ristretto vs long shot: how they are different

Ristretto vs Long Shot: What’s the Difference?

If you’ve visited coffee shops like Biggby, Starbucks, or even your local favorite, you’ve probably seen ristretto and long shot espresso options on the menu. These drinks have become very popular in many areas and provide a delicious alternative to a traditional espresso. If you’re interested in learning more about the ristretto vs long shot debate, we have the inside scoop that you need to know!

What’s The Difference Between Ristretto and Long Shot?

In the ristretto vs long shot debate…

  • The ristretto: Comes out as a sweeter drink that takes a little longer to master and which has a trickier brewing method
  • The long shot: Is more bitter but easier to make and brings out more acidity in the coffee and a more complex flavor. Both are a great option for people who love coffee and have comparable, but different, caffeine levels.

We’ll go into even greater detail about the main differences below.

What is a Ristretto Shot?

what is a ristretto shot

The term “ristretto” is an Italian word that means ‘restricted” and is used in this context because a ristretto shot is made using only the first part of a full-length espresso shot. While it often uses the same kind of espresso beans as a long shot, less hot water is pushed through the grounds to produce a smaller drink with a more concentrated flavor that is richer and sweeter in texture.

How to Make a Ristretto Shot

If you have an automatic espresso machine, it likely has a “ristretto” setting that you can use to make a consistent shot. However, making one manually is very rewarding and is worth trying because you can experiment with different approaches and flavors. Here’s the steps that you need to take:

  1. Grind 14-16 grams of coffee finer than normal for regular espresso
  2. Load the portafilter and tamp the grounds properly
  3. Pull your shot slowly and hold it for about 25-30 seconds
  4. Stop the pull and remove about 30-35 grams of espresso
  5. Taste-test the ristretto to make sure that it is sweet
  6. Pull the espresso longer if the flavor isn’t quite right

This simple process isn’t challenging but requires a lot of finesse. You need to experiment with different grinding fineness, typically making it as fine as possible to get the sweetest taste. You can grind a little less finely if you want to produce a less intensely sweet drink and one with a little more bitterness.

What is a Long Shot?

A long shot may also be called a “lungo” in some shops, which is the Italian word for “long.” It is a shot made using the basic espresso brewing process but creating a larger beverage. You use more water in a long shot and brew the coffee a little longer. This draws out the acidity and bitterness of the coffee beans and makes the drink a little sharper. It is basically the exact opposite of a ristretto.

what is a long shot, lungo espresso

How to Make a Long Shot (Lungo Espresso)

If you’re interested in making a long shot coffee, it is important to know how to do it manually. While you can always make one using an espresso machine, doing it manually helps you adjust the flavor and taste to whatever option feels best for you. Try this process to get the best results:

  1. Brew two shots of espresso using whatever method and means that you prefer
  2. Pour 100-120 milliliters of hot water into a serving cup large enough for your espresso
  3. Add the espresso shots to this hot water and stir carefully to blend them properly
  4. Stir in a little milk if you like and stir to create attractive latte art
  5. Adjust the recipe by pouring in a little less water for your drink

Typically, a good long shot has a ratio of about three-quarters water to one-quarter espresso. However, you can change it by adding more espresso or pouring out a little water. The choice is yours and will vary depending on your preference, including how bitter you want your coffee.

Best Coffee Beans for a Ristretto or Long Shot

Here are a few coffee bean options that may work well for either of these coffee types:

  • Lavazza Super Crema Whole Bean Coffee Blend
  • Death Wish Whole Bean Coffee
  • Kicking Horse Coffee, Cliff Hanger Espresso, Medium Roast
  • Koffee Kult Dark Roast Whole Coffee Beans
  • Don Pablo Gourmet Coffee – Signature Blend – Medium Dark Roast

Ristretto vs Long Shot: The 5 Main Differences

The main differences between ristretto and long shot lie in things like how they’re prepared, their overall taste, potency, caffeine content, and much more. Sip House Coffee examined some of these differences in a lengthy blog, though we took a hands-on approach and tried these coffees ourselves to see exactly what they bring to the market and to gauge which is right for your needs.

1. Ristretto vs Long Shot: Sweetness of Flavor

A ristretto focuses on improving the sweetness of the drink due to its unique concentration of espresso. While we’ll talk more about what this shot is and how it is made further on in this article, it is worth knowing that the ristretto is considered one of the sweeter espresso shots.

By contrast, a long shot lacks sweetness because it isn’t as concentrated. That gives its overall taste a texture closer to a traditional espresso shot. As a result, it might be a better option for those who want a coffee that feels more like a coffee and less like a sweet drink.

2. Ristretto vs Long Shot: The Bitterness of Their Aftertaste

A ristretto is designed to have a much less bitter taste than a traditional espresso shot or a long shot. The long shot is brewed specifically to tap into the bitter tastes of the espresso. Now, it is important to note that bitterness isn’t a bad thing for people who enjoy that flavor.

In fact, many espresso shots are designed to accentuate the bitter taste. That’s not how the ristretto works. It instead minimizes bitterness and focuses on sweetness. That makes it a good choice for those who struggle to enjoy the bitter sharpness of a long shot coffee.

3. Ristretto vs Long Shot: The Acidity of Each Drink

Without getting into the chemistry of the situation, acidity in coffee is the measurement of various types of acids in coffee beans and how they’re used in a blend. These acids help to add a denser overall flavor to a coffee and don’t necessarily make a coffee harder on the stomach.

When comparing ristretto and a long shot, the latter has a sharper and more obvious acidity when compared to the first. The ristretto uses its compressed sweetness to bring out a strong flavor profile. However, it lacks the complexity of a long shot, which may be disappointing to some.

4. Ristretto vs Long Shot: The Brewing Methods

A ristretto shot is a little trickier to pull off than a long shot because you have a shorter brewing period that requires a lot more concentration and focus to get right. There are no real guidelines for ristretto either, meaning that they can taste quite different between different coffee shops.

We’ll talk about the different ways you make each shot in more depth later. For now, know that a ristretto shot is harder to complete than a long shot and may take more time to master. That can be frustrating for those who love Starbucks’ ristretto but can’t make them at home properly.

5. Ristretto vs Long Shot: The Ease of Finding Them

Both ristretto and long shot coffees are getting easier to find in various markets. However, the ristretto is probably a bit simpler to find because of its popularity at Starbucks. The long shot is also something that many coffee shops know how to make but might call something a little different.

Thankfully, both are becoming more prominent in various coffee shops because they’re fairly simple to make once you understand their processes. Hand-made shots are also becoming more popular because of their benefits and the unique tastes that you can achieve with them.

Which One Should I Order? Ristretto vs Long Shot?

If you’re new to espresso, a ristretto is a good option because it’s sweeter and less bitter than a long shot. Those who are used to or who prefer bitter coffees may want a long shot coffee instead. The options here vary depending on your personal preference. Why not try both and see which you like the most? That’s the best way to know for sure which blend suits your taste.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which has more caffeine: ristretto or long shot?

Though ristretto may have more caffeine because of its compressed nature, it typically has around 63 milligrams per shot, while a long shot can contain about 80 milligrams.

Which has more calories?

Both the ristretto and long shot have about five calories per shot, though a long shot is usually bigger than a ristretto.

Do ristretto shots taste stronger?

Ristretto shots are more concentrated but taste sweeter and are usually easier to enjoy than long shots, which have a sharper overall flavor.

Is ristretto stronger than espresso?

A traditional ristretto shot has a little less caffeine than an espresso and a milder taste, which makes it a lot easier to tolerate.

Is a ristretto or long shot healthy?

Ristretto and long shot drinks are low in calories and contain many of the same health benefits of espresso, including decent fiber content.

Final Thoughts on Ristretto vs Long Shot

Understanding the ristretto vs long shot debate isn’t as complex as it might seem. All you need to do is taste-test a few different drinks to see which appeals the most to you. Then, you can carefully adjust your recipe to produce better results, such as pulling the ristretto slightly longer (no more than 40 seconds) to produce the flavor that you want. The same kind of experimentation is possible with the long shot, so try out a few methods to see which is suitable to you.

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Thomas Demers
Thomas Demers
Tom is a managing partner with Caffeine Gurus. He has been writing and researching coffee and caffeine for over 10 years.