Difference between ristretto, espresso and lungo pods

Although the terms ristretto, espresso and lungo have been around for hundreds of years, the Nespresso brand was the first to introduce these terms to households worldwide through its coffee capsules.

The term espresso is the most familiar term to us all, not only because it refers to both a type of beverage and a coffee extraction system. It is also the basis for other coffee drinks with milk, such as cappuccino, flat white or latte.

Nowadays, practically all brands have their selection of coffee capsules with these names. Some machines, such as Nespresso (classic version), even have a specific button for each preparation.

The “ristretto”, “espresso”, and “lungo” coffee capsules are capsules with different coffee blends, created specifically to prepare drinks with different amounts of water during a specific extraction time, where the ristretto has a volume of about 15 ml, the espresso about 25 ml and the lungo about 110ml.

What does an espresso capsule look like?

Espresso is more than just a type of coffee; it also refers to an extraction method. This type of extraction is conditioned by the temperature and water pressure that passes through the ground coffee, among other factors. Traditional espresso is obtained from a pump and filter coffee machine, with a ratio of coffee to the water of between 1:1.5 and 1:2.5.

In other words, if we use 16 grams of coffee, we would have espressos with between 24 and 40 grams of water in the cup. We speak of grams instead of millimetres to avoid the volume of the crema. I do not mention the extraction time because, although it is important, it serves as a control variable (25-30 seconds) rather than a determining factor.

Everything changes when it comes to espresso capsules, as we can modify practically nothing. Capsule coffee machines come with specific buttons to prepare espresso (Nespresso), selectors (Dolce Gusto) and even bar codes (Tassimo). So the user inserts the capsule, selects the drink and presses a button.

In the images below, we can see how each brand uses different amounts of coffee in their capsules, from a mere 5.26 grams for Nespresso to 8.20 grams for Dolce Gusto:

In the following table, we have listed the characteristics of espresso for the most important capsule coffee machines:

Coffee machineGrams of coffeeExtraction volumeExtraction time
Nespresso5,26 gr.40 ml.15 seg.
Dolce Gusto8,20 gr.40 ml.12 seg.
Tassimo6.23 gr.60 ml.25 seg.
Espresso capsules features

Capsule coffee machines work completely differently from traditional pump and filter holder espresso machines. They use fewer grams and less time to obtain an espresso, and although they are so far from the traditional method, the resulting beverage is of high quality in most cases. We obtain a coffee with an intense and pleasant taste.

What does a Ristretto capsule look like?

Ristretto is an Italian word meaning restricted or limited, so in essence, we are talking about a “restricted espresso”. One might immediately think that a ristretto would be an espresso with less water, and while this is essentially true, more variables will be affected when making a ristretto.

Whereas the coffee/water ratio for espresso was between 1:1.5 and 1:2.5, for ristretto, it will be between 1:1 and 1:1.5. Using the same amount of coffee, we will have to modify the grind size to obtain fewer grams of water in the cup, making it finer to increase its water resistance.

In the case of ristretto coffee capsules, manufacturers adapt their blends and grindings so that we only press the brew button and the quality of our drink is not affected.

Coffee machineGrams of coffeeExtraction volumeExtraction time
Nespresso5,26 gr.25 ml.12 seg.
Dolce Gusto8,20 gr.15 ml.8 seg.
Tassimo6.23 gr.50 ml.25 seg.
Features Ristretto capsules

With these ristretto capsules, we obtain drinks with a more intense flavour than espresso, thicker and more coffee oils. Being so intense, the flavour of the coffee loses complexity, being ideal for those coffees with darker roasts as it reduces its bitter taste.

What does a Lungo capsule look like?

The Italian word lungo means long, which means that this is again a modified espresso. In this case, the amount of water will be higher, and therefore, the coffee-water ratio will also be higher. Normally coffee is considered a lungo if its ratio is 1:3, but if we want to keep the extraction speed at around 25-30 seconds, we should use a coarser grind of coffee.

The lungo preparation in capsule coffee machines follows the same simplicity as for espresso and ristretto. All you have to do is select the desired lungo coffee capsule, insert it into the coffee machine and press the specific button for this preparation.

Coffee machineGrams of coffeeExtraction volumeExtraction time
Nespresso5,26 gr.110 ml.24 seg.
Dolce Gusto8,20 gr.180 ml.29 seg.
Tassimo6.23 gr.120 ml.42 seg.
Characteristics of Lungo capsules

The Lungo capsule coffee is less intense, with less density but more complex in flavours.

Can you make a ristretto with an espresso capsule?

After all that we have said above, we can conclude that the brands of capsule coffee machines modify the coffee blends and grindings to achieve the different drinks. In other words, an espresso and a ristretto capsule differ not only in the amount of water that passes through them but also in the coffee inside.

It would help if you did not try to make a different coffee from the one indicated on each capsule. If you only change the amount of water, you may end up with a ristretto with little body if you prepare it from an espresso capsule. Or excessively bitter and acidic if we make an espresso from a ristretto capsule.

In any case, the world of coffee depends very much on the tastes of each individual, so there is no harm in experimenting.

Is it possible to make a lungo from an espresso capsule?

In this case, the same applies as in the previous section. As espresso capsules are finer ground than lungo capsules, you will get a much more bitter and acidic coffee if you try to make a lungo from an espresso capsule.

If you want to make an espresso from a lungo capsule, you will get less body and aroma than expected from an espresso capsule.

Drinks to be prepared with espresso capsules

Virtually all existing latte drinks are based on the classic espresso. The best-known of these mixed drinks are cappuccino, latte, macchiato and flat white, but there are dozens more.

In addition, all drinks can be customised by adding different types of milk, such as condensed or steamed milk. Liquor or essences can also be added, making the combinations infinite; you just have to experiment.

Drinks that are prepared with lungo pods

Just as we said that there are infinite possibilities of preparations from an espresso, the lungo does not leave us so much leeway. This is due to its characteristics of lower intensity and greater complexity in terms of flavours.

“Americano”: Let us remember that a lungo is not an American coffee. A lungo is a specific coffee with more water than an espresso, whereas an Americano is an espresso to which we add water. Therefore, we could add a splash of water and turn our lungo into a kind of Americano.

“Café con leche” or “café au lait”: A café au lait starts with a lungo to which we add approximately the same amount of milk like water. This milk will completely change our drink, adding a great deal of flavour.

Iced coffee: If we want to prepare an iced coffee drink, the lungo is ideal, as we can compensate for its bitter notes with a little sugar. In addition, the water released by the ice will soften the notes of the coffee, making it very pleasant on the palate.

Drinks prepared with ristretto capsules

Ristretto is used in milk-based drinks to achieve a higher coffee intensity. It has practically the same infinite possibilities as espresso but adds more strength to the combinations.