Long espresso: What it is and why you should try it

Long espresso brewing on a Nespresso Essenza Mini
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You probably have a favorite cafe where you go in knowing exactly what you want and you always order the same thing. Why not try something new?

Sometimes in a line at Starbucks you might hear the person in front of you order a long espresso. Sounds interesting, right? Of course, you don’t want to waste your money on something that might not be to your liking, so let’s help you decide whether a long espresso is worth a try.

What is a long espresso?

A long espresso is an espresso coffee that’s not quite as intense as a typical Italian-style espresso. This is because the barista pulls about twice as much water through the coffee grounds, taking twice as much time. The resulting beverage is undoubtedly still espresso, but slightly milder and with more volume.

Espresso and long espresso side by side on the counter
They use the same amount of ground coffee, but a long espresso (right) uses twice as much water and is pulled for twice as long. (© Bean Poet)

Other names for a long espresso

The name comes from the Italian word lungo, which means long. You might hear people refer to the beverage as a lungo coffee or simply a lungo. It Italy, it’s a caffè lungo, while in France it’s a café allongé. Espresso lungo and long shot espresso are two other terms that aren’t used quite as much.

Lungo vs. Americano vs. ristretto

Most cafes make drinks that are similar to a lungo with a few key distinctions. It’s easy to confuse a lungo with an Americano, for example. You’ll also hear the term ristretto, which is different yet again.

Lungo vs. Americano

All the hot water in a lungo is used to extract coffee. It all passes through the grounds under pressure. This differs from an Americano, where a small volume of water is used for extraction but the rest is added afterward as a top-up. An Americano is essentially an espresso that is diluted after the fact, while a lungo includes the extra water in the brewing process. 

Imagine a medium-sized coffee cup with a little bit of espresso in the bottom. Now imagine filling the cup with hot water. That’s an Americano. If you don’t like your coffee too strong, you might prefer the taste of an Americano. However, if you love the rich intensity of espresso and you just want a little more of it, then the lungo is the way to go. 

The video below shows a brief comparison of the two drinks:

Ristretto coffee

When I tried a ristretto for the first time, I noticed that it was much stronger than the lungo. This is because for a ristretto, you go in the opposite direction. Instead of a longer pull with more water, the barista shows some restraint and allows less water to pass through the coffee. This makes the coffee more concentrated than a lungo, or even a regular espresso.

So, which of these coffee beverages is for you? I personally like the lungo because it allows me to have the best of both worlds. It’s a diluted version of the espresso, yet I still get the rich taste that energizes me for a busy day. At the end of the day, it’s up to you. At least now you have some idea of what these drinks look and taste like, so you can decide if it’s worth a try.

How to make a lungo

The two things you must keep in mind when pulling a lungo instead of a regular espresso are the volume of water and the duration of the pull. If a regular espresso uses 30 mL of water, then a lungo should use about 60. And don’t pull it too quickly. You have twice as much water, so take twice as much time.

Long espresso next to a Nespresso machine
Here's what the long espresso should look like when you're finished. We cheated by using a Nespresso Essenza Mini to pull this one. They always get it right. (© Bean Poet)

Little-known fact about espresso

You may think the word espresso is Italian for “express” or fast, but the word is better translated as “pressed out”. The literal translation for caffè espresso is “pressed-out coffee” because when you make it, you are literally pressing water through a bed of coffee grounds under pressure.

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