Ristretto vs Espresso

You most likely have an idea of what espresso is.

Ristretto, on the other hand, is a term that isn’t used as much. You might hear it every now and then, but it’s pretty much out of the spotlight.

Most of the time you won’t really see the word ristretto as an option when you go to a coffee shop. Sometimes baristas ask if you’d like to try it, but you wouldn’t want to change what already works for you on a whim.

But what if we told you that you can completely change your coffee experience by opting for ristretto instead of espresso?

What Is Ristretto?

At this point, it’s only natural to think that ristretto is a coffee secret that nobody told you about.

In reality, it’s a very simple process, and you can order ristretto in every coffee shop which serves espresso. This makes it even stranger that it’s a word most coffee drinkers aren’t really familiar with.

The word ristretto comes from Italian, which translates to “narrow” or “limited” in English.

Simply put, a ristretto is a shorter shot of espresso, which means that the amount of ground coffee is the same as espresso, but the amount of water that goes through the coffee is less (usually around half compared to espresso). This is the only difference between ristretto and espresso, and other factors such as the espresso machine or the coffee beans used remain the same.

Compared to espresso, a ristretto is a sweeter, more concentrated drink. Since it contains less coffee overall, a shot of ristretto yields less caffeine. You’ll also find that that the amount of crema is lesser in a ristretto shot.

You might be wondering how less water can produce a sweeter coffee. After all, we always associate coffee with the bitter taste, and diluting the coffee with water should make it less bitter.

While diluting coffee with water will indeed make it less bitter, there’s a small detail in this particular case.

Fortunately, the explanation for this detail is also very simple. 

As the espresso shot gets longer, more water goes through the coffee grounds and extracts the bitter flavor which would not be extracted otherwise. The key point here is that unlike diluting your coffee with water from the outside, the extra water in a longer shot keeps extracting flavor from the coffee grounds.

On the other hand, the reduced amount of water in a ristretto shot keeps your coffee short and sweet due to this exact phenomenon. Since the bitter flavor notes of coffee are extracted last, we get to leave that bitterness behind and keep the aromatic aspects of coffee in our drink.

Making Ristretto at Home

Most espresso machines will allow you to choose the length of your shot in some way, which makes it possible to pull a ristretto shot at home.

That being said, it could prove to be a bit challenging to achieve the result you want, depending on the type of machine you own. While the process isn’t complex, there’s a certain time-sensitivity attached to it.

Super-automatic machines allow you to simply input the length of your shot, ensuring that your shots will be consistent every time. These machines provide the easiest way to pull a ristretto shot with no room for failure.

With automatic or semi-automatic machines, the process is slightly harder, as you’ll have to manually adjust the extraction time of your shot. Some machines will allow you to “save” your last extraction, which could prove to be helpful when you feel like you’ve found the perfect extraction time.

We mentioned that the amount of water in ristretto is roughly half of espresso, so reducing the extraction time by half is a good place to start experimenting.

Please note that under-extraction is also a possibility, which will result in your coffee being sour. The sweet flavor notes of the coffee are extracted closer to the middle of the process, and if you stop extracting way too early, you’ll be left with the acidic flavor. It might take a few tries to get it down perfectly, so don’t be discouraged!

Since the process for each machine will be different, we can’t tell you the exact steps to pull a ristretto shot, but you can easily find this information by looking at the manual of your espresso machine. If you don’t own the manual anymore, a quick search on the Internet will most likely prove to be just as helpful.

Espresso vs Ristretto: Choosing the Winner

If you are someone who enjoys an espresso shot by itself, we believe that there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy a ristretto shot a lot more, since the difference between the two really comes out when it’s consumed as a shot.

You’ll instantly notice that the bitter, the more burnt taste of espresso leaving its place to more delicate flavor notes which wouldn’t exist in longer extractions.

For those who enjoy espresso drinks such as latte, the difference between the two might not be too apparent due to the dilution of the coffee, but going for a ristretto shot will still help to get rid of unwanted bitterness in your coffee drink. 

If you feel like you’d really feel the lack of caffeine compared to espresso, a double ristretto will give you the best of both worlds. Please note that a double ristretto will most likely yield slightly more caffeine than a single shot of espresso.

That being said, unless you really enjoy the bitter taste of coffee, a ristretto shot will bring a more flavorful experience to the table no matter how you prefer to drink your espresso.


Surprisingly, a ristretto isn’t known very widely, since it provides qualities that most people are looking for in their coffee.

A lot of people drown their drink with way too much artificial flavor just to get rid of the bitterness, to the point that the coffee taste isn’t even there anymore. 

If you fit this profile, a ristretto shot might be just what you are looking for!