Although espresso has a narrow place within the coffee world, narrowness shouldn’t be confused for uniform. There are multiple ways to pull an espresso shot, with the standard shot merely being the most common. One other alternative is the lungo.
In This Guide:
- What is Lungo Coffee?
- How Are Lungo Shots Pulled?
- What Does Lungo Coffee Taste Like?
- What Coffee Should You Use for Lungo Espresso?
- How Much Caffeine is in Lungo Coffee?
- What Drinks Are Good With Lungo Espresso?
- What is the difference between Standard Espresso, Lungo and Ristretto
- Is Lungo Stronger Than Espresso?
- Is Lungo Stronger Than Ristretto?
- Is Lungo the same as an Americano?
What is Lungo Coffee?
Lungo coffee is a long shot of espresso. The term “lungo” is the Italian cognate for “long,” referring to the additional time that pulling this shot requires. The resulting espresso is similar to standard espresso in some ways but distinct in others. A lungo espresso is also known as a tall espresso. (Espresso is a concentrated and small amount of coffee that’s brewed with pressure.)
How Are Lungo Shots Pulled?
All espresso shots are “pulled,” a term that dates back to when baristas had to manually pull down a lever to create the necessary pressure. The basic steps of pulling a lungo shot are the same as what you do when pulling a standard shot: grind, tamp, pull and enjoy.
The only differences between lungo espresso shots and standard shots are:
- How much water is used
- How long the shot takes to pull
Most modern baristas and cafes use twice as much water to pull a lungo shot, which effectively doubles the pull time. Standard espresso is typically pulled for between 15 and 35 seconds, and pulling lungo can take upwards of a minute.
The increased water also increases the total volume of a shot. A single lungo shot should be about the same size as a standard doppio (double shot).
Italian cafes sometimes use 1.5 times as much water, rather than twice as much. This reduction lessens the bitterness that lungo coffee is known for (see below), and lessening that bitterness may be especially important when working with traditional Italian espressos.
Italian espressos frequently are a blend of coffea arabica and coffea robusta. The robusta beans enhance espresso’s crema but increase its bitterness. Specialty coffee shops that use only coffea arabica espresso blends don’t have to worry about mitigating bitterness as much, so they can more easily use the full double amount of water.
What Does Lungo Coffee Taste Like?
The additional water used to brew lungo coffee gives the espresso a subdued flavor but also increases bitterness.
The subdued flavor results from lungo coffee being literally watered-down. Some people find this subdued flavor easier to drink, especially when it’s not mixed into a cappuccino or latte.
The increased bitterness is a sign of slight over-extraction, which happens when you use extra water. This increased extraction results in particularly bitter notes, for the more delicate and sweet notes in coffee are extracted early on during the brewing process. The chemicals that remain until later in the brewing process mostly have more bitter flavors.
As for specific flavors, lungo coffee often features smoky, malty and roasty notes. Don’t expect many fruity or floral aromas to survive the over-exertion.
What Coffee Should You Use for Lungo Espresso?
Lungo coffee can be made with any selection that’s suitable for espresso, but there’s no sense in paying a premium price for the most complex coffee. Those delicate notes that make the coffee so complex will be overshadowed by the bitterness and lost in the mellowness.
Instead, a mid-range medium- or dark-roast will work well — and already have some of those roasty notes that lungo is known for.
Most suitable medium and dark roasts will come from Central America, South America or Asia-Pacific, although there might be the occasional dark-roast African that’s good this way. Selections grown at lower elevations usually have the right flavor profile and don’t command the most premium prices.
How Much Caffeine is in Lungo Coffee?
A lungo shot has approximately the same amount of caffeine as a standard espresso shot. Even though lungo coffee has twice the volume, most caffeine is extracted early on in the brewing process. The additional water and extraction time don’t actually result in much more caffeine being pulled out of the grounds.
Lungo would have more caffeine if more grounds were used to pull a shot, but the same amount of grounds are used for both lungo and standard espressos. For reference, a single shot of espresso can have anywhere from 29 to 100 milligrams of caffeine (usually somewhere around 75 mg).
What Drinks Are Good With Lungo Espresso?
Some people prefer to drink espresso straight order lungo so that it has a little more volume and a little less punch. In addition to being drunk straight, lungo espresso is especially good:
With Sugar: Sugar molecules don’t just sweeten coffee, but they actively form mini-bubbles around the caffeine molecules in coffee. This insulates caffeine — which is a bittern chemical — from the tongue and reduces some bitterness. It won’t eliminate all of the bitterness in lungo, but it will alleviate some.
Iced: The more delicate notes in complex standard espresso shots are somewhat lost when the espresso is poured over ice. Lungo is a good candidate for iced espresso and iced americanos because it already lacks many of these finer notes. Just remember that the espresso is already a little watered down, and ice will water it down more.
Lungo can be used in cortados, cappuccinos and lattes, but standard doppios are generally better suited for these drinks. The watering down of lungo will diminish how well its flavor can cut through milk. A doppio will cut through more without any added bitterness. The mellowness that makes lungo desirable can be mimicked by adding milk to taste.
What is the difference between Standard Espresso, Lungo and Ristretto
Espresso shots can be pulled as lungo, ristretto or standard shots. Standard shots are what a cafe will pull unless a customer or recipe specifies otherwise, and they’re the standard against which the others are compared:
- Lungo has more volume, watered-down flavor and added bitterness Ristretto has less volume, more intense flavor and less bitterness
- Ristretto shots are pulled by using less water (and a slightly finer grind in most cases).
Is Lungo Stronger Than Espresso?
Lungo doesn’t have a stronger flavor or more caffeine than standard espresso. It is more bitter, though. Some people don’t mind this, while others do.
Is Lungo Stronger Than Ristretto?
Ristretto shots have even more intense flavor than standard espresso, and lungo doesn’t have nearly the same level of punch. Lungo espresso does have more bitterness, however.
Is Lungo the same as an Americano?
Lungo coffee shouldn’t be confused with either an americano or a long black. Americanos were created by Europeans to make their espresso more suitable for North American palettes. Long blacks are primarily an Australian and New Zealand variation.
The three beverages’ distinctions are as follows:
- Lungo is made by brewing espresso with twice as much water. This creates a somewhat watered-down shot and one that has increased bitterness.
- Americanos are made by adding a significant amount of hot water to espresso. The espresso-water ratio is often around 1:4. This creates a watered-down beverage without added bitterness.
- Long blacks are made by pouring an espresso shot over hot water in a 1:1 ratio. This creates a beverage that’s about as watered-down as lungo coffee, but that doesn’t have the bitterness of lungo. Pouring the espresso over the water also helps preserve the crema.
Standard espresso shots are most often used for americanos and long blacks, but they can also be made with lungo or ristretto coffee.
Try a Lungo Espresso
Order lungo coffee the next time you’re at a cafe, and see whether you like this version of espresso. Any cafe with a manual or semi-automatic machine can brew lungo espresso, and some automatic machines will do it too. Who knows, you might find a new way to enjoy espresso!
Scott M. Brodie covers coffee, theology and boring subjects that pay the bills. When not writing, he can usually be found roasting a new African single origin or composing a fictional work. To see one of Scott’s personal projects, check out seminariesandbiblecolleges.com.