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What the fuck is a Ristretto ?

Updated: Feb 26, 2023

What the fuck is a ristretto?

We can all say what the heck is a real ristretto sometimes.

Ever worked in a high speciality café and the head barista had had a go at the front of house staff who accepted an order of a ristretto, damning them for not knowing that our grinders, machine, coffee is set to a double espresso with an exact recipe for a reason. And to explain this to the poor innocent customer who heard this buzz word and went to the fanciest café in town in hopes of being shown this rare form of coffee? Being shut down immediately and embarrassed?

Or the opposite, where the head barista conforms to every customers wish and demand, but knowing they don’t have the time or appropriate coffee to adjust for a ristretto, just then serves an underextracted sour espresso, which in conclusion then ends with the customer going why is this fancy place got such a good reputation when I physically cannot drink this coffee without feeling like my tongue is twisting and turning with sourness, the only way is to shot it like a bad vodka. What a waste of 4 dollars.

Is there a right way to this scenario? Lucky in most parts this doesn’t happen very often, and if your working in a part of the world where this is your daily scenario then yes. Draw that drink in your coffee menu, and have a coffee that would have the best result in ristretto mode. I’m thinking a nice well rounded Brazilian, or Colombian, which would be super sweet without the bitterness in ristretto from. Whereas a super fruity Kenyan, holy mother of all things my mouth is cringing just thinking about it now.

Okay so what the fuck is ristretto. Well literally it means restricted. Now the golden rule with espresso is balance, between three groups of flavour, you have sweetness, bitterness and acidic. Perfectly balanced you get the god shot. Now for some, they ask, why can’t I have just the sweet? So here comes the ristretto. The way an espresso is formed through extraction, is the first part extracted is sweet, then acidic then finally the bitterness comes through which is way an espresso typically has a run time between 25-32 seconds to achieve every stage. So a person asks why not just stop the espresso after the sweet has taken place. Well in life in general, there is rarely ever a rule that perfectly fits in with every coffee every machine, everywhere. Think how boring that would be if every coffee was just 20g dose, 28 seconds and they all tasted the same. (Pause for a moment as I’m literally envisioning my worst nightmare). One thing that makes the allure of the ristretto is the less caffeine, the less volume also making this super easy t drink.

One thing to mention is the fact imagine the dose, not fulfilling its full potential, the water has barely touched every molecule in that shot and it’s all just stopped mid chemical reaction. So that’s why it’s important to change this dose, so your not wasting coffee, and that it gives the water a running chance at penetrating that coffee. Therefore, all mythos, automatic grinders your gonna need a new dose on those unless you’re an amazing coffee shop that weighs every shit ( if you are bless, your angels). Also, as a less volume of water is trying to drive through that puck of coffee, your gonna have to give it and helping hand by adjusting your grinder by making it a bit finer. Otherwise, your gonna just be left with a 11 second shot as your coffee is espresso coarse and remember there less water.

The water damn it! Of course less water is used therefore a ristretto is slightly thicker than espresso, with more crema ( as this is the first thing that comes out). Now has a shorter extraction time, with a smaller volume of water because as some have stated for a ristretto your ratio is 1:2 where as espresso has a higher ratio of water to coffee. In Italy a ristretto recipe is explained at being a dose of around 7-8 doses of coffee, and 15 gram shots. Therefore a ratio of 1:2.

Finally the coffee! Crazy important, remember what I said about Kenyan v Brazilian? Why do these coffees have the ability to make a better ristretto, well it’s mainly due to altitude, the lower it is the more choccy it is (typically) but there’s always that one coffee that totally breaks this rule. As there are hundreds of flavour notes in coffee. But one good news is that you don’t have to worry too much about roast type, as even with the dose change your still never going to be using the coffee to the it’s full potential. But if you want a coffee that is versatile, that is easy to deal with, no headache over extraction you’ll find medium onwards much more choccy like as the acidity tends to be one of the first things that disappear with roasting, (why super fruity coffees are light roasts). This also means if you’re a bit disappointed with your coffee then ristretto is perfect as remember your not allowing that coffee to take its platform with all its glory, just showing off the good bits. The negative flavours you’ve cut that drink short before it came into fruition ( like that pun😉).

For me, I love a wide range of coffee menus but if you learn anything from watching a Gordon Ramsay show keep it simple and short. Every day in your coffee store should be like you’re a barista competition, every coffee should be an award winning spectacular specimen that you cannot wait to show off. I love a café that keeps it moving, a new coffee roaster on the scene with a banging coffee they just go diving in, and sometimes you might be thinking this coffee isn’t as well rounded as it could be, I know ristretto time because baby when you try a good ristretto it’s addictive and if you get the chance to show off one, then boy your customers will thank you for the education, in the past I’ve been questioned for some ristretto (mainly by a customer who totally thought I was ripping him off for a lower volume coffee UK) but once I made him an espresso version of the same coffee and had him try both. That smile, that acknowledgement, made me so happy. The reason I’m in this business, I strive every day. Go make someone’s day, keep doing what you all do best, and now you should know what the fuck is a ristretto.

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