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What is Lungo Coffee?

Lungo

It seems like there’s a new espresso drink on the menu every time we visit our local coffee shop. You can order an ordinary shot of espresso, a double shot, a cappuccino, a latte — the list is practically never-ending. Unless you are a professional barista, you probably can’t keep up with all the choices and might find yourself wondering what the difference is between all the vaguely similar choices.

In this article, we’ll give you a brief overview of one option: lungo coffee. We’ll explain what it is, how to make it, and who it’s good for. If you’ve never had a lungo or just want to know more about it, this guide is for you.

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Lungo Coffee: It’s All in the Name

Lungo is the Italian word for long, which gives you an idea of what lungo coffee might be about right off the bat. Lungo is a type of espresso that uses twice as much water as a standard shot and extracts for about twice as long.

An ordinary shot of espresso uses between 25 and 60 ml of water and takes 18 to 30 seconds to make. A lungo increases both numbers, using a whopping 130 to 170 ml and taking around a minute to pull. You might think that the name comes from the increased amount of time it takes to make a lungo, but most coffee historians attribute the name to the drink’s size in the cup. It might seem odd at first, but in comparison to another popular espresso drink, the short black, it makes sense.

lungo coffee
Image Credit: Olga Ignatyeva, Wikimedia Commons

How Does it Taste?

It is natural to assume that a lungo would simply be a weaker form of espresso since it uses twice as much water with the same amount of coffee, but that wouldn’t be entirely correct. Lungo coffee is indeed weaker than a standard shot, but the differences run deeper than that.

As coffee extracts, flavor compounds breakdown and make their way into your cup. Coffee beans are chemically complex and packed with many different flavors that extract at different speeds and different temperatures. In a lungo, the increased amount of time it takes to pull the shot affects what flavors get extracted and added to the coffee in your cup.

double shot Starbucks espresso
Credit: Unsplash

A general rule is that the longer water is in contact with coffee grounds, the more bitter, astringent flavors get extracted. Many people don’t like lungo coffee because of how bitter it tastes but seemingly as many people love it for that very reason.

What About Caffeine?

Caffeine content is a bit tricky to talk about, so we’ll start by explaining what determines how much caffeine makes it into your mug.

A standard shot of espresso contains approximately 75 g of caffeine, although the amount can change significantly depending on the machine and coffee beans you use. We’ll use this as a baseline.

Lungo coffee
Image Credit: Alpha, Flickr

How much caffeine gets extracted depends on how long water is in contact with the beans. In a lungo, water has much longer to interact with the coffee grounds, and therefore a lungo will have more caffeine than a standard shot. On the other hand, a ristretto – sort of the opposite of a lungo – uses less water and extracts for less time than a standard shot and therefore has less caffeine than both a lungo and a standard shot.

Caffeine content confuses many people because they associate a coffee’s strength with caffeine content. Since a lungo is weaker than a standard shot of espresso, they assume it has less caffeine when, in reality, the opposite is true. Similarly, a ristretto has a strong, bold flavor, giving many people the false impression that it must have more caffeine.

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What Is Lungo Coffee? Final Thoughts

Espresso can be intimidating when you’re first learning about it because of the overwhelming number of varieties and subtly different drinks. While there are a large number of recipes and names to learn, it’s not impossible when taking things one drink at a time.

We hope you enjoyed this short article about lungo coffee and better understand what it is and how to make it. If you like large espresso shots and don’t mind bitter flavors and a weaker flavor, you’ll probably love lungo coffee. We won’t sugarcoat it, the lungo is not one of the most popular drinks, but it checks all the boxes for a small minority of coffee drinkers. One benefit of the lungo is the high caffeine content, making it the espresso drink of choice for late nights and early mornings.

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Featured Image: Seungmin Nam, Flickr

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Sean Brennan

Sean’s obsession with coffee started when he received his first French press as a gift almost ten years ago. Since then, his love of coffee – and the number of coffee gadgets he owns – has grown considerably. A scientist by training, there is no stone he has left unturned in the never-ending quest for the perfect cup of coffee. He has spent many hours tuning his pour-over technique, thinking about how to best compare grind quality, and worrying about whether the Nicaraguan or Kenyan beans will make the best cold brew. These days he favors the Hario V60, and starts each day by hand grinding his coffee before enjoying a cup prepared with care and attention to detail.

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