Bezzera Strega Review: Embrace The Subtleties!
So, you love the aesthetic of a lever machine and the taste of a manually pulled espresso shot? But, you’re intimidated by the steep learning curve of a true manual lever espresso machine? You’re not alone. Bezzera has designed a totally unique espresso maker for people just like you!
Behold the Strega.
Strega is the Italian word for witch or sorceress. It’s totally appropriate because I promise you will be bewitched by this ingenious design. Keep reading for all the details on this pump-lever hybrid and why it might be just what you’re looking for.
SUMMARY: The Bezzera Strega
- Manual lever espresso machine with vibration pump and heat exchange boiler
- Ultra-powerful milk steaming with commercial-style 4-hole tip
- Top-of-the-line build quality from a legendary Italian manufacturer
The very first time you use the steam wand and experience the silky froth it automatically creates for you, it’s magic! That’s why it’s called the ‘witch’.– Eric W., Customer
The Full Bezzera Strega Review
The Bezzera Strega occupies an interesting niche. Manual purists will probably scoff at its noisy pump and electronically heated lever group, while at the same time, lovers of automation will be wary of the manual lever (1). But for the right audience, there is definitely no other machine like it.
Think you might be in the target market? This review has everything you need to know to help you decide.
Brewing Capacity – 4.5/5
There is something special about a classic lever espresso machine (2).
It’s a nostalgic blast from the past, but it’s not just a romantic throwback. A properly pulled shot from a lever machine also yields a flavor and clarity that’s difficult to mimic on an automatic machine. The trade-off is that these proper shots are more challenging to master. Unless you have a Bezzera Strega.
This unique machine combines the barista control of a lever with modern technology that makes it more accessible. As a result, even beginners can produce some spectacular shots with just a bit of practice.
Fans of lighter roasts will be INCREDIBLY IMPRESSED.
While some have suggested that this machine is too expensive for a heat exchanger, I think they’re missing the point. The Strega’s manual-style flow profiling capabilities put it in a class all its own, not to be compared with the average heat exchanger machine.
Let’s cover the basics. On the front, you’ll find a chrome-plated brass group topped with the unmistakable large lever. It’s a particular Bezzera group, designed in-house rather than a typical E61, but it retains the industry standard 58 mm size, so it’s easy to accessorize. This is linked to a 2-liter copper heat exchange boiler heated by a powerful 1450 W heating element.
But here’s where things take a turn. The Strega also has a vibratory pump, not something you’d expect in a lever machine. A typical manual machine uses a lever to generate pressure, and a typical automatic machine uses a pump.
The Strega uses both pump and lever. Two forms of pressure.
The pump applies a relatively constant pressure of about 9 bars throughout the shot in a typical automatic espresso machine. With the Strega, the pump starts the shot off at a pressure closer to 11 bars. Then as you hold and release the lever, the pressure tapers from about 9.5 bars to 5.5 bars. This sort of pressure profiling is what makes shots from lever machines so delicious. Just ask industry expert and former World Barista Champion James Hoffman (3).
A lot of this desire comes from the profile of espresso produced by lever machines, which have a very different pressure profile compared to a pump driven machine.
But that’s not all! Because you can also control the lever, you can exert more influence over the flow rate through the shot. With practice and drinking plenty of espressos, you will be able to use this machine to tease the best flavors from different specialty coffee beans. More expensive automatic machines often add flow control modifications to mimic this very process.
All in all, thanks to this unique hybrid design, the Strega is one of the best espresso machines on the market for extracting light roasts. And they are notoriously difficult to get right.
Interestingly, the heating system in the Strega is also a bit of a hybrid. First, there’s the 1450 W heating element that heats the copper boiler. But the group itself is also electronically heated, rather than the more traditional thermosyphon heating used by E61 groups. The Strega’s group includes two heating elements controlled by a thermostat to yield improved temperature stability.
Because of this combination, you end up with a temperature profile that mirrors, in some ways, the pressure profile. Each shot starts hot and cools off as it progresses. Thanks to the high starting temperature, you’re able to properly extract the rich caramel sweetness and fruit flavors typical to Arabica beans. But the cooler finishing temperature prevents over-extraction, avoiding bitter or muddy flavors.
Shots from lever machines like this are often described as offering incredible clarity.
Another nice feature common to all lever machines is the ability to control pre-infusion, a low pressure wetting of the grounds prior to brewing that aids extraction and avoids channeling. You can do it with the Strega by raising the lever a bit to stop the pump and holding it in place for as long as you want pre-infusion to last.
User Friendliness – 2.5/5
Once upon a time, all espresso machines were manual machines. But these days, they have become mainly the realm of keen hobbyists. This is not for no reason. They are certainly more challenging to master than automatic espresso machines.
However, Bezzera has made the Strega considerably easier to use than other lever machines by including the pump. If you’re relatively new to espresso but still have your heart set on this style of the espresso maker, this one is an excellent entry point to the genre.
Of course, the biggest difference between using the Strega and a standard heat exchange espresso maker is that the shot is pulled using the lever rather than a button or knob. So it does require more physical effort to make a shot with this machine. You need to pull the lever down and guide it back up. It’s not exactly a workout, but you do need to be involved.
In fact, a danger of this machine is that if you forget to guide the lever, it can snap up pretty aggressively, giving you a nasty punch in the face if you’re not careful.
In general, this type of machine is a relatively slow way of making shots, which is relatively slow to recover. So I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re regularly serving a crowd and pulling many back-to-back shots. You’re relegated to about one espresso every two minutes.
Milk Frothing – 4/5
With its 2 liters horizontal boiler, the Strega has incredible steam power. Combine this with its commercial style 4-hole tip, and you can froth milk ultra fast. It makes steaming ultra fast. If you haven’t worked with a commercial machine before, it will probably be too fast at first! It takes some practice to handle this amount of power.
You can froth 6 ounces for a cappuccino in under 10 seconds. Or you can steam for about 45 seconds before the boiler needs to recover, enough for two 12 ounce lattes! A nice perk of all this power is how easily you can produce the perfect silky microfoam for latte art, a surefire way to impress your guests (4).
The downside? Once you master this level of power, you’ll find it impossible to go back to the standard home machine, where the steam will feel like a sputter in comparison.
The wand itself is a fully articulated no-burn design. It’s operated by a joystick rather than a knob, which I prefer because it feels more responsive. You can flip the joystick in any direction for a short burst of steam, or lock it in the “up” position for hands-free steaming.
On the other side of the machine is the dedicated hot water wand. A joystick also operates it, but it has no lock position.
Build Quality – 4/5
Bezzera is one of the best in the business when it comes to build quality. This is partly due to their incredibly long history. In fact, Luigi Bezzera is credited with inventing the espresso machine, so you could say that the company has been in the business longer than anyone (5).
But that’s not the only reason these machines from Bezzera are so well made. They’re also the only company to design, manufacture, and assemble all their components in-house. Common practice is outsourcing a lot of the manufacturing. Yet, keeping everything under one roof guarantees impeccable quality control and ensures all the parts work together as a seamless whole.
The exterior of the Strega is wrapped in a mirror finish stainless steel case with perfect craftsmanship. The edges are smooth, and the joints are perfectly fitted. The drip tray is also stainless steel, even including the hidden underside, a commonplace you’ll see rust develop in lesser quality machines. The top of the Strega acts as a passive cup warmer, which is very effective if you give it enough heat up time.
Of course, the most obvious feature of the Bezzera Strega is its size.
This is a BIG espresso machine.
It probably won’t be suitable for every kitchen. The footprint itself is quite large, at 13” wide by 17.7” deep, but the height is the biggest factor. The Strega is a whopping 29” tall. You won’t be sliding this machine under your cupboards. It needs a dedicated place of honor in your kitchen.
Cleaning and Maintenance – 3.5/5
Looking after the Bezzera Strega lever espresso machine is no more complicated than any prosumer machine, except for the electronically heated lever group. If anything goes wrong there, it will likely be more challenging to fix than a more standard E61 group. But given Bezzera’s legendary build quality, this shouldn’t be a concern for many years.
Probably a result of their decades of experience, Bezzera’s machines tend to be very well laid out inside. This means that even a layperson with a standard toolset and watch YouTube can carry out basic maintenance at home (6).
You can plumb the Bezzera Strega to a water line, which is a useful feature that removes the need to deal with refilling the water tank. This is not true of many machines with a vibration pump, so it’s nice that Bezzera includes the option here. That said, if you’d prefer not to plumb it in, the water tank is one of the biggest around, measuring 4 liters. So you shouldn’t need to deal with refilling it too frequently regardless.
The drip tray is also fairly large, at 24 ounces, but with the necessary cooling flushes, you will find yourself needing to empty it regularly if you’re making a few shots in a row.
Don’t Buy the Bezzera Strega If….
- You don’t want a manual machine – This is obvious. If you don’t have any interest in the subtleties of a lever espresso maker, opt for an easier-to-master automatic.
This same brand makes some great options. For another heat exchanger, check out the Bezzera BZ10. Or if you’d prefer to upgrade to a double boiler, read our Bezzera Matrix review. For a more basic espresso maker, our review of the New Hobby, Bezzera’s entry-level model, might interest you.
- You’re a manual espresso purist – On the other hand, if you want the full manual espresso experience rather than a lever-pump hybrid, consider something like a new-school Flair espresso machine or a classic La Pavoni. These options allow the beautifully clear shots you expect from a manual machine, and as a bonus, they’re dead quiet.
- You want a PID – Espresso machines with PIDs are all the rage these days, and for a good reason. Compared with pressure stats, they allow for better temperature control and stability, which is vital if you like to experiment with different specialty beans.
For an affordable single boiler with a PID, a look at the Bezzera Unica PID. Or, if you’re willing to spend a bit more cash, the Profitec Pro 800 is a lever option like the Strega but with the addition of PID temperature control.
The Bezzera Strega occupies a unique niche in the realm of prosumer espresso machines. It offers the aesthetics and shot quality of a lever espresso maker, but the addition of a vibration pump makes it easier to use. A win-win, if you ask me! Add to that Bezzera’s incredible build quality and commercial-level steam power, and you’ve got an espresso maker that’s hard to criticize.
- Hoffmann, J. (2009, June 2). Using a lever machine. Retrieved from https://jimseventemp.wordpress.com/2009/06/02/using-a-lever-machine/
- Chernov, A. (2018, February 16). Lever Romance: How I Restored a 70-Year-Old Espresso Machine. Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2018/02/lever-romance-how-i-restored-a-70-year-old-espresso-machine/
- Hoffman, J. (2010, January 17). Talking About Pressure Profiling. Retrieved from https://jimseventemp.wordpress.com/2010/01/17/talking-about-pressure-profiling/
- Brown, N. (2015, August 11). How Much Is Latte Art Really Worth? A Whole Lot, New Study Says. Retrieved from https://dailycoffeenews.com/2015/08/11/how-much-is-latte-art-really-worth-a-whole-lot-new-study-says/
- Stamp, J. (2012, June 19). The Long History of the Espresso Machine. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-long-history-of-the-espresso-machine-126012814/
- Lee, J. (2016, August 31). Espresso Machine Maintenance: A VIDEO Guide to Draining a Heat Exchange Boiler. Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2016/08/espresso-machine-maintenance-a-video-guide-to-draining-a-heat-exchange-boiler/