Ristretto vs Espresso vs Lungo (Too Much Info)

As you delve into the world of coffee, begin to visit cafes, or purchase your first Nespresso machine, the language of coffee starts to become important. Not only is this lingo based off different languages but the names all feature a unique history and tell us about the drinks origin and purpose.

If you’re ordering coffee at a cafe that isn’t run by the green mermaid, then chances are you’ll need to brush up on some of the vocabulary other than Venti, Grande, or god forbid, the Trenta.

Ristretto Vs. Espresso

Espresso is a technique of the barista. Any type of coffee bean and any type of roast can be used to make an espresso. However, the way your espresso turns out in vastly dependent on how you order it or make it with your machine.

This breaks down into three classes, ristretto, espresso, and lungo.

The Short Ristretto Pull

Is a Ristretto shot stronger than espresso?

The simple answer, because the strongest Espresso is the first to be brewed, this is the most concentrated form of espresso, having the most caffeine per ounce of any drink on this list.

That said, one shot of Ristretto is is less caffeinated than one shot of Espresso simply because there’s less of it.

Kind of confusing, eh?

Extraction and the variable time and pressure is the reason a subtle change in technique makes a significant difference in taste and texture. Ristretto shots contain more of the flavor compounds that dissolve most quickly from coffee grounds.

Arrested extraction makes ristretto more full-bodied and less bitter than fully extracted espresso. This is probably due to the short brewing time, whereas many a European coffee connoisseur would argue that espresso is very likely to have burnt notes, and bitter aftertastes.

How to Drink Ristretto

Traditionally, Ristretto is presented and drank from a demitasse (that’s just a fancy word for a small porcelain or ceramic cup) and not diluted with milk or water.

The taste notes that one would experience with espresso are present but more pronounced.

Where we get the drinks like an Americano or a Long Black is when these drinks (Ristretto, Espresso and Lungo) are diluted with water.

The Benefits Of Drinking Ristretto Over Espresso

As espresso is a drink that has it’s fair share of fans in Italy, it should be noted that the “short shot” is the first ¾-ounce of espresso in an extraction, the judges believe is the absolute perfect espresso. That’s the Ristretto.

The nature of Ristretto preparation 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 with intense pressure, all of the good attributes of the coffee are the first to come out, the longer an extraction lasts – the more negative flavors and qualities are extracted. So naturally you want to find a happy medium to maximize the good flavors and subsequently minimize the bad.

So espresso may be a full ounce and change (1.35oz to be exact), but the purists across the pond have discerned that it’s not worth indulging on a larger sized beverage for lesser benefits, and a lackluster drink overall.

This is where the Lungo comes in.

Lungo Vs Espresso

Lungo means long in Italian, so many people think asking for one will get them a long black.  And once again, confusion ensues.

The lungo is a less-caffeine strong beverage (less caffeine per ounce), however the brewing process aids to a more bitter drink than say, an espresso, with more caffeine overall due to the overall larger volume of brewed coffee.

As additional hot water passes through the grinds, more coffee extract components that would normally remain undissolved proceed to infiltrate your beverage.

For better or for worse? Your call!

The more water one allows to pass through the coffee grounds, the more bitter and watery the end product should be. Some people are searching for this so don’t let the so-called experts scare you away from attempting this style.

The Lungo long pull is here to stay!

Especially since a long black is made by getting hot water and adding an espresso shot to it (an Americano is the same ingredients, but in the reverse order), while a lungo is a long draw espresso; shorter than a long black, but with all the water brewed.

A rough ratio of coffee to water for these three kinds of drinks is as follows:

  • 1:1 for ristretto
  • 1:2 for espresso
  • 1:3–1:4 for lungo

The Advent of the Nespresso

 While espresso was rising in popularity in 1970s Italy, a Nestle employee went in search of the perfect cup.

While out and about he discovered the drink was in such demand that people were waiting in lines for hours at a certain cafe. When Eric Favre watched the barista’s tricks he became mesmerized, committed them to memory, and tried to recreate them when he got home.

Although the project didn’t catch on initially with the higher ups of the Nestle corporation, Favre continued on in secret, slowly perfecting the machine.

Today, Nespresso machines are fairly common, and use sustainably sourced coffee beans, capsules that are infinitely recyclable, and available in more than 50 countries.

Thankfully today we enjoy the benefits of technological advancements in coffee making and the ease of enjoying espresso without the manual espresso makers of old.

Nespresso offers a unique choice of grand cru coffees to satisfy every taste. The Nespresso grands cru capsules contain between 5 grams for the Ristretto and Espresso range and 7 grams for the Lungo range of quality roast and ground coffee.

Extracting each coffee using the appropriate setting on your Nespresso machine will secure each Grand Cru’s unique taste and sensory profile. It will allow you to get the best experience and guarantees the pleasure of a coffee, rich in aroma with a dense crema.

Keep in mind that each of the machines is calibrated slightly differently, so you may have to adjust your ratio of coffee to water.

While Nespresso instigates that the capsules are designed for a specific type of coffee, it’s still recommended that you try to experiment and come up with the results you like best. We’ll keep throwing our short (ristretto) variety through the long (lungo), and you definitely could too.

How to make Ristretto and Lungo

Each of the buttons on these great machines are made to create the various kinds of drinks we’ve been discussing. Understanding how those functions work in conjunction with your coffee creation will allow you to adjust and refine the way your coffee is made each day.

First, turn on the machine and fill the water tank. These machines have to warm up, and typically that is the default stop on the dial. There will also be a light that will allow users to know that the machine is in fact plugged in and warming. Otherwise the water will run through the machine without heating and you’ll be losing some coffee to improper extraction.

Next, open the handle completely and load a coffee capsule. Press and hold the button for the function you wish to program (Espresso or Lungo, etc.).

The Grand Cru pods aren’t the only option out there either. There are plenty of vendors trying to develop their own reusable capsules, even offering single origin coffee or blends. Read our article on the difference to gather some insight on the benefits of both.

Lungo Vs. Latte

A new competitor enters the ring.

If you ask for a latte in an Italian cafe, you’ll get a glass of milk and a puzzled expression. That’s because “latte” is Italian for “milk” – and we have shortened the Italian term “caffè latte” to mean an espresso with milk added. How does the Lungo fit in?

Lungo can be used to develop any of the beverages with milk that you might come up with.

A cappuccino is the traditional Italian blend of 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk and 1/3 stiff milk froth on top. The ratios and layering mean you experience the foam first, then a bed of rich milky coffee. Varying the espresso ratio can have interesting results.

A latte is often thought of as just a milkier cappuccino, but it’s actually more complex than that. A latte is constructed from a glass of textured, not just steamed, milk that an espresso (usually a double shot) is poured into with a thin layer of milk micro-foam on top. Less layered than a cappuccino, it’s a milky coffee with wide appeal.

How is the Flat White Different?

Here’s one drink you’ll find enjoyable as you hone in your Nespresso skills.

The flat white, being an Austral-asian invention (there is huge debate over whether it was invented in New Zealand or Australia) is a drink that varies a lot around the world and is very open to interpretation. The basic ingredients are similar to the latte: espresso and steamed milk.

Keep in mind, the flat white the milk can be either textured to blend then micro-foam into the milk, creating a velvety smooth cup, or just steamed and the foam excluded, creating a milky, slightly shorter drink.

  • If your espresso is too strong, add a bit more water.
  • If too weak, use ristretto.
  • If you want a long drink that’s still strong, use two espresso’s (two capsules too)

On its own, or with a little extra?

When it comes time to enjoy your espresso, ristretto, or lungo, is it worth mixing with anything at all?

This is probably going to be up to who you’re serving. The die-hard espresso purists don’t add milk, cream or sugar: they like to appreciate the drink as it is. Still, everyone’s palate is different, and you should have your coffee the way your palette finds most intriguing.

Just remeber the lingo if you’re out at the cafe. If you want to add ice cream, that’s an “affogato”; if you want to add a shot of liqueur, that’s a “caffè correto” (“corrected” with alcohol).

Additionally, here’s a rundown of the associated terms:

  • Americano: Hot water added to espresso (in that order).
  • Long black: Espresso added to hot water (in that order).
  • Ristretto: Half-length extraction; the opposite of a lungo.
  • Dopio: Double Espresso.

How to Taste the Differences – Can You Taste the Difference?!?

So much coffee talk and not enough tasting. We’ve broken down all the lingo and defined the process to make your own.

As you start to create these various drinks perhaps it’s time you learn to taste and appreciate the differences. Just what are the coffee experts looking for in their drinks?

  • Appreciate the crema: Even in the most basic of espresso shot, you’re going to see the crema – That’s the tan-colored top layer, like the head on a dark beer. Before you even take the first drink, get a visual on the subject. Take note of the color: If the head of creme is on the darker side, the more intense you can expect the coffee to be. Don’t drink just yet. Get used to smelling the beverage. Still waiting patiently to drink? Now stir it in: this will release even stronger aromas, and then you’re off to drink. But wait there’s more!
  • The Best Time To Taste: Though most of probably have a coffee maker set up as alarm clock, recent research suggests that our cortisol hormones that make is feel naturally alert, is produced quite abundantly in the first hour after waking. Let’s just say you normally get up at 7am, then the optimum time for your first cup may not actually be until 8.30am. So an hour an half after waking is when cortisol levels start to dip. Furthermore, your senses are really going to be active after you’ve fully awoken, and thus your first coffee of the day is going to be potent in all the best ways.
  • Don’t sip: The pros might disagree with this a touch. Like a good wine that needs decanted in order  to aerate the tannins for optimum flavor; in the same way, introducing air to your coffee will help release the full range of flavor. The professionals do hold a “cupping spoon” to their lips when partaking. This is a spoon with an extra-deep bowl, but you can use a normal spoon, or just slurp it from the cup. But whatever you do, don’t sip.

As you start to dial in your espresso maker and your own palette you’ll likely keep finding new ways to enjoy your coffee. Try checking out some of the gear that will make these variations on the brew easier.

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