I'm guessing that everyone who is serious about espresso has at one time or another considered owning a lever espresso machine. First, the lever is the iconic archetype of all espresso machines. Then there is the promise that the lever will work like a musical instrument, rewarding skill and inspiration with marvelous shots. Finally, there is the clarity of the best lever shots, obvious to anyone experienced in espresso, which suggests that there might even be a grain of truth in these visual and musical fantasies.
Given these expectations, somebody at Bezzera has a wry sense of humor, calling this machine the "Strega," the witch. To a lever purist, there's a lot of warts, wrinkles, and black art on this machine: a noisy pump to prime the lever, an electric heater to keep the group warm, an extra spring to beef up the pressure. But like a real witch, it delivers the goods: absolutely enchanting espresso.
For its world beating taste on lighter roasts, I'm tempted to give the Strega a score of five stars for its Espresso Performance, but I want to leave some room at the top, so it's 4.5 stars. The remaining scores are as follows:
The Strega is a breathtakingly good steamer, so it's no problem to make great cappas. However, while high speed and high quality milk steaming is one major factor in using a machine for entertaining or catering, quick recovery between making shots is the other. In this respect, the Strega is limited to one shot every two minutes is the maximum pace. This is fine when making a few shots for other espresso lovers in a small get together, but not great for parties where you want to put out as many drinks as quickly as possible. For steaming alone the score would be 5.0 stars, but since the Strega is too slow for catering, I think it should be marked down to 4.5 stars.
I've described the home baristas who should not buy this machine -- those with limited space, or who need a machine for catering. But these strictures apply to every lever machine, and they apply less to the Strega, since it is designed to be more convenient in these regards. So the "who should buy question" that goes to the heart of this review is this one: "Is the Strega a machine for lever purists?" On the one hand, it's nothing like a traditional lever machine; on the other hand, it delivers world class shots, earning an enviable Overall score of 4.5 stars.
Without the support of HB sponsors, reviews such as this would not be possible. We would like to thank 1st-line equipment for the loaner evaluation equipment. We would also like to thank Counter Culture Coffee and Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea for the test coffees used during this review.