Last December, I bought a Bezerra Strega home espresso machine for my office after not having an espresso machine for a number of years. Back with Flying Five Coffee, we had a Synesso, which I consider one of the best commercial espresso machines in the world, and I just couldn’t bring myself to go backwards to older less precise machines.

The Strega has rescued me from the espresso doldrums. It’s a “prosumer” lever machine that combines the old-school lever with some new-school features that gives temperature-stable commercial machines a run for their money.

The thing I really enjoy about the Strega is that it enables you to just use the machine and enjoy the benefits of great espresso without needing to go overboard in technical details. This is something that I’m very prone to do. In just using the machine normally, you’ll be reaping the benefits of good-enough temperature stability and modern pressure-profiling of the extraction.

If you read the Strega thread on home-barista, you might be intimidated about the technical detail discussed there and think that it’s complex to learn and use. I don’t think this is the case. Even when I was just starting out with the Strega, I had immediate good results with it.

Initially, you can just turn on the Strega, let it warm up for 20-25 minutes, grind, tamp and extract. The Strega is always in the right temperature ballpark for good extraction, and just “going for it” and pulling shots works very well. You’ll have great espresso pretty much immediately.

But, as always with espresso, careful attention to detail always improves things. I’ve learned some things over the last 9 months from reading the home-barista thread and from experimenting. Here’s how I use my Strega now:

First, I turn it on just 10-15 minutes before I want some espresso: it heats up really quickly, which I absolutely love. There’s nothing that bothers me more than waiting around when I’m ready for espresso!

Once I hear a short hiss from the machine (which is the vacuum breaker sealing), I wait about a minute more and then pull about 10 seconds of water by pulling the lever down, and then I raise the lever very slightly to stop the vibe pump. I do this to hold some of the  hot water up in the piston to warm it up. This is optional, and is just a time saver: it cuts a decent bit of time off the warm-up time.

Then, I grind and tamp 18g of espresso at 35 lbs. pressure. Before I put the portafilter in, I do a very short cooling flush with the lever: just long enough to release any pressure that’s built up in the line. Then, I put the portafilter in and pull the lever all the way down.

This engages the vibration pump, which fills the piston with water and starts pre-infusion. I let this go until the sound of the vibe pump changes, or espresso starts to drip out. Then, I release the lever and let it extract.

You can steam milk at any time: the Strega is a heat-exchanger.

For me, the result is quality espresso that I really enjoy. I’ve even been having fun pulling the same espresso from the Strega that I can get at shops in Denver out of Synesso’s and comparing the taste differences. Amazingly, the Strega stays neck-and-neck with its commercial counterparts.