Ristretto is dead

The death of ristretto, volume and single and double shots.

I still get a lot of people asking for a ristretto and I’m always interested in what they mean. Usually, they’re after something with less bitterness than a typical short black. If the coffee is of the fourth or fifth stage, restricting the pour makes sense: if a double shot means 60mL, then by cutting the pour at 40mL we’ve got a cup of liquid that is less bitter than had we carried on to 60mL. Restricting the pour with six stage coffee makes no sense.

In sixth stage coffee, the barista has set up the pour so that there is a balance of acidic, sweet and bitter tastes. Cutting the pour early produces a very sour cup.

Volume is irrelevant. 14g of coffee producing 60ml of liquid coffee is the industry standard for a double shot. This takes no account of the taste balance because it uses coffee that cannot produce the sour or sweet tastes.

The amount of coffee used and the volume are variable in fresh, low roast coffee. The dose and grind size will change throughout the day depending on the temperature and humidity of the cafe environment. Different environments necessitate differing amounts of coffee. For example, most of the short blacks I make at Artisan TTDI are 14-16g of coffee making 24-26g of liquid, at RAW Coffee, around 18-21g of coffee making 29-34g of liquid. Both places use the same coffee roasted at the same time. The great difference in the amount of coffee used is probably due to more efficient air conditioning at TTDI and possibly the use of a lever machine at RAW. The short blacks at both places have a balance of sour, sweet and bitter. If a customer feels cheated we explain that we’ve produced a concentrate and add some water.

Single and double shots are relics of the fourth stage.

Man with very small spoon weighing coffee

I’ve only ever seen single and double baskets employed in a good cafe once. It was at Godshot in Berlin. The coffee was Black Cat, things were promising. They offered prices for single and double and, being in a jovial frame of mind, I ordered a short of both. I stood transfixed watching the barista tare the portafilter, grind the coffee using a fairly average grinder and then proceed to weigh and subtract coffee from the basket using a very small spoon for both double and single baskets. “You can’t be fucking serious.” I thought while speaking the words “You certainly take a lot of care over your coffee.” He had two tampers and all the time in the world. And he also produced two very delicious, and for the time and attention he’d taken, very cheap, cups of coffee. Perhaps the owners figured that at the cost of getting Black Cat couriered to Berlin, it was worth their while to use the exact grammage. The last time I visited, they’d ceased to use Intelligentia’s fine coffee.

Godshot, Berlin.

Even with on-demand grinders that have two settings, the truth is that in a commercial environment there is not enough time to ensure that both single and double are calibrated. There are customers to serve. Moreover, when the only variable is dose, it’s very difficult to get a similar flavour from the heteromorphic single and double baskets. So, we choose a single size of basket (baskets range in size from 7-22g) and make it our standard. Scott Rao makes a good argument for the shape of single baskets in the Professional Barista’s Handbook, but I’ve always sided with the bucket shaped baskets that I can get more coffee in to. If there’s a cone shaped basket that can hold 18g let me know.

Our first cafe in Edinburgh still offers single or double shots. We have to use spouted portafilters to separate the shot and discard half of the coffee. I’ve developed a preference for bottomless portafilters that means we no longer have the option of splitting the stream. Nor should we – what a waste!

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