other black espresso-based drinks, but its unique method of preparation gives it a distinct body and mouthfeel that sets it apart from the americano.
Knowing what makes it unique will help you understand who it appeals to: perhaps a black coffee drinker who’s after something slightly different, or someone looking for an alternative to the americano. Either way, this knowledge will help you to make or enjoy quality long blacks for years to come.