Long Shot vs Ristretto: Which Espresso Suits Your Taste?

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Coffee shop menus just keep getting more complicated. Just when you finally figured out espresso, lattes, and cappuccinos, they start adding new options like long shots and ristretto! Don’t worry, we’re here to help you understand what you’ll get when you order these new drinks. Let’s turn that apprehension into excitement!

A long shot, or lungo, is made like espresso but with more water. A long shot is weaker and more bitter than espresso. Ristretto, meaning “restricted” in Italian, uses less water than espresso. Ristrettos are sweeter and more concentrated than regular espresso.

In this article, we’ll explore the differences in flavor and consistency between a long shot vs ristretto vs espresso. I’ll even tell you how you can make long shots and ristrettos at home.

Quick Comparison: Long Shot vs Ristretto

Long ShotRistretto
Pull time60 seconds15 seconds
FlavorMild, bitter, aromaticSweet, fruity
Volume1.5 ounces0.4 ounces
Caffeine contentMore total (less per ounce)Less total (more per ounce)

What is Espresso?

Long shot and ristretto are kinds of espresso, so let’s start with a quick recap of espresso itself.

Making two shots of espresso, the drink that both ristretto and long shots are based on.

An espresso is a concentrated coffee shot brewed by forcing pressurized water through compacted, finely ground coffee beans. The near-boiling water passes through the almost non-existent gaps between the grounds and extracts its rich coffee flavor into a small drink called a shot.

This brewing process is called the pull of the shot, a name that stems from the process of pulling the lever on a manual espresso machine. The pull time, then, is how long water is kept in contact with the coffee grounds. That will be important later.

Even if you aren’t familiar with espresso, you should be familiar with some of the drinks made with it. Espresso is the base for the ever-popular cappuccino and latte, along with dozens of other espresso drinks. These drinks are made by augmenting the espresso with milk or other additives.

However, a splash of milk is not the only way to spice up your espresso shot. We can also manipulate the extraction process, tweaking the flavor and strength to create ristrettos and long shots.

What is Ristretto?

A shot of ristretto, a sweeter alternative to espresso

Ristretto is a short shot of highly concentrated espresso. Its brewing process is the same as a traditional espresso and it uses the same amount of ground coffee. However, less water is used and there is a shorter extraction time.

In Italian, ristretto means “restricted,” referring to the fact that we restrict the brewing process before it would otherwise complete. This is done by using a shorter pull time than a traditional espresso.

Ristretto vs Espresso

  • Ristrettos have a shorter pull time. A ristretto shot extracts for about 15 seconds, while a regular espresso requires a pull time between 25 and 30 seconds.
  • Ristrettos are smaller. A ristretto shot has a smaller volume than the standard serving size of espresso since less water is used in the brewing process. Generally, a ristretto shot is about 0.4 ounces (12 milliliters), while an espresso shot is about 1 ounce (30 milliliters).
  • Ristrettos are sweeter. Sweet compounds are some of the first to be extracted from grounds, whereas bitter compounds take longer. Because ristrettos don’t end up extracting these later compounds, a ristretto tastes like a sweeter version of a regular espresso. And because of the lower water content, they have a stronger, more concentrated flavor.
  • Ristrettos are stronger. Ristrettos have a higher caffeine density than regular espresso, but they have less caffeine overall because there is much less water. The decreased caffeine content is because caffeine takes longer to extract than most other compounds in coffee grounds.

What is a Long Shot Espresso?

A long shot of espresso, which is larger and more bitter than regular espresso

A long shot, or espresso lungo (or just lungo), is an espresso-like drink made with more water than a standard espresso shot but the same number of grams of coffee. Its brewing process is exactly the same as that of an espresso except the extraction is allowed to run for longer and more water flows through during the process.

Long shot vs espresso

  • Long shots have a longer pull time. Long shots are allowed to extract for about 60 seconds, compared to a 25–30 second extraction time for espresso.
  • Long shots are larger. Long shots are brewed with more water, so their final volume is larger than an espresso but smaller than a double shot. They contain about 1.75 ounces (50 milliliters) compared to 1 ounce (30 milliliters) for espresso.
  • Long shots are more bitter. A long shot tastes more bitter than a traditional espresso because it has more time to grab the slower-extracting bitter compounds from the grounds. Despite the added bitterness, a long shot is not as intense as a regular espresso because of the extra water.
  • Long shots are weaker. Long shots have slightly more caffeine than regular espresso, but they have a lower caffeine density because of all the extra water. The difference in total caffeine is small, but it does account for some of the added bitterness.

How to Make a Ristretto vs Long Shot at Home

You can get both of these drinks in a coffee shop, but they are also relatively easy to brew at home. It’s more convenient, faster, and cheaper than Starbucks.

All you need is a working espresso machine and your favorite espresso beans. The process will depend on what type of espresso machine you own (manual, semi-automatic, or fully automatic). We’ll be covering how to brew an espresso in each type below.

How to Brew Using a Manual Espresso Machine

A manual espresso machine, showing the lever used to operate it

As the name suggests, manual espresso machines take a bit of work before you can get your coffee. It also requires skills to get the right speed and pressure when pulling the lever. Here’s how to use one.

  1. Remove the portafilter from the machine. Make sure the surface is dry and clean before placing the finely-ground coffee beans. Doing so ensures that the extraction process has not begun. 
  2. Fill the portafilter with coffee grounds and tamp it down. Compacting the grounds allows water to run through evenly.
  3. Lock the portafilter back in its place. Make sure the tool is sealed tight into the head to avoid accidents and any pressure from escaping.
  4. Push the lever down. The pressure forces hot water through the grounds, so the speed of your push is crucial. Just don’t be discouraged if you don’t make your espresso perfectly with one try.
    1. Vary your lever push. Once you perfect the speed of pushing the lever, you can adjust the push to get a ristretto or a long shot of espresso. You want to aim for about 15 seconds for a ristretto or 60 seconds for a long shot.

How to Brew Using a Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine

A high-end semi-automatic espresso machine with a digital display

If you don’t feel like pushing down a lever every time you want an espresso, then a semi-automatic espresso machine is a must-try for you. You only need to follow these steps when brewing with a semi-automatic model.

  1. Remove the portafilter carefully. Remember that most semi-automatic models may not be as durable as manual espresso machines, so be careful when handling its components. Also, ensure that the surface of the portafilter is clean and dry before use.
  2. Fill the portafilter with coffee grounds and tamp it down. Place your finely-ground coffee beans into the portafilter and compact them in place with a coffee tamper. With your coffee grounds becoming denser, water runs through its gaps and extracts flavors better.
  3. Lock the portafilter back in its place. Seal the portafilter to the machine’s head tightly to prevent pressure leakage and accidents.
  4. Start the brew process. Unlike manual espresso machines, semi-automatic ones do not use a lever to force hot water through the grounds. Pull time (and usually water volume) are controlled through dials or buttons if they are adjustable.

Keep in mind that not every semi-automatic espresso machine will let you vary the pull time. You should be fine with most mid-range espresso machines (like the ones in my best espresso machine review). However, budget espresso machines don’t have as many of these more advanced options.

How to Brew Using an Automatic Espresso Machine

A super-automatic espresso machine, the easiest espresso makers to use

You do not have to be an expert when it comes to brewing your espresso at home. There is an option to buy an automatic espresso machine (or the related Nespresso capsule espresso machines) that do most of the work for you. All you have to do is follow these steps, and you’re good to go.

  1. Fill the water reservoir. When pouring water, use only the intended capacity for your machine to avoid spillage or over-capacity issues.
  2. Place coffee beans (or coffee pods) in the compartment. Most automatic espresso machines take whole coffee beans instead of grounds. The exception, of course, are pod espresso machines that take vacuum-sealed capsules filled with coffee grounds.
  3. Press the correct buttons and wait. Automatic espresso machines do everything from preparing the ground to measuring the water to filling up your cup of coffee. The specifics will depend on your model, but any of these drinks should only take a couple of button presses.
    1. Try out different coffee drinks. Some machines, like the Nespresso Lattissima Pro, have one-touch options for a ristretto, a long shot, and several other espresso drinks.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is ristretto stronger than espresso?

In terms of caffeine content, ristrettos have less caffeine overall, but they have more caffeine per ounce than espresso. In terms of flavor, ristrettos do have a stronger, sweeter taste than other espresso sizes.

Does a long espresso contain more caffeine than a short one?

Longer extractions do pull more caffeine from espresso grounds. Since long espresso uses a longer pull, has more caffeine than regular shots or ristretto. However, long shots also have more water, so their caffeine-per-ounce is actually lower than espresso or ristretto.

Espresso: Ristretto, Long Shot, or Traditional? 

Espresso is not as simple as most people think. There is a lot of science in every shot and even a slight change in the process affects the bitterness and flavor of your coffee. That’s why becoming a home barista is so exciting!

Of course, espresso is just one coffee brewing method. If you’re looking for other ways to tweak the flavor of your coffee, cold brew is a trend worth jumping on, and you can even make nitro cold brew at home. Or you could try out my personal favorite high-quality (and super cheap) coffee brewer: the AeroPress.

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