Espresso machines are mostly known for… espresso. But pulling flavorful espresso shots isn’t all they can do – there is more versatility than meets the eye. The only question is whether you want a shorter or longer drink?
The battle of ristretto vs long shot (also known as lungo) comes down to size. Where espresso has a coffee to yield ratio of 1:2, ristretto is 1:1 and a long shot is around 1:4.
Of course, there’s a little more to it than that. So read on as we break down all the differences between these polar opposite espresso variations. Then you can decide whether you’ll enjoy ristretto or long shot more.
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Where espresso has a ground coffee to finished beverage ratio of 1:2, ristretto has a ratio of 1:1. In other words, 15g of ground coffee should produce a 15ml shot of ristretto coffee.
In Italian, ristretto literally translates as “restricted”. So-called as the water forced through the coffee grounds is restricted compared to espresso coffee brewing.
This means less of the bitter flavors are extracted from the grounds. Instead, ristretto tends to be fruity and acidic, with a rich syrupy body and a distinct lack of bitterness. So, if you’re after an intense coffee flavor without bitterness then ristretto could be The One for you.
Top Tip: For the best tasting coffee, always use whole coffee beans freshly ground just before brewing.
The simplest way to make ristretto is to follow the same steps as you would for pulling espresso. However, you need to cut the coffee extraction short when you hit the 1:1 ratio (around 15 seconds).
If you have an automatic espresso machine that forces a set amount of water through the grounds, this means wasting the other half of the 1oz espresso shot. Or you can try swapping out the glass when you hit the 1:1 ratio but the second ristretto will be incredibly bitter so we don’t recommend drinking it. Letting half go to waste is what many specialty coffee stores do to avoid playing with the settings on their dialed-in machine.
It’s also easiest to do this with a coffee scale so you get the coffee shot exactly right.
An alternative method is to grind your coffee beans finer than you normally would for espresso. This means less water will make it through the grounds and into the cup. But this method can end up maintaining the bitter espresso flavors if you’re not careful. It can also block your machine entirely if you go too fine.
The third option is to tamp harder than normal on your regular espresso grind. This is another method that cafes opt for so they don’t have to change their settings, but it can have the same issues as the previous one with bitterness.
As coffee taste is the main priority, we like cutting the extraction short.
Many people believe a long shot is just a double espresso but it’s not.
Instead, you need the same ground coffee amount as you would for espresso but, just like for ristretto, the difference is in the ratio. A long shot will have a ratio between 1:3.5 and 1:4 as opposed to the 1:2 ratio needed for espresso or double espresso.
Thanks to the longer extraction time, the coffee flavor can end up being bitter or like tar as these flavors are extracted later in the brewing process. This is particularly true when using dark roasted coffee beans.
Our top tip to try and avoid this is to grind your beans a little coarser. The result will be a more balanced coffee drink.
Simply grind your beans a little coarser than you normally would for espresso coffee – this will avoid very bitter over-extraction. Then run your espresso machine for twice as long as normal. The result should be a weaker, more bitter but still enjoyable, long shot coffee.
To get the most flavorful coffee, you’ll likely have to play around with your grind settings a little bit. But the same can be said of nearly all coffee brewing methods – it’s just part of the fun.
The biggest difference between ristretto and long shot is the ratio of coffee grounds in to brewed coffee out. It is this ratio that defines a ristretto, espresso, and lungo.
To be brewed ‘correctly’, each espresso variant should be made to the following standards:
- Ristretto: Requires a ratio of 1:1, in other words, 15g of coffee grounds are used to produce 15g of brewed coffee
- Espresso: A ratio of 1:2 which means 15g of ground coffee produces 30g of brewed coffee
- Long Shot (Lungo): A ratio of 1:4 or 15g of coffee grounds to brew 60g of coffee
So you don’t need any more coffee beans, just more water. In doing so, the different coffee components and the flavor profile that ends up in your cup will vary, resulting in 3 very different coffee drinks.
Taste the Difference
The taste profiles of the two drinks are vastly different. This is mainly down to the extraction times and the fact that different flavors are extracted from coffee beans at different rates.
Making a ristretto requires a shorter extraction process than espresso. And much shorter than for a long shot. This shorter extraction means a more concentrated coffee flavor with fewer bitter notes. Instead, there will be more acidity, more citrus fruits, and more berries.
Overall, ristretto delivers a bright and refreshing punch of coffee in just a couple of sips.
The long shot goes completely in the other direction. Here, a much longer extraction time draws out the more bitter and chocolatey/ nutty notes from the beans. This gives a toastie, cacao and roasted nut feeling to your lungo.
Yes, drinking a long shot still feels intense. But the dominant espresso flavor is much more dialed down compared to an espresso shot or a ristretto.
Regardless of whether ristretto or long shot is your coffee drink preference, for the best flavor you need to start with the best coffee beans. So make sure you prioritize the quality of your beans. There are lots of coffee bean types that can work really well as ristretto and long shot but, as a general rule, if they’re good espresso beans, they’re good for ristretto/lungo too.
A ristretto is around half the volume of espresso so, obviously, all that flavor packed into a small package makes it very intense. The citrus and fruit flavors are punchy with very sharp acidity. The texture is also more syrupy and it feels much fuller-bodied.
Whilst a long shot is still stronger than other brewing methods, it’s considerably weaker tasting than either espresso or ristretto. As a result, you can expect more gentle chocolate and nut flavors with a texture closer to black tea than that of espresso.
You may think that the little shot of pure flavored ristretto would also leave you jittering around the place all day. But this is where coffee can be quite counterintuitive:
The short extraction time for ristretto actually results in less caffeine than a regular espresso – although not by a lot.
A long shot has quite a lot of caffeine as the longer extraction process allows more of it to be removed from the beans.
So, if you’re particularly sensitive to caffeine then it’s best to go with ristretto. But if caffeine doesn’t affect you, then a long shot may be your preference. That said, there is only a finite amount of caffeine in your coffee beans so a lungo will still be lower in caffeine than two ristrettos.
While both may be considered espresso variations, they use a different ratio which yields very different results:
- If you prefer a more intense, sharp, and syrupy coffee then you should try ristretto.
- But if you prefer a more bitter and chocolatey brew then a long shot (lungo) is the espresso variant for you.
Either can be used to make other flavorful espresso drinks, but we prefer them in their unaltered form. So why not give them both a try? Your new favorite coffee drink may be closer than you think.
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