Once, when you ordered or made yourself a coffee, it was all pretty simple. You still had choices, but they were pretty limited: instant or ground; black or white; and if you were really sophisticated, caffeinated or decaffeinated. Now, however, we have so much choice it’s a little bewildering at times. Just as we’ve all become accustomed to flat whites and espressos, ristrettos have arrived on the scene. So what is a ristretto, anyway?
Well, simply put, a ristretto is the shortest coffee out there: another Italian word that is sometimes used for ristretto is corto. It’s about the strongest coffee shot you can get in the usual coffee family and it’s considerably stronger than espresso. It’s both the grinding and brewing that make ristretto such a special beverage.
Ristretto Vs. Espresso: What’s The Difference?
A ristretto is made with the same amount of ground coffee as for an espresso, but the coffee is much more finely ground. In addition, only about half the usual amount of water you’d use for an espresso shot is used to make the brew, meaning the final drink tastes much stronger than a typical espresso. Despite the strength, however, a ristretto is often less bitter-tasting than a typical espresso, partly due to the speed of the brewing process.
To make an espresso or a ristretto, almost boiling water is poured, at pressure, over ground coffee beans. A ristretto is, in fact, the most concentrated form of espresso you can get, with more caffeine per ounce than just about every standard coffee. We’ve pretty much all heard that saying about good things coming in small packages. Well, if you’re an espresso lover, you’ll definitely agree this statement applies to ristretto.
A ristretto shot should be half a fluid ounce; a double ristretto is one fluid ounce. A typical espresso is between 0.6 fluid ounces and 1 fluid ounce, but the coffee beans are less finely ground than for a ristretto and the amount of water used is less. In the past, a ristretto coffee was made by pulling the pump faster than usual.
Italian – The Language Of Coffee
The word “ristretto” means “restrict” – and while we’re on the subject, how did Italian become the language of coffee, anyway? I mean, we all know already it’s used for so many of the good things in life – fashion, automobiles, and music, but how did it get to be the language of everybody’s favorite caffeinated drink, when the drink itself allegedly originated in Ethiopia?
Interestingly, one of the reasons we use so many Italian terms to describe coffee relates to espresso. The espresso brewing method itself was devised in Italy in the 19th century. While the original machines were heavy and cumbersome, but in the early 20th century, it was Luigi Bezzera of Milan who created a single-shot espresso machine. The Bezzera company is still in business today.
Espresso shots form the basis for many of our favorite coffee drinks, from flat white to lungo and macchiato. Espresso refers to the preparation method and not, as many people might think, the type of bean.
Whether you’re in Italy, America, or many other parts of the world, using the Italian terms when you order can help you make sure you’re getting just the coffee drink you’re bargaining for. So if you’d rather have a drink that’s more milk than coffee, you know you need a lungo; while for a latte macchiato drink, the coffee is barely introduced to the steamed milk.
What Is A Ristretto Shot?
Coffee also forms an ingredient in several of the world’s most delicious liqueurs, including Tia Maria, Kahlua, and Galliano Ristretto. Yes, that’s right: launched in 2016, this liqueur not only contains espresso but is the only espresso liqueur made using a variety of different coffee beans.
You might not think Galliano and ristretto are an obvious combination, but thankfully the people in charge of coming up with new blends didn’t let that stop them. The original Galliano was created in 1896 and is a blend of over 30 herbs and spices which goes through several different distilling processes to produce its distinctive taste and texture.
You probably already know that there are two main types of coffee beans in the world, the mild, smooth Arabica, and the stronger-tasting, slightly bitter Robusta. This wickedly delicious liqueur combines Robusta beans from India and Kenya, and Arabica beans from Brazil and Columbia.
If you’re keen to try a ristretto, but a little concerned that it might be a little overly strong, then a ristretto bianco might be just what you’re looking for. It looks like an ordinary latte but packs far more of a punch. The steamed milk on the top sits on the espresso shot at the bottom.
Why A Ristretto?
If you like the taste of strong coffee, and the effects of strong coffee, but find it a little bitter-tasting, a ristretto or corto is a great choice. You get the benefit of the flavor and richness, in a compact serving, without the aftertaste and acridity.
In recent years, many high street coffee shops have started to offer ristretto on their drinks menus: in most branches, you can buy a Starbucks ristretto as readily as a Cappuccino or a flat white. You can now recreate that coffee shop taste for yourself at home with many single-serve coffee machines. The Nespresso Ristretto, for instance, is a combination of mainly Arabicas with a touch of Robusta and is described as intense and rich in flavor.
How Do You Make Your Own Ristretto?
The first key to brewing the perfect ristretto, as with so many other types of coffee, is to choose the right type of coffee beans. You can pretty much choose the same beans as you would for espresso, bearing in mind that Arabica beans are generally sweeter than Robusta. And strange as it may sound, the type of cup you choose will affect the quality of your ristretto too.
The next trick is to grind the beans in the right kind of machine: a burr grinder or burr mill is the best option, and the beans should be ground as finely as possible. If you haven’t opted for a single-serve coffee pod type machine, then you really do need to get your hands on an espresso machine.
The water you use is just as important. Distilled water is not good for your machine, in general, and nor is hard water. Your best option is to choose filtered, fresh water, as soft as possible. Add cold water to the reservoir, then switch the espresso machine on and allow the water to heat up. For a single ristretto shot you want around half a fluid ounce of water. (If you did decide you wanted an espresso instead, allow around 1 fluid ounce.)
Add just under 0.5 ounces of coffee into the filter and tamp it, or press it down. You want it to be as densely packed as possible for the best flavor, so depending on how finely the beans are ground in the first place, you may have to tamp very firmly.
Put the filter back in the machine, lock it into position, turn the handle, and brew for between 15 to 25 seconds, depending on your own personal taste. You’re likely to find it might take a little experimentation with different blends, types of water, length of brewing time, and even types of cups before you find the combination that works perfectly for you.
Why Ristretto Rather Than Espresso?
If you want the benefit of strong coffee without the bitterness that you get in some espresso shots, try a ristretto – we’re pretty sure you won’t regret it. And if milky mildness is more to your liking, then try a ristretto bianco, with or without a shot of caramel syrup to make it even easier on the palate.
Hi my name is Larry, a coffee aficionado and passionate traveler from the US. I have already visited Colombia, Sumatra, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ethiopia and Jamaica in my pursuit of finding the best-tasting coffee beans that make you feel like you are in heaven. I currently write from Bali and enjoy the relaxed life that you can find only in Indonesia. Welcome to my coffee world!