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Ristretto


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#1 fredbram

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Posted 24 November 2003 - 10:45 AM

So, a ristretto is a shot that is restricted. It seems like different people have different ways of causing the restriction. Ideally, should the grind be finer or the tamping firmer or both or something else? And, while we're at it, what is the desired result? Should it be sweeter, less bitter, more concentrated?
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#2 phaelon56

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Posted 24 November 2003 - 01:27 PM

Yes... a restricted pull. It has been scientificaly proven over many years with much testing by people far smarter than I (not hard to do!) that certain parts of the espresso production process should remain relatively fixed, e.g. brewing water temp, length of time for pulling the shot, tamping pressure and weight of beans.

The amount of liquid in a standard shot is typically assumed to be 1 to 1.25 oz in total with a weight of 7 grams and a pull time of 22-30 seconds. Recommended tamp pressure is approximately 30 pounds (practice tamping on a bathroom scale to get a feel for what level of pressure is needed).

Why the long winded explanation? The elusive process of pulling great espresso shots time and time again is one of controlling variables. Starting with a good batch of fresh roasted beans and having adjusted the grinder initially for the bean type and roast level (blend, bean type, roast level, elapsed time since roasting and ambient humidity all affect the grind level needed but once it's established for a given batch of beans, few if any grinder adjustments are needed). The easiest variables to control are the beans, the tamp, the temp and the time (assuming good equipment and a bit of practice). This leaves the grind as the one thing that is easy to adjust.

Just grind a bit finer and leave all other variables the same when shooting for a ristretto. You'll probably find that the espresso now dribbles and sort of pours out in a syrupy fashion (akin to flowing honey) rather than flowing as rapidly as it does for a standard shot. Typically, most folks use a double basket to make ristretto shots and aim for a liquid volume of about 1 oz to 1.25 oz. This is the fluid volume total after the crema has settled. If you're not getting the "Guiness effect" with an initial abundance of crema that settles down to about a 1/4 "head".... back off from ristretto shots and work on the basics elements of a shot.

Mine go as high as 1.5 oz but if properly made, a ristretto shot will usually be sweeter and more intense than a regular espresso shot. Rather than being more bitter - it's the opposite. Some blends lend themselves to this better than others. An espresso blend that has a bit of an acid bite or undertone, ideal for cutting through the milk in lattes, may be less suitable for ristretto shots than a blend optimized for consumption as straight espresso.

IMHO, ristretto shots have a less noticeable advantage in milk drinks than they do in drinking straight shots but I still do them as my favored latte cup is a 6 oz stainless steel job. I do a 1.5 oz ristretto and then add 3 parts frothed milk to finish the drink.

Hey..... are the times, weights etc. listed above some sort of golden rule than canot be violated? No, they are basic guidelines. Depending on portafilter size (both diameter and also what type/brand of basket), espresso machine type etc., these are fluid numbers but the idea is to establish a consistency to your process. It quickly becomes second nature and if all the variables are reasonably well controlled, one needs only adjust the grind under most circumstances and good results will quickly follow.

Lower end machines and/or grinders may have troubel producing ristrettos or at least doing it consistently. The traditional double or single shots are time proven as tasty and delicious but it is fun to experiment with ristrettos.

I find it interesting that "Gimme! Coffee", a small regional microroaster and cafe operation in Ithaca NY standardizes on double ristrettos for all drinks. They have the best and most consistent espressp that I've tried anywhere on the east coast and take the art of espresso very seriously (Schomer modifications on their La Marzocco's, daily and thorough cleaning of grinders, stringent process control for steaming/frothing the milk, through employee training etc.). I have to think that if these guys have standardized on ristretto shots it's for a good reason.

#3 slkinsey

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Posted 24 November 2003 - 01:47 PM

For another perspective... I differ with our well-informed host on this one. I think the idea that a ristretto shot is made by adjusting the grind finer is an American, coffeegeek.com-inspired one. Personally I go by what I observe in Italian bars as practiced by experienced barriste. I don't think it makes sense to take an Italian coffee term and change it so that a "real ristretto" is something different from what they do in Italy.

In Italy, there is no adjusting the grind because the coffee is pre-ground into the doser. The only difference I can discern when I order un caffe ristretto is that they run around 1/3 less water into the cup. This manages to produce all the characteristics (thicker, richer, etc.) one desires in a ristretto shot. If there are certain grind adjustments of the grind one needs to make in order to compensate for the limitations of home machines, that should IMO be noted.
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#4 Craig Camp

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Posted 24 November 2003 - 02:21 PM

I'll go with Owen's very concise explanation. Most regular bars in Italy cheat and don't make a real ristretto, but simply a caffe corto. In the bars here in our town and almost everywhere else in Italy they serve caffe corto as a matter of course so you don't see many people order ristretto - in fact I have never heard anyone order one.

Great explanation Owen.
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#5 slkinsey

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Posted 24 November 2003 - 03:17 PM

Hmm... I've heard people order ristretto, although admittedly not terribly often. If what you say is true, then no bar in Italy of which I am aware sells what you and Owen would call a "caffe ristretto." My knowledge of Italian bars is not encyclopedic, of course, but I do have coffee around 5 times a day whenever in Italy so I think I have a fairly good feel for the lay of the land. Can you think of any bar in Italy that adjusts its grind on the fly for ristretto shots? If so, I want to go there.

I'm curious whether you think most, or many Italians would differentiate between caffe corto ("short coffee") and caffe ristretto ("restricted coffee")? Or might it perhaps be the case that certain bars serve all their coffee ristretto and others normale? If the latter case is true, then the "adjusting the grind" definition would make more sense to me, as the bar's grinders would simply be calibrated a bit finer than normal.

Some places in Italy -- and I can't remember exactly where -- also ask whether you want your coffee liscio, which I remember thinking was strange.
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#6 phaelon56

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Posted 24 November 2003 - 03:32 PM

Not having been fortunate enough (yet) to travel in Italy, my knoweldge and perspective is gained from the way a ristretto is understod and produced by better cafes here in the US (there are precious few but fortunately the number is growing).

Looking at it from a logical standpoint alone, using less water (i.e. a shorter pull) will indeed yield a reduced amount of fluid but not a true restricted pull. I can personally vouch that the taste, appearance and mouthfeel of a properly produced ristretto shot is distinctly different from that of a standard shot.

Perhaps the Italian bars already produce a ristretto style shot by default and therefore simply offer a short shot when asked for a ristretto? I'm not qualified to answer that. Grinding to fill or partly fill the doser is a common practice both here and in Italy. Espresso coffee is so ingrained in their culture that the grounds in the doser may be no more than 5 - 10 minutes old. Here in the US during the day.... when the morning rush is over.... the grounds in that doser may have been sitting around for an hour or two on a slow day. Try making an espresso shot from two hour or three hour old grounds that are covered but not in an airtight container. Now make a shot from absolutely fresh grounds. Even the less discerning among us will notice a difference (I place myself in that group more often than not) - the fresh ground is markedly superior.

The better US cafes are now using timers attached to grinders that produce a standard weight of grounds for each time the grind button is pressed. The sticklers and artisans among this group will still swear by hand tamping even in busy environments. A compromise that is highly acceptable to my way of thinking is the

La Marzocco Swift Grinder

It has a dual bin allowing both decaf and regular to be ground in the same machine. It grinds an exact dose every time directly into the portafilter and automatically tamps to the exact specified pressure. Also very kewl is the fact that one can adjust the grind in minute increments on the fly to produce American style ristretto shots. Now all I need is $4500..... :wacko:

I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that some very savvy baristas actually allow the first little bit of a pour to go into the drip tray and then stick the demitasse or pitcher under the spout. After that, the pull is stopped just as the "mouse-tail" of dribbling espresso starts to go tan/blond and the "tiger'striping" of crema has slowed down. This technique will also yield a shot that is lower in fluid volume for obvious reasons although the same grind setting is used. Doing this addresses the issue of underextracted espresso at the start of the pull and overextracted at the end of the pull. Both under and over extraction can have negative impact on the quality of the shot but I'll start a separate thread to discuss shot timing etc. if you all are amenable to that.

#7 Craig Camp

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Posted 24 November 2003 - 09:45 PM

Hmm... I've heard people order ristretto, although admittedly not terribly often. If what you say is true, then no bar in Italy of which I am aware sells what you and Owen would call a "caffe ristretto." My knowledge of Italian bars is not encyclopedic, of course, but I do have coffee around 5 times a day whenever in Italy so I think I have a fairly good feel for the lay of the land. Can you think of any bar in Italy that adjusts its grind on the fly for ristretto shots? If so, I want to go there.

I'm curious whether you think most, or many Italians would differentiate between caffe corto ("short coffee") and caffe ristretto ("restricted coffee")? Or might it perhaps be the case that certain bars serve all their coffee ristretto and others normale? If the latter case is true, then the "adjusting the grind" definition would make more sense to me, as the bar's grinders would simply be calibrated a bit finer than normal.

Some places in Italy -- and I can't remember exactly where -- also ask whether you want your coffee liscio, which I remember thinking was strange.

5 times A DAY! Un vero uomo!

I draw the line at 2 maybe 3 unless I want to post on eGullet all night.

The bars I frequent are hardly gourmet spots so I am not surprised to never hear someone order a ristretto.

In general I find Italians a lot less concerned about these things than we are - as long as they get a good caffe. So no, I think most Italians would not differentiate between caffe corto ("short coffee") and caffe ristretto - even though there technically is a difference. Corto has become the standard and is generally what you get if you just order 'caffe'. I have had true ristretto, but it has always been at a particularly careful and serious place. Ristretto made from exceptional coffee is often taken without sugar as an Amaro like digestivo.

Caffe lisco just means coffee only - no milk or grappa. Kind of like ordering your coffee 'black' in the USA - as many people take a splash of milk.
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#8 phaelon56

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Posted 25 November 2003 - 06:38 AM

Asking for a ristretto in most US cafes will yield a blank stare and a "Whaaaaa?" from the barista. I asked for one at The Smelly Cat Coffeehouse in Charlotte NC (nice little place - terrible coffee). When I advised the barista thatit could be made by grinding finer he said (I swear this is true) "Our grinder has only one setting - we can't do that."

The "double espresso" that he subsequently served me in a wretched styrofoam cup had about 6 oz of liquid. yes that's right - each single shot was a whopping 3 oz! Needless to say.... I didn't finish that drink and I have yet to ask for a ristretto in another cafe (I'll wait until I get back to Seattle).

I'm perfectly hapy to leave my ristretto consumtion for home. I just wish I could get a good regular double shot in more places than it is currently available.

#9 arkestra

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Posted 25 November 2003 - 04:25 PM

Asking for a ristretto in most US cafes will yield a blank stare and a "Whaaaaa?" from the barista.

I know the feeling. I simply ask for them to make it short and hold my thumb and index finger slightly apart to demonstrate. Once in a while, someone will respond by saying: "Ah, a ristretto." That's a hopeful sign, but the results usually disappoint.

I know one person who asks places to make him a double, but run it like they're making a single.

#10 phaelon56

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Posted 25 November 2003 - 07:04 PM

The better places that I'm fortunate enough to run into on occasion seem to have standardized on doubles - singles are not offered. I think it's better that way.

There's still a need for education - better espresso costs more to produce for a variety of reasons including such issues as La Marzocco's "triple" basket, which if used with the appropriate amount of grounds, consumes about 21 or 22 grams for a double shot (compared to the 7 grams per single shot that SCAA and others specify and is likely the amount that folks like 'bucks use).

#11 challah-baker

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Posted 26 November 2003 - 12:23 PM

My experience with Ristretto is from Geneva, where they "pull it short" e.g. they use less water. The result is that it is more syrupy and concentrated. I used to have to go there a lot for work and it was the only part of Geneva I really liked. I also get very blank stares trying to order them here....

#12 m(a)ce

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Posted 29 November 2003 - 01:02 PM

Great discussion going on guys. . .You all are touching on key elements.
I've been making coffee in busy retail coffeebar environment for nearly 10 years, travelled and tasted lots of (mostly bad) coffee and done the SCAA thing. I think that the devil is truly in the details when making good espresso --> the variables and a coffeemaker's ability to acknowledge/adjust to conditions is clutch. Temperature (group handle, head, tank), pressure, cleanliness/seasoning, grind (fineness, freshness), blend/coffee (body, acidity, roast, freshness), etc are the minutia that separate swill from sweetness.

I think its good to look at the classsic espresso machines that a lot of us started on (or still be using) that are manual. When you actually "pull shots" (via a lever) vs. pushing a button on a semi or full auto machine.

My thoughts about the ristretto would be that it makes the barista focus on stopping the shop in a timely manner to avoid over-extraction of the coffee and getting the bitterness associated with the color change towards the end of the extraction (when the espresso gets light carmel in color).

At our cafe we are currently using two 4-group Cimbali's and rancillio grinders. With our machines we can set the volume of water for each head. I would say that good coffee is relative to your personal preference. I think that any single shot of espresso over 1 ounce is too much for me and negatively impacts the taste. We have even set our machine to have our "normal" shot to run as a volumetrically shorter shot (a little more than 3/4 ounce) and our "short shot" button to run slightly less than that. To me (with our blend & equipment) it really provides a "sweet" rounded flavor. Its important to remember that we're all speaking relative to our tools and raw materials not to mention tastes.

I think that a couple more forum post ideas would be: espresso blends (straight esp. vs. milk+esp drinks), machine maintenance/calibration and adjusting the grind (avoiding over/underextraction). Glad to see that I'm not the only coffee ninja in this dojo.

#13 phaelon56

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Posted 01 December 2003 - 08:16 AM

Great to see you here m(a)ce. We'll really value your insights as a professional. I'm just a hobbyist but watch the commercial scene closely with great interest. You tuch on so many issues that are critical and haven't even entered into the discussion yet - maintenance, cleaning etc. Unlike some, I'm not a LaMarzocco bigot. Admittedly they make great machines but one can just as easily produce lousy shots on an LM as with other machines.

If I walk into a cafe and see the portafilter handle sitting on the counter I don't even bother ordering an espresso (in Ireland I only found one cafe where they left the portafilter in the machine to retain temp but they still made horrible espresso).

I'll be happy to start a thread on espresso blends for milk based drinks vs. straight espresso shots but wil have to rely on the experience of others for input - my blending experience is very limited.