Ristretto Vs Espresso: Compare These Popular Coffees

You probably know about espresso, but have you ever heard of a ristretto shot? It's not a brewed coffee you'll see on all coffee shop menus, but it's one you should know. 

An espresso drink combines the bold and bitter flavors from the coffee grounds, with a rich layer of crema on top. Ristretto shots are similar, but made with less hot water to give you a more concentrated espresso.

This guide will give you the full espresso vs ristretto breakdown to help you decide which coffee drink is best for you. 

These two coffees have lots of similarities. Espresso and ristretto share coffee recipes which are extremely similar, as they are both made with fresh ground coffee, and water.

However, despite having the same base ingredients there are still a few key differences: 

Taste & Aroma

The taste and aroma of brewed coffee is influenced by the preparation technique and the coffee grounds used. Both coffee drinks use the same amount of coffee beans, but a ristretto has a shorter extraction time. 

This gives a ristretto a sweeter and smoother taste, with more concentrated flavors and a syrupy texture. In comparison, an espresso has more bitterness, but a deeply earthy and floral taste because of the longer extraction. 

If you prefer the intense coffee flavor you should choose ristretto over espresso drinks. 

Preparation & Extraction Time

Espresso and ristretto shots are both typically made using an espresso machine in a coffee shop.

They both use the same amount of coffee grounds with a fine grind size, but a ristretto is made more quickly, making it a more concentrated coffee. 

  • An espresso shot is made by passing hot water through 14-17 grams of fresh coffee beans for 25-30 seconds.
  • A ristretto shot is made by passing hot water through 14-17 grams of fresh coffee beans for 15 seconds.

Both espresso and ristretto shots are quick to make and there's no slow steeping like with cold brew coffee. You can make ristretto slightly quicker because there's a shorter extraction time and a smaller amount of water - giving it a bolder flavor. 

Caffeine Content Per Cup

Most coffee shops are filled with people looking for their next caffeine fix, so it's good to know which of these coffee brewing techniques produces the stronger coffee. The longer brew time of an espresso means more caffeine is in the final product.

  • A ristretto shot typically has 30-35mg of caffeine, and double ristretto shots have 65-70mg.
  • An espresso shot has 60-70mg of caffeine, and a double espresso shot has 120-140mg. 

To keep that in perspective, a whole cup of drip coffee has 50-80mg of caffeine - so less caffeine than a shot of espresso, but more than a ristretto espresso. 

There's a big difference in caffeine content, and ristretto has noticeably less caffeine, despite having the more concentrated flavor from the coffee.

This is all down to the shorter extraction time, so if you want more of a caffeine kick you should definitely go with a regular shot of espresso. 

Water Content

The different water content used to make espresso and ristretto is what alters the look and taste of the coffee drink. 

A shot of espresso is made with one ounce of water, whereas a shot of ristretto is made with 3/4 ounce of water.  

A ristretto uses less water in each shot, making ristretto the more concentrated coffee. Regular espresso uses more water, so it's less concentrated but still retains the bold flavors. 

Crema Content

Crema is the froth caused by mixing high pressure air with the oils in the coffee bean. It's what gives any non milk based drinks some of their richness, and helps to balance the bolder flavor of the coffee. 

The crema is thicker in espresso due to the higher water content and longer brew time.

Crema is produced under extraction as the hot water pressure forces steam to pass through the finely ground coffee beans. Less water is used in ristretto shots so there is less extraction from the beans compared to espresso shots, which have a thick crema layer. 

When you're making a very concentrated shot of ristretto the oils still come out at the start of the brewing process. This means that the ristretto will still have crema, but a thinner and less flavorful one. 

Size Per Serving

Naturally, the different water contents will impact the volume of each of these drinks. 

An espresso serving size is around 1 fluid ounce, whereas a ristretto is about 3/4 of a fluid ounce.  

You can order a double shot of each (which is of course double the volume), but you can't really request these coffee drinks in other sizes. Most people have espresso and ristretto as it's served, but you can add milk or sugar to make it less bitter.

Just remember that even though an ristretto is more concentrated, an espresso actually retains more of the bitter compounds from the finely ground beans - giving it a more intense flavor.

Calorie Count

When making coffee it's important to consider how healthy they are and in particular how many calories they contain. A flat white and other coffees (or milk based drinks generally) can be surprisingly unhealthy, especially if you add sugar or syrups in. 

Espresso and ristretto shots are two of the most low calorie options and only have 1-2 calories in a serving. This is because they basically only contain water and coffee beans.

You don't usually add sugar, milk, or syrups to these drinks (and they're usually served in such small cups that you couldn't anyway!) - but if you do choose to add extra in just bear in mind that the number of calories will increase. 

Typical Cost In Cafe

Coffee shop prices will vary depending on region and drink choice. 

A single espresso shot on average costs $1.75-$2.50 in the US, or €1-2 in Europe. A ristretto shot usually costs the same, but not every cafe will offer it on the menu.

The rising prices have led to more people making espresso based drinks at home, but thankfully both of these options remain affordable because of the basic ingredients and brewing process.

What Exactly Is A Ristretto? 

A ristretto is brewed using the same process as an espresso, just slightly faster and with less water. 

Typically you would use more finely ground coffee beans so that the water drips through more slowly, concentrating its flavor.

What you wind up with is richer, smoother, and sweeter taste than an espresso.  

Ristretto Vs Espresso: Key Differences Between These Coffees

In Italian the word ristretto means restricted, or restrained. But it’s not the ristretto’s flavor that’s restrained. It’s the limited amount of water and brew time, which actually gives it a more complex flavor. 

When coffee shops serve a ristretto, it could be in the same demitasse used to serve espresso, or it could be in a smaller glass. They're served immediately after brewing and may be consumed with additional sugar or without. Adding milk to a ristretto takes you into cappuccino or macchiato territory. 


Like the espresso, the ristretto comes from Italian coffee culture. When preparing a ristretto, the barista pulls the first portion of a traditional espresso shot.

The first ristretto was probably an accident, but it’s become more popular among coffee aficionados for its richer, sweeter flavor, velvety thickness, and distinctive aroma. 

What Exactly Is An Espresso? 

Espresso is brewed by using pressurized air to send a small amount of nearly boiling water through finely-ground coffee. 

Cafes serve espresso in a demitasse, which looks like a small mug, and typically put a small sweet on the side to counter the robust, bitter flavor of the coffee. Nothing is added. You can put sugar in an espresso, but even that is officially an aberration. 



As the world modernized, coffeemakers in Italy were hard-pressed to brew coffee fast enough for the throngs of people at their counters. 

Finally, following earlier designs from others, Desiderio Pavoni created the first marketable espresso machine that brewed espresso directly into the demitasse without needing big steam tanks or any cranking from the barista. 

The espresso drink is for the modern on-the-go professional as much as it is for the connoisseur who appreciates the rich texture and flavor of the coffee. 

How To Make The Perfect Ristretto At Home: A Barista’s Guide 

If you want the real deal, you have to make your ristretto with an espresso machine. Coffee machines that make ‘espresso’ are usually just dripping less water through the same coffee or pod, so you wind up with a smaller version of your normal cup of coffee. 

Follow these steps to make a ristretto with an espresso machine: 

1. Find The Right Beans 

Look for a medium or medium-dark roast for the most robust flavor. 

2. Grind Your Coffee 

burr grinder

You want a finer grind size than you would have for an espresso - longer drip time due to the finer grind size will give you a richer and less bitterness than in a ristretto. 

3. Find The Right Cup 

A demitasse is great for ristretto, or you can find another small mug. They do make specific ristretto mugs that are even smaller than a demitasse. Don't worry, you can use a regular cup too.

4. Fill The Espresso Machine 

Find water without any additives to make a ristretto. Non-alkaline spring water works best. 

5. Heat The Water 

Most espresso machines have a simple button for this function. 

6. Put Ground Coffee In The Filter 

Pour out 14 grams (or slightly more for more caffeine) to fill the portafilter basket.  

7. Tamp The Grounds 

Pack the ground coffee into the filter basket to get rid of air pockets and ensure a more controlled drip. Use a coffee tamper if you have one handy. 

8. Place The Coffee In The Machine 

Put the round end of the portafilter into the round opening of the espresso machine with the handle straight out toward you, then turn it counterclockwise to lock it in place. 

9. Brew For 15 Seconds 

Turn on the water and let it run through the grounds for 15 seconds. You should wind up with about ¾ of an ounce in your cup. 

10. Enjoy Your Ristretto 

Savor the bouquet and the rich, sweet flavor of the ristretto coffee drink you've made. Note the absence of bitterness at the end, like you would find in an espresso. 

If you don’t have an espresso machine available, you can also learn how to use ristretto espresso capsules or pods.  

Products like TASSIMO Jacobs Espresso Ristretto come ready-made to pack into countertop espresso machines. All you have to do is follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Fill the water reservoir, insert the pod, put your cup under the spout, and then press the brew button. Your ristretto should be ready in no time. 

Ristretto Vs Espresso

Common Ristretto & Espresso Coffee Questions

What is the difference between ristretto and lungo? 

A lungo is the spiritual opposite of a ristretto shot. Lungo is the Italian word for long - a ristretto shot uses more water than espresso and brews for longer. The different water ratio gives a longer shot which is thinner and more acidic than espresso, and far more so than a ristretto.  

As to which is best, the espresso vs. lungo vs. ristretto debate rages on. You'll have to try them all and decide for yourself. 

What is the difference between Nespresso and espresso? 

Nespresso is an offshoot of Nestle that focuses on coffee products - mostly espresso drinks. Their espresso coffee capsules are meant to produce something similar to the machines found in coffee shops all over the world. While they get pretty close to espresso, Nespresso coffees are slightly less robust and have a milder flavor profile. 

To read more about these differences, check out our details article: Nespresso vs Espresso

What is an espresso leggero? 

Espresso leggero blends include South American coffee beans to mellow them out and add floral and cacao notes to make the short shot more palatable. Notably, Nespresso has a well-known espresso leggero blend which provide more flavor than other drinks.

What do you mean by double ristretto? 

Preparing a double ristretto shot requires filling two different portafilters. You make one ristretto as we described above and then dump the grounds and repeat the process to make a double. The water ratio remains but this does make the ristretto stronger.

What is an espresso forte? 

The espresso forte blend from Nespresso includes Arabica beans from South and Central America. It has a dark, malty flavor with fruity notes, and gives the ristretto a stronger taste. 


Ristretto espresso is a smaller, more condensed version of regular espresso. Both have a rich flavor profile derived from the coffee beans used to make them, but the ristretto shot delivers a slightly sweeter and richer taste without the bitterness that comes at the end of an espresso. 

However, ordering a ristretto means you'll get less caffeine because the different brewing processes mean that a regular espresso has a lot more caffeine in each serving. 

Coffee lovers can quickly determine which they prefer, and now you know how to make a ristretto and espresso yourself you can decide which one is best.

Kayla Stavridis

Kayla Stavridis

Kayla Stavridis is the Head of Marketing here at Barista HQ. While keeping up-to-date on the latest trends in coffee, you can find her sipping a cold brew with just a touch of milk on the beach in the afternoon and a Corona with lime in the evening. She is passionate about keeping you informed about what’s new in coffee.

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