Espresso Or Ristretto? Take Your Morning Cup Up A Notch

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.

What is Espresso?

Espresso cup with smile
The crema on an espresso

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.

Espresso Normale

 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:

  1. 7 grams of finely ground espresso coffee beans
  2. 1 oz. of filtered hot water
  3. 15 to 20 seconds of extraction time

This will produce a lovely shot of regular espresso, with nice layer of crema floating on top and a balanced acidity.


Freshly brewed ristretto coffee in a glass cup.
a ristretto

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:

  1. 7 grams of finely ground espresso coffee beans
  2. 1/2 oz. of filtered hot water
  3. 8 to 10 seconds extraction time

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:

  1. 7 grams of finely ground espresso coffee beans
  2. 2 oz. of filtered hot water
  3. 30 to 40 seconds extraction time

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. Check out our Lungo coffee guide.


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:

  1. 14 grams of finely ground espresso coffee beans
  2. 2 oz. of filtered hot water
  3. 15 to 20 seconds of extraction time

Long Black

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:

  1. 3 to 4 oz. of filtered hot water
  2. A double shot of espresso
  3. Add hot water to the cup first, and then pull the shot on top of it

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:

  1. A double shot of espresso
  2. 3 to 4 oz. of filtered hot water
  3. Pull the shot first, and then add hot water to the cup afterward

This mixes the crema layer into the drink, diluting it and making the flavor reminiscent of American-style drip coffee.

The Final Word on Espresso vs. Ristretto

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!


Thumbs up


  • Sweeter taste with less bitterness
  • more concentrated
  • Takes less time to pull a shot
Thumbs down


  • Uses more grounds for less brew amount
  • Less caffeine
  • Thinner crema

Related Questions

Can One Machine Prepare Ristretto And Espresso?

In many cases, yes. There may not be an automatic setting to make the two beverages. Preparing the drinks requires more work when manually setting up the machine and watching a timer to make sure that it hasn’t percolated too long

What Is The Best Coffee To Use For Making Ristretto?

Ristretto requires the finest ground coffee available. If you don’t prefer buying whole beans to grind yourself, ask the roaster that you buy from to grind the coffee for no more than 30 seconds and to make the beans medium to dark roast for the fullest body of flavor. The coffee is the most essential part of the Ristretto-making process.

What Is The Best Coffee To Use For Making Espresso?

Finely ground medium to dark roast coffee is best for making Espresso. You can even find products that are explicitly named Espresso powder to use. If you prefer to grind your beans, you’ll have greater control over their consistency once ground.

How Many Calories Are In Ristretto?

Just like Espresso, Ristretto shots have a trace amount of calories. It is due to the oil in the coffee beans. When percolated, proteins release, making the coffee have a few calories without any additives.

How Many Calories Are In Espresso?

A single one-ounce shot of unsweetened Espresso has one calorie in it. It also has 0.01 grams of fat and 0 grams of carbohydrates per serving. If you let it percolate, it has 2 calories with 0 grams of fat and 0 carbohydrates per serving.

Is Ristretto And Espresso Keto?

Yes, they are. As long as you don’t add milk to the drinks, both Ristretto and Espresso are Keto-friendly. You can drink strong shots of coffee without breaking your diet.

See Also:
Black Coffee Vs Espresso
Is Espresso Bad For You
Can You Use Espresso Beans In A French Press?


  • AE Inman

    A E Inman is a direct response copywriter and humor blogger. When she's not poking fun at her attempts to start a writing business, she can be found in the tea aisle of her local import store, arguing with strangers over the merits of rare tea varietals. She enjoys writing copy while consuming copious amounts of coffee and gunpowder tea.