Ristretto Vs Espresso: Which is Stronger?

Ristretto vs espresso. These are both popular drinks but is a ristretto stronger than espresso?

Ristretto vs espresso
Ristretto vs. Espresso

I love that coffee comes in different varieties so that I can match the flavor and strength of my morning brew to my mood. One rarely spoken-of coffee is ristretto. While ristretto isn’t quite as well-known as espresso, or other types of coffee served in cafes, that doesn’t mean it isn’t as tasty as its more popular counterparts.

What Is An Espresso?

Espresso is a concentrated type of coffee, where nearly boiling water is forced through tightly packed dry coffee grounds at high pressure. It’s brewed using an espresso machine, one or two shots at a time.

An espresso drink is 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-coloured 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.

What Is A Ristretto?

Ristretto vs espresso
A ristretto is a short shot that uses less water

All ristretto is espresso, but not all espresso is 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 the amount of water that an espresso does.

Espresso is typically made by passing near-boiling water through compact, finely ground coffee beans. This isn’t a process you can do by hand. You must use a proper espresso machine to get the right ratio of coffee to water. When made like this, there is less coffee in your cup than a slow-drip or regular coffee machine makes, but it is a much stronger option.

Much like a regular espresso, ristretto is made with finely ground coffee beans. Typically, you’d use the same amount as espresso. However, the difference is in the extraction method. Ristretto is usually extracted with half the amount of water as espresso needs. This method makes for a more concentrated and pure shot of coffee per amount of grounds and water.

Is Ristretto The Same As Espresso?

Both ristretto and espresso are types of coffee that use the same amount of finely ground coffee beans, but that’s where similarities end.

They differ in taste and preparation method. Many coffee enthusiasts note that a ristretto has a richer flavor than a typical espresso. In short, ristretto is technically a form of espresso, but that does not make them the same drink.

Is Ristretto Stronger Than Espresso?

In terms of flavor profile, a ristretto shot is more robust than an Italian espresso. It’s more concentrated, bolder and sweeter than a shot of espresso. In terms of caffeine content, it’s comparable to a shot of espresso.

How Is Ristretto Made?

The word ristretto means “narrow” or “shortened” in Italian. It refers to how this beverage is created. Traditionally, a ristretto is made using a fine grind of coffee and is extruded through an espresso machine using a shorter lever pull.

That’s only accurate assuming that we use a manual espresso machine. Manual machines require human interaction; the barista must pull the lever. That means they must decide how far to pull the lever, which dictates what kind of brew is produced.

For manual espresso machines, a shorter pull equals less water, but more flavor per shot. A lungo, meaning “long” in Italian, is the opposite of a ristretto. It is made by using a long pull of the lever. A longer pull equals more coffee, but not as bold of a flavor. Lungos tend to have more bitterness overall.

This does not mean you can’t use an electronic espresso machine to make a ristretto. Most regular espresso machines can be programmed to do the same things as a manual can, and thus may also make a fine ristretto.

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. By making the shot with less water, the resulting drink has a sweeter, mellower flavor, similar to a cold brew espresso. Here’s 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

For more detailed instructions, read our guide how to pull a ristretto shot.

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 you buy from to grind the coffee for no more than 30 seconds and 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.

How To Drink a Ristretto

Traditionally, this beverage is served and enjoyed in a demitasse, a small ceramic or porcelain cup. It typically isn’t weakened with any creamers or water and is consumed as is. Like many things, it all comes down to your personal preferences though. Maybe you don’t like black coffee? Good news. There isn’t a rule against using a little cream and sugar in your ristretto. In which case you may use whatever you like to go along with your drink.

What Does Ristretto Taste Like?

A ristretto shot of coffee is typically described as bolder, more flavorful, and has a sweeter tone than espresso. But it is also noticeably less bitter. One of the most attractive aspects of a ristretto shot is the brew’s sweetness. Many people don’t realize that sweetness has nothing to do with additives such as sugar or cream.

The flavor comes from the short extraction time and its use of less water. There are several important chemical compounds in coffee that dissolve at different rates. Even the temperature of the water affects the brew.

This method makes it bolder and limits the number of bitter compounds that make it through. You only get the first, most flavorful, and sweet parts of the grounds by shortening extraction time. This process leaves the bitter parts behind.

Ristretto Caffeine Content

A ristretto contains lower caffeine levels than a normale, as it extracts fewer flavor compounds from the beans due to the restricted time and water used. However, here are some caveats.

With all types of coffee, the preparation method, type of beans and even grind size greatly influence how much caffeine is in the final cup of coffee. Coffee enthusiasts have used the Mayo Clinic’s estimate on caffeine content in different types of coffee to estimate how much is in ristretto.

One ounce, or 30ml, of espresso, has approximately 47 to 64 mg of caffeine. Even though ristretto is a more concentrated form of espresso, there is less of it overall, making for less caffeine in a single shot. Doing a bit of simple math, we can guess that a single shot of ristretto is about 20ml, which gives us presumably 33mg of caffeine.

As a disclaimer, despite scouring the internet, local cafes and coffee shops and asking them how they brew coffee, there hasn’t been much research into this particular type of coffee. It’s a specialized drink, after all.

FAQ about Ristretto Vs Espresso

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 additives.


  • Aisling O'Connor

    Aisling is an Irish food and drinks writer and journalist fueled by coffee and herbal tea. She followed up her journalism degree with nutrition studies. Find Aisling on LinkedIn.