Exploring the world of espresso is fascinating, frustrating, exciting, and rewarding. It’s a journey - that’s for sure. I love helping brewers like yourself thrive with coffee brewing, and I have a great strategy for you today.
It’s called - get ready for it - the Salami Technique.
Yeah, I thought it was a joke too. I thought I was being put through some strange new barista hazing ritual when my trainer first told me about it, but it’s legit.
This strategy will teach you about the stages of espresso extraction. More specifically, how to taste the stages and use that knowledge to pull better shots.
I used the Salami Technique to train many baristas to pull rich, balanced shots. It was always extremely helpful, just as it was for me when I was new to espresso.
If you want to be left confused about how to make your espresso taste better, skip this article. If you want to make espresso obey you, keep reading.
The Salami Technique
Let’s first walk through the actual technique, step by step.
Start your usual espresso routine. You’re going to pull a normal shot with one difference: you’re going to separate it into several different cups.
Get seven (yes, you read that right) cups ready.
Step 1 - Grind like normal, tamp as evenly as you can, and start the shot.
Step 2 - Start a timer and set the first cup under the portafilter.
Step 3 - At 10 seconds, quickly switch to a second mug and set the first aside.
Step 4 - At 15 seconds, switch it out with a third mug.
Step 5 - At 20 seconds, switch it out with a fourth mug.
Step 6 - At 25 seconds, switch it out with the fifth mug.
Step 7 - At 30 seconds, switch it out with mug number six.
Step 8 - At 35 seconds, switch it out with the seventh mug.
Step 9 - Stop the shot at 40 seconds and let the final drops fall.
You should now have seven different mugs in front of you, each containing a different stage of the espresso shot. Don’t mix them up! Keep them in the same order.
You’re about to taste them all, but before you move on, make a quick prediction about the mugs. Which do you think will taste most sour? Which will taste the most bitter?
Time to taste!
Tasting Espresso Extraction Stages
Start by tasting mug #7, the one with the last little bit of the espresso shot.
Smell it, taste it, think about it. Write down what you experience. Is it bitter, sour, weak, strong, bright, flavorful? Note as much as you can.
Then, take a sip of water and clear your palate.
Taste and record your observations for each mug, going straight down the line. What do you notice? How does each mug change?
Assuming you pulled a decent shot with fresh coffee, you should have noticed something along these lines:
Mug #7 - Weak, dull, and pretty lifeless. Faintly bitter with not much flavor.
Mug #6 - Flavor starting to poke out, but still on the weak side and bitter.
Mug #5 - Low flavor notes starting to become more defined.
Mug #4 - Medium strength with medium notes coming out. A pleasant middle-ground.
Mug #3 - Lots of bright flavors and sweet, but still a little too tart
Mug #2 - Pretty tart and bright, but a little sweet and very strong.
Mug #1 - Extremely sour and way too intense to enjoy on its own.
Let me explained what happened:
The very start of your shot is when a lot of the magic happens. In the beginning, the hot water extracts “stuff” from the grounds very rapidly, so every drop is rich with flavor.
The first thing to be extracted are the acids, which is why mug #1 tasted so sour and intense. If you were to stop your shot here, the espresso would be way under extracted.
As the shot progresses, the acids stop coming out quickly and the oils and dissolved solids start coming out of the grounds. They’re not so intense, but begin to add a lot of depth to the flavor, along with some sweetness and rich aromas.
The rate of extraction is slowing at this point, so each individual drop of espresso technically is less concentrated as time goes on.
And then you hit the sweet spot (usually around 25-30 seconds, mug #5). The bright acids are being balanced out by sugars, oils, and dissolved solids. The intensity seems to be leveling out to a more approachable level as lower flavor notes start to show up and bring balance.
Mug #6 is about the time when things become over extracted. You’ve passed that sweet spot of balance and flavor as the espresso coming from the portafilter has pulled out a little too much from the beans. The shot starts to taste a little bitter.
Mug #7 definitely won’t taste very good, but taste it for the sake of learning. By this mug, way too much has been extracted from all the grounds. All that’s coming out now are weak, bitter tannins. In the context of a full shot, these tannins totally kill the other flavors, so don’t pull that far!
Here’s how you get that balanced shot:
You extract just enough so that the acids, sugars, and bitter compounds find harmony to create a well-rounded, pleasant shot. You’re looking for that sweet spot that includes bright acids, rich flavors, and a hint of bitterness to round out the low notes.
That’s right, the goal isn’t to avoid bitterness completely. A little bit adds depth and helps bring out those low flavor notes (like chocolate, pine, spice).
How This Helps You Brew Better Espresso
Now that you’ve experienced and tasted the stages of espresso extraction, let me show you how you can use it on a very practical, day-to-day level.
Imagine it’s next week. You’re pulling your regular morning espresso.
You produce a shot with a 30g yield in 30 seconds, for example. You taste it: it’s a little bitter and not quite as sweet as you know the coffee can be. Not bad, but something’s missing.
You remember back to the Salami Technique and recall that unpleasant bitterness is a result of over extraction. You went a little past that sweet spot of harmony and rich flavor. You realize you need to pull back a little to find that balance.
Next time, you cut the shot off at 28g in 29 seconds, reducing the total extraction. You taste the espresso: it’s rich, it’s balanced, it’s sweet and aromatic. Nice!
The Salami Technique gives you a simple frame of reference for troubleshooting your espresso and making simple changes to improve flavor and balance.
This is a powerful exercise. Trust me, I’ve seen how impactful it was for the baristas I trained, and I know it’ll help you learn to take command of your home espresso machine.
It only works, however, if you’re using high-quality coffee beans. Don’t skimp here! Stale beans make for a stale learning experience because bad flavor means bad tasting and no learning.
Start with incredible beans that are freshly roasted and come from the world’s best farms. Those are the coffees we sell in our JavaPresse Coffee Subscription. Our farm partners are recognized around the world for the caliber of coffee they produce. You’ll love how rich and wildly flavorful your espresso can be with our Take Wing espresso blend.
Check it out!