Ristretto vs Espresso vs Lungo: What’s the Difference & Which is Strongest?

I’ve stumbled upon coffee shops with menu language so out of my range of knowledge I felt I better leave since the only word I could think of was “latte”.

If you’re diving deeper into the world of coffee, whether that means visiting new shops or buying a Nespresso, you’re eventually going to run into some unfamiliar terms.

Ristretto, espresso, and lungo are three terms you’re bound to hear as you venture further into the world of coffee. Most are familiar with the word espresso, although familiar with the term doesn’t always mean understanding what it means. Ristretto and lungo are two terms that many people are unfamiliar with.

Making espresso is a skill, a technique that the barista or coffee connoisseur must familiarize themselves with before being able to make quality cups. There are various techniques which produce different espresso drinks, all using the same roast and processes. They completion of the process differs slightly per brew type, and that’s where ristretto, espresso, and lungo come in.

Main Differences Between Ristretto, Espresso, and Lungo

Before we lay out the main features of each of these brew methods, we should take a look at what sets them apart.

Espresso is the baseline, the shot you’ve probably had if you’ve ever ordered an espresso-based drink at a coffee shop, like an americano or latte. It is definitely the most well-known of the three.

Ristretto is more concentrated than espresso or lungo. The proper way to prepare a ristretto is by getting the finest grind with fresh beans, and using pressure to extract the normal amount of ground coffee for espresso with about half the water.

The result is a more concentrated beverage with a different balance in flavors than the typical espresso shot.

Lungo goes the other way than ristretto, brewing a larger coffee that uses more water than espresso. A normal shot of espresso usually takes under 30 seconds to pull, whereas a lungo shot can take up to a minute.

The result is a more bitter, weaker coffee than espresso. This is because the extra water extracts more components than espresso, adding more of a bitter taste as it brews.

Espresso is the middle ground between the ristretto and lungo, and the most common and widely ordered drink of the three. It has a strong bold taste, less bitter than lungo, but more bitter than ristretto.

The three terms are all relative, lacking an exact measurement or guideline. You can expect variations on each drink from different cafes based on the barista’s preference. Or, you can experiment at home with an espresso maker or instant machine like Nespresso.

The general ratio for water to ground coffee is one-to-one for ristretto, one-to-two for espresso normale, and one-to-three or one-to-four for lungo.

Is Espresso Better Than Ristretto or Lungo?

If you’ve ever ordered a typical shot at a cafe, you’re probably familiar with espresso. This is the baseline for the different variations of drinks. Espresso by nature has more caffeine per volume than most coffee drinks.

Whether it is better than the other two drinks comes down solely to personal preference. It is the in-between of the two, so if you find ristretto to be too concentrated, and lungo to be too weak, a classic espresso shot is probably what you should be going for.

Espresso is the method for brewing coffee, and also a beverage itself. It is made by forcing hot water with high pressure through finely ground, compact beans.

For the purpose of ordering the classic espresso shot, not smaller or larger than the most widely-known espresso, most people just order an espresso shot. If you need to differentiate between types, it is also referred to as espresso normale or “normal espresso”.

When making espresso shots, the beans are pushed down tightly in the permafilter to promote and even penetration of water. The result is typically a thicker drink than other coffee beverages, with a satisfying crema on top.

The length of the espresso shot is where the other terms come in.

Is Ristretto Better Than Espresso or Lungo?

Meaning “limited” or “restricted” in Italian, ristretto is a short shot made with ground coffee in the amount you would use for a traditional espresso shot.

Whether ristretto is better than other types of espresso depends on if you prefer your coffee to be more concentrated, with less bitterness, or if you prefer something with more bitter tones or less of a high concentration for such a small amount of liquid. The shot is very small and strong, but since it is pulled as the first part of the shot, it always cuts down the bitter taste of espresso.

The coffee must be ground extremely fine, which will cause the coffee to be extracted with about half the water of a typical espresso shot.

Many baristas who do not want to have to achieve the finest grind will halt the extraction process sooner than usual to ensure less water has passed through the grounds.

Ristretto is the first part of the extraction process for espresso. The result is a highly concentrated shot of espresso, which is more full-bodied and cuts down the bitterness of its fully-extracted counterpart.

The faster extracting compounds of ground coffee are the bulk of ristretto shots, with less room for over-extraction, creating a different balance of flavors than other methods. The longer espresso is extracted, the more likely it is to have negative flavors such as burnt or bitterness. Since Ristretto cuts down on extraction time, these negative aspects are removed.

Ristretto is typically served in a demitasse, which is a small cup meant for serving espresso.

Is Lungo Better Than Ristretto or Espresso?

Lungo is the opposite of the ristretto, where instead of shortening the length of the shot, it is extended. The result is a bigger drink, with less caffeine per volume.

The drink tends to come out less strong and more bitter than espresso normale or ristretto. When pulling the shot, the goal is to use a coarser grind that will prevent the drink from over-extracting during the process.

If you aren’t super into small, concentrated shots, lungo would be the better choice for you. Many prefer something that resembles their classic cup of coffee, and lungo leans more towards that as it is less concentrated than the other espresso types, and tends to have more of a bitter taste.

Many like the bitterness of their coffee, so don’t let the word scare you away from choosing this drink over the others.

Because of the  pressure used to brew espresso, the lungo shots have different ratios of flavor components than typical espresso shots. It can not be simplified as being half the strength of an espresso shot, because lungo has a different taste and composition overall, despite having the same ratios.

Ristretto, Espresso, or Lungo?

All of these options are delicious, bold ways to consume coffee. They also serve as the base for many other familiar coffee drinks, like lattes, cappuccinos, americanos and more.

It all comes down to a matter of preference when choosing between these types of espresso. They are all very similar by nature, but their resulting beverage can vary greatly between methods.

Many go their whole lives unaware of the different varieties of espresso, always ordering an espresso normale without being aware of it. For many, this remains the way to go after trying out ristretto and lungo.

For someone who wants to get as much caffeine into their body in as short amount of time as possible, ristretto is a great choice. It’s small, compact, and has a bold flavor without the bitterness of a longer-brewed espresso.

It has the most caffeine per ounce, so if that’s what you’re going for, ristretto is the right option.

Lungo would make sense for somebody who wants a longer lasting drink, and prefers the taste of something with more bitter tones. It is not as strongly caffeinated as the other drinks, as the ratio to water is higher.

Espresso normale is a great middle ground for someone who finds ristretto too small or caffeinated, or who finds lungo too large and weak or bitter. These are all personal preferences, so it’s important to give them all a shot before ruling one out.

Personally, I go for espresso normale as I always have. While ristretto is great for the purpose of enjoying the undertones of a strong, classy coffee, and for getting a high caffeine dose, I prefer to have my espresso less concentrated.

I also like the subtle bitterness of espresso normale that ristretto cuts out. I think regular espresso is the right balance, as I am not a big fan of the bitter tones of a lungo beverage.

All three methods make a quality shot, but it does take practice and a good understanding of the method. Which method is better depends on your personal preferences, and what brings you to drink the coffee in the first place.

What’s The Difference Between Lungo And Espresso

The first time I tried an espresso, it was an awakening of sorts. It opened up a totally new way of looking at coffee.  At first, I thought it would be too bitter for my liking. But it turned out surprisingly delicious.

As they said, once you have tried espresso, you will always look for it. The bittersweet, creamy and aromatic flavor of espresso will haunt you. And on those days when you need that extra kick, a good shot of espresso is the best thing to have in the morning.

I thought that espresso is just another kind of coffee. However, I was lectured on by a coffee expert and emphasized that espresso is a method of brewing coffee.

And while we are at this espresso talk, did you know that there is another type of espresso method called lungo?

Lungo? Yes, we are not very familiar with this because it’s more of a European trend. The same thing as espresso.

Europeans love their coffee the espresso way. Not the typical watered down version or flavored version we have in North America. They love to preserve the aroma and distinct bittersweet, and varying flavorful notes extracted from ground coffee beans.

Does it mean that lungo and espresso are just the same? What are the similarities and differences? Let’s find out.

A closer look at Espresso

As already mentioned, espresso is not a different kind of coffee beans or something. Rather, it is a special method of preparing coffee with one key factor – pressure.

In order to make a perfect shot of espresso, a small portion of water is forced through a tightly packed, fine ground coffee with a high pressure of around 9 bar. This pressure is equivalent to 130 pounds of pressure in one square inch or roughly twice the pressure in an average truck tire.

Yes, pressure is important in yielding espresso. This pressure creates that distinct crema on top of your espresso drink.

Espresso is a favorite among coffee lovers because it’s concentrated and full of flavor.

On the average, the popular espresso recipe includes about 7 grams of finely ground coffee per 25-30 ml of water.

The key to achieving a good shot of espresso requires three elements: roast, grind and, pressure.

  • Espresso roast – There is a special way of preparing coffee beans for espresso. Often, these beans are roasted to a darker finish to create a stronger and bolder coffee taste than regular drip or brewed coffee. If you are planning to make espresso at home, opt for espresso beans and grind them on demand.
  • Espresso grind – Regular brew is coarse. But espresso beans need to be ground to a fine powdery texture. This kind of grind slows down water penetration and requires pressure to extract the perfect espresso shot. It will be a good investment to have a burr grinder for your homemade espresso.
  • Espresso pressure – This is the third and most important element because pressure is what makes espresso so creamy and flavorful.

It is impossible to create a real espresso at home, unless you have an espresso machine or a nespresso. The pressure is a key factor to ensure that you get the concentrated, flavorful and special crema that is the trademark of espresso

Lungo coffee 101

Lungo is not as popular as espresso. But among Europeans, lungo and ristretto are known variations of the espresso method. Now, if you hear this inside a coffee shop or you see this on the menu of your favorite café, it will surely make you curious.

What exactly is a lungo coffee?

Preparing lungo also requires an espresso machine. In French, this is called ‘café allonge’. The name lungo sounds like the English word “long” and yes, something is long or extended when it comes to lungo coffee.

In a sense, lungo coffee is a “stretched” espresso. A typical espresso is called a shot. It is minimal and often drank in one shot, like your vodka.

With lungo, the water used for making espresso is doubled. This means that more caffeine will be extracted and it will have a deeper coffee flavor. Imagine a cup of espresso, that’s already a lungo.

It is impossible to make a cup of espresso. The real espresso only needs 25-30 ml of water. It can barely fill a cup of coffee.

By doubling this amount of water, the 7-gram finely ground coffee can yield twice the amount of coffee with the same thick bittersweet flavor.

Following this, a typical lungo coffee recipe requires 7 grams of finely ground coffee per 50-60 ml of water. This can yield about 45 to 50 ml of lungo.

However, do not confuse lungo with the typical coffee Americano, the Italian style coffee with added hot water. Nor the long black, or hot water added with short black coffee.

Lungo is totally different from Americano and long black. Do not make the mistake of ordering lungo and asking for hot water. The barista will frown upon you.

Lungo and Espresso: The Similarities

Lungo and espresso are similar in the following aspects:

  • Method of preparation

Both lungo and espresso requires an espresso machine. You cannot make a perfect lungo or espresso using ordinary coffee brewing machines like moka pots, automatic drip or the French press.

These machines lack the needed pressure to yield the espresso and lungo.

Others will argue that you can make an espresso with a French press. If you do this, what you will get is an espresso alternative. There will be no crema on the surface of your coffee and you can achieve that rich, bold flavor or espresso.

Most super automatic espresso machines have options for lungo and espresso. This will make it easier for you to create one or the other.

  • Type of roast and grind

Lungo and espresso requires dark roast, fine ground coffee. These two elements are important so that pressurized water passes through tightly packed ground coffee. It will exert pressure between the particles and extract the coffee. This helps in getting the right flavor and taste that coffee lovers enjoy the most.

Lungo and Espresso: The Differences

At first glance, lungo and espresso look the same. It’s thick, with a distinct white foam at the surface. However, there are differences between the two that sets them apart and established different sets of coffee patrons.

  • Coffee flavor

The main difference between espresso and lungo is the coffee flavor. Since different amount of water is used, naturally, the extraction time will be different and it will yield different flavors as well.

Espresso flavor is more intense, darker, nuttier and earthier. Often, an espresso shot has that cocoa, chocolate-like flavor. Depending also on the type of beans used, you will note that some espresso shot tastes like melted dark chocolate.  Plus, the distinct cream on top blends well with the strong espresso flavor.

Lungo flavor, on the other hand, is less intense but more fruity. You can definitely taste the strong earthy flavor but you will also get some sweet and fruity notes thanks to the longer extraction time.

  • Caffeine concentration

Espresso may be darker but it has less caffeine compared to lungo. In order to get more    caffeine, a longer extraction time is needed. And since lungo has twice the amount of water, it can yield more caffeine in the process.

If you want more caffeine out of your morning drink, a cup of lungo will be your best choice. But if you prefer richer and more flavor, go for a nice espresso shot.

Why Don’t You Learn A Little Bit More About Nespresso and Pod-Based Espresso Makers

Is Nespresso Worth It Or A Waste Of Money?
The Best Espresso Machines That Use Pods
Best Nespresso Machine For A Latté
Does Nespresso Make Good Enough Espresso?
The Quietest Nespresso Machines
Can You Use Other Pods In A Nespresso Machine?
Are All Nespresso Machines Basically The Same
Can Nespresso Machines Make Regular Coffee?
How To Reprogram Nespresso Machines For Larger Shots
Nespresso Espresso vs Lungo vs Ristretto
What The Intensity Numbers Mean on Nespresso Capsules
Can You Use Your Own Coffee In A Nespresso Machine?
How Much Caffeine Is In Nespresso Capsules

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.

Brian Mounts

Head blogger, editor, and owner of "Top Off My Coffee", a website that has been educating readers about coffee brewing techniques and equipment since 2012.

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