Ristretto vs Espresso: What’s The Difference?

There are many different forms of espresso coffee, like macchiato, affogato, doppio amongst others. Some of these are traditional Italian coffee types; others have been created by coffee chains like Starbucks.

All these variations come from the basic espresso shot – fresh, fine ground coffee beans through which water is forced under pressure, extracting the shot in about 30 seconds. But what about the Ristretto? How does it stack up to your traditional espresso?

Ristretto vs Espresso, in this article, find out what the difference is.

In short, a Ristretto is just a type of espresso but tastes stronger because it is made with less water. It also has more ‘crema’, the flavorful, light brown layer on top of the coffee, composed of the natural bean oils which are brought to the surface by CO2 bubbles during the extraction process.

These oils come through early on in the extraction process, and more water dilutes them, so the lower volume of water in Ristretto produces more ‘crema’.

What is a Ristretto?

The word ‘Ristretto’ comes from the Italian for ‘restricted’ and that is exactly what it is. It is an espresso shot but using finer ground coffee, and half as much water as a regular espresso, the water volume being ‘restricted’. 

In many modern machines, the water volume is fully automated, and simply pressing a button marked ‘Ristretto’ will do the trick. Older machines require just a little more skill from the barista, having to stop the water after 15 seconds rather than the standard 30 seconds.

Either way, the end result is a small dose of very strong coffee. 

It is not often served with milk, although sometimes sugar is added to smooth out the natural bite of the caffeine. It can however be served with a splash of milk foam on top, and that is called a Ristretto Macchiato – a ‘marked’ Ristretto.

If you really want to, though, you can have the Ristretto as a base for all your favorites whether latte or cappuccino, and it shouldn’t cost any more – after all, the only difference is the water.

Ristretto vs Espresso

What is an Espresso?

Espresso means ‘fast’ in Italian and the espresso machine was created for people who wanted a quick, strong coffee.

Fine ground coffee beans are placed in a holder, called a portafilter, and the holder is locked into the water dispenser on an espresso machine.

Water at just under boiling temperature is then forced through the grounds in the portafilter, into a cup placed underneath.

This espresso shot is the basis for most popular coffee drinks including latte, cappuccino, Americano, or just on its own in a small cup.

Does a Ristretto or Espresso taste better?

When it comes to taste, like in anything else, it is subjective. Our personal tastes are molded over many years and everyone has a different perception. Some people enjoy eating a very hot Vindaloo curry, others shy away from even the smell of chili pepper.

A Ristretto will definitely taste stronger than a single shot of espresso because the grounds are less diluted in a Ristretto.

But as to which one is better? Well, the basic coffee flavor should be the same – they are both made from the same beans, roasted in the same way.

In fact, the flavor profile of the two is quite different, due to the length of extraction time. 

At the start of the extraction process, most of the flavor compounds come through first and since they are water-soluble, they get weaker as the extraction finishes.

That means that more of these flavor compounds are present in a Ristretto than in a fully extracted espresso, giving a fuller, smoother body to the coffee.

Those who prefer a stronger, sweeter taste will say the Ristretto is better. Those who enjoy a slightly milder, more bitter taste will say a shot of espresso is better.

Coffee connoisseurs are a peaceful bunch – a discussion on these lines is not likely to end up in much of an argument.

Does a Ristretto have more caffeine than an Espresso?

In terms of the caffeine strength, a Ristretto should be the same as an espresso – after all, it uses the same beans and same amount of coffee, only the volume of water is less.

However, the water and extraction time do make a difference. Less caffeine is extracted in a Ristretto.

The average amount of caffeine in a fully extracted espresso shot is around 68 mg and in a Ristretto, it’s 63mg.

This depends on the beans and the roast, but it is the average in the coffee business. 

Ristretto vs Espresso: Which should you choose?

Do you like a sweeter, more complex, and concentrated flavor with a little less caffeine? Then try Ristretto. If you like it, you might want to have it with your morning latte.

Do you prefer a more traditional, full strength, slightly harsher with a bigger caffeine hit? Stay with a regular espresso.

Actually, if you want to understand what Ristretto is all about, you are in luck.

More cafes and coffee businesses than ever are serving this coffee variant, and if it’s not advertised, just ask. Any decent barista worthy of the name can do it for you.

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