Ristretto Controversy: Is It Semantics or the Coffee?

One thing we know for sure: coffees are not the same, they change with time and it’s hard to apply consistent rules to coffee making. A current discussion this week in the L.A. Weekly about the ristretto exemplifies this statement. The problem is that the drink can either be wonderful or terrible. The reason stems from either a misunderstanding about the term itself, or the fact that only certain coffees bring good results. When done correctly, Seattle Espresso Vivace founder says "The coffee is restricted to the most flavorful part of the shot. This tradition offers the heaviest shot, thickest texture and finest flavor that the coffee has to offer by keeping extraction volume low... it is as thick as honey and can be enjoyed in a single bracing mouthful." It’s hard to say how many coffee shops offer the ristretto on their menus. Possibly it’s not universally offered because the drink defies standardization. For one thing, it shows just how much artistry is called for on the part of the barista. Like an espresso, but much more concentrated, the ristretto (which means “restricted”) can be prepared in more than one way to result in about half the liquid volume of the espresso. It requires knowledge of how fine to grind, the pressure adjustment, the length of the pull, the correct amount of water to use, and the appropriate coffees to use. A Google search showed that many baristas won’t make ristrettos because they have to readjust the grinder to finer grind and it’s not worth it since they don’t get a lot of requests. After all, to many baristas it results in such a small amount, they have to restrain themselves not to put in extra water. But the problem appears to be that the barista has to know his coffee in depth, because only some will pass the “restriction” with flavor and body intact. The conclusion seems to be that there really is no place for this “restricted” espresso shot – unless of course, you happen to be in Italy. It’s too geeky for most coffee consumers. There’s just no explaining those that want such a short shot. After all, one swallow and it’s gone. If it’s just the jolt they want, there are probably easier and cheaper options. Even so, if the ristretto idea intrigues you, you can get one at Seattle’s Espresso Vivace. Not in Seattle? CoffeeKind features this roaster’s coffees, so you can try it at home if you dare!

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