When you order an espresso at most coffee shops, you’ll get a double shot.
A double shot of espresso is a little more than 2 ounces of water passed through 14-20 grams of coffee in roughly 20-25 seconds.
If you opt for a single shot, you’ll get roughly 1 ounce of water passed through 7 grams of coffee in the same amount of time.
These are loose standards for making a perfect espresso that draws out all the oils and sweetness from coffee without bitterness.
A ristretto, or a restricted shot, of espresso is a shot that has less water run through the grounds. Typically, the amount of water passed through the coffee is half to three-fourths of a regular shot. Therefore –
The idea behind a ristretto shot is to pull an even bolder, sweeter flavor from the coffee than standard espresso, leaving all bitter traces behind in the grounds.
To accomplish this, a barista may brew the shot for a shorter period of time, such as 15 seconds instead of the usual 20-25. Or a barista may change the size of the grind so that a shorter shot takes the usual 20-25 seconds to brew.
What does ristretto taste like?
Like all espresso, how a ristretto tastes depends on how it’s made.
A perfectly pulled ristretto has a bolder, sweeter flavor than a standard shot and a less bitter aftertaste.
A poorly pulled ristretto, however, will most likely be under-extracted, which means not enough of the coffee’s natural sweetness gets pulled from the grounds during extraction.
An under-extracted ristretto will taste sour/bitter and have a very acidic mouth feel.
Why are ristretto shots sweeter?
The flavor of a ristretto is all about its extraction time.
Coffee releases its flavors in a particular order. Sweetness comes out before bitterness, so a lower extraction time should mean a less bitter end result. Unless it’s under-extracted.
Is a ristretto shot stronger than espresso?
It depends on what you mean by “stronger.”
The first flavors extracted from coffee are always the most concentrated. So, if you’re talking about taste, then, yes, you could say a ristretto is stronger (or bolder) than a standard shot of espresso.
However, the longer you brew and the more water is pulled through the grounds, the more caffeine is extracted from coffee. So, a standard espresso shot has more caffeine than a ristretto.
When to Order a Ristretto
Some coffee drinks come standard with ristretto shots. The flat white at both Starbucks and UK-based Caffe Nero are made with double shots of ristretto.
The use of ristretto is thought to make the flat white (which is served smaller than standard lattes and cappuccinos) bolder and sweeter than other espresso drinks.
If espresso often tastes bitter to you, you are a prime candidate for the ristretto. A ristretto shot can be made and served in any espresso drink.
Order it straight up, in a cappuccino, in a latte, in an iced drink. Whatever floats your caffeine boat.
And if you’re interested in learning more about espresso extraction and how it impacts taste, check out our article on the ristretto shot’s opposite – the lungo or “long shot.”