Need a quick energizer in the morning but want to branch out from your usual espresso flavor?
Try the Ristretto instead!
This recipe offers home baristas and casual coffee lovers a chance to mix their espresso up and achieve new flavors with just small changes in their brewing process.
Time to dive right in.
What Is a Ristretto?
A Ristretto is a short shot of espresso that results in a more concentrated, sweeter, and richer-tasting flavor. It comes from the actual Italian word, “Ristretto” which means “restricted”.
To understand the Ristretto even better, think of it as belonging to the same family as the Espresso. Let’s look at it from three different levels.
The Espresso, Ristretto, and Lungo
Espresso is a classic, go-to drink known for its bitterness and bold flavor in coffee shops worldwide. It is made by forcing hot water through finely-ground coffee beans and takes about 25-30 seconds. It can be enjoyed as an espresso shot or added to any other coffee drink.
The ristretto is called the “restricted” form of espresso because it is literally espresso cut short to only the beginning phase of the extraction.
You essentially make a ristretto shot by following the extraction procedure as making espresso. The only difference is that you’re using less water.
To make things a bit complicated, you can also brew a ristretto at a similar time as a standard espresso. If you decide to do so, you have to grind the beans finer to control the flow of hot water.
A more simple process you’ll find a barista would follow is using the same grind and amount of ground coffee as a normal espresso and pulling the shot at around 15-18 seconds.
Naturally, this would mean that a ristretto shot would be just around half an ounce. A customer typically won’t spend much money for only 15 ml so ordering at a cafe means you’re getting a double shot of ristretto, The double ristretto then equates to the same amount of coffee as a regular espresso drink but again, with a more concentrated and sweeter flavor.
I’m sure you’re already sensing the pattern here.
Lungo is Italian for “long”, so in the world of coffee, it simply means a long shot. Here you’re using more water and pushing extraction time to more than 30 seconds. Here is a detailed article on making Lungo coffee.
While it is more bitter and acidic as a result of the extraction time, it still isn’t as concentrated as espresso because of the water.
How Do I Make A Ristretto?
One of the most amazing aspects of brewing coffee is that small changes in your process can make for such different results. But how exactly do we make sure we’re getting a ristretto and not the other two? Let’s get our handy recipe ready.
The Steps in Detail
- Finely grind 16-18 grams of coffee beans to your standard espresso grind size. The dose should depend on your filter basket.
- Place the coffee grounds in the filter basket and knock the portafilter carefully on the counter to level them. Use consistent pressure to pack and level the grounds.
- Tamp the coffee grounds until you have a headspace of about 2-3 mm between the shower screen and the top of the coffee puck. It is critical to control the height of your tamped coffee so adjust the dose if you don’t get this space.
- Lock the portafilter in the machine and press the brew button. If you have a manual or semi-automatic machine, you’ll have to time the pull yourself using your phone or a timer.
- Pull a shot for 15-18 seconds only. This makes double shot ristretto at around 30 ml.
- Take a sip and enjoy
Everything You Need to Make A Delicious Ristretto
Here are the tools you’ll need to make a Ristretto.
A good machine is necessary to pull a ristretto without any hiccups, like these Breville/Sage espresso makers.
A semi-automatic or a manual espresso machine are good options, since they can afford you a lot of flexibility when you make espresso. If you’re on a tight budget, check my choices for the best espresso machines under $200.
You’ll can also find automatic espresso machines that have an automatic ristretto option as well.
Burr coffee grinder
You can’t expect to make ristretto using pre-ground coffee.
Burr coffee grinders are a must-have for all true coffee aficionados. They allow you to customize the size of your grounds from coarse to fine espresso grinds, and deliver consistently sized coffee particles. This is what you need for consistent flavor extraction when brewing ristretto.
Beans and roast level
There’s still a lot of debate on this aspect of the ristretto. If it’s in a coffee shop, you’ll often find baristas using medium-roast Arabica or a blend of dark roasted beans.
You can even try light roast beans. You can taste less of the bitterness you’ll normally find in darker roasts, but they might be too fruity for your taste.
Sweet Tips to Remember
- As mentioned earlier, there is more than one way to make a ristretto. If you want to try the pressure-restricted shot, follow the same brewing instructions but use a finer grind and pull the shot for 20 to 25 seconds as you would an espresso.
- A strong coffee requires a delicate pairing. I can recommend desserts like chocolate tarts or caramel flan as a great pairing for ristretto espresso.
- Much like espresso, ristretto shots can be used as a base for other drinks. You can now experiment with using it as a base for your Flat White, Caramel Macchiato, and more.
Enjoy a New Kind of Espresso Experience
It’s not rocket science, but it does require some experimentation and practice to get that perfect cup. Nevertheless, you now have another drink in your espresso arsenal, and I’m all for that!
If you’ve found this recipe a welcome change from your traditional espresso, tell me more in the comments below.