Two different names, two different drinks, but they have so much in common. Espresso and ristretto – how do they resemble and differ from each other?
One ristretto please …
In cafés, the relatively popular ristretto, often incorrectly referred to as piccolo, is essentially a “smaller espresso”. It is prepared from the same amount of ground coffee, in the same lever, at the same temperature and pressure as espresso. The only difference is in the length of the extraction, which can be shortened in various ways.
Depending on the café or barista, the volume of ristretto coffee can be from 15 to 25 ml. In terms of volume, ristretto is the smallest possible coffee you can prepare in the espresso machine. Due to its small volume, many cafes offer only a double ristretto, or use it as a base for cappuccino, latte or flat white milk coffees.
Ristretto vs Espresso
The biggest and most important difference between espresso and ristretto is in the taste. Since various flavour and aromatic compounds are secreted in the individual stages of coffee extraction, a fine sweetness first enters the coffee beverage, followed by fruitiness and acidity, and finally bitterness.
In the most common way of preparing ristretto coffee, the extraction time is simply shortened, so that the ristretto is then very pronounced in the taste, with protruding sweet tones and more pronounced acidity. In the case of dark roasted mixtures, the bitterness can also be much more pronounced in the taste. The ristretto is also distinctive in its colour, which is rich and reminiscent of dark nuts or nougat. If prepared correctly, the ristretto also excels with its high to creamy density.
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A fairly common question is whether ristretto is a stronger coffee than espresso. Definitely yes in the taste and expressiveness of individual tones. Ristretto is basically a concentrated espresso. However, in terms of the amount of caffeine, ristretto is weaker due to the shorter extraction, i.e. it contains less caffeine than espresso.
There are several ways to prepare ristretto coffee
In practice, we can meet with several ways of preparation.
The most common, and probably the best way to prepare ristretto coffee is to work with a shorter extraction. Both the grinding and the batch of coffee in the coffee machine lever are the same as for espresso, but the extraction ends much earlier. Ristretto extraction is switched off between approximately 15 and 20 seconds, which is reflected in the full taste and strong sweetness and acidity of the coffee taste. Since such coffee is prepared for a shorter time, substances which carry various nutty or chocolate tones no longer enter the final beverage.
The basis of the second method of preparation is the finer grinding of coffee. In this case, the coffee is ground even finer than for espresso, which slows down or shortens the entire extraction. So during the usual 30 seconds, the full volume of espresso (approx. 25-30 ml) will not flow into the cup, but only about 20 ml of it.
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However, the disadvantage of this method is laboriousness, as frequent adjustment of the grinder is required. Therefore, it is sometimes a custom to replace finer grinding with a larger amount of coffee in the lever, and the result and extraction are similar. In this way, coffee tends to slowly drip from the lever outlet. Here, however, there is a relatively high risk of coffee burning, as the temperature accumulates in the coffee machine head due to hot water standing.
The third method of preparing ristretto coffee consists in a stronger compression of the coffee in the lever of the coffee machine, thanks to which the coffee puck remains much more impermeable and thus puts more resistance to water. As a result, the whole extraction slows down slightly, but only slightly.
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Currently, the trend in the preparation of ristretto coffee is experimentation, i.e. finding the ideal combination of grinding thickness, water ratio and temperature and extraction length for a given coffee, in order to ensure the best possible taste and aroma of the resulting beverage.
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