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Ristretto VS Espresso: Strength, Flavors & More

Do you love your coffee strong and dark? Then ristretto may be on your radar. You’ve probably heard of it at your local coffee shop and considered trying one. 

Yes, your beloved shot of espresso comes in an even more concentrated dose: an espresso drink called ristretto.

But how are ristrettos different from espressos? And who wins in the ristretto vs espresso showdown? 

Let’s take a closer look at both these espresso drinks, understand their differences, and see which one is for you.

short shot espresso

What Is Ristretto?

Like an espresso, a ristretto shot is produced with an espresso machine and uses the same process. The difference is in the details, though.

Sometimes called a short espresso, “ristretto” means restricted in Italian. It’s the opposite of a Lungo shot.

The restricted part refers to the amount of water, since a ristretto coffee is an espresso that is created with half the water. The result is a very concentrated shot with intense flavor.

Keep in mind that ristrettos are not just small espressos. It’s a whole different experience. To make a true ristretto vs espresso comparison, let’s take a quick look at what an espresso is.

What’s Espresso?

Espressos are prized for their intense flavors, a hint of bitterness, and the crema that tops them. 

An espresso is a concentrated coffee that is brewed by forcing hot water through fine grounds in under 30 seconds. 

Since this is done at high pressure, the coffee extracts fast. To make an espresso, you need an espresso machine to apply that amount of pressure to the water during brewing.

brewing espressos

Ristretto VS Espresso Compared

Ristrettos are not as common or as well understood as espressos.

One of the main differences between the two drinks is that ristretto is made with less water than espresso. 

Just how much less water?

A regular shot of espresso has a coffee to water ratio of 1:2, while a ristretto shot has a ratio of 1:1 or 1:1.5. Made with about half the water, that makes a ristretto shot stronger than a shot of espresso.

Adding to the ratio-induced confusion, espressos can be made with ratios ranging from 1:1.5 to 1:2.5. 

So the line between an espresso and a ristretto shot can be a bit blurry. Ask in your cafe what coffee recipes they use, or have fun experimenting with ratios at home.

A point to keep in mind is that this ratio refers to how much ground coffee to water that’s used, and not the total amount of coffee produced. 

So even though you use half the water, you can actually get a large-size ristretto as long as you stick to the same 1:1 ratio.

But the differences go beyond the reduced amount of water. Another major difference between the two drinks is the extraction time. 

A ristretto shot not only gets less water than a regular shot of espresso, but it also has a shorter extraction time.

Just how short is the extraction time?

Ristretto shots get extracted for about 15 seconds as opposed to the 25-30 seconds that most coffee shops use as a recipe for their regular espresso. 

ristretto coffee

Does the extraction time change the taste?

The shorter extraction time means that ristretto shots have a distinct flavor. They generally have less bitterness and a sweeter finish than an espresso. 

They also have less chocolate and caramel flavor than espressos. So a ristretto is generally less complex than an espresso when it comes to flavor.

Are there other differences between ristrettos and espressos? 

While the same amount of ground coffee is often used in both drinks, coffee shops will at times use a finer grind for ristretto shots. And you may get more crema in ristrettos.

What can we say about the caffeine level? 

A stronger drink might seem to have more caffeine. But there’s actually less caffeine in ristrettos. 

The shorter extraction means that a shot of ristretto has slightly less caffeine than espressos. But the minimal difference of a few milligrams less caffeine isn’t noticeable.

Related Reads: Long Espresso Shot VS Ristretto, Espresso Compared To Coffee

Wrapping Up: Which Will You Choose?

In the ristretto VS espresso choice, which one is for you? 

That depends on your tastes and the flavor you aim for. The caffeine level is the same, and both drinks are intense.

Coffee lovers that prize intense flavor with a sweeter finish may look to espressos. If you want to avoid acidity and complexity, try ristrettos. 

They’re ideal for people looking for bold flavors and the most intense experience.