What Makes Ristretto Coffee Unique

All espresso is not created equal. Craft Coffee Spot explains that espresso is made with dark-roasted coffee beans that have been finely ground. A small amount of hot water is forced through the ground coffee to yield about one ounce of espresso. If it's properly made with fresh beans, it will have a layer of crema, a foam of the carbon dioxide given off by coffee combined with the flavorful, aromatic oils those beans also contain. 

Typically, a single shot of espresso is based on a 1:2 ratio of coffee to water, and it takes about 25 to 30 seconds to brew. The result is deep, intensely flavorful, and contains about 65 milligrams of caffeine. And while some of us love the dark, bitter espresso straight up, many coffee drinkers prefer espresso tempered with other ingredients. 

You can order a cappuccino, which combines espresso with steamed milk and plenty of foamed milk. There's the ubiquitous latte, based on espresso, steamed milk, and a thinner layer of foam. You can also mix up your espresso-based drinks by using oat milk or other non-dairy milk.

But if you want to take matters into your own hands, you can fiddle with the espresso formula itself. Enter ristretto: espresso's shorter, sweeter cousin.

Ristretto is sweeter and less bitter than traditional espresso

According to CoffeeCode, ristretto has Italian roots and means "shortened" or "narrow." Ristretto typically uses about the same amount of finely ground coffee as espresso; however, it has a finer grind and uses about half as much water, making ristretto's coffee-to-water ratio 1:1 rather than espresso's 1:2 ratio. A ristretto shot typically takes about 15 seconds to brew and comes in at roughly ½ an ounce, with slightly less caffeine (roughly 55 milligrams) compared to a 1-ounce espresso shot (via CoffeeCode).

When you're brewing a shot of ristretto, which Craft Coffee Spot calls a "short shot," you're only getting the first portion of a full espresso shot. Starbucks notes that this changes the flavors that are extracted from the fine-ground coffee in the brewing process. Delish details that "the flavour journey usually goes like this: acidity, sweetness, then bitterness." The result of a short pull ristretto is a full-bodied, sweeter, less-bitter brew than traditional espresso. 

While you can certainly order and enjoy a ristretto on its own, it also features in robust, less-bitter versions of lattes and cappuccinos. Ristretto is also the not-so-secret ingredient in a Starbucks' flat white, making it a more rich option than the caffè latte.