I first laid my hands on a (proto type) Strada in Atlanta 3 years ago.
Compared to Synesso and a new machine called Slayer, presented at a booth next 'door', it had a paddle for full pressure control.
The Synesso and Slayer had in the beginning a 2 pressure point paddle; one (half way) for 3 bars and one for full pressure.
The pressure control idea came out of the Seatlle corner and should be seen as an improved version of the good old lever machine. This type of espresso machine has always been loved by coffee enthousiasts all over the world thanks to the full flavor velvety shots produced; mainly because this machine starts at low pressure and slowly builds up to 8-9bars to press out all flavors. Also the logical long pre infusion can be a big help in search of a God shot.
I heard the Strada had, just as the first Slayers and Synesso machines, some hick-ups and children diseases, but the newest EP version, with programmable interface, is on its way to take over the coffee scene bit by bit.
At the Venuez fair 2 weeks ago we had the honour to play around with the manual Strada for 2 days and that was a real joy.
Almost all shots came out very 'full'. The rich siropy coffees had improved mouthfeel and nice balance.
But of course it wasn't the easyest of rides; the smallest change in profile gives a different result and since controling the pressure is very difficult .....
Talking about this matter with 'Strada' techniciens made things clear. Unfortunately i'm technically not strong enough to understand the whole story and certainly not to explain it to 3rd persons, but the general conclusion is that the manual machine is only manageable by a single fully trained professional Barista.
The programmable EP version is a different ballgame though. Here you pay a whole lot more, but this means that you search the 'perfect' profile back stage, program it and then reproduce it on stage time after time.
The paddle that steers the group head feels fantastic. The machine is unbelievable silent. Each group head has its separate boiler. The drip tray is the easiest ever. The machine is lower and the general design is awesome. So, it's not only the profiling part that's different from other La Marzocco machines.
Besides of the price tag the biggest draw back seems to be the steaming department. The on/off button and the steam wand/pipe are placed very awkwardly. Stupid even. Hopefully you easily get used to it.
Now the 1 million dollar question : Do I want to buy one?
Totally! All machines have their good and bad things, but if you add up all the plusses, this Strada seems to be one of the best, if not the best machine on the market today.
Competition machines from Synessso and Slayer seem to keep track, but are much more expensive and don't have the same technical support today.
And to finish : The Spirit. Kees Van Der Westen starts to launch his new espresso machine called Spirit as well. Here we have a machine were the creator decided on the profile himself. A slow start and then building up. Comparable with a lever machine, but with the flexibility of dosing the shots. Hopefully I'll have a chance to test this one to collect enough info for a future blog post on equipment.
Keep you posted.