When it comes to the size of the espresso pour in the Bay Area, what is the norm? We’ve been biased, like many others, to believe that it’s the long espresso: a watered-down brew topping off at 2 oz. or more. A reader recently posted a comment suggesting an alternative: that a ristretto was the norm. Our response to his comment lead to some interesting research into the data that we felt worthy of its own post here.

First of all, we have to define what is a ristretto. Some suggest that in the earlier era of largely hand-pulled shots, the ristretto was made with the same amount of water as a normal shot but just pulled faster to achieve a higher coffee-oil-to-caffeine ratio. That is, more of a variation on pressure — but additionally with a reduced time of contact between the coffee grounds and the hot water.

Even the hideous L.A. Café served a medium-sized shot Others suggest that, more to the modern era of the automatic machine with mechanical pumps, a ristretto is simply a normal espresso shot cut off early. Namely: largely a variation on brewing time. (Worse still are things like the Nespresso, which frighteningly defines the ristretto as a coffee flavor. To us, this concept is about as scary as a carton of egg whites labeled “sunny side up flavor”.)

We presumed that the general tendency in the Bay Area was to pull long shots (e.g., 2 oz per shot or more). But since we’ve recorded the data with all of our reviews for San Francisco, we ran a database query against both past and present cafés. Of 712 reviewed SF places serving espresso shots, here’s the distribution of sizes that we discovered:

  • 12 were Short (S): or 1.7%
  • 380 were Medium (M): or 53.4%
  • 218 were Large (L): or 30.6%
  • 102 were Extra-Large (XL): or 14.3%

(see our size definitions)

Interestingly enough, it appears that the 1-2 oz shot is actually the most common, which is about right. With only 1.7% in the truly short range, we wouldn’t say that a ristretto is the norm — if you judge a ristretto based on the volume of liquid. But, and it was a surprise to us, the data suggests that the stereotype of the overflowing pour of coffee isn’t the local espresso norm either.