What Is a Long Black Coffee?

The long black may be one of the most misunderstood drinks on the menus of coffee shops. Some people think it’s an Americano. Others think it’s a long shot of espresso. The truth is, it’s neither, but because of those misconceptions — and the fairly bland name — too many coffee drinkers are missing out on this delicious, flavorful drink.

I want to make my case for why you should include the long black in your list of preferred beverages, but first I have to address the long black elephant of a question in the room: What is a long black coffee?

So, What Is a Long Black Coffee?

A long black coffee is a double shot of espresso or ristretto that is poured over about 4 ounces of hot water. By pouring the espresso into the water — instead of the water into the espresso —a long black maintains a rich crema, that layer of foamy coffee on top of the brew.

Long Black Coffee vs Americano coffee

If you always thought that a long black was just another name for a café Americano, welcome to the club. Most of us had that confusion at some point. Despite the ingredients being similar, though, there are some important differences in both the preparation methods and the taste and aroma of the final brew.

In terms of preparation, these two types of coffee drinks differ in the way the ingredients are combined and also typically in the amount of added water.

  • Order of ingredients — With a long black, espresso is poured into the water to maintain the crema. With an Americano, water is poured into the espresso, dissipating the crema.
  • Amount of water — Long blacks are typically made with a 2:1 water-to-espresso ratio. An Americano has more water, often using a 3:1 ratio. These ratios do vary from cafe to cafe, and some use the same ratio for their Americano and long black. 

Those might seem like minor distinctions, but they make a huge difference, with the long black providing a more aromatic and flavorful experience.

Where Did the Long Black Come From?

As with many great coffee inventions, the long black resulted from cultural confusion. Americans visiting Italy in the olden days would be black coffee drinkers, but the concept was foreign to Italian cafes that only served espresso and cappuccino.

As more American tourists came around asking for black coffee, the Italian baristas looked for ways to appease their American customers. Their espresso was clearly too strong for the American palate, so they tried reducing the strength by filling a cappuccino cup with hot water before adding the espresso. Thus, the long black coffee was born.

How Much Caffeine Is in a Long Black?

A typical single shot of espresso has about 65 mg of caffeine. Since a long black coffee has two shots, that’s about 130 mg. For comparison, a regular cup of coffee has about 95 mg, so a long black is about 35% higher in caffeine. 

Of course, these are estimates. The exact amount of caffeine will depend on the origin of the beans, what type of coffee beans (Arabica, Robusta, etc.) were used in the blend, the roast level of the beans, and other factors. Oh, and you could always make either drink with decaf if you really wanted to drop the caffeine content.

How to Make a Long Black

Espresso dropping into hot water to make a long black coffee
  1. Add 4 ounces of water to a coffee mug. The water should be around 160 degrees Fahrenheit — much hotter than that and you risk burning some of the flavors of the brew.
  2. Pull a double espresso or double ristretto. Alternatively, you can use AeroPress espresso if you don’t have an espresso machine.
  3. Carefully pour the espresso shots into the water. The gentler you are, the more of the layer of crema you will preserve. Alternatively, you can combine steps 2 and 3 by pulling the espresso directly into the hot water.
  4. Enjoy!

How to Drink a Long Black

This isn’t a shot of espresso, so don’t drink it like one. A long black should be sipped and savored. I don’t recommend adding milk as the water already dilutes the brew to the perfect level for enjoying the unique flavors of the espresso beans. If you prefer a creamier drink, a latte or cappuccino is probably a better option.

I highly recommend the long black as a way to try out your single-origin coffees. It brings out the vibrant flavors of the beans in a way that other espresso drinks typically don’t. I’m not saying that flat whites aren’t great, but a long black is an ideal way to experience Costa Rican coffee beansSumatran coffee beans, or whatever your favorite type happens to be. 

Of course, you should also try them out with some of the more traditional espresso blends like those from Illy and Lavazza.

Or just ignore me. There’s no wrong way to enjoy a long black, so don’t let tradition of the rants of some guy on the internet interfere with your good time.

The More You Know

The long black coffee is just one of the many overlooked drinks out there. From Cuban coffee to Starbucks’ strongest coffees, there’s always more for coffee lovers to explore and enjoy. So try it out, see if you like it, and let your senses guide you to your favorite new style of coffee.

Whether you are looking to discover all the coffees around the world or you just want to find a budget coffee maker that suits your needs, I hope you find what you are looking for, and I hope that my site has been at least a little helpful in your journey.

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