Ristretto, lungo and a nervous barista – or about cafe cheio

Time came to tuck into this hot topic, that makes so many baristas… lets say anxious.

And for no reason, in my opinion. 

But before that, a short introduction. 

As you probably know, I am located in Portugal, and as any other country, Portugal has its own customs regarding coffee consumption. And one of those is so called cafe cheio (full coffee) – the way Portuguese people call some sort of lungo, or better to say, espresso filled till the top of the cup. 

Needless to say, cafe cheio is widely hated between “specialty” baristas. And you can get why. You try to make a perfectly balanced coffee, playing with the recipe, in the ideal scenario you even know the precise TDS and extraction yield you are aiming for (I say ideal because in Portugal it is still something rare, people just dial in by eye or by taste, which I hope will change in some time). 

So barista made a perfect espresso he is proud of – and then a guest is asking to make it “cafe cheio” – which basically means that you should let the coffee run through the puck till it fills the cup, diluting the espresso with nasty water that has a dirty taste. 

Barista has its right to get pissed off by this order. I feel you. 

But after some years of dealing with the portuguese customer, and trying different approaches, explaining what is cafe cheio, and how bad it tastes – guess what? I still serve cafe cheio, but now just without a grin on my face, and without stressing out. 


I guess you need to get into the countries character and habits to understand what people actually want when they are asking you for cafe cheio. 

First of all, espresso in Portugal is the cheapest drink in the bar, and originally is ordered for that, because of the price, and to have something in your hands while you are talking to your friends.  People get together, have a chat, and drink an espresso – isn’t it beautiful? And you want this espresso to last – so you ask for a cheio.

Second reason is that originally commercial coffees are not very tasty when made short. So people are aiming for a lower strength unconsciously when asking for an espresso cheio.

Third reason has something to do with the national character. When people pay these 70-80-90 cents for an espresso, they want to get everything they have a right for. So they feel cheated when being served just a half of the cup – they want it all. When you are filling the cup just half way, they think that you didn’t give them all the caffeine and taste that coffee had a potential for.

My point is – there is nothing to be stressed about when being asked for a lungo, or a cafe cheio. 


After all, if put in simple words, the customer just wants a long small coffee. He has no intention to treat you bad as a professional.

Sometimes, when I am in the mood, and I see that my guest is in the mood as well, and has time to chat, I give her a little tasting of a normal espresso, espresso cheio, filled with the water running from the puck, and espresso cheio made with fresh hot water. 

And sometimes the results of the tasting surprise me. Because some people really prefer espresso cheio old school style, with the dirty water. 

The question here is, do I have the right to call it wrong? 

No, I don’t. 

Because, specialty or not, my job is to serve people, it is service – and service means put aside your judgement, and listen carefully to every single person who enters your place. 

And, yes, when you see that a person is interested, you can carefully explain what is specialty, and what your job is about. But when your guest just wants a quick coffee, and leave – provide them a superb service, just this, nothing less, nothing more. 

This is my philosophy, at least, I am not claiming it being for everybody. 

And about ristrettos… 

They are hard to make well.

 I am talking about a well made ristretto, full bodied, but yet sweet. A ristretto is an espresso made with the ratio close to 1:1, in around 25-34 seconds. 


You need lots of thing to happen before you can make it, an if one fails, no ristretto. 

First of all, equipment. Proper grinder and machine – like with any specialty coffee, no proper equipment properly taken care of – and you can forget that you are serving specialty. 

Second of all, well developed, well roasted coffee. 

Espresso, being a very concentrated drink, amplifies everything that a coffee has. 

So if a coffee is sweet and full of flavour, with no roasting and green coffee defects – it has all the potential to taste superb in espresso, if done well. Yet, coffee that is underdeveloped, or charred, or smoky, or old – will show all of it in taste of the espresso, but multiplied by 100. And in ristretto – multiplied by 200. Your really don’t want to drink it. 

And, you need good water. Why is it so important?

Ristrettos in specialty coffee are hard to make well because of one fact. I’ll try to put it down here. 

A “standard” specialty coffee espresso is 18 gr in, 36-40 grams out. I’ll put the TDS around 9,65, and extraction yield at 20,10, those of my readers who have VST app can check it with me. 


Ristretto will have 18 in, around 20 out, 17 TDS, and 19,68 EY. 


The difficulty here is the following. Making a normal espresso with 18 grams dry dose you use 52,9 grams of water to extract coffee, and in the end to have around 20% extraction for a 36 gr drink.

While making a ristretto, you, having the same dry dose (18 gr) you use 37 grams of water to achieve roughly the same extraction yield of 20% for a 20 gr drink. 

What I want to say. You have less water to work with, but you have to extract the same from the same amount of coffee. 

That water has to be damn good, coffee has to be damn good and properly developed, to not to taste like grass or liquid smoke in the cup, you have to have a proper grinder that gives you a good distribution. 

Making ristretto requires using scales more than making any other coffee – because here you have little to no margin of error. If you use 2-3 grams of water more in filter coffee, nobody will notice. If you use 0,5-0,3 grams of coffee more in espresso, most probably you’ll be safe. 

But with ristretto nothing if this will work. Use 0,5 more or less of dry coffee – and your EY will shift almost 1%. Make the drink 1 gram bigger or smaller – again, your extraction yield is shifting 1%. 

Ristretto is a pain in the ass, because it requires expertise and understanding of what you are doing, and how every step influences the result. I am talking here about a well made ristretto, not the one when you just make a normal espresso, and stop it when it reaches the 20gr ( it will give you nothing but extremely salty and sour liquid you cannot even call coffee).

I think that’s it for now!

Good ristrettos to everybody, and may you enjoy your day!

Published by liza maksimova

Q Grader. Roast Master. SCAE certified.

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