Coffee Facts

What is a Ristretto? Do Not Distress, It’s Espress(o)

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Obviously, we don’t all speak Italian. So deciphering what all the drinks on your coffee-shop menu are can get a little challenging, especially with franchises throwing in things like “Frappuccino” (which is entirely made up).

So chances are you’ve come across the road “ristretto” and might not be sure of what EXACTLY the drink is. Don’t worry, we’re here to help! Read on for the full break down of the ristretto, so you’ll feel ready-to-go with your limited Italian vocabulary next time you swing by the cafe.

what's a ristretto

Let’s Start with Espresso

In order to understand a Ristretto or a Lungo, you’ll first need to understand the the mechanics of a basic shot of espresso.

Espresso is a highly concentrated coffee beverage. It is generally about 30mL and baristas make it by forcing hot water. through extremely fine, packed grounds for 25-30 seconds. The resulting beverage sports a rich, full-bodied flavor that’s a staple across the global coffee community. You’ll probably recognize it by the distinctive crema on top.

Espresso is also the base of most popular coffee beverages you’ll find in a coffee shop!

So what’s a Ristretto?

The difference is in the amount of water used to brew the drink. The word ristretto is Italian for “restrict,” and the drink is names such because you reduce (or “restrict”) the amount water used to pull a shot. Otherwise, the process for brewing the two drinks is the same as far as temperature and pressure go.

Because there’s less water, there is also less drink, making them shorter. As a result, a ristretto is 15 to 20 mL as opposed to the standard 30 mL. Thus, most coffee shops will only sell double ristretto shots, so they’ll come out about the size of a typical espresso. shot (perhaps slightly larger depending on the barista).

Since a ristretto is an overall shorter pull than an espresso, the final drink is a slightly sweeter, more concentrated flavor that plays out without any bitterness.

Brewing it

As we mentioned, the process of making a ristretto is nearly identical to pulling a regular shot, just with 2/3 or 1/2 the amount of water. Most espresso machines have the customizability to pull a ristretto shot, even if it isn’t a preset. However, even the most basic machines tend to have the option pre-programmed for you.

The step-by-step process is as follows, but keep in mind it does require an espresso machine:

  • Get some fresh grounds (if you’re grinding yourself, use the same fine grind setting as usual)
  • Fill the portafilter as per your machine’s specification– no need to reduce the amount of grounds.
  • Tamp the grounds, ensuring that they are level and firmly pressed.
  • Here is the important part: You’ll need to extract 15-20ml of coffee in about 15 seconds. This is less water/coffee and a shorter time than the typical 30ml in 30 seconds used for a normal shot.
    • If you’re lucky, your machine likely already has a setting for brewing a ristretto, so you won’t have to do much if any of this manually.
  • Extract 15-20mls of coffee in 15 sec = half of a standard Espresso shot which is usually 30 ml in 30 sec.

And that’s it! Enjoy your ristretto.

Flavor

First, it’s important to note that a ristretto is NOT the same as simply cutting a regular shot short. The decreased amount of water actually impacts the overall flavor of the espresso in a couple major ways.

Extra concentrated

Because there is less water pushed through the grounds, the pull is significantly more concentrated. Baristas don’t usually dilute with drink with added water or milk, so a ristretto tastes much like a more intense espresso shot: bolder, fuller, with more body and less bitterness

Balance

Here’s a quick lesson on coffee chemistry: when exposed to hot water, different compounds in coffee dissolve at different rates. Thus, the faster-dissolving ones are more prominently featured in a ristretto than the slower ones that are typically associated with over-extraction.

Extracts

Along the same lines, fewer coffee extracts appear in a ristretto. The most notable one is the caffeine. The smaller caffeine content also contributes to the fact that this drink is usually served undiluted.

But… CAN you add milk?

As a coffee enthusiast, you probably know that the coffee scene is all for some experimentation. So, while a ristretto hasn’t really been tampered with in the past, several shops have begun experimenting with this espresso shot variant.

How so? you may be asking. By simply replacing the normal shots in espresso-based drinks (like lattes, cappuccinos, etc.) with a double shot of ristretto. Usually, the milk in these drinks will emphasize and complement the sweetness of the espresso.

Thus, while using the ristretto results in a less caffeinated drink, it also produces a sweeter, bolder flavor. However, this practice hasn’t become extremely widespread, as people tend to enjoy the drinks more in their classic forms.  Some complain that using the ristretto in this way makes it taste under-extracted.

Nonetheless, most coffee chains and even some shops will allow you to request ristretto instead of an espresso shot. If you’re a Starbucks fan, they specifically recommend it with their “Caramel Macchiato, Americano, Starbucks Doubleshot® on Ice, or Eggnog Latte.”

Should you go for it?

Milk experimentation aside, now is the time to discuss the important part: should you try it?

While we always encourage branching out to expand your coffee horizons, but tastes are tastes. So are you already a fan of espresso? Then you absolutely should try a ristretto! Don’t mind a nice, strong coffee? Go for it! The intensity of this drink might be fun for you.

On the other hand, if you’re more into super milky or sugary drinks maybe you should simply try replacing your espresso base rather than going for the full shebang. So next time you go to order your go-to cappuccino or latte, try asking to swap the usual espresso shot for a single or double shot of ristretto.

Either way, this drink is definitely a variation of espresso that is worth a shot.

Happy Caffeinating!

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