Return of the Reverse Black: Americano Strikes Back

Author: Shirley & Mike Wong

Return of the Reverse Black: Americano Strikes Back, Vancouver Barista, Vancouver's best cafes, best coffee
In honour of today’s movie launch of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, we bring back one of our own epic coffee battles. And we’re counting on the force of JJ Bean Coffee Roasters’ seasonal Christmas Reserve to get us through.

“Never tell me the odds.”

-Han Solo (from the film, “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back”)

In The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader duels with Luke Skywalker, his lightsaber finally slicing off Luke’s arm. A sobbing, traumatized Luke – whom I suspect has issues with managing confrontation – is sent spiralling down a big hole (literally and psychologically).

I first watched that scene on TV as a little girl, elbows propping up my chin on the living room floor. Even now, I remember nodding in awe and approval at the force that can only be Darth Vader – and thinking scornfully, darkly, “Good riddance, Luke.”

You can bet, if invited, I’d join the dark side. With that thought, today’s epic release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens seems to time perfectly with the return of one of our own celebrated battles on this blog.

If you’ve been following us from the start, you may recall our original throwdown/101 post where Mike brewed an Americano and a Reverse Black. We compared their flavours and debated whether or not there was a noticeable difference between them. The result? A draw – since Mike felt there was no noticeable difference between the two drinks.

To give you some context, a Reverse Black – known more commonly as a Long Black – is similar to an Americano. In an Americano, a mug that already holds a shot (or two) of espresso is topped up with a seemingly random quantity of hot water. For a Reverse Black, it’s simply made in reverse sequence: espresso is poured into a mug that already has hot water.

This time, we came up with some new ammunition to up the ante on this battle:

  • Reducing the ratio of water to coffee to 30mL (1 shot) to 60ml of hot water. In fact, our research on the web indicates this is the way Americanos are commonly made in the UK and Italy. If you’re used to drinking a large Americano, you’ll find this revised version makes a surprisingly small and concentrated drink.
  • Using just one espresso shot per drink (versus two shots in our last post).

We’ll also be using JJ Bean’s Christmas Reserve and including a review at the bottom of the post. Okay, time to see who is the learner, and who is the master.

Americano & Reverse Black (small, concentrated version)


  • Kettle
  • Grinder
  • Espresso machine
  • Tamper
  • 2 espresso cups, for the shots
  • 2 mugs, for the Americano & Reverse Black
  • scale, optional (also okay to eyeball)


  • Water
  • 18g of fresh coffee beans


  1. Heat water in kettle to 204 F.

2. Turn on espresso machine and warm portafilter.

3. Scoop beans into grinder. 

Set at a fine espresso setting.

Vancouver Barista JJ Bean Christmas Reserve for The Return of Reverse Black: And Americano Strikes Back
JJ Bean’s Christmas Reserve beans

4. Pre-heat espresso cups by running them through the hot water in the espresso machine.

Set aside with the warming water still in the cups.

5. Put portafilter under the grinder.

Grind beans, level grounds in portafilter and tamp.

Vancouer Barista Return of Reverse Black: And Americano Strikes Back
Coffee grounds ready for tamping


6. Put portafilter back into the espresso machine.

Empty the warming water from the two espresso cups and put under the espresso machine to extract the coffee. Extraction process should take 25-30 seconds. Set aside the two espresso shots.

Vancouver Barista The Return of Reverse Black: And Americano Strikes Back
Set aside the espresso shots, one for Americano and the second for Reverse Black

7. Pre-warm your two mugs by running hot water from the kettle into mugs.

Empty water from mugs.

8. For the Americano, empty one shot into a mug. One shot is equivalent to 30mL. Add 60mL of hot water to the mug. You can use a scale to be precise or simply eyeball, keeping in mind ratio of approximately 1 part espresso to 2 parts water.

For the Reverse Black, simply reverse the steps. Pour 60mL of hot water into the second mug, then add the espresso shot.

Vancouver Barista The Return of Reverse Black: And Americano Strikes Back, JJ Bean Christmas Reserve
Mike making the Americano, pouring a shot into the mug first

Vancouver Barista Reverse Black: And Americano Strikes Back, JJ Bean Christmas Blend
Making a Reverse Black by adding water first to the mug


Name of coffee: JJ Bean Christmas Reserve

Origin: Rwanda

Location of roaster: Vancouver, B.C.

Price: $17.25 (for a bag)

Brewing method: Americano and Reverse Black

Roaster’s tasting notes: “Mandarin, clove, Bing Crosby.”

Vancouver Barista The Return of Reverse Black: And Americano Strikes Back, JJ Bean Christmas Reserve, Vancouver's best cafes, best coffee
To the left, Reverse Black. To the right, the Americano.

Return of the Reverse Black: Americano Strikes Back, Vancouver Barista, JJ Bean Christmas Reserve, Vancouver's best coffee,best cafes
JJ Bean’s Christmas Reserve is tasty with a defined clove flavour that tastes festive


Mike’s comments:

I was very surprised at the noticeable difference between the drinks, just by reducing the quantity of water.

Using large notNeutral LINO cups may have also made a difference in my experience. These cups have a wide mouth, which allowed my nose to be completely enveloped in the fragrance of coffee.


  • Not as much visible crema as the  Reverse Black.
  • Americano had flavours that weren’t as clear and a bit more acidic.


  • Smoother than the Americano.
  • Seemed less acidic, which I liked.
  • Was able to distinguish the individual flavours better in this drink.
  • Crema was more pronounced on the surface of the Reverse Black: I could see its suspension clearly. This may have helped with the defined flavours, like clove.
  • Really enjoyed coffee made this way and it’s made me reconsider how I made Americanos.

VERDICT: Reverse Black wins. As Yoda might say, “The Force is strong with this one.”

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5 thoughts on “Return of the Reverse Black: Americano Strikes Back”

  1. What espresso machine do you guys use? I’m looking for one with a budget over about $300, so I was wondering what machine you guys recommend.

    1. Hi Zack, The variety and quality in the sub $300 will be limited to machines with pressurized portafilters and panarello frothers. Look for the Saeco Aroma, De’Longhi Dedica or Breville Cafe Venezia. These are great entry level espresso machines that can make great drinks with fresh beans but if you can – go up the next level to $550 plus. Machine at this price point will allow you to make excellent barista quality drinks. Have fun with your search.

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