Ristretto vs Espresso: Which Extraction is the Best? [Explained]

Ristretto vs Espresso

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You may have thought you’ve known most if not all of the espresso menus. That’s until you heard of “Ristretto”.

Is this another espresso drink with an espresso base like latte, cappuccino, Americano, and the likes?

But you’ve heard some people requesting the barista to use Ristretto shots instead of espresso shots, so what the hell is it?

In this article, I will walk you through the Ristretto vs Espresso coffee drink battle to help you understand what each of them is and how they’re different from each other and, finally, determine which is for you.


What’s An Espresso Shot?

If you drink fresh coffee, even just at coffee shops, you’ve probably already vaguely known what espresso is.

In the simplest explanation, it’s brewed water containing delicious compounds extracted from coffee beans.

And this beverage is a lot smaller yet thicker and more intense with a stronger caffeine kick than other coffee drinks. So some coffee snobs may boast about it being “real coffee”.

Espresso Shot

Yes, your basic observation is not wrong. But it’s not holistic.

The word “espresso” actually refers to an Italian coffee brewing method that extracts a small amount of coffee by running near-boiling water under high pressure through a tightly tamped batch of finely-ground coffee.

The high level of pressure is applied to shorten the coffee-to-water contact time, which produces a fuller-bodied, richer, and more concentrated coffee.

And, as the espresso brewing method becomes more widely known among coffee drinkers, the coffee beverage took up that name as well and became the espresso drink that you know of today.

If you’re looking for something more in-depth, check out my article to learn more about espresso and how it’s different from regular coffee.


What Are Espresso-Based Drinks?

You’ve been to coffee shops. You’ve seen a list of coffee drinks under the espresso section.

That’s because these drinks use espresso as the coffee base, before being topped off with:

Espresso-Based Drink

Most espresso-based drinks use either one or two shots of espresso for a regular cup of Joe.


What Makes An Espresso

Many people order and make a double espresso rather than just a 1 oz shot for more coffee to drink and more caffeine to consume.

If you’ve never done this before, it may be hard to successfully make coffee shop-quality espresso drinks on your first try.

But, practice makes perfect. Let’s study the theories with the Coffee Geek first before getting into the main action.

Below are some of the factors you need to keep in mind to nail the espresso pull.

Coffee Beans

Blend

Traditionally, baristas use a blend of both Arabica and Robusta coffees for espresso extraction, with Arabica coffee being the majority.

But these days specialty coffee communities preach the usage of 100% Arabica beans for their superior mild flavors.

Roast

It’s recommended to go for darker roasts as they have lower acidity, more oils, and a deeper taste and aroma.

coffee beans

Grind

How fine should espresso coffee be?

Unlike Cold Brew which utilizes very coarsely ground coffees, these coffees have to be finely ground to be brewed with the espresso machine.

Think table salt size. For a better demonstration of the grind size, check out my ultimate coffee grind chart.

You should grind your beans right before brewing to best preserve the freshness which can affect the quality of the final cup.

If you haven’t had a dedicated grinder at home, make sure to grab an excellent burr grinder. Use our best burr coffee grinders guide to get started.

Water

To brew coffee, you need water that’s hot but not boiling hot. The National Coffee Association USA [NCA] recommends that the water temperature should be between 195 – 205 degrees Fahrenheit (91 – 96 degrees Celsius).

In terms of the coffee-to-water ratio, the golden ratio for a shot of coffee is 1:3.

I advise preparing around 7 g of coffee grounds and 21 g of hot water to pull one shot of espresso in around 30 seconds.

Espresso Machine

Other than the beans and hot water, one last thing you need to make espresso is an espresso machine.

You can get a manual one, the OG espresso brewer, which is also called a piston machine.

However, they aren’t as popular anymore as they require more precision and effort to pull the shot right. But many coffee connoisseurs are still holding on to them for the nostalgia, the classic look, feel, and operation.

Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine, Brushed Stainless Steel

Most home baristas now opt for either:

  • A semi-automatic machine with programmable functions and some manual controls;
  • A fully-automatic machine that automates every operation for ultimate ease of use and convenience.

Here’s the buyer’s guide of our top 11 picks of the best espresso machines to help you navigate through the gazillion models in the market these days.

Some coffee drinkers may prefer using Nespresso machines, automatic brewing devices utilizing coffee capsules.

Although regular espresso has a more concentrated flavor profile and a bigger kick than Nespresso machine coffee, the latter is still a pretty good alternative for those looking for cheaper and more convenient options.

Nespresso Vertuo Coffee and Espresso Maker by De'Longhi, Piano Black

If you’re interested, find your next best friend from my list of the best Nespresso machines.

And check my past article for more detailed instructions on how to make espresso coffee.


What’s A Ristretto Shot?

Keep in mind the initial definition of espresso. Before it’s a beverage, it’s a type of brewing method. So there can be variations to the method which can create different espresso drinks.

And Ristretto is one of them.

What's A Ristretto Shot?

The word “ristretto” means “restrained” or “restricted” in English, as translated from Italian.

That’s because to pull a Ristretto shot, the barista uses less water in a shorter extraction time.

So does that make Ristretto a strong coffee? Definitely! Those changing factors make the Ristretto shot thicker and more intense.

But they don’t make it more bitter than Normale espresso, the regular espresso I was discussing in the previous sections.

Rather, since the extraction time is shorter and less water is shot through the grounds bed, fewer bitter compounds make it into the final cup of great coffee.

So only the more surface-level flavors which are sweeter and richer with less caffeine are in the small cup of Ristretto.

But that’s not all. Other than (Normale) espresso and Ristretto, there’s another espresso brew called Lungo as well.

Contrary to Ristretto, a Lungo shot calls for more hot water than Normale espresso. But both espresso and Lungo have the same extraction time.

So Lungo is larger in yield amount and features deeper and darker flavor compounds.


How To Make Ristretto Shots

To brew a Ristretto and Lungo, you need the same ingredients and tools as the popular espresso, which are coffee beans, water, and espresso machine.

Although you can use the same amount and same type of grinds as espresso, you need to change the coffee-to-water ratio.

Make Ristretto Shots

Use either a 1:1 or 1:1.5 ratio, so you need around two-thirds or half the water amount to yield 0.5 oz of espresso Ristretto.

But that’s not the only difference. The extraction time should also be cut to about half the brew time of espresso – 15 seconds.

Many coffee shops love Ristretto (like Starbucks), so baristas use a double shot of Ristretto instead of one shot of espresso for espresso-based drinks such as flat white and caramel macchiato.

The difference in the body and the flavor strength that Ristretto coffees offer can definitely elevate your experience if you crave something intense with less bitterness and caffeine.

For home baristas, you may need to manually adjust on manual and semi-automatic machines to pull a shot of Ristretto.

Many automatic machines can come with a dedicated espresso button and Ristretto button to make your life easier.


Ristretto Vs Espresso: Which Should You Choose?

Go with espresso for the classic, timeless, and caffeine-packed flavors.

Opt for Ristretto for a thicker and bolder yet sweeter taste, especially when making espresso-based beverages.

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