Whether you’re a home-grown barista or Starbucks junkie, and whether you enjoy the finest roasted coffee beans brewed to make the perfect espresso or you prefer to order your coffee over the counter, the uniting factor here is that you’re a coffee lover.
All coffee lovers can agree on one thing and that is, no day feels complete without that delicious cup of java. Although this wonderful elixir is simple enough to drink, there’s nothing simple when it comes to the huge variety of ways you can brew your morning cup of joe.
If you’re keen to learn more about the wonderful options available when it comes to coffee making then you may have already come across the terms ‘ristretto’ and ‘cafe lungo’ or ‘long shot’. Understanding these phrases can help you enhance your coffee skills or it may simply allow you to sound like a pro when you order your next coffee from your favorite coffee shop.
To sum it up, ‘ristretto’ means ‘restricted’ in Italian so it’s basically a smaller, more intense shot of espresso. ‘Cafe Lungo’ or ‘long shot’ is an espresso brewed with more water so is larger in volume and occasionally bitter to taste.
Let’s dive right in and learn everything you need to know about the ristretto and cafe lungo and how you can make them yourself.
Defining Long Shot and Ristretto
We know that a long shot and a ristretto are both a form of coffee but what characterizes them and how do you make them?
If you frequent artisan coffee shops or you know someone who knows their way around an espresso machine then chances are you’ve heard these terms being thrown around. The basis of these coffee drinks comes back to a shot of espresso. If you adjust the brewing parameters of this drink then you can end up with either a ristretto or a long shot, as long as you know what you’re doing.
This is why, to start off, we need to define an espresso coffee.
An espresso is a small volume, concentrated shot of coffee that’s brewed at high pressure. You start with 7-14 grams of coffee (single vs double shot) that’s ground to a finer grind compared to most brewing methods.
This is packed tightly into a portafilter basket and fixed in place to an espresso machine. Hot water is forced through the coffee puck at 9-15 bars of pressure over 30 seconds. This should give you 1-2 ounces of thick, concentrated coffee, depending on whether you opt for a single or double shot of espresso.
The traditional espresso follows these guidelines and you end up with a coffee that’s thick in texture, almost like warm honey, and has a thick layer of crema floating on top. This crema is simply the natural fats found in the coffee but they have been emulsified and extracted from the ground coffee.
Espresso can be enjoyed as is or added to steamed milk to give a variety of coffee drinks. The popular ones include latte, cappuccino, flat white, and macchiato.
Ristretto Vs Espresso
A regular shot of espresso becomes a ristretto shot when less water is used and the extraction time is shortened. The amount of coffee you end up with is 0.5 an ounce compared to the full ounce of the standard espresso.
As you reduced the amount of water used, the caffeine content is also slightly reduced. Ristretto is Italian for restricted and that’s exactly what you’re doing to the water as you brew this coffee.
This brewing process limits the bitter compounds and fats found in the coffee and you’ll notice lighter, more aromatic qualities to coffee brewed using this method. This method of brewing coffee can pair very well with hot water to give americano as the cup of coffee has a lighter flavor.
Long Shot Vs Espresso
A long shot or lungo is coffee brewed similar to an espresso but the shot is extracted over a longer period of time. Extra water is passed through the coffee to give you a shot that’s around 1.5 ounces. The longer extraction can give a more earthy, intense flavor profile that tends towards single note flavors and can end up bitter.
The lungo espresso drink works well when added to milk to give an intense flavor to your cappuccino or latte. Lungo is Italian for long so that’s where ‘long shot’ comes from. This drink is also known as cafe allonge in French.
Ristretto Vs Long Shot
The grind size of your coffee beans has a large influence on how long it takes to pull a shot. A finer grind packs in more resistance so slows the brewing process. This is better for brewing ristretto. For a longer shot, a coarser grind works well.
The short shot ristretto is brewed over around 15 seconds rather than the 25-30 seconds typically taken to pull a shot of espresso. A lungo takes around 45s to a minute to brew.
Where the standard espresso comes in at around an ounce or 25ml, the ristretto is closer to 15ml or 0.5 ounce. It’s thicker in texture and has less crema on top. The lungo is more like 45ml or 1.5 ounces. It’s thinner, darker, and has a more intense aroma.
The shorter extraction time of the ristretto means that it contains more of the fast extracting coffee compounds per volume. This gives them more acidity so lighter, floral, and fruity notes. They are best for the light roast coffee lover.
Lungo shots have more of the slow soluble coffee tastes in a single shot and are packed with intense, single-note flavors like burnt caramel and smoky undertones. Some people find they taste too bitter, or burnt in flavor. This option is better for those who prefer intense, dark roast kinds of coffee.
The ristretto coffee is exposed to the water for a shorter period of time so the result is less caffeine per shot compared to espresso. A lungo will typically have slightly more caffeine than espresso due to the longer extraction time but this difference is not huge. It’s a marginal increase that you probably wouldn’t notice when drinking the coffee.
The lighter blends of flavor found in a ristretto mean that it pairs well when topped up with hot water to give an americano or just enjoy it as is. It works well topped with a dash of milk foam to give a macchiato or try with a dollop of whipped cream to make espresso con Panna.
The lungo goes best with milk as the sugars cut through the bitterness. It holds its flavor well with creamy additions so makes the perfect base for a cappuccino.
How To Make Ristretto
If you’re a budding barista keen to take a step up from brewing espresso and you’re willing to try making a ristretto for yourself then you will need some equipment to hand. You will need a semi-automatic or manual espresso machine to brew coffee in this method as an automatic machine doesn’t give you the control necessary for this brew method.
Select your favorite coffee beans and set your coffee grinder to a finer setting than you would typically use for brewing espresso. Load up the portafilter basket using the same amount of coffee (up to 14g) you typically would for espresso.
Tamp it down and fix the basket to the brew head.
Start the brewing process and stop the water after 15 seconds. The finer grind should slow the coffee flow rate and give you a thick, syrupy coffee.
You’ll end up with a rich, tasty shot of coffee that’s about 15ml in volume or up to 30 ml if you’re aiming for a double shot (doppio). Enjoy as-is or add steamed milk or hot water to give a specialty coffee of your choosing.
How To Make Long Shot/Cafe Lungo
This drink takes things to the opposite extreme. The amount of coffee used is the same as for a ristretto or espresso brew method and varies depending on whether you choose a single or double shot.
Grind the coffee to a slightly coarser setting than you would typically use for espresso brewing. You don’t want to go as coarse as drip or pour-over coffee, just one click up on the grinder settings should work well.
Load up the portafilter and tamp down well. Next, fix the portafilter to the brew head and start the water flowing. Let it brew for up to 45 seconds or until you have 45ml (1.5 ounces) of coffee. This can go up to 90ml for a double shot.
This coffee pairs well with frothy, steamed milk for a light yet intense cappuccino.
A Cafe Lungo and a Ristretto both have a role to play when it comes to enjoying delicious coffee. The ristretto has a thicker texture with more complex flavor notes and is perfect for making smaller volumes of specialty coffee or enjoyed as a pick-me-up any time of day. The Cafe Lungo is a darker brew that’s full of single-note flavors and sometimes has a bitter edge. This is ideal for making larger volume coffee like americano, lattes, or even iced versions of these drinks.
Both kinds of coffee have their pros and cons and are either loved or hated, depending on your taste preferences. In the end, it’s up to you to decide which coffee suits you best, no matter how long or short you prefer your shot!