The Ristretto: The Lame Duck of Coffee
This is the title of a recent article in the LA Weekly. It is both an insightful and obtuse piece at the same time. The author points out that there is no real consensus of what a ristretto exactly means.
The author is right that there is no perfect consensus of what a ristretto is. It is certainly a restricted shot where you allow less water to flow through the coffee than you would for a normale. The problem is not that there is not a consensus on what a ristretto is, but that there is no consensus on what a normale is. People talk about pulling a shot of espresso usually by volume, but that is meaningless if the two blends or machines produce different quantities of crema in the shot. For that matter when do you measure the shot you pulled anyway – right after you pull it or a few seconds later when some of the crema has collapsed and the volume has decreased so even a single shot is not the same volume as itself.
The better way to measure is by weight and then you can reasonably compare shots from one machine or blend to another. Once you can do that you can talk about reducing the weight to get a ristretto.
Even so, though, there is no perfect ratio of coffee to weight for a normale, just good guidelines so a small normale versus a large ristretto is a blurry line.
A ristretto is a more concentrated shot so a little more of the body and flavor is there at the cost of a little balance. They taste great when done well, but should not replace a normale as the only type of shot we pull because some nuance is usually lost.
All in all, though, I was pleased to see such an in depth discussion of coffee with a focus on quotes from really good baristas at really good shops!
By the way, the title was still a bit unclear to me until the closing quote…
“Until then, the ristretto seems to be the lame duck of coffee drinks: in an exalted position with a power that exists in theory but maybe not so much in reality”
What do you think is the ristretto overrated?