What is ristretto coffee?

We have already reviewed various coffee preparations on our website, and today it’s the turn of one that not many consumers know about; It’s the ristretto. Haven’t you ever heard this word before? Well, don’t worry because, in these lines, we will see how a ristretto espresso is made, what ristretto coffee is and some curiosities about this preparation.

To begin with, let’s put ourselves in context: Ristretto is an Italian word that means narrow in English, so that should already give us a clue as to where the shots should go.

What is a ristretto espresso?

A ristretto is a short espresso made with the same dose of ground coffee as the espresso but with half the water. If a normal espresso should be about 30 millilitres, the ristretto will be 15 millilitres. It is, therefore, a much more concentrated and intense coffee. The taste of the ristretto remains in our mouth longer than that of the espresso.

This does not mean that a ristretto is a stronger coffee than espresso. If you think about it, it has just half the caffeine. Let’s not confuse the aromas and flavours of coffee with its strength.

When we say half water, this means (in a normal espresso maker) that the brewing time is also halved, about 15 seconds. Consequently, the more acidic nuances of espresso coffee (which are always obtained in the second part of the extraction) never occur in the espresso ristretto.

How is a ristretto made?

The extraction of ristretto coffee is an “academic” term (if this word can be used at all) which presents certain risks to the barista, since depending on the grinding and the conditions of the machine, we may be actually “under-extracting” the coffee. And this would not be the best possible outcome.

To balance this, many baristas play with different grind combinations (or grinding thickness, rather) and extraction times when preparing their ristrettos. For example, the same amount of water can be used with a finer, slightly more pressed grinding. This ensures that you get the exact point of sweetness and smoothness in your ristretto coffee and eliminates the risk of bitterness.

If you have a manual espresso machine at home, you can make a ristretto using the same grind and coffee dose you use for your normal espressos. You turn the machine on, and you only get the first part of the extraction. About 15 or 20 seconds (if the parameters are correct) should be enough.

Another common measure of how to prepare a ristretto is the change in colour of the coffee.

The first part of the espresso brew corresponds to a very dark brown colour. The colour changes to a more ochre or caramel tone in the second part. To keep only the ristretto, you should stop pouring just when the colour of the drink that is falling into the cup starts to change.

Ristretto coffee pods

Although espresso ristretto is not a drink normally ordered in cafés, it has become quite important in domestic coffee pods.

In this respect, the two major brands competing for the monopoly on coffee capsules (the Nespresso and Dolce Gusto systems, together with all their compatible brands) have included one or more ristretto specialities in their catalogues. Here are some examples in case you want to buy your ristretto coffee pods online:

Differences between an espresso and a ristretto

  • If we are strict with volumes, the espresso should measure 30 ml, and the ristretto 15 ml. Both are served in the same cup.
  • Under the same conditions of grinding and pressing, the ristretto should take about half as long as normal espresso.
  • The taste of the ristretto is more concentrated, silkier and less acidic than that of an espresso.

In the most basic aspects, the differences between ristretto and espresso are summarised in this video:

Related: Dolce Gusto Ristretto Ardenza