Even though ristretto and flat white both hold a place in the hearts of coffee fans around the world, they are not well known to folks just entering the world of coffee.
Don’t worry, I’ve been there, I wasn’t born a barista 🙂 In this article, I’ll guide you through everything you need to know about these two drinks – from their ingredients and ratios to their recipes and flavors. After this read, you’ll be confident in knowing their distinct characteristics and how they compare with each other, just like a coffee pro.
Key takeaway: What is the difference between a flat white and a ristretto?
A Ristretto is a concentrated espresso shot, brewed using a 1:1.5 coffee-to-water ratio, offering an intense, bold flavor with a syrupy texture in a small 0.7 oz serving. On the other hand, a Flat White combines two shots of ristretto or espresso with steamed milk, resulting in a strong yet balanced coffee-milk beverage, in a larger 5 oz serving.
Let’s start with the details of the smallest coffee drink, the ristretto.
What is a Ristretto?
Ristretto, a term in Italian meaning “restricted”, offers a more potent version of the espresso. It’s prepared using the same amount of coffee grounds but with less water and a shorter extraction time, hence the “restricted” name.
To brew ristretto, the coffee-to-water ratio is only 1:1.5, and extraction only lasts 15-20 seconds, instead of the 30 seconds an espresso would take. A single shot of Italian ristretto uses 7g of coffee grounds (9g for third-wave specialty coffee). As a result, this brew has a smaller serving size of 0.7 oz (20 ml) which goes into a normal espresso demitasse (2–3 oz) that has considerable room left empty.
A shot of ristretto contains about 60-80 mg of caffeine and just 2 calories. This is too little though that you can just consider it zero calories.
As for its taste, the flavor profile of ristretto is concentrated and bold, undeniably more potent than a regular espresso. It also highlights the acidic, sweet, and fragrant aspects of the coffee while reducing the bitterness often linked with long extraction times. The texture is thicker and more syrupy than espresso.
Some people find it too overwhelming but those who like great intensity in their cup can appreciate a good cup of ristretto.
Here’s a quick guide on how to brew a ristretto, but you can check out my article on how to make a Ristretto for the details.
- Grind coffee beans to a fine size, similar to espresso.
- Place the coffee grounds in the filter basket.
- Tamp the coffee grounds.
- Lock the portafilter in your espresso machine and press the brew button.
- Pull a shot for 15-18 seconds only.
Now let’s take a look at what a flat white is.
What is Flat White?
Hailing from Australia, the Flat White has become a global sensation. While it might seem similar to a latte or cappuccino at first glance, the larger amount of coffee sets it apart, offering a velvety and smooth drink that packs a punch of caffeine.
To make a flat white, two shots of ristretto or espresso are needed, which both use 14g of coffee grounds as per the Italian espresso recipe, which is increased to 18g for third-wave specialty coffee. Each double shot is then combined with 2-3 parts steamed milk with a microfoam layer on top, crowned with latte art.
The serving size of this drink is about 5 oz (150 ml) and it’s served in a cappuccino cup which holds 150-210 ml (5-7 oz). A double shot of espresso or ristretto contains 120-160 mg of caffeine, and the whole drink, depending on the milk used, starts with 58 calories.
Oh, and speaking of milk: I’ve tried all the usual alternatives (soy, almond, oat), but I always go back to full-fat milk. Try them for yourself, you can even get barista versions that have added fat (usually coconut fat) for better steaming, which makes latte art easier.
See which one suits your taste, and let me know in a comment.
And what does all this taste like? Strong yet balanced. The higher coffee-to-milk ratio ensures that the bold espresso flavors shine through, while complemented by the creamy sweetness of milk. The texture is thick and smooth, and again, the word “balanced” comes to mind.
Here’s how you can make a flat white at home:
- Prepare a double espresso or double ristretto.
- Pour cold milk into a steaming pitcher until it reaches the bottom of the spout.
- Heat and steam the milk to around 160 degrees Fahrenheit, creating a silky texture with microfoam.
- Pour the steamed milk into the cup.
- Finish off with a thin microfoam layer on top of your cup.
For the step-by-step guide, you can visit my detailed article on how to make a flat white.
Ristretto vs Flat White: Comparing the Details
Here’s a closer look at the nuances between ristretto and flat white:
|Taste and Texture||Concentrated and bold, with a dense, syrupy texture||Strong yet balanced between the coffee and the milk, velvety with a thin layer of microfoam|
|Coffee-to-Water Ratio||1:1.5||1:2 to 1:3 for espresso, or 1:1.5 if using ristretto|
|Ingredient Ratio||Just coffee with less water than an espresso||Double espresso/ristretto, 2-3 parts steamed milk, thin microfoam on top|
|Typical Serving Size||0.7 oz (20 ml)||5 to 6 oz (150 to 180 ml)|
|Caffeine Content||60-80 mg per shot||120-160 mg for a double shot|
|Calories||2 calories per shot||58 calories for a 150 ml serving (depending on the milk used)|
|Acidity||High||Low to moderate|
|Brewing Difficulty||Intermediate||Home barista|
|Bean Roast||Medium roasts||Medium roasts; dark roasts also work|
Now, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of their differences and similarities:
- Ground Coffee Weight & Ratios: Ristretto uses 7g of ground coffee as per the Italian recipe, or 9g if you are making third-wave specialty coffee for a single shot. The coffee-to-water ratio is 1:1.5.
Flat White can use either a double ristretto or double espresso (1:2 to 1:3 brew ratio), which is made from 14g of ground coffee (18g for third-wave coffee), as its base. It is then combined with 2 parts steamed milk with a thin microfoam layer on top.
- Taste: Ristretto offers a vibrant, intense, slightly sweet, and acidic burst of flavors with less bitterness, which is totally different from the flat white, blends a double shot with the sweet and creamy milk, resulting in its strong yet balanced flavor.
- Volume, Calories, & Caffeine: A shot of Ristretto is 0.7 oz (20 ml), contains 60-80 mg of caffeine, and has 2 calories. Flat White is much larger at 5 to 6 oz (150 to 180 ml) due to the added milk and more coffee, which doubles the caffeine to 120-160 mg, and has around 58 calories depending on the milk used.
- Bean Roast: I mainly use medium roasts for both coffees. The ristretto brings out the intense and slightly sweet characteristics of this roast, while flat white lets it harmonize with the milk. Sometimes, I also opt for dark roasts on my flat white to get a more robust drink when my tastebuds need it. Usually on a hangover morning 🙂
- Steamed Milk: Ristretto is just coffee while flat white incorporates steamed milk or milk alternatives in its recipe. If you need help with preparing your flat white’s milk, you can read my detailed guide on how to steam milk for your coffee.
- Serving Suggestions: With Ristretto, the concentrated shot pairs well with small sweets like chocolate truffles and cookies. With its small serving, ristretto is a great choice for coffee after a heavy meal.
For Flat White, it’s my go-to espresso-based drink if I want a stronger caffeine kick with some creaminess added in. Just be mindful of your caffeine intake when drinking this coffee.
Perfecting your barista skills? It starts with the coffee beans. For reference, you can check out my list of the best espresso coffee beans this 2023.
Having spent years in front of an espresso machine, you can guess that I love making and drinking both the ristretto and flat white. If I were to pick one though, I’d go for the flat white. Its velvety texture and sweetness paired with the potent coffee never fail.
How about you, which one do you enjoy more? Please share your answer in the comments section below.