So you walk into a coffee shop and look through the menu for something new. Espresso, Caramel Macchiato, Americano, Flat White, Ristretto… A what? What on Earth is a Ristretto?
A Ristretto is a ”restricted” espresso. It has half the volume of a regular espresso shot, takes half as long to pour, and is twice as concentrated. It tastes sweeter, bolder and fruitier than a regular espresso with less bitterness, thicker, and more syrupy feel.
Ristretto vs Espresso: What’s The Difference?
While you could absolutely say that a Ristretto is a type of Espresso, you wouldn’t be wrong, but you also wouldn’t do it justice.
While the process of making a Ristretto is almost identical to making an Espresso; the result is something really quite different.
What Is An Espresso?
Before we can get into what exactly a Ristretto is, we need to set the baseline. What even makes an espresso an espresso?
An Espresso is a small 30ml (about 1oz) shot of concentrated coffee.
Espresso is made with an espresso machine. While you can get other gizmos that will make something similar to espresso like a Moka pot or a pod machine, you will have a hard time achieving the same control needed for both espresso and ristretto without a typical espresso machine.
An espresso machine will force water, at 90°C (194°F), through compacted ground coffee at about 9 Bars of pressure. The extraction takes 20-30 seconds, depending on many factors like machine settings, how hard the grounds are compacted, and how fine the grind is.
Many people like to order a double espresso because a single 1oz espresso shot is pretty small.
What is a Ristretto? (It’s All In The Ratio)
A Ristretto is pulled from an ordinary espresso using almost the exact same process as the espresso.
The Ristretto takes the exact same grind, tamping, temperature, and pressure as an espresso.
The only difference is, the shot is run for less time. About 12-15 seconds. It results in a shot of a volume between a half to three quarters of the volume of a regular espresso shot.
In Italian, Ristretto means “narrow” or ”restrict”. It’s an espresso with restricted water.
Why Would Anyone Want A Ristretto?
By pulling a shot using less water, you get a coffee which is much more concentrated.
Harsher, dark, chocolatey, caramelly, and bitter flavors don’t get the time they need to dissolve into the water. Instead, you get the flavors that do dissolve quickly. That’s the sweeter flavors.
A Ristretto has all of the sweet flavors of espresso. It tastes sweet, fruity, and bold.
The texture is also quite different from espresso. Because the end of the espresso pour is typically much more watery, a Ristretto is viscous and syrupy.
To top it off, literally, the crema is also a darker shade of brown.
What’s more, because a ristretto is typically about half of the volume of just a single espresso, you will often get a double Ristretto in a coffee shop. Which makes it a similar volume to a single espresso.
So, when you ask for a Ristretto, they will give you a super thick and concentrated espresso-like coffee which tastes sweet, fruity, and certainly not bitter. Almost like a cold brew of espresso.
How To Make A Ristretto
First thing’s first. You really do need an espresso machine to make a Ristretto. While you do get stove-top Moka pots which make an espresso-like coffee, in order to pull off this “restricted” shot, you need a regular decent semi-automatic espresso machine.
As I said before, a Ristretto is usually made as a double. So that’s what we’re going to talk about here. Besides, a double size portafilter basket is probably most common anyway.
You will need:
- An Espresso Machine
- A double Portafilter Basket
- A Burr Grinder (for best results, although you can buy pre-ground coffee)
- 14g of your favorite coffee beans
To conjure a Ristretto you will:
- Finely grind 14g of coffee beans (or cop-out and use pre-ground). The perfect fineness of your grind will always take some tweaking.
- Load the ground coffee into your double portafilter basket. Make sure the basket is actually in the portafilter first of course.
- Tamp those beans down. Remember that it’s totally possible to over-tamp your beans. If they’re too compacted, the water won’t be able to flow through them correctly. Likewise, not compacted enough will make a weak Ristretto.
- Slot that portafilter into the espresso machine’s grouphead.
- Whack your beverage container of choice under the portafilter. It’s worthwhile getting a 1oz (30ml) cup under the portafilter or a mug with a 1oz (30ml) mark. That way you can be sure you’ve extracted the right volume. Shots can run at different speeds with the tiniest tweak.
- Get a stopwatch at the ready. Now hit the go button on your espresso machine and run it for 12-15 seconds. Which should be roughly how long it takes to pull about 1oz (30ml).
We can’t focus on the Ristretto without mentioning espresso’s other lesser known sibling: The Lungo.
In Italian, Lungo means long. You guessed it. A Lungo is a long Espresso.
The shot will be pulled so that double the volume of coffee is extracted compared to a regular espresso.
If you’re thinking that sounds like a sure as hell way to burn an espresso, you’re not far from right. The taste you get in a Lungo includes all of the roughest, toughest, roasty, smoky, tobacco-ey flavors you can get from coffee.
It goes without saying, a Lungo isn’t for the faint of heart.
While some might say that a Lungo is just an overdone espresso, that doesn’t mean a Lungo has no place in the world. Some people even prefer a Lungo, although I can’t say I’m one of them. I’m definitely more a Ristretto guy.
Ristretto vs Espresso: Which Is Best?
When it comes down to which drink is best, Ristretto, Espresso, or even Lungo, it will always come down to your own preference.
A Ristretto is a lovely easy-drinking form of espresso. Full of bold sweetness.
It might even be a good option for an espresso first-timer. Although maybe not for a completely uninitiated coffee drinker. More for a milky-coffee drinker looking to branch out.
Some coffee shops love Ristretto so much that they will use it by default in many of the espresso drinks on their menu. Starbucks, for example, use Ristretto shots in their flat whites. I do like a flat white.
On the other hand, an espresso certainly does have more complex flavors. It includes more of the chocolatey, caramel-y, flavors.
Espresso holds the title as the most common form espresso-type shot for a reason. It’s an amazing balance of flavors. Otherwise we would call it a Ristretto machine.
Of course there is always the Lungo. Some people love a harsh coffee. Sorry, I’m not one of those people.
The strength of a Lungo would probably go really well in a Vietnamese Egg Coffee. I’ll need to remember to give that a try.