The “Make Americanos Great Again” Competition

Across party lines, this Charleston-based coffee competition was a hit.


photos by Aaron Tran

Michael Mai, Coffee Program Director of Mercantile and Mash in Charleston, South Carolina, stood before a gathering of a little more than two dozen coffee professionals and enthusiasts on Friday night and made an unapologetic statement: “Americanos are an inherently flawed drink. ”

No one in the crowd was in the least surprised by his remarks. After all, the event we had all gathered to see that night was called, “Make Americanos Great Again”, an Americano-based signature beverage competition. Michael continued, “The point of tonight is to reimagine and reinvent the ways in which [Americanos] are prepared and, in turn, the way they taste … so let’s get started!”


The rules of the competition were simple: only two ingredients were allowed in the Americanos (espresso and water in any form), the espresso was to be prepared on the espresso machine provided at Mercantile and Mash (a La Marzocco FB80), and the Americano was required to be no less than six ounces. Competitors (who, for time purposes, were invite-only for this event) could bring their own coffee, grinders, and barware. Michael encouraged baristas to get weird and push the envelope with their beverages, vessels and brewing styles. There had even been talk of ‘vaping’ Americanos* in the pre-event Facebook messages.


So how does one make a unique, envelope-pushing, non-boring Americano using just water and espresso? Brianna Berry, representing Charleston-based Broomwagon Coffee, decided to think outside of the box (or should I say, mug) by brewing her Kenyan espresso ristretto-style into a hollowed-out orange. She then added roughly 4 ounces of hot water, set to a temperature of 150 degrees, to her beverage. When asked to explain the reasoning behind her methods, Berry explained, “I wanted to highlight the citrus flavors in this bright, fruity coffee. ” And that she did. Her simple, visually-pleasing beverage was tart and sweet, heavy with citrus aromatics and very fun to drink.


Counter Culture Coffee’s Charleston technician, Diego Oliva, decided to take a different, more complex route with his Americano. Diego theorized that the unpleasant flavors present in most Americanos might be attributed to the fines remaining in the espresso that over-extracted as they sat in hot water. Grinding a coarse batch of Counter Culture’s Idido Apollo through a Mahlkonig EK43, Diego used a set of sieves to sift out the fines from his espresso. He took the fine-less espresso, dosed it into his portafilter, and locked it into the machine without tamping beforehand. Diego then began pulse-brewing his the espresso for almost three minutes total, similar to a traditional pour-over. Finally, he poured the liquid through a triple-filtered Bonmac, trapping any remaining fines in the paper filter. The resulting beverage was incredibly light-bodied and full of high, bright notes, earning Diego a third-place win.


The winning beverage, brewed by Chris Nickels of Charleston’s Welkin Coffee, was even more intricate (if you can believe it). In his own words: “The drink started out with a really big shot of Idido from Counter Culture Coffee. I was grinding much coarser than I’d ever consider for a typical shot of espresso, dosing 22 grams to yield a 48-gram shot. I repeated this step for a second shot but only used the third fourth of the output ¦I then repeated this process with a shot of CCC’s Banko Gotiti…after mixing all of these ingredients I added hot water and filtered the mixture through a Kalita filter to drip over ice cubes. When all the ice had melted I poured the final product into a large rocks glass and combined it with a spherical piece of ice, made by the kind folks over at the Gin Joint. TLDR; I made an Americano and then added the sweetest parts of two espresso shots to make it taste good and rig the game. It was wasteful and impractical.”

Michael hopes to bring this event to other venues, building its audience and encouraging even more creative Americano-making endeavors in its wake. Says Michael, “In all of the progress [of espresso science and technology] the Americano lags behind painfully. The process for making one has, to my knowledge, never changed and it was a pretty poorly-made drink to begin with … the Americano is a super overlooked beverage but I plan on being an organizer of its resurgence.”


*Much to my disappointment, there was no vaping of Americanos. Maybe next time?


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