What’s better: espresso or ristretto? This article answers that question with some recipe tips for both.
You’re standing in line at your favorite coffee shop, waiting to order that cup of steamy morning goodness you crave.
Then the person ahead of you orders a drink you’ve never heard of, something that sounds incredibly Italian and mysterious: A ristretto shot.
Your ears perk up. What is this strange request and how does it compare to other espresso drinks?
There are several types of coffee drinks that aren’t commonly known in the U.S., and many Americans love a good coffee but have no idea what goes into making a great brew.
Let’s go through the different types of espresso so you’ll never be caught wondering what your local barista is doing as she works her magic on the machine.
Espresso is a concentrated type of coffee, where nearly boiling water is forced through tightly packed dry coffee grounds at high pressure. This is done using an espresso machine, one or two shots at a time.
The drink produced through this process is stronger and thicker than American-style drip coffee.
Its most distinguishing characteristic is the crema. The crema is made when the pressurized hot water emulsifies the oils in the coffee grounds, becoming a slightly bitter, caramel-colored layer of bubbles floating on top of the dark liquid.
The crema helps give the espresso a rich flavor and lingering aftertaste, and among coffee lovers is the most prized part of a high-quality espresso shot.
In Italy, a barista’s skill is commonly judged by the quality of the crema on the shots they pull.
In Italy, a simple shot of espresso is called a normale.
The normale is the basic unit of all Italian-style coffee drinks. Popular orders like lattes, cappuccinos, americanos, flat whites, macchiatos, and pretty much anything you can find at a Starbucks are all based on the normale shot.
The amounts of coffee and water used to make a normale can depend on the individual machine it’s made on, but here is a typical recipe:
This will produce a lovely shot of regular espresso, with nice layer of crema floating on top and a balanced acidity.
Ristretto comes from the Italian word for restricted.
Savvy coffee enthusiasts can order just about any coffee drink with ristretto shots in place of a normale.
A ristretto is a short shot that uses less water–usually about half of the amount of water that a shot of espresso does.
By making the shot with less water, the resulting drink has a sweeter, mellower flavor, similar to a cold brew espresso. It also contains lower caffeine levels than a normale, as it extracts fewer flavor compounds from the beans due to the restricted time and water used.
A basic ristretto recipe:
Most coffee shops offer ristrettos only as doubles because of its small brew amount. If served alone, it’s traditionally presented in a demitasse cup.
The opposite of a ristretto, lungo is Italian for long. Making a lungo shot involves the same amount of ground coffee but twice as much water as an espresso shot.
A lungo shot is a larger drink with a less concentrated flavor, but because of the longer extraction time, the bitterness is more pronounced.
A basic lungo recipe:
Because of the extended extraction time, a lungo contains more caffeine than either a normale or a ristretto. It’s perfect if you really need the caffeine for a midday pick-me-up.
Doppio, meaning double in Italian, is just that–a double shot of espresso. Normales, ristrettos, and lungos can all be requested as doubles.
In some large coffee shops, every espresso drink is pulled using a two-spout portafilter. The barista may pour them into separate cups to make two drinks at once, or let them both drain into one cup for a double shot.
A basic recipe for a doppio:
A long black is made by adding hot water to a double shot of espresso or ristretto. They were invented in Australia but have since spread all over the globe.
A typical long black recipe:
Adding the shot after the water preserves the crema layer on top of the drink.
An Americano is similar to a long black in that it adds hot water to a double espresso or ristretto shot. The difference is in the order they are added.
A basic Americano recipe:
This mixes the crema layer into the drink, diluting it and making the flavor reminiscent of American-style drip coffee.
Coffee drinkers are always looking for a new way to consume their favorite beverage.
Whether you like the bitterness of a classic espresso normale, prefer the sweeter, more syrupy taste of a ristretto, or need the larger caffeine punch of a lungo, there is something in your local coffeeshop to suit everyone’s taste.
Next time you find yourself in your favorite cafe, try ordering something new.
You might be surprised at how much you enjoy it!