How to Make a Ristretto

The ristretto shot is a coffee purists heaven, a truly enjoyable pour of coffee. 

What is a Ristretto coffee
A Ristretto is a short shot of Espresso coffee (also called ‘Corto’ from the Italian word that means ‘short’). Ristretto is made by forcing the water through Espresso selection beans faster and at higher pressures than Espresso coffee. 
The italian word Ristretto literally means restricted, defined as a drink of very strong, concentrated espresso (definition from Oxford Dictionaries). Understanding the meaning of the word Ristretto sheds some light on this wonderful drink, it is a small quantity of liquid which is very concentrated – but don’t let this put you off! Let me explain…
The nature of how a Ristretto is prepared means that you are left with a drink that gives you all of the best qualities of the coffee, with very little of the negative qualities that come out with a longer extraction time. When it comes to extracting coffee under pressure all of the good attributes of the coffee are the first to come out, the longer an extraction lasts – the more negative flavours and qualities are extracted. So naturally you want to find a happy medium to maximise the good flavours – minimise the bad.
Due to less dilution with water, the Ristretto yields higher concentrations of Caffeine than that of an Espresso and Americano. It also causes the ratio of coffee oils  to arise. The Ristretto flavour is more bold and less bitter to compare with Espresso. Ristretto is basically an Espresso coffee with less water.

Making a ristretto
Just like an espresso it is all about the pour, timing & grind of your beans. The reason the Ristretto seems to be so highly debated is the method of preparation for this drink.

How to make it…
Coffee machines require very little manual work. Here are a few methods for how to achieve a Ristretto coffee with your Espresso machine at home:
  • The easiest way to make Ristretto is to either ground the coffee beans finer or pack the coffee into the filter more than usual so that the gaps between the coffee grains are even smaller.
  • The water will flow slower and fill the cup less during the same 30 seconds needed for preparing an Espresso. The cons of this modern method is that the beans may be grounded too much and get into the cup.
  • Another way of making a Ristretto is to simply stop the process of the streaming water sooner.

1. The Traditional  Method

This involves brewing 30mls of coffee over the same pour time as a normal espresso shot. A traditional espresso uses approximately 14 grams of coffee for a double espresso. Here’s a step by step:
  • Adjust your grind – you will need it finer than you do for a traditional espresso as you want to slow down the pour rate of the extraction.
  • Dispense approximately 14gms (you may like to adjust this more or less depending on what works for you) of coffee into your basket.
  • Prepare and tamp as usual
  • Time your extraction – 30mls of liquid should come out in between 25-30 seconds.
2. The Shortcut
I include this method, not because it will give you a true Ristretto but because on certain machines like Super-Automatics or espresso machines with pressurised filters you will most likely not have enough control to use the method described above.  Here’s how it’s done:
  • Get your grind as fine as possible for the machine you are using
  • Tamp as usual
  • Start your extraction and let it run until you have 30mls of coffee for a double Ristretto

This method of preparation is simply going to give you an espresso that has been stopped half way through – so it will not be as concentrated or syrupy as a true ristretto but hey if thats all your machine will allow it’s better than nothing!

Get hold of some freshly roasted espresso beans. Crema comes from trapped CO2 gases that fade as coffee beans stale. Traditional northern Italian style is a medium roast, while southern Italians tradition dictates a darker bean that looks slightly oily. Darker roasts will emphasize the roast flavors, while medium and lighter roasts allow for sweeter, floral tones to come to the fore. The flavors of a lighter roasts will fade faster, so it’s easier to get a consistent result from a darker roast. Experiment!

There are three options for actually creating the ristretto.
The Lazy Way- Grind your coffee beans as normal, and don’t change the tamp.
Start the brew pump and stop it after the group has delivered 0.5oz (~15mL) of coffee (approximately 15 seconds). The Lazy Way is only useful for those who are unable to vary the grind.
The Better Way- Grind your coffee beans as normal and tamp much harder than usual. Start the brew pump and stop it after the group has delivered 0.5oz (~15mL) of coffee (approximately 20 – 25 seconds). The Better Way will give you richer tasting coffee than basic espresso, and will make you feel like you’ve done a better job at achieving a real ristretto.
The Best Way- Grind your coffee beans finer than normal, but do leave the tamp the same as usual. Start the brew pump and stop it after the group has delivered 0.5oz (~15mL) of coffee (25 seconds). Watch out for sourness when you do it The Best Way – your machine needs to be right up to temperature before pouring a fine-grind ristretto! Only The Best Way is a true ristretto.

So now go, give it a try! These are a great base for a milk based drink like a latte due to their rich flavour. Why not try make a Piccolo Latte – use a double ristretto and serve with latte textured milk in a smaller glass, enjoy!

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