What is a Ristretto Shot?

Kirkland Gee
January 9, 2024

The ristretto is a version of the classic espresso that is brewed using less water with the same amount of ground coffee. This creates a richer, more concentrated, intense coffee than a traditional espresso.

In a specialty context, a lot of the shots you’ll drink are technically a “double ristretto” by traditional Italian standards, but we’ve gotten away from that language in the industry and typically just refer to it all as “espresso,” regardless of specific recipe.

Is a Ristretto a Different Kind of Coffee?

No, a ristretto is just a different way of brewing coffee. You can use any coffee you’d like, although we’d recommend something roasted for espresso. However, if you drink a normal espresso and the same coffee as a ristretto, they may taste drastically different.

The ristretto is going to be sweeter, more concentrated, and richer than a typical espresso. At most coffee shops, you probably won’t see this on the menu, but there are plenty of specialty coffee shops serving ristrettos as the base of all their milk-based espresso drinks.

History of the Ristretto Shot

From all we can track down, the ristretto is a traditional Italian form of making espresso, at least in some form.

Its history goes back quite a long time, but it’s difficult to pin down a precise moment where it started in Italy.

That said, all of my research points me to David Schomer from Espresso Vivace in Seattle as the creator of the modern, specialty ristretto shot. He seems to be the earliest to put forth the “ristretto” style of brewing in a specialty context, but there were likely Italian baristi pulling shots like this long before. 

What Makes a Ristretto Shot Different from a Regular Shot?

As we said, the key difference with a ristretto is the amount of water used to pull the shot. You’ll use a similar dose, the same grind size, tamp it the same, etc. So for example, if a typical shot is 18 grams of coffee to 40g of liquid out, a ristretto may be 18g to 25-30g of liquid. You are “restricting” the amount of water used, making a much more concentrated beverage.

The amount of coffee used in the portafilter is technically the same as any other shot, but you’ll often see ristrettos brewed with slightly less coffee at a finer grind setting. This allows you to get more of that intense, complex flavor without risking choking or other problems at higher doses. 

The ristretto also has a little less acidity, a lower caffeine content, and a different flavor profile than an average espresso.

How to Make a Ristretto Shot

Pulling a ristretto is, again, not that different from our normal espresso recipe, but there are a few key differences. 

  1. If you want to pull a ristretto, we recommend lowering your dose to closer to 14-15g of coffee in, with somewhere between 20-22g out. 
  2. Grind your coffee a little finer than you normally would so that you can get a similar extraction (although, know your extraction will naturally be a little lower due to the decreased amount of water).
  3. Watch your shot times closely. With a ristretto, you’ll probably see something closer to 15-20 seconds, instead of the typical 30. If it’s still taking 30 seconds, you should coarsen up the grind.

If you need more detailed instructions, check out the recipe linked above, as it should give you everything you need to know to make a delicious ristretto.

When Should I Use a Ristretto?

The ristretto is amazingly useful, especially for smaller coffee drinks like the cortado or the cappuccino. You can get a similarly intense coffee flavor with less liquid, leaving more room to pour art in the cup, and just generally giving you a more balanced drink. 

I wouldn't recommend it for use in an Americano or any other non-milk drinks, though. it may provide a better flavor to you, but you're just watering the shot down anyways, so it shouldn't make a big difference.

Is a ristretto stronger than espresso?

Short answer—yes! A ristretto is a “restricted” brew of a normal espresso, so you end up with roughly the same amount of coffee extracted into a much smaller amount of water.

To get nerdy for a second—a ristretto will actually have a lower extraction than a regular espresso, but it will have a higher strength due to the lack of water. If that doesn’t make sense to you and you want to learn more about coffee extraction, go check out this article from Barista Hustle

Benefits of a Ristretto Shot

There are quite a few benefits of a ristretto over a traditional espresso. A few of those include:

  • The ristretto has a much stronger, more intense flavor, making it a great base for a latte, flat white, cappuccino, or any other coffee drink.
  • The ristretto often has less acidity than a longer/regular espresso, as you end up extracting less from the coffee grounds.
  • The ristretto also has less caffeine than a traditional espresso, just by nature of it being a smaller beverage.

For all of these reasons, ristrettos make great bases for smaller espresso drinks (think cortados, macchiatos, that kind of thing), but you can even make use of them in larger lattes or americanos or other drinks.

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