The La Nuova Era Cuadra is an excellent machine at the entry-level end for E61s.
Positive Product Points
In addition to being an excellent tool for pulling what are some of the best espresso shots we've had in Bangkok (IMHO), the Cuadra is aesthetically beautiful. On my scoresheet "fun to look at" earns the Cuadra extra points.
The Cuadra's E61 HX lever is so enjoyable to use, any upgrade will likely have to be to another E61 lever machine.
Can't say enough about steam pressure available and the convenience afforded by having the steam and hot water wands on ball joints.
Negative Product Points
The documentation that accompanies the unit, the instruction manual and the certification of passing inspection, is woeful. Thank goodness youtube has videos on use of the Cuadra and similar E61 machines. On the Cuadra itself, our only nits are about the flimsy feeling drip tray which is made of plastic and the fact that the cups on the top tray tend to vibrate themselves to the front precipice.
Perhaps the major negative point (or "concern", if you will), is the lack of information about La Nuova Era and its products. It was a bit of a gamble to choose La Nuova Era over Expobar and Rancilio, but a close inspection of the machines convinced us to accept the risk of the little-known Cuadra.
My wife is an ex-barista, yet I pull almost all of the shots on the Cuadra (I'm unsure which of us is getting the short end of the deal . . . but I think it's her). I had never pulled a shot in my life until we got the Cuadra, because until then my equipment consisted of a moka pot, a french press, and a Vietnamese cafe phin.
BTW, the Rancilio fell out of contention for our purchase solely because (as deduced from its reviews) we did not want to expend weeks learning how to pull a decent shot on a Silvia. I'm at the very beginning of learning the art of the barista, so I'm sure it is honest that I attribute much of my good results to the Cuadra.
Learning how to pull a shot on the Cuadra was easy for a first-timer like me, but learning how to make a decent espresso took about one week. One week was also how long it took me to track down freshly roasted beans in Bangkok (From P and F Coffee, yeah baby!). A coincidence between the two? Probably not.
The Cuadra has a nicely weighted portafilter. The E61 portafilter is much more substantial than that of most of the other machines I've seen in stores and at shows. It just feels good in my hand, like a good guitar feels in one's hands.
The 3 liter water tank's capacity is nice, but between pulling shots, steaming milk and flushing, we're glad it isn't any smaller. The 1.8 liter copper boiler is up to 9 bar within 10 minutes, certainly tolerable in spite of our generally impatient nature. This is one instance where having 220v is good. We've played around pulling shot after shot and we've never been left waiting for the boiler to heat back up. Our best results seem to follow flushing for about 10 seconds before pulling a shot, but undoubtedly a lot more trial and error lay ahead before we settle upon a reliable process.
Perhaps it does get better, but I'm not sure how much better it can get than having separate steam and hot water wands, both on ball joints and with full knob control. Steam pressure and volume are never lacking. My wife is not falling for it whenever I try to blame my poor frothed milk (still too often the case) on the Cuadra.
Having never used a comparable machine, I cannot say how the noise from the Cuadra compares to others. IMO, it is not too loud at all.
The Cuadra sits on four solid feet which provide decent clearance for wiping away water and grinds. Having lots of chromed parts is truly a great incentive for us to keep it clean and shiny. We also appreciate the finished backside, since we have placed the Cuadra on an open counter instead of against a wall.
Purchased in-store at A-Z Coffee Machines here in Bangkok. We didn't look forward to the price negotiations, but that's just the way items like espresso machines are sold in Thailand. Anyway, both parties understood that "it was just business, nothing personal".
Three Month Followup
I'm definitely still very pleased with the Cuadra's usability and performance.
Not much to add to my review except perhaps that the volume of the drip tray leaves a bit to be desired, particularly when back-flushing the machine. By the time you do the 8th to 10th back-flush, the drip tray's reservoir is already quite full.