What is the difference between lungo, ristretto and espresso?

Nespresso have brought the terms ristretto & lungo into households around the globe. Amongst the Nespresso OrignalLine range are a selection of capsules given these titles, and a dedicated button is even provided on most nespresso machines for a lungo shot.

Most of us are familiar with espresso. It forms the base of most of the barista drinks we know and love; such as the Cappuccino, Flat White, and Latte. However, when we see advertisments for ristretto, and lungo coffee capsules we may think that these terms refer to a coffee blend – this however not quite the case.

These forign terms can make things a little confusing for most of us without a barista background. So what do they mean by the terms ‘lungo’, ‘espresso’ and ‘restretto’?

In essence, the words ‘lungo’, ‘espresso’ and ‘restretto’ are all just Italian words used to describe different shots of coffee, with different proportions of water in their extraction methods. Let’s go over what exactly the differences are.


Espresso is the most common extraction method used in espresso machines. High pressure hot water is forced through coffee beans to make the base for most of the café beverages we know and love such as the latte, cappuccino, flat white etc.

The default pour size of Espresso is 30-40mls, made through a single basket or shot of coffee. A single basket is typically 7grams of ground coffee, a double is around 14grams.

Espresso features the darker, earthier, nuttier notes that exist in all coffees. In fact, some of the best espresso shots I have ever had strongly display chocolate and cocoa flavors enough to convince me, in only briefly, that I was drinking melted chocolate.


Ristretto is a “short shot” and literally translates in italian to ‘narrow’. By-the-book it’s 30 ml from a double basket – Essentially a double shot of coffee with half the water so only the very first flavours of the coffee has a chance to be extracted. A normal short shot might look like a Ristretto, but in reality, would only be a little weaker and more diluted.

This means with restretto you get more intense flavour, but also less caffience and bitterness which tends to come through at the tail end of the shot. Consequently, we do still get some of the earthy notes, but our crema will be thinner and the chocolate notes will typically be absent. Instead, we get the floral and aromatic coffee notes.

The volume of a restretto should be 30ml, but made from twice the coffee as a expresso. You can create this at home by using two nespresso pods, but stopping the shot halfway through (only collecting 15ml from each).


Lungo translates in italian to ‘long’, and that’s exactly what this style of coffee is – A long shot with 2-3 times the amount of water compared to espresso.

The default pour size of Lungo (long) is 110mls. Its always made from a single basket (shot) of coffee which is around 7 grams.

It’s more popular in European countries, where it’s often served with a splash of milk. The coffee is still extracted in the same way as and espresso shot, however, a lungo is designed to fill up more of your cup. What this means is that on the whole they can be a little milder but still maintains the same flavour and intensity.

A lungo is also sometimes called a ‘stretched coffee’, and in French it is called a café allongé. This shouldn’t be confused, however, with an Americano, which is an Italian style coffee with hot water added. Also, not to be confused with a lungo is a long black, where you add a short black directly to the hot water – basically the opposite of an Americano. The reason for this swap around is so you can pour the short black in as soon as it’s extracted, preserving more of the crema.

I hate to say it, but lungo tends to be my least favorite espresso preparation. Why? I find that the only flavours remaining are roasty, smokey notes. Extraction here is so close to being overdone that you may even believe your espresso has been burnt due to the notes presented. But, that is not to say lungo serves no purpose and that some will not enjoy the flavors.

The Nespresso OriginalLine Range

The Nespresso OriginalLine range has 2 distinct families, the standard Espresso capsules, and the nearly identical Lungo capsule. To compliment this, most Nespresso machines have 2 buttons (often shown as a single cup or a double cup icon) to dispense the correct amount of water.

To add to the confusion, Nespresso also have pods in their standard range that are named ristretto. This gets a little confusing as what these are aren’t technically ristretto from our definition above. Since the amount of coffee used is the same, Nespresso try to imitate a ristretto by using stronger types of coffee. Sneaky!

Can I make a lungo using a Nespresso espresso capsule?

You shouldn’t really make an espresso using a lungo capsule or vice versa. The coffee blends and their respective flavours are put together specifically with the extraction time in mind. Extracting an espresso capsule super slowly and with more water will just result in a weak, over extracted espresso that won’t taste like it is intended. Similarly, it would be impossible to extract the full flavours of a lungo capsule by extracting under higher pressure and for a shorter period of time.

Can I make a true ristretto using a Nespresso espresso capsule?

Absolutely! But this isn’t the most cost effective of beverages..
You can create this at home by using two nespresso pods, but stopping the shot halfway through (only collecting 15ml from each). Try it and tell us what you think.

What drinks are made from espresso?

Almost every café drink we are offered is based on the humble espresso shot. The most well-known and best espresso drinks include the Flat White, Cappuccino, Latte (Caffe Latte), and Mocha (Caffe Mocha) but there are many more.

Add to this a little customization in the way it’s prepared (e.g., trim milk, extra shot, triple shot, or alternative milks) and there are literally hundreds of different ways to drink an espresso.

Of course, to truly taste the flavours of the coffee, it needs to be drunk neat. Traditionally a single espresso shot (or Café Espresso) comes served in a tiny espresso cup capable of holding only 60-90mls of liquid.

What drinks are made from lungo?

There aren’t too many options out there when it comes to drinking a lungo shot most probably due to the notable bitterness that makes this style of coffee an acquired taste.

Café Lungo – Not quite a caffe or an Americano, this “long coffee” includes espresso with just a splash of hot water. You’ll get this in a special lungo cup (traditionally a small glass) as there is too much liquid to fit in a standard espresso cup.

European style – Add a splash of hot milk to your café lungo and you’ve got a small but punch beverage that goes down a treat.

The Lungo Americano – just as you would make an americano with an espresso shot, we can also use lungo for this purpose. Simply extract a lungo and top up with hot water. In comparison, this version will make a stronger, more roasty and bitter coffee, that also has a bit more caffeine.

Iced Coffee – Lungo shots make a great base for iced coffee where you can offset the bitterness against plenty of sugar and cream… yum! We’ve got some iced coffee recipes you can try out with your Nespresso machines here.

What drinks are made from ristretto?

You can sub out a espresso for a ristretto shot any good café if you ask for it. Even Starbucks! Choose a ristretto shot for the caffeine sensitive, or when you want a more aromatic coffee. Or try a ristretto shot the next time you order a mocha, to add a floral flair since the chocolate component won’t be missed.

I personally love the intensity and aroma of ristretto, and find the lower caffeine levels a welcome reprieve from ordering a double shot of coffee that leaves me with heart palpitations 30minutes later. So, if you want your daily coffee with a little extra flavour, try ordering a ristretto shot instead

2 thoughts on “What is the difference between lungo, ristretto and espresso?

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