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What is a Ristretto Shot? The Small But Fierce Espresso

Ristretto shot in white demitasse with saucer and spoon

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You may have heard the term ristretto in your local coffee shop, but what exactly is it? In short (pun intended), a ristretto shot is a restricted, concentrated version of an espresso shot. 

A ristretto shot uses the same amount of ground coffee as a regular espresso shot but half the water, resulting in a more intense flavor. Yet it is distinct from a short shot, which is simply a smaller shot with the same concentration as traditional espresso.

While ristretto shots may not be as common as regular espresso shots, they are still widely available at coffee shops.

What is Ristretto

Ristretto is an Italian word that means “narrow” or “narrowed down.” In the context of coffee, it refers to a restricted shot of espresso that is more concentrated than a traditional shot. Typically, a ristretto shot is about 15-20 ml, about half the size of a regular espresso shot (25-35 ml).

The barista pulls only the first portion of a full-length espresso shot to make one. This means the same amount of ground coffee is used, but less hot water is pushed through the grounds. As a result, the flavor is richer, sweeter, and more intense than a regular espresso shot or a standard short shot.

One of the benefits of a ristretto shot is that it’s less bitter than a regular espresso shot. The shorter extraction time means fewer bitter compounds are extracted from the coffee grounds. 

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The Origin of Ristretto

The origin of this variation of espresso is not entirely clear, but it is believed to have originated in Italy, where espresso was invented. It became popular in the US in the 1990s thanks to David Schomer, owner of Espresso Vivace in Seattle.

Today, ristretto is a popular drink worldwide. It is often used as a base for specialty coffee drinks like flat whites. It is served in small cups or demitasses and can be enjoyed hot or cold. There are many variations, and some coffee shops even offer single-origin ristretto shots for coffee connoisseurs.

Comparing Ristretto to Other Espresso Shots

Ristretto vs. Espresso

The main difference between a ristretto and an espresso shot is the amount of water used. A ristretto shot uses about half the amount of water as an espresso shot, resulting in a smaller, more concentrated shot. This also means that a ristretto shot has a higher coffee-to-water ratio, which can result in a bolder, more intense flavor.

The ristretto shot typically features a brew ratio between 1:1 and 1:1.5. A traditional espresso is typically 1:2-1:2.5.

Another difference between ristretto and espresso is the extraction time. Because a ristretto shot uses less water, it also has a shorter extraction time (about 15 seconds). This results in a less acidic shot with a sweeter finish than an espresso shot.

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Timemore Coffee Scale

Ristretto vs. Long Shot

A long shot, also known as a lungo, is the opposite of a ristretto shot. Instead of using less water, a long shot uses more water than a regular espresso shot. This results in a less concentrated shot with a milder, more acidic flavor. (Not to be confused with an Americano or long black, which is a standard espresso shot combined with water.)

One of the main differences between a ristretto and a long shot is the coffee-to-water ratio. A long shot has a lower coffee-to-water ratio than a regular espresso shot, which results in a weaker, more bitter flavor. A lungo, or long shot, usually has a coffee-to-water ratio of about 1:3.

The extraction time is also obviously longer for a long shot: 35-40 seconds versus about 15 seconds for a ristretto.

How to Pull a Ristretto Shot

Grinding the Beans

The first step to making a ristretto shot is grinding the espresso beans. To get the best results, grind freshly roasted beans before brewing. The grind size should be slightly finer than espresso but not as fine as Turkish coffee.

The goal is to restrict the water flow and alter the extraction. A good rule of thumb is to use a grind size between normal espresso and Turkish coffee.

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Brewing Process

Once you have the right grind size, it’s time to start brewing. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Preheat your espresso machine, portafilter, and cup. This will help ensure a consistent temperature throughout the brewing process. (Tip: Always warm your cup. Because the ristretto espresso has a low volume, it will cool rapidly if brewed into a cold cup)
  2. Grind 20 grams of coffee (for a double shot) and add the finely ground coffee beans to the portafilter. Tamp it down firmly using 30 lbs of pressure. The coffee should be evenly distributed and packed tightly.
  3. Secure the portafilter into the group head. Start the brewing process and let the water flow through the portafilter for about 15 seconds. The goal is to use only half the hot water as a traditional espresso shot.
  4. Stop brewing once you have about 15ml of espresso in the cup. A ristretto shot is typically about half the volume of a regular espresso shot and slightly thicker in viscosity. If you don’t have a volumetric espresso machine, use a coffee scale.

Enjoy your perfect ristretto shot!

Remember, practice makes perfect when it comes to brewing ristretto shots. Don’t be discouraged if your first attempts don’t work out as expected. Keep experimenting with different grind sizes and brewing times until you find what works best for you.

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The Fellow Opus Grinder

Flavor Profile of Ristretto

Regarding flavor, ristretto shots are known for their intense and concentrated taste. They have a slightly thicker mouthfeel than a traditional espresso and a sweeter and richer flavor.

Compared to a standard espresso shot, ristretto shots have a higher flavor concentration due to the restriction of the amount of water used to dilute the brew. This means that the flavor compounds that dissolve most quickly from coffee grounds are extracted in a shorter amount of time, resulting in a sweeter and more intense taste.

The flavor profile of ristretto shots can vary depending on the coffee bean type and the roast level. Generally, ristretto shots are known for their full-bodied and complex flavor, often compared to warm honey.

It’s important to note that ristretto shots are not for everyone. Some coffee lovers prefer the milder taste of regular espresso shots, while others may find ristretto shots too intense or overpowering. Ultimately, it all comes down to personal preference and taste.

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Drinks Made With Ristretto Shots

Flat White

A flat white is typically made with a ristretto shot and steamed whole milk. Using ristretto sets this espresso-based drink apart from others, like the latte or cappuccino

The result is a creamy yet bold beverage that is just about perfect if you ask us. Try a flat white hot or iced for a genuinely exceptional coffee drink.

Ristretto Espresso

The most obvious choice is to enjoy a ristretto coffee as is. The shorter extraction time means the coffee is more concentrated, resulting in a richer and more flavorful shot than a regular espresso. We recommend using high-quality beans from Central or South America, which are typically lower in acid and produce the best flavor.

Ristretto Macchiato

For a twist on a classic macchiato, try using a ristretto shot instead of a regular espresso shot. The shorter extraction time means the coffee is less bitter, making it an excellent choice for those who prefer a sweeter coffee. Marked with only a bit of steamed milk, the macchiato lets the ristretto shine.

Ristretto Latte

Because a latte has the highest milk content of all the espresso-based drinks, using a ristretto shot instead of a regular espresso shot can add a richer and more intense flavor to this classic drink. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can you get a ristretto shot at Starbucks?

Yes, you can get a ristretto shot at Starbucks. They use the same Starbucks espresso roast for their ristretto shots as regular espresso shots, but less hot water is pushed through the grounds. Ristretto is the base for their Flat White beverages but may be requested in any of their signature espresso drinks instead of traditional espresso.

Is a ristretto shot stronger than a regular espresso shot?

Yes, a ristretto shot is more potent than a regular espresso shot. It is made with less water and finely ground beans, resulting in a more concentrated shot of espresso. Some coffee lovers prefer this because it results in a bolder flavor.

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Why do some people prefer ristretto shots over regular espresso shots?

Some people prefer ristretto shots over regular espresso shots because they believe that the more concentrated shot of espresso results in a superior flavor. Additionally, since ristretto shots use less water, they are less bitter than regular espresso shots.

What is the taste of a ristretto shot?

A ristretto shot tastes more concentrated and sweeter than a regular espresso shot. Due to the reduced amount of water used in the brewing process, it has a bolder flavor and less bitterness. However, the exact taste will vary depending on the type of coffee bean used and the brewing method.


Heather Calatrello

Heather Calatrello owner of ShedLight Coffee Roasters