Espresso vs Ristretto – Which Tastes Better?

* This post may contain affiliate links. When you buy through links on my site, I may earn an affiliate commission. *

Coffee is a popular drink that can be drunk hot or cold and in many variations. If you’re a coffee fanatic like us, then the chances are that you’ve heard of espresso and ristretto. 

Ristretto and espresso are two types of coffee drinks with similar but different flavors. However, what is the difference between espresso vs ristretto? Which one tastes better? Scroll down to learn more about them!

Espresso vs Ristretto – A Detailed Comparison

Let’s take a closer look at the difference between the two coffees based on various aspects!

Overview

Espresso is an aromatic, strong form of coffee that tastes stronger than regular brewed Cafe Latte. 

The process of making espresso begins when pressurized hot water flows through finely-ground coffee beans. This forced infusion results in a stronger brew topped off by crema, which is made from air bubbles that combine with soluble oils in ground coffee. The espresso tastes rich and complex, thanks to this crema!

The flavor profile of espresso is derived from the same plant as coffee; the process of growing, processing & roasting it is the same as typical coffee. Any roast and origin coffee will work for making an excellent shot of espresso!

The one thing that sets espresso apart from coffee is the bean treatments and the grind. The beans are force-ground to a finer consistency than their counterpart before being packed tightly together, using an espresso machine which results in richly textured shots. 

Then, the rich, deep aroma of freshly ground coffee beans mixed with roasted barley. It tastes as good as it smells–a powerful rush that leaves you feeling invigorated and satisfied in equal measure.

Meanwhile, ristretto is a “shorter” version of an espresso. It has less water and so makes for a smaller but still delicious drink! Depending on what policies your barista follows in making ristrettos, the drink will be anywhere between 15ml-25ml.

The smaller measure of water used in this concoction, along with its shorter brewing times, means that every sip pack’s intensely powerful caffeine hits without weighing you down as some regular espressos might. In particular, ristretto focuses on those more “aromatic” aspects of espresso preparation, such as leaving some floral and higher notes intact.

Espresso is much more popular than its cousin- ristretto, as ristretto provides less intense stimulation than the other. 

Coffee To Water Ratio

Ristretto is made with a one-to-one coffee-to-water ratio, which makes it more concentrated than typical espresso. While both beverages have equal amounts of caffeinated goodness, ristretto has less time under pressure during extraction that reflects in its stronger-tasting.

On the other hand, the ratio for espresso should be 1:2, meaning there will only be about half as much liquid in comparison with ristrettos that require a longer time of extraction.

The Process To Make

The process of making coffee is similar in both these beverages; they each use a similar technique of forcing hot brewed liquid via finely grounded beans with high pressure. The first step is to grind the coffee beans and pack them in the portafilter. Next, you tamp down on them with your tamping tool before putting them back onto the espresso machine for pulling an excellent cup of Joe!

The ristretto process reduces water volume by half, which in turn speeds up extraction time. That’s why this type of coffee may have more sweetness compared to other types, but it also leads to an intense taste that can be appreciated even by those who don’t usually drink sweetened drinks!

For the espresso, you need to let your water steep for a while so that it can pick up all those bitter flavors.

Apart from the water volume and time, other steps in their making process are the same. You can make your own espresso or ristretto using an espresso maker or espresso machine.

Extraction Time

What makes these two beverages so different? They’re extracted at different times! For those who are using a manual machine to make the two beverages- mastering the time of extraction will be essential!

In order to get an espresso, you need a longer brew time than for the ristretto. The key thing is knowing how long your desired extraction time should be and then making sure that this matches up with whichever type of coffee maker or machine you have at home.

Ristretto is a short shot, typically 10-15 seconds in length for extraction. Meanwhile, Espresso takes 20-30 seconds to make – it requires double for extraction.

Flavors

With any coffee type, the flavor is what will hook you in and leave an impression. If it doesn’t taste good, then none of its other traits matter to us at all!

Ristretto and espresso may be the same drink, but their flavor profiles vary depending on what you put in them. The ratio between coffee to water as well as extraction time can affect how strong or bold a given cup of this caffeinated goodness will taste!

A cup of espresso is like drinking the dark side. It’s earthier and more bitter than other coffees, but it also has some nice cocoa flavors that really bring out chocolate in your drink-toast!

That rich, aromatic smell of freshly brewed espresso is what many people are craving. The rich, creamy texture paired with chocolate makes espresso one of the most popular types among drinkers worldwide! 

With their inviting aroma and smooth finish, espressos are a popular choice among coffee drinkers. The crema on top of an espresso shot provides chocolate hints with other flavors like marzipan or creaminess that make for great drinks!

Espresso may not have the floral notes of a coffee prepared differently, but those will manifest in different ways against an earthier background and risk getting lost.

Then, how about the flavor of ristretto? 

Ristretto shares some of the same qualities that make espresso so special, but it does not go through as much water or pressure. As a result, you get an earthy flavor with just enough sweetness on top! The more delicate and floral the coffee, the less bitter it tastes. In the case of ristretto, the aromatic flavors of chocolate or earthiness are replaced with a beautiful bouquet that is never overpowering in this brew!

The smell of this drink will lead you into a world where herbal notes play alongside floral and dark fruit. On your tongue, expect these flavors with a strong emphasis on the herbs instead of any other type – but don’t worry: there’s still some sweetness to enjoy!

Caffeine Levels

The more you know about caffeine, the better off your morning will be. How strong of a kick do different coffees provide? With so many options available and tons to think about- just remember this: espresso has higher levels than other types such as ristretto or cappuccino!

Espresso is a powerful drink with the power to wake you up in just one sip. A single espresso contains 29-100 milligrams (caffeine), while double shots obtain 58 -185mg!

Ristretto is the perfect drink for those who want to enjoy some coffee but not be too caffeinated. It has less caffeine than espresso, contains around 33 mg of it per ounce (20ml), and lasts longer since you only need one or two ounces instead of three-quarters like with typical cups/mugs that come with standard sizes in America.

Yet, the caffeine volume per serving of both ristretto and espresso is always less than in drip coffee.

Ideal Serving

Serving your coffee the right way will give you a more enjoyable experience.

Ristretto is an excellent drink, but if not made correctly with all of its rich flavors, then it can become overwhelming to some people’s taste buds and stomachs. It’s even better when you serve them the right way.

The similarities of these beverages often lead to them being served in the same cup types. Yet, the ristretto is usually only offered as a small cup-the type of which can vary depending on how it’s ordered and what kind you get at your local café or tea house. 

This order can vary depending on what kind you get, but most places serve them in either an 8-ounce cup with four shots (otherwise known as quadratic).

In some areas, espressos are served small cups with an espresso spoon and coffee mug for milk, while others still prefer to have them shot from tiny glasses or goblets called “Cortes” (Portuguese).

Espresso: Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • Served in a bigger size
  • Popular
  • Nice crema
  • Stronger flavors
Cons:

  • Bitter

Ristretto: Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • Less bitter
  • More concentrated
  • Shorter extraction time
  • Less caffeine
Cons:

  • Served in a smaller size
  • Sweeter

Espresso Vs Ristretto – Which Is Better?

The best coffee will be based on personal tastes. 

If you’re looking for an easy-drinking form of espresso, then ristretto might be just what you need! A ristretto is more lovely and refreshing with a bold sweetness that’s perfect as a transition from drinks like lattes or cappuccinos.

What is it about espresso that makes this a more complex and enjoyable drink? With the balance of flavors, you can get hints of bitterness or chocolate. What do we mean by “balance” exactly? It means there is no flavor dominant over another–they’re evenly muddled together to give off an amazing overall taste experience!

Conclusion

So, espresso vs ristretto – Which one is better? 

Espresso is typically served in small cups. It has a strong flavor with an intense aroma that comes from the release of oils on the surface of the coffee beans during roasting and extraction. On the flip side, ristretto takes longer to be roasted, so it ends up having higher levels of caffeine, as well as fuller body tones because it retains some sugar from the beans’ natural sugars. 

Therefore, the best coffee will be decided based on personal preference!

Almost 20 years already spent committed to coffee and more than 3 years of experience as a barista at Starbucks. I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutritional Science from the University of California, Berkeley. And then, I finished the Coffee Skills Program at the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA). ugvermont.com is a website that I dedicate my whole heart to sharing all knowledge related to coffee. Read more