Making Lungo Coffee, Brewing to History

As long as espresso machines have been around, the variety of espresso drinks that can be achieved is pretty extensive. One such espresso drink, the Lungo, is always a favorite but does need a specific ratio of water to make it match the name as you’ll find out.

An Italian Original

Coffee Dropping in cup from machine

Going into any coffee shop that has a professional espresso machine, you might expect they know all the barista terminology there is to know. You might be surprised how many American baristas will raise an eyebrow if you ask for a Lungo. Then again, this is the Italian word that’s used to order a specific kind of espresso. You can be sure the espresso grounds to water will always be 1:3 to 1:4 ratio of coffee grounds to water.

This is what differentiates the names used to extract certain espresso drinks such as a ristretto, doppio, or single espresso. But just when you think it’s just about the amount of water, you don’t want to know that there are subtle differences in the grind setting meant for a true Lungo. But if we don’t share that vital info with you, how else will you enjoy the finer points of espresso coffee otherwise?

What Is A Lungo Anyway?

Not the everyday drink that you long for drinking, but it’s a little bit similar to the Americano. The only exception is this version is more water and doesn’t have the same properties as drip-style coffee. The definition is simply ‘Long’ spelled from the Italian word Lungo. It doesn’t have as much caffeine as the espresso due to how it’s brewed and has a totally different flavor profile.

You might say this version is for those who like a sophisticated cup of coffee unlike any other. It often gets a bad rap because most baristas or those who aren’t being careful making it will find it tastes very bitter and that’s a big turnoff for any coffee lover. Since you want to preserve as much flavor as possible, this variant requires a couple of ground rules so you don’t destroy what flavor you can achieve when brewed properly.

It Starts With The Beans

A white coffee cup and coffee beans on wood table

You don’t need to takes sides, since Robusta or Arabica beans will give you different levels of taste. It’s a matter of what bean you prefer based on the fruitiness and aroma, so at least you can’t go wrong with playing around with bean ratios and combinations. What will count is the type of roast that you choose. The best coffee beans meant for a Lungo should always be a light roast.

Aside from the flavors that come from a coffee bean, darker roasts tend to be much bitter due to the roasting process. Since a Lungo is a slower and longer extraction than most espresso drinks, you want to reduce the chances that you Lungo will have higher chances of being bitter. This way, you’ll get more of the natural fruitiness that comes from the front end of each sip. Bitter tastes will be further to the back, which is better for your flavor palette.

The real fun starts when choosing which grind setting is going to make all the difference for brewing a proper Lungo. Since you can’t always get this right at a local coffee house, you may have to wait for them to find the right beans and grind them for your request. With the nature of most coffee houses, this can result in delays for other customers. So often, you end up having to wait to have your Café Lungo as well.

The Grinding Ratio

This is going to be a general grind setting that gets you into the ballpark. Since you’re using a lighter roast you need to keep your coffee grounds more coarse so the bitterness stays out of the picture. This isn1t a problem with espresso grind settings which are around 9 out of the maximum 10 on a typical hand crank grinder. For the Lungo, you want to stick to 7 out of 10.

This allows the water to extract through the grounds easier so you don’t have a concentration of bitter values running through as it brews.

The Brewing Ratio

Your espresso machine is not likely to have control over how long an extraction takes place. You’ll have a couple options for making a single or double if your machine is fancier and is pressurizing the water as it goes through. As you might expect the standard brew extraction for an Espresso is 20 seconds. This not only gives you a smaller amount of coffee brewed, but the grounds are very fine and will be more concentrated.

A Lungo shot can be anywhere between 30 to 40 seconds for the entire extraction. You’ll have more water with at least 3 times the amount, but not limited to 4 times the amount. We recommend using a stopwatch to get the best results. As mentioned before, it’s all going to depend on your grind ratio and extraction time. If you decide to stick to 30 seconds, you’ll have better results that are a bit closer to the 1:3 ratio or perhaps slightly less than.

Anything longer will start to take on more bitter attributes rather than the fruity notes and sweetness that can be achieved. A bad Lungo will taste bitter right from the start, so avoid finer grinds, choose lighter roasts, and stick to 30 seconds for your extraction time. You’ll need to play around to get the best results since this type of coffee is naturally known to be considered much bitter than others in the espresso family.

Making A Lungo At Home

Unlike other coffee recipes, this will require that you have an espresso machine that can allow different settings for water extraction. The better home versions for espresso machines allow you to make single or double, but this is fine for basic espresso extraction. What will be optimal are the espresso machines which allow you to control the extraction process.

These are considered the mini versions of real espresso machines. They can be expensive, but otherwise, it’s harder to control how much water goes into your coffee grounds is absolutely essential.

The Café Lungo

Lungo coffee illustration

  • 1 shot Lungo coffee (see instructions)

How To Prepare:

Use the same amount of espresso you normally would for a regular espresso shot. This is often 7 grams but not limited to 9 grams. This needs to be a light roast coffee bean which can be Robusta or Arabica, or mixed. The flavor should be a bean that you enjoy, so only it needs to be the light roasted version. Set your coffee grinder to 7 so the grind will appear to be medium-fine.

This will look similar to sand or coarse salt, and you might need to make adjustments as you test the results on your machine. Add the grounds into your espresso portafilter. You’ll need a Tamper so you can level off the grounds and give it come compaction. Not so much, since you’re not making espresso! After this, put the Portafilter into your machine and turn on the water pressure so you can extract the coffee.

If your machine comes with a digital readout, you can count off the seconds to stop the extraction. You need to allow it to extract for no more than 30 seconds. This is when you turn off the machine to stop the water flow. The coffee that’s extracted will fill up a standard coffee mug or as much as 110-140mg of water. This all depends on your extraction time and the grind setting. Course grinds will allow more water.

Try to keep a little recipe book for your experiments. This will allow you to formulate the right flavor you like the most. The closer you can get to sweetness and fruitier profiles are what you want to achieve. Anything bitter, you should avoid and start over from scratch. it will take practice to get this right, but watch out for longer extraction times as this only makes a Lungo taste naturally more bitter. Good luck!