Trends & Lifestyle

The long black: Not just a black coffee

A piece of advice: don’t ask for a long black in an American or European café. People will look at you with confusion, apprehension, and most likely a question in their eyes (‘you want what now?!’). In Italy, having noted your accent, they’ll probably sigh in acknowledgment and give you an ‘Americano’. Except that’s not a long black!

What exactly is a long black then?

A long black is an espresso-based coffee where the hot water is poured into the cup before the coffee shot. By using this technique, the coffee retains more crema than its American counterpart. As the crema is the most intense part of the coffee, the potency of the flavour profile begins at the top and eases off as the coffee is ingested. Long blacks are usually prepared with hot water, never boiling water. They should be ready to drink straight away.

In an ‘Americano’ the opposite occurs – hot water is added over the espresso shot. This dilutes the crema and provides a more uniform coffee that often looks black or has a thin film of crema. On the flavour side, coffee tastes light like a filter brew and is often more consistent to drink from start to finish. Americanos typically have more hot water added than long blacks which also accounts for their gentler taste. The espresso shot itself is thinned and rounded out in an Americano, unlike the long black where it is pronounced upfront.

It’s also important to note that a long black should not be mistaken for the Italian ‘lungo’ where an espresso shot is extracted with more water. Lungo translates to ‘long’ and refers to the longer extraction – usually an espresso is extracted using 30ml of water for 18-30 seconds. A lungo uses double the amount of water and therefore takes about double the time to extract.

Why and where did the long black originate?

There’s no clear historic moment – or document – that we can find which definitively tells us who invented the long black or when. The fact that the long black is intrinsic to antipodean markets (only us Aussies and Kiwis tend to order a long black) indicates it’s linked to the history of café culture in Australia.

Coffee has long had a presence in Australia, from the crop that was on the First Fleet to the Victorian goldfields and cafés that were popular in Melbourne in the late 19th century. However, the espresso came to Australia via Italian migrants post World War II and immediately made waves in the wider communities.

Our unique Australian café culture – along with the inimitable long black – is now recognised globally for how distinctive it is. And while the flat white may be a more successful export to the cafés of New York and London, the long black remains as special to Australia’s coffee scene as the lamington. Or pavlova. Or any other culinary delight we stole from New Zealand.

Which is why our La Specialista manual machines and our PrimaDonna Soul automatic machine has a long black pre-set function – just for us antipodeans!