Ristretto vs Espresso: what’s the difference?

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Ristretto and espresso are the two most common coffee bases for drinks made using an espresso machine, but many people don’t fully understand the difference, even those who drink a lot about coffee.

These two drinks are very similar and share the same ingredients, but when it comes down to it, what’s the difference between an espresso shot and a ristretto shot?

Espresso

Coffee lovers around the world over have made espresso a beloved morning tradition. The drink is a small, concentrated shot of coffee that can only be made with an espresso machine.

Espresso machines brew a small amount of finely ground coffee under immense pressure for a short period of time, making espresso an intense brew method that packs a lot of flavour and caffeine into a small serving.

In addition to the espresso machine itself, to brew espresso you need finely ground coffee beans (any variety will work).

An espresso will typically be brewed as either a single (30ml) or double (60ml) espresso shot. Depending on the shot size, the barista will use a different sized filter basket (the basket that holds the coffee grounds).

The filter basket is then inserted inside what is called the portafilter – essentially a stainless steel holder for the filter basket plus a handle – which then gets inserted into the group head of the coffee machine.

The extraction process is then started and the espresso machine will force hot water through the coffee grounds, extracting oils, flavours, and aroma as it does so.

There are many factors that contribute to a good cup of espresso.

For a delicious, well-balanced espresso shot you’ll want good quality beans that have been recently roasted and then freshly ground using a high-quality conical burr grinder.

You’ll also want an espresso machine that can deliver stable and accurate pressure, temperature, and water volume.

There are many other factors that come into play also, such as distributing and tamping the coffee in the portafilter, water hardness, water to coffee ratio, and more.

Ristretto

Ristretto is an Italian word meaning “restricted”. Ristretto coffee is a regular espresso shot that has been extracted for a shorter period of time, giving it a higher concentration of caffeine and a more intense flavour.

It is made from the same amount of coffee as an espresso but uses half as much water and therefore has a shorter extraction time. Note that like with an espresso, ristrettos require a fine grind size.

Ristretto shots are more concentrated than regular espresso shots, and thus feel heavier and bolder in the mouth. Ristretto shots are very popular with people that want the energy that comes from coffee but dislike the bitter aftertaste of straight espresso.

A single ristretto shot will contain less caffeine than a normal shot of espresso because the extraction happens in a shorter amount of time.

One of the advantages of ristretto is that coffee shops can experiment with its use to create new drinks. The Ristretto Bianco is an example of this, and it’s a popular drink. It starts with a double shot of ristretto and steamed milk to create a creamy consistency.

Ristrettos can be enjoyed as a single shot or in larger amounts (double, triple) for those that want an extreme coffee hit. Ristrettos are also great for those who are in a hurry and need a quick caffeine fix.

So what exactly Is the difference?

The main difference between a ristretto and an espresso is the amount of water that is used. A ristretto uses less water than a shot of espresso (about half).

While your usual double espresso has a volume of around 60ml, a ristretto is usually around 25ml due to its shorter pull.

Ristretto coffee can stand alone as a shot or can be used for other drinks such as lattes, where you will end up with higher milk to coffee ratio.

Both the ristretto and the espresso need ground coffee that has a finer grind in order to be extracted properly with an espresso machine.

In terms of taste, the ristretto is more intense but slightly sweeter. This short shot has less bitterness because the bitter compounds of the espresso come at the end of the extraction process, which is limited or cut off completely during the shorter ristretto extraction.

While espresso is the common base for most milk-based coffee drinks, such as a latte, cappuccino, or flat white, ristretto can also be used and adds a different dynamic to the flavour profile.