Why not a ristretto?

Want to talk espresso but not sure which forum? If so, this is the right one.
psycho_supreme

#1: Post by psycho_supreme » Jun 12, 2007, 1:49 pm

Hey guys,

Probably my first in-depth post here, I'm usually hangin' on the cg forums, but sometimes you need a second opinion!

Theres something I just really need to get to the bottom of. Whats the point of a straight, weak shot of espresso, or a lungo shot? Why isn't everybody striving to pull the gloppy, thick, flavor-exploding ristretto?

I mean, not only does this pour look absolutely fantastic, and taste fantastic, it IS fantastic!

I was originally thinking of making this a longer post, but I have decided to leave it there for now....

Feedback guys?

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another_jim
Team HB

#2: Post by another_jim » Jun 12, 2007, 4:07 pm

It's different horses for different courses. Ristrettos tend to be sweeter and mellower tasting than regular shots. This suits traditional espresso blends of medium or medium-dark roasted heavy bodied beans. If the blend's flavor is from lighter roasted washed or otherwise light bodied, acidic and aromatic beans, ristrettos tend to muffle the point of the blend. In Italy, the shots tend to get shorter as one goes south, to go along with the darker roasts and heavier bodied beans.

Think I'll pull myself a nice ristretto Harar.
Jim Schulman

psycho_supreme

#3: Post by psycho_supreme » Jun 12, 2007, 5:22 pm

single origin ristretto?

I've been taught to stay away from single origin espresso as the brewing process is too complex to display the qualities of a single origin. I've learned, or so I thought, to stick with a blend, unless of course your using a single origin with multiple roast levels blended in?

Whats the story Jim?

bcquinn1

#4: Post by bcquinn1 » Jun 12, 2007, 5:27 pm

I think ristrettos can be very limiting, and in many instances, are often compensating for poor green quality. Or, put differently, ristrettos often compensate for darker roasts, which are often compensating for poor green quality.

A traditional double - by traditional, I mean ~1.75 ounces of liquid pulled in ~25 seconds - pulled from high quality, lightly roasted beans can offer incredible nuances that make ristrettos taste dull and flat in comparison. You can get higher-toned flavors and aromas of citrus, berries, and flowers that are just crushed by the overwhelming mid-tone flavors in ristretto pulls. You appreciate the sense of balance and range in the coffee as well - those higher notes playing against the more "typical" flavors of chocolate, nuts, and tobaccos in the coffee.

I made a point about green quality, because ristrettos can also smooth out defects or detracting notes in a coffee. You can take a funky, fermented Yirg or an overwhelmingly earthy Sumatran, and knock down those flavors by roasting dark. You can also knock them down by overdosing the basket and tightening the grind. That high note of wild strawberry funk, and that deep note of wood and earth get knocked down - because, in my opinion and experience, the ristretto pull tends to underextract the higher and lower notes in a coffee.

And some coffees, in my opinion - even high quality coffees - taste terrible when pulled as a ristretto. Terroir's Southern Italian (yes, I mean the darker roast) tastes like ash when I push the dose into the 18-21g range. At 16g, you get a nice mellow cup with some great flavors of pecans and hazlenuts, with some chocolate and citrus on the edges. And in no way does that cup lack in flavor or intensity. It's just different.

I'd also say that in my experience, darker roasts and tighter pulls are actually easier to do at home than the more traditional double. Paradoxically, I find ristrettos FAR more tolerant of distribution issues than lighter doses and lighter roasts.

When I first got into higher quality espresso, I used to really like ristrettos. Lately, I find them to be pretty boring. I don't know if you're into wine at all, but for me, ristrettos remind of the whole California cab craze 10-15 years ago. You had these wines coming out with incredible body and extraction - thick, inky, tongue-coating wines. And some of those wines were great, but many were really relying on extraction to make up for lackluster / boring fruit flavors. They turned my head at the time because of the mouthfeel, but as time went by, I started to really appreciate the incredible finesse and clarity that a great Bordeaux or Burgundian wine offers, or a top quality California Pinot Noir. The latter three wines, for me, are the best analogy for what a great traditional double offers.

So, no, I don't think ristrettos should be the default pour at all.

psycho_supreme

#5: Post by psycho_supreme » Jun 12, 2007, 5:32 pm

bcquinn1 wrote:So, no, I don't think ristrettos should be the default pour at all.
Ahhh, love to see I have stirred up some controversy!

Thank you for throwing in your opinion, you have definitely broadened my knowledge, and have given me a reason to play with roast levels, dose, etc and experiment.

yay for the complex world of espresso!

'Q'

#6: Post by 'Q' » Jun 12, 2007, 7:10 pm

:idea: Hmmm... this may be some of the reason I've not been as pleased with the taste of my shots lately. Don't get me wrong, they're good, but... I may have inadvertantly wandered into the area of "too ristretto" and need to back up a bit. I've been pulling some pretty thick stuff, but not enjoying the drink as much as I used to and not really thinking about it. When I get home I'm gonna step back and shoot for 1.75-2.00 oz again and see if it's more of that taste that got me hooked.

Rainman

#7: Post by Rainman » Jun 12, 2007, 9:21 pm

psycho_supreme wrote:single origin ristretto?

I've been taught to stay away from single origin espresso as the brewing process is too complex to display the qualities of a single origin. I've learned, or so I thought, to stick with a blend, unless of course your using a single origin with multiple roast levels blended in?

Whats the story Jim?
Oh, man- one of the FEW things I actually get right (I can count those on just a couple of fingers) with respect to home roasting and making a ristretto- the Harrars rule.. to say nothing of the Yemen Moka San'ani. I've never tasted a better shot anywhere (maybe a personal opinion, though).

Ray
LMWDP #18

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luca
Team HB

#8: Post by luca » Jun 12, 2007, 9:42 pm

Call me nuts, but I think that the machine makes a pretty huge difference. I had a silvia/rocky combo and it was almost impossible to make a decent espresso, so I used a lot of double ristrettos as a base for milk drinks. Now I have a domestic e61 hx machine and a mazzer mini. I tend to go for something like 45mL in 22 or 23 seconds ... so an espresso cut short. To my taste buds, the first 20mL of a pour on domestic e61 machines is quite gloopy and ristretto-like. The next 20mL brings out a lot more of the origin flavours. The last 20mL will start to get more watery and will go blonde; there seems to me to be a fair bit of variation amongst prosumer machines in how early this happens - this was one of the deciding factors in choosing my machine.

The espresso-cut-short is child's play to get right, so I don't bother subjecting myself to the rigours of shooting for the full 60mL. Work is a different story. The LM FB80 that I get to use makes getting the full 60mL double espresso easy. The ramp-up at the beginning seems to take a few seconds less than on most e61s, so the SO flavours taste less "squashed" or "masked" into a generic, gloopy chocolatey espresso to me. There also seems to be less of a difference in flavour between successive thirds of an espresso shot than there would be with a domestic e61.

None of this is to say that you can't create a fantastic full-length espresso on a domestic machine. Just that it seems to me to be harder than on something as outrageously luxurious as a FB80. When I only have five minutes before I need to catch the bus to uni, I'm more than happy to just grab a double cut short and bolt. Conversely, at work one of the first things that I do is to pull shots until I am satisfied that I'm going to get close to the full-length double espresso from a double handle. I always find it quite funny that whenever I offer to let a home barista pull a shot at work they seem overwhelmed, as though it is going to be harder than at home.

... but, of course, you can't consider everything in isolation. It so happens that the blend that I use at work tastes significantly more impressive as an espresso than as a ristretto, so I often end up convincing people to order espresso instead of a ristretto. At home, I have no problems in admiting that every now and then I bugger up a home roast and it needs to be crushed down to a ristretto to make it drinkable. And I have had excellent commercial blends that simply tasted better as a ristretto than as an espresso.

I hope that's food for thought,

Luca
LMWDP #034 | 2011: Q Grader Exam, Brewer's Cup #3, Australian Cup Tasting #1

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another_jim
Team HB

#9: Post by another_jim » Jun 12, 2007, 10:57 pm

psycho_supreme wrote:single origin ristretto?

I've been taught to stay away from single origin espresso as the brewing process is too complex to display the qualities of a single origin. I've learned, or so I thought, to stick with a blend, unless of course your using a single origin with multiple roast levels blended in?

Whats the story Jim?
Harar is only technically an SO; in truth, it (and Yemens) are the coffees whose balance all the espresso blends try to approach.

Real SOs, i.e. coffees that are unbalanced as espresso, taste awful when they are pulled wrong, but can be wonderful when done right. Most commercial blends aren't on this knife edge. However, baristas diagnostic skills are improving rapidly, and I see a lot of SOs being pulled now. It's a question of tasting a standard shot, and knowing, from the way it tastes, what to change, and how. This is, in theory, no more complicated than tasting a soup and knowing it needs more salt or pepper. The trick is knowing where the salt and pepper shakers are on an espresso machine.
Jim Schulman

'Q'

#10: Post by 'Q' » Jun 13, 2007, 12:55 am

Just a quick follow-up to my previous post:

Got home from work and adjusted the grinder a little coarser, pulled one double that was still a little low in volume. Dumped it into a cold mug with ice, milk, agave nectar, and topped with whipped cream for "Mrs. Q." I tasted it before condemning it to the mug and it was pretty good. A little coarser on the grind and pulled another that was just about right at the 1.75oz mark and... yep... that's better. I guess subconsciously I've been pushing for a thicker, more syrup-like, pour and not paying attention to what the taste had been telling me.

By the way, if you don't know about agave nectar. I happened across it at the market awhile back and it is an excellent natural sweetener, not sugary tasting or imparting any other off flavors. It's not as thick as honey and doesn't crystallize while stored. Made from the agave plant, as in tequila! I highly recommend it for those that like, or serve those that like, sweetener for their coffee.