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Ristretto vs Espresso: 4 Key Differences (Taste, Volume, Brew Method)

Coffee shops offer lots of options. You’ve probably come across espresso and ristretto. How do ristretto vs espresso compare in flavor, volume, caffeine, and origin?

Espresso is concentrated coffee made with an espresso machine using pressurized hot water. Ristretto is also made with an espresso machine using the same process. The sole difference is the amount of time and water used. Ristretto (short shot) uses half the water as an espresso.

ristretto vs espresso

What’s the difference between ristretto and espresso? What is ristretto? And is there a difference between ristretto and espresso shots? We’ll cover all these questions in this guide.

To begin, let’s consider the specifics of each drink. And then we’ll compare the differences.

What is Espresso?

The word espresso is an Italian word meaning “pressed” that refers to the method of brewing coffee. Boiling water is forced through finely-ground coffee using pressure. It produces a thick, concentrated liquid that can be consumed on its own or added to other drinks. 

Espresso consists of three distinct parts: the heart, the body, and the crema. Most coffee shops will use a dark roast coffee bean for their espresso. 

what is an espresso

What is Ristretto?

The word ristretto is also Italian. When translated to English, it means narrow or restricted. This alludes to how ristretto is brewed- less water, more coffee grounds. 

Ristretto is also known as a short shot.

Some of the best coffee comes from Italy. Here’s how to order coffee in Italy.

what is ristretto
Ristretto in espresso cup

Although they are similar, ristretto and espresso are each unique in their way. The differences between them start with how you brew each one.

  • To make espresso, you force hot water over finely-ground coffee. 
  • You do the same for ristretto, however, you use less water when making a ristretto shot, which alters the taste of the coffee. Naturally, you also wind up with a smaller amount of coffee.

They also arrived in the United States at different times. 

4 Key Differences: Ristretto vs Espresso

Espresso and ristretto are much more similar than they are different.

Despite the similarities, each has distinct features that can help you distinguish one from the other.

1. Brew Method

Baristas prepare espresso by finely-grinding coffee beans, tamping those grinds, and then forcing hot water through the grinds by applying pressure. The result is a shot of concentrated, caffeinated liquid for your drinking pleasure. This process is called a pulling shot. 

The water temperature may vary, but the National Coffee Association recommends using water between 195-205 ℉. The amount of water that goes into each shot varies based on who prepares it and how strong the espresso is. 

Ideally, a well-functioning espresso machine will produce a single one-ounce espresso shot in 25-30 seconds. That means you need one ounce of water when pulling a shot, or the espresso will taste too bitter. 

Here’s where the espresso and the ristretto differ: ristretto is made the same way, but uses less water and takes less time (15-20 seconds). It takes half to three-quarters of the water that a regular shot of espresso does. Therefore, a ristretto shot is 0.5-0.75 fluid ounces. 

2. Taste

Even though you make espresso and ristretto from the same beans and use similar brewing methods, there’s a distinct difference in taste. The temperature of the water and the length of time the water touches the coffee determine the flavor.

Ristretto shots taste sweeter and less acidic than espresso shots. A ristretto shot is shorter, so it releases less acidity.

The sweet, fruity flavors have time to come out, but the more bitter, chocolaty flavors stay inside. Ristretto shots also have more crema than espresso shots.

3. Volume

Because baristas produce these shots using different quantities of water, the shots vary in volume. The difference in quantity can be between 0.25-0.5 ounces depending on where you go. Most people will add an extra ristretto shot when they order it as a result.

Both espresso and ristretto are small enough to fit into a small cup if you order them plain.

4. Origin

Though both espresso and ristretto originated in Italy, they arrived in the United States at different times. The first espresso machine, and thus espresso itself, was brought to New York in 1927.

The concept of ristretto shots didn’t make its way here until the early 1990s, when David Schomer introduced them to Seattle, Washington.

Feeling adventurous? Here are 79 types of coffee drinks.

espresso differences

Which is Better?

Deciding which beverage is better is up to you and your tastes. Now that you know more about espresso and ristretto shots, you can make a more informed decision the next time you visit your local coffee shop.

Here’s more of a breakdown. 

  • If you like to drink espresso on its own and not in a drink, you may enjoy a ristretto shot. Ristretto shots are sweeter than espresso and easier for most people to drink. They technically have less caffeine because they have less liquid, so you may want to double up. 
  • On the other hand, a shot of espresso has a more balanced flavor thanks to its body, head, and crema. It has more caffeine and a stronger, chocolaty flavor in comparison. Depending on the roast you use when pulling the shots, you can get even more distinct notes.

When it comes to an espresso beverage like a latte or cappuccino, you won’t be able to tell the difference as much between espresso and ristretto shots. The flavor and smoothness the milk contributes come through more than the bitterness of either type of shot. 

espresso vs ristretto

More reading: 11 Most Popular Types of Coffee Around the World

Final Thoughts

There isn’t a huge difference between espresso and ristretto shots. They are extremely similar to each other. The point of pointing out their key differences is to help you discover the best drink for you. 

There are so many choices on the menu at coffee shops that it can be pretty overwhelming trying to make a choice. The more you learn about each drink, the easier your choice will be. Don’t be afraid to try new things.