How to Pull a Ristretto Espresso Shot – All You Need to Know

How to Pull a Ristretto Espresso Shot

Espresso is the base for many delicious coffee beverages. While you can choose to have a solo (single) shot or double (doppio) shot of espresso, with caffeine or decaffeinated, there are more options that can be explored. What about a Ristretto shot?

Ristretto is an Italian word meaning “restricted” or “limited”. Its an accurate description, since the ristretto is a short espresso shot. The barista only does a pull for the first part of what would be a regular full espresso shot of 25-30 seconds.  It usually consists of about a ½ fluid ounce (15 ml) of liquid. If the drinker wants a double ristretto shot, then it must be made using two different pucks with the intent of maintaining the flavor. One shot is pulled, that puck removed, a second put in and a short shot is pulled a second time. The amount of the shots will be just around 1 ounce.

A double ristretto is similar to a regular solo shot of espresso but will take longer to get to make and will offer a reduced bitterness in its taste. It can be used in a similar way to a single espresso shot but you should take the taste and strength into consideration when using ristretto in its place.

The ristretto shot uses the same coffee as a regular espresso but has less hot water forced through the grounds. This means the drinker will get a smaller and much more concentrated amount of espresso that will have a deeper and sweeter flavor than the bigger shot.

Pulling a Ristretto Espresso Shot 

A cup of coffee on a table, with Espresso and Ristretto

Ristretto is considered to be the espresso shot for the connoisseur. Those who know their espresso like these types of shots as it offers different taste and aromas compared to the regular espresso. Knowing how to pull that perfect ristretto shot is a must if you are going to up the espresso game.

The key to a good ristretto shot is in the timing of extraction. A regular or classic shot of espresso takes 25-30 seconds for 30 ml of espresso. In the case of ristretto, the barista is aiming for about 15ml to pass through the portafilter in 15 seconds. The goal is to use only half the amount of hot water to reduce the amount of caffeine and other coffee compounds, giving increased prominence to the coffee oils that are the most flavorful to the drinker.

Using this shorter shot means that the taste of the Ristretto is very full and bold compared to a solo shot of espresso. It is smooth and less bitter tasting. This smooth, bold taste occurs because there is a high percentage of coffee solids that are pushed into a ristretto shot in the first few seconds of the pull. Once you move past that time then they gradually dilute. The reduced bitterness occurs since those compounds come closer to the end of a full espresso pull.

Espresso and Coffee

There are three ways that you can pull a ristretto shot.

  1. The first way to make a shot of ristretto is the stop the extraction process quicker than if you were pulling espresso. This stops the hot water from going through the grounds sooner than normal. This method is used so a barista does not have to worry about grinding the beans into a finer ground. Regular coffee and grind can be used in this method of preparation as long as the water is stopped halfway through a regular pull.
  2. The second way to pull a ristretto shot is to use a coffee grind that is finer than normal and use a regular extraction length when doing the pull. This works best with an automatic espresso machine that doesn't have a way to manually stop extraction. A finer grind means that there will be less water going through the grounds. However, with this method, you may end up with a gritty taste, as the fine grounds may go through the filter and end up in the drink. To avoid this, use a good coffee grinder so the coffee beans are evenly ground and create a good blend that won't allow particles to pass through the portafilter.
  3. The third way of pulling a ristretto shot is to do extra tamping to the coffee grounds in the portafilter basket. Increasing the compaction means the extraction time can stay at its regular 25-30 seconds and grind can remain the same.

Be aware that each of these methods will change the basic taste of a ristretto shot. The change in taste and aroma will happen because the components that are soluble in the grounds will distribute at different rates for each method.

Each method should also follow these tips as well for the best Ristretto Espresso shots.

  • Make sure the pressure for water is correct depending on the method used. A short, high pressure flow of hot water over grounds will enhance taste and aroma of your espresso coffee. 
  • Use quality products. The espresso machine, grinder, coffee and water should all be of good quality for proper pull and best taste. You want to be accurate in the pull and have good ingredients for maximum enjoyment.
  • Make sure the machine, portafilter and cup are all heated up. This applies to all espresso shots but is especially true for Ristretto. 
  • Use accurate measurements for correct taste and water flow. Too much coffee, not enough tamping, and tap water versus distilled will all affect flavor of Ristretto.
  • Keep pressure uniform so the taste is consistent and flavorful. 

If you follow these tips, your ristretto should be rich, sweet and flavorful with a lovely crema. While usually drunk as a shot, a ristretto shot can be used to give any espresso based drink a unique flavor.

Final Thoughts

Whether you are an espresso aficionado or just looking for something a little different, trying a ristretto espresso shot is a great way to try a beverage that is both flavorful and aromatic. Baristas should be able to do this for you but if you learn to pull a ristretto shot at home, you can have it any time. It may take some trial and error around methods, grounds, and coffee types but once you settle on what you enjoy than every pull afterwards will offer you a great shot of Ristretto Espresso.

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