Are you confused about what differentiates a Ristretto vs long shot from each other, not to mention what sets these two different coffee shots apart from espresso?
If you would like to become more knowledgable about the different forms of espresso – which form the basis of any of your other favourite coffee drinks, from Americanos over lattes to cappuccinos – then you have come to the right place, because in this article we are going to explore what sets ristretto shots apart from long shots (also known as Lungo shots), and how both differentiate from espresso.
On the surface of things, it might seem like ristretto, Lungo and espresso are just different names that all essentially refer to the same thing – and although these three different coffee shots have plenty in common, there is also much that sets them apart from each other. Not only are the three prepared and brewed slightly differently, using different proportions of coffee grounds and water, they also used differently ground coffee and are brewed for different lengths of time.
As a result, a ristretto, a lungo and an espresso shot all lined up next to each other are all going to look, feel and taste slightly different. The three are also going to have different caffeine contents and textures, even if they have all been brewed using the same espresso beans.
Coffee beans are, of course, only part of the equation when it comes to how a shot of espresso – or a shot of ristretto, or Lungo – ultimately turns out. The other part of the equation is the brewing method.
So, are you ready to learn more? Then let us get to it!
There are a number of key differences between espresso vs ristretto vs long shot coffees, including preparation, flavor profile and caffeeine content. We’ll break them all down and examine them here, so that by the end of this article you are going to be crystal clear on what makes a ristretto vs a lungo, and what sets both apart from your classic espresso.
If you are a coffee lover, even a casual one, you are already going to be familiar with the taste, size and perhaps the brewing method that constitute an espresso.
Espresso is by far the most popular and well-known coffee shot, probably because it is the original. In a simple sense, you can say that both the ristretto and the long shot are variations over the classic espresso.
The first espresso machine was invented in Italy in 1884, but it was quite a while before a patented version of the espresso machine emerged, and much longer still before espresso – and its off-spring, including the ristretto and the long shot – became commonly available all over the world.
The first thing to know about espresso is that you can’t brew it using a drip coffee machine or a French press – an espresso machine is needed to run hot water under pressure through the coffee beans in order to extract the espresso.
Fortunately, you don’t need a separate coffee machine to brew ristretto or long shots at home – any espresso machine will do just fine, as the basic brewing principles are the same.
Espresso can be brewed using light, medium or dark roasted beans or pre-ground coffee. The type of roast of your beans can do a lot to shape the taste profile and mouthfeel of the final espresso.
Espresso shot preparation
When it comes to preparing espresso, you probably know the drill – measure and grind the coffee beans, add the ground coffee to the filter, making sure it is distributed evenly, then use the tamper. Now, pull your shot. For reference when talking about the ristretto and the long shot, it is good to know that the standard espresso is 30 ml, and that the brewing time is 25-30 seconds.
Espresso coffee flavor and texture characteristics
The brewing time for espressos is typically 25-30 seconds, which is enough time for the ground coffee to release its full flavor bouquet, as well as its full content of both caffeine and naturally occurring acids.
The result is a rich, mellow coffee shot with a sweet undertone. A good espresso should never taste burnt or bitter.
Espresso typically has a fine layer of oily crema on top. The crema consists of tiny bubbles of C02 that are suspended in the water and adds to the smooth mouthfeel of espresso.
The Italian word ristretto quite literally means narrow, a word that perfectly describes this concentrated coffee drink.
Ristretto is a short, intense form of espresso brewed using approximately half the water and twice the amount of ground coffee that you would use for a regular shot of espresso.
Other than the brewing method, the main things that differentiate the Ristretto from a standard espresso are its taste, texture and caffeine content.
Finely ground coffee
To brew the perfect ristretto, you need the same amount of ground coffee that you would use for a double shot of espresso. The coffee should be very finely ground, in order to speed up the water as it flows through the coffee during the brewing process.
A third less water
While using the amount of ground coffee as a regular double espresso shot, the ristretto only requires slightly more than half the amount of water. Again, its name ristretto, meaning restricted or narrow, makes perfect sense. Whereas the typical espresso is 30 ml, the typical ristretto is only 20.
The reason for using less water than you would for a regular espresso is that it forces the intensity of the ristretto shot, as the water pushed through the finely ground coffee results in a more intense flavor.
Half the brewing time
When preparing a ristretto, it is important to cut off the brewing process at fifteen seconds.
The reason for this is that, if you let the espresso extraction process run its full course – which is 25-30 seconds – you will have passed the point at which the ground coffee has fully bloomed and released its full flavor, as well as acid and caffeine content. When you are making a ristretto, you want to cut off the brewing process before this happens.
If you fail to end the ristretto brewing process in time, what you end up with is a very short espresso.
If, however, you get it just right and manage to break off the brewing at the fifteen second mark, the result is a beautifully crafted ristretto shot, which contains less caffeine and less acid than a regular espresso. This is great news, particularly if you suffer from a delicate stomach or any health issues that are easily roused by either caffeine or acids – and even if you don’t, ristretto is a gentler coffee drink than espresso.
Flavor and texture characteristics
Ristretto is well known (and loved, by those in the know) for its intense flavor and smooth mouth feel. Because the ristretto is so concentrated, it packs an awful lot of punch in a tiny, 20-22 ml package.
But while ristretto tastes stronger than espresso, it contains both less caffeine and fewer acids, thanks to the shorter brewing time. Ristretto tends to contain bright and flowery taste notes.
If you are like most coffee lovers, you probably consider the layer of crema on top of your coffee shot to be an important measure of the quality of the coffee. If our assumption is correct, you’ll be delighted to learn that ristretto tends to have a rich and thick layer of crema on top, disproportionate to its small, concentrated size.
Long shot, or Lungo
A long shot, or a lungo as it is also called, could be described in one word as the complete opposite of a ristretto. While ristretto can be characterised as a short but intense form of espresso, the long shot or the lungo is a longer, milder version.
The typical lungo is anywhere between 130 and 170 ml – significantly longer than both the Ristretto and the traditional espresso. The lungo is pulled for roughly the same amount of time as an espresso, although the brewing process can last up to a minute – as a rule of thumb, the extraction time for a lungo lands anywhere between 30 and 60 seconds.
Normal coffee grounds
When preparing ristretto you want to use the finest ground coffee possible, but for long shots you want to go in the opposite direction, using either a normal or coarse grind size.
The reason you shouldn’t use a fine ground coffee for brewing long shots is that the smaller the grind size, the faster the water flows through. When brewing lungo, you want to slow the whole process down.
For a long shot, you need the same amount of ground coffee that you would use for a single shot of espresso.
Twice (or more) the amount of water
There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to the size a long shot should be, but as a rule of thumb anywhere between 130 ml and 170 ml is good to aim for.
Twice (or longer) brewing time
While the standard brewing time for espresso is between 25-30 seconds, the brewing time for a long shot can be anywhere between 30 seconds and a minute.
The brewing time should correspond to the size of the shot you are preparing – around thirty seconds or slightly longer is suitable if you are preparing a 130 ml long shot, whereas you want to go closer to the one minute mark if you are pulling a 170 ml long shot.
Flavor and texture characteristics
Because of the longer extraction time, the typical long shot is going to taste more bitter than the typical espresso, and it is, of course, more watery. People who love Americanos tend to love lungos as well, because of the bold, bitter coffee taste.
Lungo has less crema than espresso and ristretto.
Ristretto vs long shot FAQ
What is the strongest shot at Starbucks?
If you are looking for the Starbucks Coffee shot with the strongest flavor hit, try offering a Starbucks ristretto next time you visit your local Starbucks. Starbucks ristretto are brewed using Starbucks own-brand espresso beans, which are also used for brewing their espresso shots.
If, however, you are looking for the Starbucks shot with the strongest caffeine hit, order a regular espresso instead. The brewing method that goes into crafting the perfect Ristretto shot means that the brewing process ends before the full flavor, caffeeine and acidity content is released from the coffee grounds. In other words, while its taste is stronger and more concentrated, a shot of ristretto contains less caffeine than a shot of espresso.
Is ristretto stronger than Lungo?
Yes, ristretto is stronger than Lungo.
The reason for this is simple – while the ristretto is brewed using the same amount of coffee grounds that would go into making a double espresso shot, the lungo only uses the amount of ground coffee that would go into the making of a single shot.
Combine these ground coffee measurements with the fact that the typical ristretto only is about 22 ml while the lungo is anywhere between 130 and 170 ml and you can see why ristretto is much stronger and more intense.
Are ristretto shots extra at Starbucks?
If you want your Starbucks barista to use ristretto instead of espresso shots for your coffee, this comes at no extra cost. The reason for this is that the espressos in any of Starbucks’ coffee-based recipes are interchangeable with ristretto.
Starbucks ristretto is made using the exact same Starbucks Espresso Roast that is also used to prepare Starbucks espresso.
What is the difference between ristretto and espresso?
There are a few key differences between ristretto and espresso.
The word ristretto means ‘narrow,’ and this one word perfectly encapsulates what sets the ristretto apart from espresso.
When preparing a shot of ristretto, the same amount of coffee grounds are used as when preparing a shot of espresso – but it is much finer ground. Another differences is the amount of water used to brew a ristretto – approximately half the amount of water you would use for an espresso. A third and final crucial difference is that the brewing process is cut off at fifteen seconds, before the coffee beans have a chance to release their full acidity and caffeine content.
As a result of the altered coffee grounds to water ratio, combined with the shorter brewing time, the ristretto comes out much shorter (about half the size) and with a more concentrated flavor than espresso. A ristretto also has less caffeine and less acidity.
Is ristretto better than long shot?
Whether you prefer ristretto to long shots (lungos) is a matter of personal taste or preference, rather than something that can be objectively measured.
The Ristretto and the long short are certainly very different from each other – in many ways, you could consider the classic espressos a sort of middle ground between the two, which is probably why espresso is much more well known and popular than either.
A ristretto is a short, intensely flavoured coffee shot, with less caffeine and less acidity than an espresso (The reason for this is the brewing method, which involves using less water, and cutting the brewing process off at the fifteen second mark rather than letting it run its course).
A lungo, by contrast, is typically between 130 and 170 ml to the Ristretto’s roughly 25. Its flavor is much milder, since it uses the same amount of ground coffee that would go into making one shot of espresso, but a much larger amount of water – hence the name, lungo, which means long in Italian.
Are ristretto shots stronger?
Yes, Ristretto shots are stronger and more intense in flavor than both espressos and long (Lungo) shots.
The reason for this is that only half the amount of water is used to brew ristretto than is used to brew espresso, but the amount of ground coffee is the same. So essentially what you get is a super intense, clear and bright hit of coffee when you order or make a shot of ristretto.
How long should a ristretto run for?
A Ristretto should run for approximately 15 seconds – about half the time it takes to pull an espresso.
When preparing a shot of ristretto, cutting off the brewing process at the fifteen second mark is very important, because if you let it run for any longer than that the extraction process is going to draw out the full acidity and caffeine from the ground coffee beans. The word ristretto literally means ‘narrow,’ and restricting bot the amount of water used to brew it, as well as the brew time itself, are intrinsic to preparing a true, Italian-style ristretto.
How do you ask for ristretto shots?
This might vary from coffee shop to coffee shop, but because ristretto can be used as the basis for all of the same coffee drinks you would normally use espresso shots for, asking for ristretto instead of espresso normally doesn’t cost anything extra and many baristas are happy to replace the espresso in your coffee with ristretto – they know that it is simply a matter of preference.
What is Lungo coffee size?
Lungos vary in size, but the typical Lungo shot is between 130 and 170 ml.
Considering that a standard espresso shot is only 30 ml, the Lungo is a significantly longer coffee shot. And not only is it a taller coffee drinker, the Lungo also takes about twice the time to pull when compared to an espresso (Approximately a minute, versus the 20-30 seconds it typically takes to pull a shot of espresso.
Ristretto vs long shot – final thoughts
Now that you know a little more (Or significantly more, perhaps) about the different types of coffee drinks that are available to you, we hope that we have opened your eyes to the fact that there is much more to explore beyond traditional espresso.
Whether you find the idea of the low-acid, low-caffeine, yet intense flavor hit of the ristretto appealing, or would rather sip a luscious Lungo, why not try ordering either, or both, next time you visit your favourite coffee shop?
That is, of course, unless you would like to try making either at home, which isn’t very difficult at all. You don’t need any other ingredients or implements than what you normally use to prepare a shot of espresso. Instead, what you will have to tweak instead are the measurements and the proportions of cofee grounds to hot water.
If you are only used to espresso, trying out different coffee drinks is an exciting eye-opener – and you might be surprised to find that either the short and intense ristretto, or the long and lazy Lungo becomes your new coffee shot favorite.