What is a Ristretto?

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Styles and modes of coffee are always an interesting exploration for the taste buds. And no culture on earth understands this like the regions around the Mediterranean, specifically Italy.

While there’s Americano, espresso, macchiato that are popular on coffee shops’ list, there’s this one type of coffee drink that is unique. Perhaps, have you ever heard of a ristretto?

While not the most popular type of coffee, it’s similar to espresso but it’s sweeter and fruitier. It uses less water, extracts for a shorter amount of time and provides a smaller shot. You consume it straight up or mixed as a replacement for other espresso-blended drinks such as cappuccinos, lattes and double mochas.

Focus What Is a Ristretto?

If you’re the type of person who gushes over coffee, you should try a ristretto. It’s a little sweeter and less acidic than regular espresso. This may be an excellent option for those who suffer from frequent heartburn.

What Is a Ristretto?

Ristretto is an Italian word that somewhat means “narrow” or “restrict.” But this is also the word used to call a small volume of coffee with a short extraction time. Ristretto comprises a fine-ground coffee that spends about 15 seconds in hot water.

It traditionally uses seven to eight grams of coffee to water, which extracts about 15 grams of coffee. This, therefore, has a ratio of 1:2, one part coffee to two parts water. Some coffee shops will often make and serve a larger amount. What retains the classification of being a ristretto is keeping to the 1:2 ratio of coffee to water.

What Is a Ristretto Shot?

A Ristretto shot is about ½ ounce of coffee served in a demitasse cup. This is a small cup that usually holds about 3 ounces (90 milliliters).

A lungo of ristretto means a little more water goes into the extraction but the duration isn’t shortened. This creates a long shot, or lungo. This is still a ristretto because it abides by the 1:2 ratio.

How to Make Ristretto

Ristretto is pretty simple to make once you get the hang of it. It takes all but two seconds in total. As you’ll see, it’s not much different than making an espresso. But it will take much less time with not nearly as much water.

Bean Selection

The first step to making any perfect cup of coffee is selecting the best bean. While the roasting strength isn’t nearly as important as it would be for espresso, the acidity of the bean will matter greatly. But, if you like a bolder flavor, go with an espresso roast or stronger.

Beans that grow at a lower altitude tend to have less acidity. This means ones from Sumatra, Brazil or Nicaragua will be ideal. These are softer beans with a medium to low acidity best suited for ristretto. A juicy bean that’s acidic will be far too sour.

Items You’ll Need

The next things you’ll need are an espresso machine with adjustable water flow. Unfortunately, you have to have one in order to get the water exposure and amount correctly. You’ll also want a coffee grinder to get the fine particles required for a ristretto. Here’s our list of the best espresso machines and coffee grinders.

Amount of Coffee

Also, ensure you use purified or filtered water. This will ensure a great tasting cup of coffee. Then, tamp about 15 to 18 grams of fine-ground beans into the espresso machine’s portafilter. Press it down and level it, wiping away excess grounds from the circumference. Put it into the machine.

Extracting a Shot

Next, pour in the water and start things up to get it nice and hot. Then, force the water out for about 15 to 20 seconds and turn it off. You should be able to get as much as two shots out of this at about ½ ounce each.

This should also work if you don’t have a scale or measuring spoon. Just monitor the amount of water that comes out and for the length of time it takes.

Does Nespresso Make Ristretto?

Nespresso does offer a small line of ristretto capsules. This is a part of their espresso collection that comes rich and full-bodied.

They make it with 100% Arabica beans from Central and South America. It has deep cocoa and woody notes. And, like a traditional ristretto, has less water than an espresso.

What is Ristretto at Starbucks?

At Starbucks, a ristretto comes as a stand-alone beverage or as a base for espresso-type drinks like cappuccinos and lattes. They have a ristretto beverage that features almond milk with honey and they call this a “Honey Flat White.” 

But, it’s possible to order your favorite espresso drink as a ristretto instead. It doesn’t cost extra and the barista will simply shorten the length of time and amount of coffee that gets extracted from the bean.

Ristretto vs Espresso

While some coffee shops advertise their double shot espresso as a ristretto, these are two completely different drinks. Ristretto is sort of like espresso, but with half the water and a shorter extraction time.

Espresso has a higher water to coffee ratio. It also comes into contact with super-hot water for 25 to 30 seconds, which technically waters down the coffee. The major difference between the two is the release of acidity. Ristretto stops extraction just before acidity kicks in and espresso stops just after acidity enters.

Is Ristretto Stronger Than Espresso?

No, ristretto is not stronger than espresso in general. Because of the shorter exposure to water and with less water used, it reduces the strength. However, a more robust roast can seem stronger.

Does Ristretto Have Less Caffeine Than Espresso?

Yes, ristretto has less caffeine than espresso. This is due to the shorter extraction time and makes it less intense than espresso. Therefore, it’s not nearly as strong or pungent.

Which Tastes Better?

Because coffee is an individualized experience based solely on preference, it’s difficult to say which tastes better. It will really depend on your palette and preferences for coffee.

Both are delicious. The ristretto will take on a bean’s fruity and sweet flavors without any of the bitter, caramel or chocolate flavors.

Thick; Syrupy Texture

However, because less water goes into ristretto, it’s slightly thicker and syrupy. This can be off-putting to some people, especially if texture is an issue.

While it will have more surface area for cream, it’s less balanced than espresso. But, if you don’t like espresso’s pungency, ristretto might be more ideal.

Replace Espresso with It

Have a barista blend ristretto with your favorite macchiato, cappuccino or latte instead of espresso. It will emphasize the sweetness, especially if you like mocha, caramel or white chocolate.

If you have an espresso machine, try making a regular cup of espresso and then another at 15 to 20 seconds. You’ll be able to tell which is better for your taste buds.


While ristretto isn’t the most commonly ordered drink at cafes and coffee shops, it is something to try at least once. You’ll taste the fruitier and sweeter aspects of a bean than you will with espresso. It’s not nearly as acidic but it is thicker than espresso.

Next time you visit your favorite coffee shop, exchange a ristretto shot for your espresso-based blended drink. You might discover how much you really enjoy it.

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