Coffee Knowledge Base

26 February 2024

What is a lungo and where does it come from?

What is a lungo and where does it come from?

Many years ago, many of us from Northern Europe went to Italy. Sitting in the warm Italian sunshine with a stylish Italian as company, we learned to drink espresso and we fell in love. Not only with the Italians and the espressos but with that special moment taken for coffee. And we wanted to take that special time dedicated to coffee home with us and relive it. But in countries like Belgium, we have a national tradition of drinking filter coffee.

Back home, the real Italian espresso didn’t really suit us, so we simply made filter coffee using an espresso machine – a large cup of coffee that had to look like an espresso with a creamy layer on top. In other words, many of us bought an expensive espresso machine only to make bad coffee. Yes, you read that right, we made bad coffee. Not because we were not fans of espresso, but more through faulty extraction.

To achieve the correct degree of extraction, you always have to respect the correct ratios between the amount of coffee, the degree of grind and the volume of water at the right temperature, as well as the correct contact time between the coffee and water.

What is a lungo

A proper espresso has a flow-through time between 25 and 30 seconds for a volume of 25 to 35 ml of coffee. In contrast to that, a lungo, when using the same degree of grind, will take 60 seconds to fill a cup with 150 ml of coffee.

However, you should not confuse a lungo with an Americano or a long black. An Americano is a properly brewed espresso that is diluted with hot water. A long black uses the reverse order, being hot water with a shot of espresso run onto it. With a lungo, all the water flows through the coffee bed.

The taste

A lungo is therefore less strong but it contains more bitter substances. The extra water runs completely through the coffee bed, which thus dissolves components that are normally not extracted from the ground coffee. The greater the amount of water that flows through the ground coffee, the more bitter substances are extracted and the more watery the coffee will taste. As a result all the underlying, intrinsic and original flavours are lost.

The look

Therefore the classic lungo has a creamy layer on its surface, a crema just like an espresso. An Americano does not have that, because you pour hot water on top of the espresso and that breaks up the crema. Many people think that an Americano has been brewed wrongly because they have a classic lungo in mind. Nothing is less true. The Americano or long black is actually the only correct alternative to a wrongly prepared lungo.

Good or bad?

Whether you think a lungo is good or bad is a matter of personal taste. But let’s just consider the fact that a properly brewed cup of coffee has the right balance between acidity, sweetness and bitterness. Those characteristics are extracted in precisely that order and it is the barista’s job to find the brew method that will deliver a nice balance for each type of coffee. So in the case of a lungo all the efforts put into the previous links in the coffee chain are actually negated. This is something to consider before you decide to order a lungo.