To find the best espresso machine under $500 you should have two critical skills. First, you should understand your requirements clearly. Next, you should find machines that address your requirements. But, unless you know what to expect from machines in this price range, you can’t proceed with any real sense of direction.
Fortunately, this article will give you the knowledge and understanding to frame your requirements and find a suitable product.
For your convenience, we have organized this article in two sections. In the first section, which contains reviews of espresso machines under $500, we will introduce you to popular models in this segment. In the section that follows, you will learn about important factors to consider when buying an espresso maker in this price range. Using the information in both sections, you can easily find the right product for your needs without fail. So, let’s begin with our top pick.
5 Best Espresso Machines under $500
1. Breville BES840XL Espresso Machine – Top Pick
The Breville BES840XL is an expensive semi-automatic brewer with new and interesting features. The most exciting feature is the low-pressure pre-infusion function. The pre-infusion function soaks the grinds under low pressure to expand them. After pre-infusion, it increases the water pressure to pour a delicious crema-rich espresso.
This coffee maker is great at regulating temperature because of its thermocoil and PID control. On this machine, you can increase or decrease the temperature by 4° F in increments of 2° F. The auto-purge function maintains the temperature of the thermocoil after brewing or steaming. There’s also a hot water spout for making a cup of Americano or for preheating your cup.
Although the BES840XL’s thermocoil is a big improvement over conventional thermoblock systems, it still suffers from a critical downside. You cannot steam and brew at the same time. And, you should wait for the temperature to go from brewing temperature to steaming temperature. But, we give credit to Breville engineers for doing their best to minimize the wait.
The equipment comes with all the standard accessories, such as portafilter, pressurized single and double shot filters, non-pressurized single and double shot filter, frothing jug, tamper, and water filter. In other words, you have everything you need to get brewing right out of the box.
- Pre-infusion system
- ±4° F temperature adjustment
- PID controlled thermocoil
- No boiler
- No LCD display
2. Gaggia Brera 59101 Espresso Machine – The Runner-up
Available in black and silver models, the Gaggia Brera is as stylish as it is functional. Now, the Brera is a super-automatic brewer with a built-in coffee ceramic burr grinder. You can adjust the texture of the grinds using the five grind settings and you can control the dosing to light, medium, or strong.
After you hit the button for a single or double shot, the machine grinds the beans, pre-infuses the grind, and then pours the shot through the double group head. Also, you can adjust the group head’s height to accommodate tall cups. You can also adjust the volume setting for the single and double shot.
The Brera has a steam wand and its Rapid Steaming Technology ensures quick heating between brewing and steaming. It also has a LED display that gives you a visual on the settings you’ve selected. For cleaning and maintenance, it provides easy access to the water reservoir, brew group, and dreg box.
For a super-automatic espresso machine, the Gaggia Brera leaves nothing more to be desired for espresso lovers. However, all the brewing steps happen under the hood. So, you don’t have much control over the brewing process. But, this isn’t a big concern, unless you’re looking to hone your barista skills.
- Built-in ceramic burr grinder
- Easy to clean and maintain
- Adjustable dose and volume
- Small water tank
- No PID controller
- Single boiler
3. Breville Duo Temp Pro Espresso Machine – Best for the Money
The Breville Duo-Temp Pro has a lot of features in common with our top pick. And, it costs a lot less than the Breville BES840XL. Also, the difference in cost makes the Duo-Temp Pro’s shortcomings more forgiving. So, let’s look at the strengths and weaknesses of this semi-automatic brewer.
Most semi-automatics in this range use a thermoblock to heat water for brewing and steaming. What we love about the Duo-Temp Pro is that it uses a PID controlled thermocoil with an auto-purge system. The PID controller helps maintain consistent water temperature and the auto-purge system rapidly cools the thermocoil from steaming temperature to brewing temperature. As a result, the switch between steaming to brewing is much faster compared to traditional coils.
Since it does not have a double boiler or heat exchanger, you can’t steam and brew at the same time. To be fair, machines with this capability cost more than a thousand dollars. Now, the difference between the Duo-Temp Pro and the Infuser is in their programmability. While the Infuser lets you control temperature by ±4° F and program shot volume, the Duo-Temp Pro offers no such functions.
However, both machines do come with nearly the same set of accessories, which includes everything you need to get brewing. The last thing we’d like to say about this machine is that if you’re not a fan of programmable machines, we recommend you take advantage of the price difference.
- Reasonable price
- Auto-purge technology
- PID controller
- No grinder
- Can’t change temperature
- Can’t change volume
4. KRUPS EA8250 Espresseria Espresso Maker
KRUPS EA8250 Espresseria is a super-automatic espresso machine that’s at the brink of the $500 mark. So, does it make good coffee and is it worth the money? Yes and maybe. Now, let’s spend some time to figure out what that means.
First, we like that the machine has a built-in ceramic conical burr grinder. It offers three texture settings – fine, medium, and coarse. The machine displays its menu of pre-programmed drinks on a screen. After selecting your drink, you can change the dosage. Then, the machine goes into the pre-infusion mode followed by pouring.
The steam wand has a built-in timer. And, you can increase or decrease the time on the fly until you get the time right. The machine also has an auto-stop and auto-start function. So, you can set the machine to brew coffee at a preselected time. However, the machine is difficult to maintain. For instance, the dreg box and drip tray are small in size and require frequent emptying.
Also, the brew group is not removable. That’s why you should drop cleaning pills to clean the insides of the machine. In summary, the Krups Espresseria brews a few pre-programmed drinks very well. It has the auto-start function. But, it is a little hard to maintain. It’s good for a $500 machine. However, we wish it were better.
- Built-in ceramic burr grinder
- Intuitive user interface
- Pre-programed drinks
- Small dreg box
- Small drip tray
- Non-removable brew group
5. Delonghi EC680M DEDICA Espresso Machine – Budget Option
Deviating from the bulky counter-top semi-automatics, the DeLonghi Dedica is a sleek and compact coffee brewer. But, despite its size, this coffee machine packs a lot of flavor into the brew and gives the users some great features. So, let’s take a closer look at this mini wonder.
The Dedica comes with a portafilter and three filters. However, the scoop cum tamper isn’t all that great. But, once you prepare the portafilter and place it into the brew head, the machine pours an excellent espresso. The machine has a button for a single shot and double shot and the shot volumes are programmable.
The third button on the machine(?) activates steaming, and if you press it long enough, you can use the other two buttons to set the temperature and auto-off. For a machine at this size and price, we did not expect this level of programmability. The steam wand is easy to use and produces a good amount of foam for your milk drinks.
But, the machine does not have a boiler, it has a thermoblock. This means there’s a little wait time switching between steaming and brewing. Now, the best part is that the machine comes at a very low price compared to other machines that offer the same function.
- Programmable volume and temperature
- Low capacity
- Small drip tray
- Mostly plastic construction
Factors to Consider When Buying
In this part of the article, we will share insights that will help you choose the right espresso maker within $500. But, before we discuss factors leading to the best purchase, you should understand how features in coffee machines vary with price. So, let’s start with the impact of price on features.
How do I set the budget for my espresso maker?
The features of an espresso machine fall into two broad categories: convenience features and control features. Convenience features reduce the effort and skill required to brew good espresso consistently. Control features allow you to adjust brewing variables, such as the texture of the coffee grinds, dosing, brewing time, and temperature.
Now, coffee makers that offer superior convenience and control features cost thousands of dollars. When you come down to the $200 to $500 range, you can expect basic convenience and control features. Another distinction that will help you buy a great product is knowing the difference between super-automatic and semi-automatic coffee makers.
Should I buy a super-automatic or a semi-automatic?
If you prefer convenience to control, a super-automatic espresso maker is the best choice. Such machines come with a pre-programmed menu of drinks. After selecting your drink, the machine takes care of grinding, dosing, tamping, pre-infusing, and pouring. Your brewing skills have no impact on the taste of the espresso. The quality of the machine’s programs does. In other words, super-automatic is a substitute for a barista.
However, if you desire more control over the brewing process and you’re willing to sacrifice some convenience, consider buying a semi-automatic. In such machines, you should manually dose and tamp a portafilter and place it in the machine’s group head. Then the machine goes through the pre-infusion and pouring cycle to brew the espresso. So, your skills in packing a portafilter impact the taste of the espresso.
If you find it hard to decide between a semi-automatic and a super-automatic, consider these factors:
- Skill: Super-automatic espresso makers require little to no skill to operate. The semi-automatics, on the other hand, require at least basic dosing and tamping skills.
- Consistency: Super-automatics follow a programmed brewing cycle and will not deviate from its built-in instructions. As a result, it consistently delivers the same taste cup after cup. But, in semi-automatics, you can vary the taste.
- Ambition: If you’re interested in acquiring and honing your barista skills, a semi-automatic coffee maker is the best choice. Semi-automatic machines don’t offer an opportunity to learn more about the brewing process.
- Time: Super-automatics take less time to prime, brew, and clean than semi-automatics do. So, if you usually rush your coffee, better leave it to the super-automatics.
- Maintenance: A super-automatic is easier to maintain than semi-automatics are. In a semi-automatic, you should manually wash the portafilter and filter after every use. In a super-automatic, it will suffice to wash the brew head once a week.
With the contrast between the two types clear, you can choose the right type of espresso maker based on your situation. But, no matter what type of machine you choose, there are some important factors you should consider. Next, we’ll talk about those factors.
What are the important factors I should consider when buying an espresso maker under $500?
Judging the value of a product is the hardest part of shopping for an espresso maker. The difficulty stems from not knowing the benefits of features that espresso makers offer. But, we want you to approach the buying process with clarity. So, here’s a list of features and benefits you can refer:
- Grinder: Machines with a built-in grinder brew espresso using freshly ground coffee. The difference in flavor between freshly ground and pre-ground coffee is immense. For rich and flavorful coffee, choose a machine with a grinder. Semi-automatics under $500 don’t come with grinders, but super-automatics do.
- Grinder Type: Burr grinder and blade grinder are common types of grinders. A burr grinder produces granules of even size. This helps with flavor extraction. A blade grinder chops the pods unevenly, leading to inconsistent taste. So, pick a machine with a burr grinder. For home use, a steel conical or flat burr grinder will do. But, the ceramic ones are even better. Also, flat burr grinders are better than conical ones.
- Grinder Settings: A grinder needs at least three grind settings: fine, medium, and coarse. If a machine offers more settings, you get better control over the texture of the grinds. For a product in this price range, you can expect three to five grind settings.
- Water Heater: Espresso machines use thermoblock or boiler systems to heat water for brewing and steaming. In espresso makers under $500, the water heater is usually a thermoblock. Thermoblocks offer less consistency in temperature than boilers do. However, thermoblocks with PID controllers can overcome this issue. Also, thermoblock machines don’t allow you to brew and steam simultaneously. There’s a wait time between brewing and steaming.
- PID Controller: For optimal extraction, water should be between 195° F and 205° F hot. A PID controller helps maintain the temperature of the thermoblock within the specified range.
- Auto-Purge: When you use the steam function, the temperature of the thermoblock rises. And, when you switch to brewing, it takes time for the thermoblock to cool. Machines with auto-purge function can accelerate the process by sending a jet of cold water from the reservoir through the thermoblock. The purged water also helps clean the steam wand and preheat your coffee cup.
- Cleaning and Maintenance: Espresso makers require regular maintenance to function at its best capacity. So, before you buy a machine, read its manual to understand the maintenance schedule. Some of the popular models have online instructional videos too. If you don’t care for the machine, it will break down. And, you may void the warranty too.
In addition to these factors, you should also look at aspects such as warranty, customer support, service center location, footprint, power consumption, and price. In summary, if you go systematically down the list of factors, you will have no trouble finding the right product.
Great, what are my choices?
Now that you know the features and benefits that distinguish superior products from mediocre and inferior ones, please refer to our top 5 espresso machine picks under $500. You will most likely find the espresso maker of your choice there. If you don’t, you can apply the information you’ve just acquired to scout more options. Be sure to check out products from Breville, Gaggia, Saeco, and DeLonghi.
From what we’ve learned so far, you have a decision to make right now. Would you prefer the convenience of a super-automatic or the control of a semi-automatic? If you opt for a semi-automatic, the Breville BES840XL is the machine for you. However, if you want to go for a super-automatic, the Gaggia Brera is the way to go.
In recent years, we’ve observed a trend in the evolution of espresso machines. Some of the features and functions that were once limited to high-end models have made their way to entry-level models. As a result, there are many high-quality espresso makers under $500.
But, only people who invest time in learning about these products can identify these high-quality machines. Fortunately, you have taken the time to do this. With the help of your knowledge and understanding, you can identify, buy, and enjoy an awesome espresso maker.