Espresso VS Ristretto (Comparison)

The actual difference between Espresso and Ristretto is the extraction time and amount of water used in the preparation of each drink.

The never-ending quest to make the perfect cup of coffee has led people to experiment with not only the different types of coffee available but with different methods and ingredients as well.

Before diving deep into the comparison of Espresso and Ristretto, let’s take a closer look into each of them.

What is Espresso?

Espresso’s literal meaning is “to express” or “to press”. It was originated in Italy and is also sometimes called “pressed-out coffee”.

It got its name because of its method of preparation. 

It is a small shot of coffee (around 30 ml) made when boiling water is forced using high pressure through finely grounded beans of coffee for about 30 seconds to produce a short but high-intensity, concentrated drink.

According to FDC, a 100 g shot of Espresso can provide you with around 212 mg of caffeine. It may be consumed black or with sugar.

If you’re interested, you can read this article I wrote comparing the difference between a regular cup of coffee and espresso.

What is Ristretto?

a cup of ristretto taken from above
Ristretto

As its name indicates, ristretto means “to restrict.” It is a shorter, more concentrated form of Espresso. But just because it’s smaller, doesn’t mean it has less to offer.

The preparation method of a ristretto is almost similar to an espresso; the same amount of dried coffee is pressed with the same pressure and water temperature. 

The only difference is that it is given a shorter amount of extraction time (around 15 seconds) and half the quantity of water used in making espresso.

The lesser amount of water and extraction time makes it a shorter yet more concentrated drink. 

Differences Between Espresso and Ristretto

The variation in brewing time and water quantity brings out three more differences between Espresso and Ristretto: flavor, quantity, and caffeine content.

Flavor

Espresso has a slightly bitter and bolder taste than ristretto, which tends to be more on the sweeter and richer side.

Different flavor compounds can be extracted at different times of brewing. With less brewing time in making ristretto, it also has less time to form bitter compounds that affect its taste.

This results in ristretto being a sweeter drink as compared to an espresso.

Quantity

The lesser amount of water used in preparing ristretto results in it being a smaller size than an espresso.

While a regular shot of espresso is about 1 ounce, a ristretto shot tends to be around 0.75 ounces.

Caffeine Content

Ristretto has a slightly lower caffeine level than espresso. 

The caffeine content in a coffee shot is dependent on the following factors:

  • Running time of water through the grounds
  • Quantity of coffee grounds used
  • Kind of coffee beans used in brewing

Ristretto contains lesser caffeine because it uses a lesser quantity of water for the same amount of coffee grounds. This means the amount of water for one serving will flow through them faster, meaning less caffeine can be extracted.

A 20 ml ristretto has approximately 33 mg of caffeine, well below the FDA’s caffeine limit.

I have summarized the differences between espresso and ristretto in a tabular form below for your reference.

Coffee typeRistrettoExpresso
Extraction timeShorter Longer
Water quantityHalf the waterTwice as much water
ShotAbout 0.75 ounces About 1 ounce
Caffeine countLower Higher
FlavorSweet, richerBold, concentrated
PopularityNot very popularVery popular
Tabular representation of Espresso vs. Ristretto

Watch the video below to know how making a ristretto differs from making an espresso.

Is Ristretto Stronger Than Espresso?

Yes, ristretto is stronger than espresso. This is because the same amount of coffee grounds are pressed using a lesser amount of water.

When a lesser amount of water runs through the coffee grounds, they take on more flavor of the coffee, producing a shorter and, of course, more powerful shot than espresso.

Although the caffeine count is slightly lower than that of espresso, ristretto is considered to be more concentrated and intense in terms of taste. So if you’re a fan of the strong taster of coffee, then ristretto is definitely for you.

However, there are much stronger coffees than ristretto and if you’re interested, you can read about them here.

a cup of coffee taken from above on a patterned table cloth
Ristretto is stronger than espresso.

How to Make a Ristretto at Home?

Here’s how you can make a ristretto shot at home.

Preparation Time: 2 mins.

Total Time: 2 mins.

Yield: 1 serving.

Ingredients:

  • Grounded Coffee beans: 15-18 grams
  • Filtered Water

Instructions:

  1. Remove portafilter from your espresso machine and run hot water through it to remove any residue of stale coffee grounds.
  2. Fill the portafilter with finely ground coffee.
  3. Press down the coffee grounds tightly and level it up. Clean loose particles of coffee grounds off the portafilter.
  4. Fix the portafilter into the grouphead and start pulling a ristretto shot. Be mindful that ristretto shots contain less water so pull a shorter shot than you would an espresso and yield about half an ounce of drink.
  5. Place cup under the portafilter.
  6. After pulling shots of ristretto, remove the portafilter and wash the grouphead.

How to Make Espresso at Home (Without an Espresso Machine)

a shot of espresso
A clear glass containing an espresso shot

Don’t worry if you don’t have an espresso machine but want to make it at home. 

Follow the easy instructions below and make espresso in the comfort of your home without the need to buy an espresso machine.

Supplies you need:

  • A French press
  • Coffee grounds
  • Water and a way to heat it
  • A thermometer

Instructions:

  1. Heat one cup of water in a kettle or a microwave.
  2. Put two tablespoons of ground coffee in the bottom of the glass cylinder after removing the French press lid.
  3. Using the thermometer, check the temperature of the water. it should be just around 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Splash a small amount of hot water onto the coffee grounds in the press. Doing this allows the grounds to release their oils for maximum flavor.
  5. Let the coffee sit for about 30 seconds, then pour the rest of the hot water into the French press.
  6. Secure the French press lid onto the cylinder with the plunger up.
  7. Allow your espresso to steep for four minutes. Add one or two minutes for a stronger brew.
  8. Slowly press the plunger down with even pressure. When you’ve pushed the plunger halfway down the cylinder, pull it to the top and plunge again to the bottom.
  9. With the plunger in the bottom position, pour your espresso into a mug.

If you’ll follow the instructions carefully, you’ll make a great cup of espresso in no time at all! 

If you need a visual in making your espresso, watch the video below.

Making Espresso at home (without espresso machine)

Which One Is Better: Ristretto or Espresso?

If you love having a bitter cup in the morning to wake you up, then Espresso is your go-to drink. Whereas, if you want a stronger yet sweeter cup, ristretto would be the better option.

That said, there is no right answer to this question as it depends on one’s taste and preference.

Although both of these drinks are usually served plain, you can certainly experiment with other ingredients of your choice.

Try making each with different beans and with different methods, take notes, and see which outcomes you prefer.

To Sum It All Up

It won’t be wrong if I call Ristretto a shorter sibling of Espresso as both belong to the same category of strong coffee with a slight difference in quantity, caffeine content, and flavor.

The preparation method of each drink is quite similar with only a change in extraction time and water quantity, both of which are lessened when making a ristretto shot.

In my opinion, if you love espresso, you’ll end up loving ristretto even more. This is because most people drink espresso for its bold taste, so when ristretto offers them an even bolder and concentrated shot, they are more likely to welcome it wholeheartedly.

The flavor of espresso is on the bitter side while ristretto tends to have a sweetness in taste due to the less extraction time involved in making it.

You can always transform your drink according to your taste by bringing in small changes in the ingredients and methods of preparation.

Creative people have even experimented with making espresso shots at home, without the need for an espresso machine.

Of course, when it comes to coffee, there’s no end to experimenting.

Still unsure whether an espresso or ristretto is the best drink for you? Try both and decide for yourself!

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Matt Marshall

As I learn more and more about coffee and coffee products I want to share all my learnings with you here on this website. I hope you find my articles useful and entertaining to read.

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