How to Make a Ristretto: Your Guide For That Powerful Shot

Syrupy, sweet ristretto shots are some of my absolute favorites.

They pack a ton of flavor into a shorter espresso shot.

Although it might sound like a totally separate drink, it’s actually easy to make.

I’ll show you how to make a ristretto in this article. 

By the end, you’ll have a balanced and delicious espresso drink.

Let’s get started!

What Is A Ristretto?

“Ristretto” in Italian means “restricted.” A ristretto shot is a shot of standard espresso that is “restricted” during the brewing process.

This happens either by stopping the shot early, using a finer grind, or tamping harder than normal. The goal is to restrict how much water passes through the ground coffee.

The end result is a slightly smaller espresso coffee known as ristretto.

How To Make A Ristretto: Step By Step

There are three main ways to brew ristretto shots. 

The first (most traditional) method is by using grind size or tamping to restrict the shot. Grinding finer than normal will allow less water to pass through the coffee while maintaining the same length of brew. The end goal is a ratio of about 1:1.5 grinds to water.

Tamping harder than normal achieves the same end and doesn’t require changing the grind. However, The tamping method isn’t preferred because tamping is less consistent than changing the grind size.

The last way is common in busy cafes or with setups that don’t have a high-end grinder capable of producing a consistently super fine grind. You can simply stop the brew earlier than normal, so less water passes through the coffee.

Making Ristretto With A Super Automatic Espresso Machine

With a super-automatic espresso machine, you might find that ristretto is already a programed option. If that’s the case, you’re all set! Choose this setting and enjoy.

If your super-automatic coffee machine doesn’t have a pre-programmed ristretto, it will certainly have espresso.

Simply go into the espresso options and change the settings, so you get about 15-20ml of espresso coffee in 15-20 seconds.

Each machine is different, but either try to lower how much hot water goes through your coffee or lower the time for brewing a espresso shot. Both options will give you a nice ristretto coffee.

If you can’t change the settings, have a second cup handy. Take your espresso out at half to three-quarters of the normal pull and use the second cup to take the extra espresso.

In a nutshell:

  • Find the closest settings to a ristretto in your machine (either ristretto is pre-programmed, or you’ll have to use the espresso program)
  • Change the settings so that you yield about 15-20ml of espresso
  • Taste and tweak your ristretto coffee until you find a balanced and sweet coffee drink that fits your taste

Making Ristretto With A Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine

coffee machine brewing ristretto

Semi-automatic machines usually won’t have a ristretto brew option. But you can still quite easily make a ristretto shot on a semi-automatic machine.

 Most of the process will look familiar because it’s almost the same as brewing traditional espresso.

Grind 14-16 grams of coffee as fine or a touch finer than you normally would for an espresso.

Load the portafilter and tamp as usual.

Attach the portafilter and begin extraction.

Stop the shot once you have 15-20ml of espresso for a single shot or 25-30ml for a double shot. While this isn’t necessarily an ideal way of brewing ristretto, it still produces a tasty coffee.

Don’t be afraid to tweak the recipe. Each change will give you a slightly different outcome, so it’s worth finding a ristretto recipe on your machine that tastes best to you.

In a nutshell:

  • Grind your beans finer than normal, but keep the same dose of 14-16 grams
  • Once your brew yields 15-20ml, stop the shot

Making Ristretto With A Manual Espresso Machine

Manual espresso machines are ideal for brewing ristretto.  With a manual machine, you control every variable, which gives you enough control to easily make ristretto.

The only things that change when brewing a ristretto on a manual espresso machine are the grind size and coffee yield. Other than those two things, it will look pretty much the same.

These steps assume a double shot of ristretto.

Grind 14-16 grams of coffee finer than you would for regular espresso. The point is to slow down the extraction process to yield a shorter shot.

Load and tamp the portafilter as you would normally.

Begin to pull your shot. Because of the finer grinds, your flow rate should be slower than normal. The slower flow rate is expected and needed to brew ristretto, so don’t panic.

Your ristretto should pull for 25-30 seconds and yield 30-35 grams of espresso.

In a nutshell:

  • Grind your beans finer than normal while maintaining a 14-16 gram dose
  • Keep the same timing for your brew, but your flow rate should be slow
  • With the same parameters, aim for 30-35 grams in 25-30 seconds

Remember: You are “restricting” your espresso shot. Using this method produces a delicious ristretto, but it takes some time to dial in. Don’t be discouraged if your first couple of ristrettos aren’t quite right. Take some time to refine your grind size until you have a ristretto that meets your desired taste.

What Do Ristretto Shots Taste Like?

woman drinking coffee ristretto

Espresso extraction can be broken down into three steps: sour, sweet, and finally bitter. 

Think of it like baking cookies. If you undercook the cookies, you’ll be left with a gooey mess. Overcook them and they’ll be charred and crunchy. Cook them just right, and they’ll be the perfect balance of crisp and chewy.

Those perfectly baked cookies are traditional espresso. It has a good balance, isn’t too bitter, and isn’t too sour.

A ristretto shot is akin to slightly underbaking your cookies to get a little more chewiness and a little less crispiness in your cookies.

A good ristretto will be fuller-bodied, less bitter, and a little more sweet and acidic.

For milk drinks, ristretto shots add a little sweetness without sugar, perfect for cutting back on your sugar intake.

What Coffee Is Best For Ristretto?

Any coffee you use for espresso can be made as ristretto. The principles of brewing are always the same.

If you’re using ristretto shots in milk drinks, your regular coffee will do and will add some subtle changes to your latte or cappuccino.

If you drink your ristretto without milk, trend toward using a lighter roast from a reputable roaster. Bonus points for asking your local barista their thoughts on what coffee works best as ristretto.

Personally, I find that less acidic coffees work really well as ristretto shots. Guatemalan coffees usually have a nice chocolate finish that comes out crisp and syrupy in a ristretto. 

The same is true for many Costa Rican coffees that have a touch of citrus flavor and add a little nuance to a ristretto.

Prefer more acidic coffees from Kenya or Ethiopia? Try dialing in those coffees as ristrettos, you’ll get tasty and punchy espresso shots.

FAQs

You might still have some questions about brewing ristretto. I compiled and answered some of the most common questions below.

Is Ristretto stronger than espresso?

Because ristretto is more concentrated, it will be stronger than normal espresso. But because the extraction is shorter, it will taste sweet and balanced.

Ristrettos are also generally stronger than long shots.

What is an Updosed shot?

An Updosed shot is when you use more grinds to up your ratio. If you normally use 14 grams of ground coffee, adding 16-18 grams instead is considered updosing.

Updosing can make pulling ristretto shots easier by adding some concentration. More ground coffee in the filter means less water gets through to your cup. 

What Is A Blonde Ristretto?

A Blonde Ristretto refers to a Starbucks drink. It is a ristretto espresso shot made with Starbucks’ Blonde Roast.

By using a lighter roast ground coffee, you’ll get a sweeter, more lively flavor in your ristretto shot. Asking for a Blonde Ristretto can be a good way to slightly sweeten your drink.

Final Thoughts

Ristretto shots are great for adding some variety to your espresso habits.

I love ristretto shots as a way to taste new coffees or create new drinks.

By shortening the extraction time by grinding finer, tamping harder, or stopping the shot earlier, you’ll have tasty ristretto in no time.

Try playing with your ristretto shots to pull out different aspects of your coffee.

Happy brewing!

Interested in more delicious coffee drinks? Check out our guide on how to make an Americano, and why it’s more than just a fancy term for regular black coffee.

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Craig Carey
Craig spent a year as a barista in Denver's specialty coffee world. He spends his days rock climbing, cycling, drinking espresso, and hanging around the Rocky Mountains. He still lives in Colorado.