Brewing Coffee Insight: Ristretto Coffee vs Espresso

Coffee Insight: Ristretto Coffee vs Espresso

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Today, we would like to take a closer look at the espresso and its younger sibling: The Ristretto.

For those of you who don’t know what that is, a Ristretto means “restricted” in Italian, which translates to making espresso with a “restricted amount of water”. So, in other words, it’s an espresso brewed with less water.

The Ristretto, like the espresso, is extracted from approximately 7 grams of ground coffee. Its process is exactly the same as for espresso, except we will stop extraction sooner. To be precise, a Ristretto is typically made in half the time: 15 seconds.

For example, if you were to make a Ristretto in your espresso machine, you would do exactly the same process as if you were making one Espresso: ground from 7 to 10 grams of coffee, latch and start the machine. When your timer reaches 15 seconds, you stop. Usually, the extracted amount is about .75oz, while the Espresso usually rounds up to about 1oz or more.

The Key for Ristretto

The key for making a proper Ristretto coffee is in the grinder: We like to say that for an Espresso you can grind either fine or medium-fine. When it comes to Ristretto, though, you want the hot water to be able to pass through the coffee grounds with as little resistance as possible so that your coffee is not merely a poorly brewed espresso, but a correct, professional Ristretto.

When preparing the grounds for a Ristretto coffee you should take extra care to the ground in the finest setting that you can possibly achieve with whatever tools you have and make sure that the grounds have been correctly groomed. To help you with this, we’ll guide you through a professional but simple grooming method:

  1. With your index finger, push the visibly extra grounds away from you (north), without pushing them out of the basket.
  2. Then push the mound towards you (south) until they have more or less reach the center of the basket.
  3. Without lifting your finger, perform a swiping motion first to the right then to the left.
  4. Finally, push any extra amount of grounds over the edge.

Learn more about the different kinds of espresso drinks in “Every Espresso Drink Explained (Espresso Chart)“.

It’s a Unique Beverage

This should leave the surface area smooth, which makes for the perfect condition for hot water to pass through the grounds freely. This method is called NSEW, north south east west method, because of the movement you make with your finger.

The simple act of extracting for half the time results is a very different flavor: It is a coffee that tastes much sweeter than an espresso with a brighter flavor. The resulting color of the drink is quite different as well. Some of the more bitter and oily parts of the coffee (that result in the crema of the espresso) will either not be extracted or will only be partially extracted.

This is to say that it is not simply a concentrated Espresso. It is quite a different drink. Let’s compare some qualities of the two drinks so we can have a better picture of their difference.

Learn to make these drinks as well at home in “How to Make the Perfect Espresso“.

Body

A Ristretto has a fuller body, making it more pleasant to drink (if extracted correctly) than an espresso.

Cleanness

Because the espresso is extracted for a longer time, it can risk to some unpleasant pungent notes in the resulting drink. A Ristretto usually doesn’t have the time for these more subtle notes to be extracted, so it results in a purer, cleaner flavor.

Acidity

Although in terms of acidity both drinks score the same, some people prefer Ristretto because it offers a brighter taste. This usually means that the coffee wasn’t allowed to brew properly, resulting in many compounds (including the ones that make for acid flavor notes) never-ending up in your cup, but rather staying in the coffee grounds. While this could be argued to be a waste, the difference in taste is all that matters in the end.

Caffeine

This might be a little obvious, but the longer coffee grounds are exposed to hot water, the more caffeinated the drink will be. Although the difference might not be a lot to some people, it still worthy of mention. A Ristretto most likely has half the amount of caffeine than a regular espresso. Check out “How Much Caffeine is in a Cup of Coffee” and “High Caffeine Coffees You Never Knew About” for full guides to seeing which coffees have high caffeine and how to control it.

A New Challenger Appears: The Lungo

We’re now going to imagine the espresso as more of a spectrum. In the middle of the spectrum, perfectly balanced, loved by all, is the espresso. At the lower end is the gentler, timid but adorable Ristretto. Then, way up there, is the Lungo. The Lungo is the opposite of a Ristretto: it is extracted in double the time you would an Espresso.

So here we have it, a more extreme relative: the Lungo. It is a very bitter coffee, with intense aroma (although often too burnt to be appreciated) and a very thick crema.


After much consideration here at Coffee Sesh HQ, we’ve come to the conclusion that the espresso is still our preferred way of drinking plain coffee. That’s not to say we wouldn’t indulge in any of the other ones, but the Espresso is almost a part of the family now. We wouldn’t trade it for anything.

And for the times when you just want to chill and have some coffee, the Ristretto is a really good option because you don’t need to add anything to it in order to make it less bitter: Its already kind of sweet, and really pleasant to drink.

Thank you for reading with us today! Become a part of our exclusive Coffee Sesh Facebook Group, Daily Coffee Talk, and join our expanding coffee community. And don’t forget— we’re on Pinterest and Instagram! Check us out for daily coffee content.

We’ll brew ya later! ☕️

Coffee Insight: Ristretto Coffee vs Espresso

Coffee Sesh

Inspiring your daily coffeesesh!

Here at coffeesesh, our goal is to educate the coffee community on ways to better enjoy their favorite cup of coffee. From roasting techniques to brewing techniques & everything in between!

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