What Is A Ristretto? Answered

Does an espresso shot not hit the spot anymore? Enter the ristretto! But what is a ristretto exactly? Let’s find out!

What is a ristretto
Ristretto is a type of espresso shot

A shot of espresso is the basis for most of our favorite coffee drinks, like the Americano, flat white, latte, cappuccino, mocha, and many more. At the same time, plenty of coffee lovers enjoy a potent espresso shot by itself to put a pep in their step. However, sometimes that doesn’t even hit the spot, and you find yourself looking to try something new.

So, what is ristretto? Ristretto is a type of espresso shot. It’s a short shot that uses less water, usually about half the amount of water that an espresso does, to make a small but strong coffee.

History Of The Ristretto Shot

Espresso was invented in Italy, as was the ristretto shot. The ristretto shot was believed to have been brought to the US in the 1980s by Espresso Vivace café owner David Schomer.

A steam brewer that would lay the basis for espresso as we know it was patented by Angelo Moriondo in 1884. Then in the early 1900s, Luigi Bezzera patented the first espresso machine. However, it’s unclear when coffee lovers began to experiment and distinguish the ristretto from traditional espresso coffee.

These days, you can find ristretto coffee in large coffee chains like Starbucks, but be warned, many baristas will offer a double shot as the default.

Coffee giants like Nespresso offer ristretto coffee pods for those who enjoy their java at home. So, rather than figuring out the intricate details of preparing this type of coffee, you simply place a pod in your brewer, push a button, and let Nespresso do the work for you. You might also be wondering, do Nespresso pods expire?

What About An Espresso?

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 normal shot.

Espresso is typically made by passing hot 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 coffee and water ratio.

Unlike other brewing methods, pressure is vital to this kind of coffee brewing.

Ristretto is still brewed using a coffee machine. The difference in the brewing process is that the coffee grounds must be even finer, and you use less water. It is also brewed quicker.

If you dislike the bitterness of an espresso shot, then ristretto coffee is for you. While ristretto will naturally taste more robust as less water dilutes the coffee, it also comes out sweeter with less acidity. Read our guide to Ristretto vs Espresso.

Is A Double Ristretto The Same As Espresso?

Drinking a glass hot coffee ristretto
Drinking double ristretto will have a strong coffee taste

A double ristretto shot will be around the same size as a regular espresso shot. However, it’s not going to taste the exact same. It will be much stronger as the amount of coffee used to brew a single shot of each is the same, so a double shot of ristretto will have a strong coffee taste.

A regular espresso shot will have less caffeine than a double ristretto. Ristretto coffee is brewed with a shorter extraction time, so one shot will have slightly less caffeine than a normal espresso shot.

So, a double ristretto shot will end up with a higher caffeine content than one shot of espresso. But if you want the most caffeine possible, then a double shot of regular espresso is the better choice.

How To Brew Ristretto

Ristretto is not brewed the exact same way as espresso. To brew coffee like this, you will need an espresso machine. If you have a manual espresso machine with a lever, you do what’s known as a short pull to maintain the coffee-to-water ratio.

Electronic machines can be programmed to brew this kind of shot.

If you don’t have an espresso machine, you can make a ristretto-like shot of coffee at home, but it won’t be authentic. You can use a grinder to grind the beans as fine as possible and then prepare an AeroPress shot or Moka pot shot as normal, using half the water and brewing quicker than usual.

As for the coffee itself, like espresso, ristretto is typically brewed with dark roast or medium roast coffee. Although you can use a light roast, it’s rarely used in these kinds of drinks.

How To Serve Ristretto

Although you can add ristretto to your favorite espresso drink, traditionally, this beverage is served and enjoyed in a demitasse, a small ceramic or porcelain cup. This cup of coffee typically isn’t weakened with any creamers or water and is consumed as is, but nothing is stopping you from customizing it with some cream and sugar. If you normally don’t like black coffee, try your ristretto first, as the softer-tasting profile might surprise you.

Ristretto Vs. Lungo

Lungo is essentially the opposite of Ristretto. It’s a long shot. The name is even the Italian word for long.

Glass coffee cups outdoors on table with lungo expresso measurement
Lungo coffee is usually served as a strong black coffee

Lungo coffee uses the same amount of coffee used in a standard espresso shot but with twice as much water. While you can use espresso and ristretto to make espresso coffee drinks like a macchiato, lungo coffee is usually served as a strong black coffee.

As a lungo takes the longest to brew, it will have more pronounced bitter flavors and aromas. The longer brewing process also means lungo coffee has slightly more caffeine than ristretto and espresso. If you liked this post, you might also be interested in our guide on types of espresso drinks.

FAQ About What Is A Ristretto

What is the difference between a ristretto shot and a regular shot?

A ristretto shot and a regular shot are both espresso shots, but the difference lies in the amount of water used and the extraction time. A ristretto shot uses the same amount of coffee grounds as a regular shot but is extracted with half the amount of water in the same amount of time. This results in a more concentrated and intense flavor with less bitterness.
A regular shot, on the other hand, uses more water and is extracted for a longer period, resulting in a milder and more balanced flavor. I find the differences is also a personal preference and the desired taste profile.


  • 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.