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Coffee machines are a must for every house in my opinion. There is no better way to start your morning than with a freshly brewed cup of coffee, regardless of the drink. For those of you that have a little more sophisticated European tastes, that like to enjoy espressos, ristrettos, cappuccinos, and macchiatos, buying a coffee machine is definitely very difficult.
First of all, you should know that these machines cost more than your drip coffee maker or even from your pod coffee machine. Espresso machines have high-end components inside that should resist high temperatures and pressures. On top of that, they must deliver it consistently without compromise. I know that it looks pretty grim for you if you are shopping in the sub $500 range. Don’t you worry though since you can get some beautiful machines just under that price. However, there are certain things you should be careful of. I will explain to you later what you should be careful and what to look out for when you are getting the best espresso machines under $500.
I always recommend getting the best espresso machine that your budget allows, some of the machines that I will mention will have some cons that might be a little annoying. However, besides some annoying first-world problems you will be able to get a superb espresso machine that will deliver you heavenly drinks every morning.
The most important thing I suggest to people when they are buying espresso machines, or any other coffee machine, is to determine whether or not the product you are looking at delivers value for the price. Another crucial thing you should know about espresso, in general, is that espresso is not a coffee blend or bean type. Espresso is the brewing method, the preparation style. It derives from the Italian word presso which means pressure, and as you might imagine it uses pressure to pump out your coffee.
Without further ado, let’s get on with our guide.
The Top 5 Best Espresso Machines Under $500
5. Smeg ECF01
While I was researching for this buying guide I remembered that the Italian manufacturer Smeg has released one of the most popular espresso machines under $100: the ECF01. This is easy to use, the aesthetically pleasing espresso machine is packed with an excellent 15 bar pressure pump to deliver a great coffee experience.
This is a retro vintage looking semi-automatic espresso machine that will deliver a great espresso to you consistently. This is definitely a home grade espresso machine that is intended for people that care about the looks a little more than they would like to admit. The first thing that caught my eye about this product was also its looks, but I wanted to see whether or not it can deliver quality espresso-like promised.
This Italian machine is packed with some nice features and specs in its body that are ready to perform. First, off I should mention that it is packed with a 15 bar professional pressure pump and a thermoblock system to keep things in check about the pressure and heat. It also has a power of 1350Watts. The Smeg ECF01 is equipped with a 1-liter large water tank with optional water filter, and a frothing wand to deliver you milky drinks. A 1-liter water reservoir is more than enough, especially if it is easy to fill, just like it is the case with this machine.
The magic of this machine comes right of the box, as it is one of the most beautiful espresso machines I have ever seen. Coming in with a 50s retro golden age design with milky glossy bodies that will be a statement piece in your kitchen. Its beautiful body is available in Black, Green, and Cream, all looking excellent, and I tested the green version here. In terms of accessories, it also had three portafilters for the group head, and a combo spoon and tamper to wrap it up.
The whole coffee-making process of the Smeg ECF01 is pretty fool-proof, turn on the machine put coffee in the filter, tamp it and start of the machine. You won’t need to wait long for it to reach the operating temperature and you can easily switch between steaming and brewing coffee. To be honest, buying an espresso machine just under the $500 price is not really cheap, and you would expect some great performance, which the Smeg ECF01 delivered without worries. It extracted all the flavors and aromas from beans perfectly.
If you want a great espresso machine, without a lot of features, but also appreciate design a little more, the Smeg ECF01 is the perfect fit for you. Definitely a great espresso maker.
4. Gaggia Brera
Gaggia is one of the best espresso machine manufacturers in the market and it has really delivered some great appliances, but when looking through their lineup Brera caught my eye. This is a super-automatic bean-to-cup espresso machine that will provide a super intuitive and easy espresso experience.
This super-automatic coffee machine is specifically designed for those people that can’t be bothered with procedures. It is a luxury item delivering your artisan espresso with just the press of a button. I wanted to test the capabilities of this amazing machine to see whether or not it could provide quality espresso with just the press of a button.
The Gaggia Brera is an automatic machine that has a built-in grinder that will provide you a very convenient experience. It packs tons of high-end performance such as its 15bar pressure pump, an S/S boiler and grinder with 5 different selections all specifically selected for espresso. The water tank of the device takes 1.2 liters of water and the bean container carries 250 grams of beans.
Without forgetting I should mention that the water reservoir can be accommodated with an Intenza+ water filter and it has a stainless steel boiler.
This price point is pretty low for a super-automatic machine, and I noticed that from the get-go as it was constructed mostly with plastic. However, the most important parts were made out of stainless steel, such as the boiler, drip tray, and steam wand. The machine has a pretty utilitarian look, pretty boxy and industrial, but the manufacturer must cut some corners to still deliver a good performance. A mixed first impression I would say.
The brewing experience of the Gaggia Brera is pretty much flawless, put your beans in the hopper and press the button to brew your espresso. Well, you will need some time to adjust the grind size but that’s pretty much it. After some time of experimenting with the Brera, I noticed that there are some smart features to it, for example, the smart system that adjusts the grind speed and time to better suit your beans. You can also pre-program the strength and volume of your coffee thanks to the Optiaroma feature.
Working perfectly as intended, the Gaggia Brera espresso maker may not look like much but it definitely delivers.
3. Delonghi EC680M DEDICA
Browsing through the under $500 I found out a forgotten gem, the Delonghi EC680M DEDICA. This semi-automatic compact espresso machine will deliver you an authentic Italian espresso and milky drinks without spending a fortune, or that is what the Italian manufacturer says.
This machine is specifically made for those that want a compact espresso machine that is affordable but can also deliver a good espresso experience. Whether it can or not we will see later, but that is the target audience of the machine. The Delonghi EC680M DEDICA really got my attention, it is small, packed with powerful performance, and it is pretty affordable, I really wanted to see if it can perform.
The Delonghi EC680M DEDICA despite being a pretty small and affordable machine really delivers some interesting features and specs. It has a professional grade 15 bar pump pressure, which is also adjustable to your preference. It also comes with a thermoblock heating system that is tested and true. The input power of the machine is 1300watts and the whole thing weighs just 9.3-pounds in total and measures 13×5.9×13-inches which is super lightweight and compact.
From the first impression, you will see that the Delonghi EC680M DEDICA has an interesting personality to it. It is not your regular square-shaped espresso machine. It has a chrome finish on its plastic body that gives it a professional appearance. The plastic construction doesn’t inspire confidence but it delivers some durability as it has no flex to it, and at this price, nothing more is expected from the Delonghi EC680M DEDICA. The controls and buttons of the device are a little awkwardly placed but it is due to its small body, but I grew accustomed to them quickly.
I have to say that the brewing process is not the fastest in the market, and like other pump-driven machines, it is a little time-consuming. After waiting for the machine to reach operating temperature, you can start brewing and it delivered a perfect espresso experience. However, pulling shots one after the other is a little difficult, due to the size of the boiler.
If you don’t need to brew a lot of coffee throughout the day, and if you want a budget espresso maker that can deliver authentic espresso, this will come to your rescue.
2. Breville The Infuser
Breville is a newcomer to the espresso machine business but the manufacturer has created some of the most popular espresso machines, especially for the price that they come with, but if you are searching for the best under $500, the Breville The Infuser is your best bet. The manufacturer states that this semi-automatic machine will guide you to perfect espresso without a doubt.
This semi-automatic espresso machine is pretty feature-packed, and the futuristic values of the company can be seen here as well. This machine is intended for the modern espresso lover, a person that wants perfection but doesn’t like mistakes in the process. I considered this espresso machine worthy of inspection since I was impressed with its pump and pressure gauge that really guide you toward great espresso.
Like I said, in the beginning, the Breville The Infuser is packed with some high-end features and the performance is all there with it. This espresso machine is packed with a 15bar made in Italy pressure pump and a 1650Watt Thermo coil integrated stainless steel boiler and pipe system that heats quickly and keeps the machine heated. It is packed with volumetric control and has a pre-infusion low-pressure feature that allows you to control the temperature accurately without any problem. The 61-ounce water tank in a 13.7 x 11.5 x 13.2-inch body just makes it all the better.
The Breville The Infuser gives quite the first impression with its stainless steel body with the classic square shape. However, unlike any of them, it has some interesting angles to it that make it pretty interesting in terms of design. It was quite an unboxing experience as it came with tons of accessories in the package including a tamper, the filter baskets, coffee scoop, stainless steel milk jug, cleaning disc and tablets, a brush for cleaning, water filter, and an Allen key.
In terms of the brewing experience the Breville The Infuser really delivers a capable experience as it really guides you through pulling a good shot of espresso, you just need to measure your espresso correctly tamp it and check the gauge to see whether or not it is ready to brew. It extracted all the flavors from the coffee and the steam wand worked just as well.
The Breville The Infuser espresso maker is really worth your time and money, definitely one of the best espresso machines under $500.
1. Gaggia Classic Pro
As we already talked about earlier Italians know their espresso and their machines, so I decided to include another Gaggia machine in this list the Classic Pro. This small semi-automatic espresso machine is capable of delivering excellent espresso experience to your house, and based on my experience I can confirm.
This machine is for the true espresso enthusiast, with a limited budget. It doesn’t have high-end features or LCD displays, and it is not the easiest machine to brew with, but for those that know their coffee, this is it. I have had some experience with the Gaggia Classic in the past, and I wanted to see whether the new upgrades to the machine are really worth it.
Like I said the Gaggia Classic Pro is not a feature-rich package however, it has some and lots more performance specs. This machine is equipped with a 15-bar professional pressure pump that combines with upgraded pump mounts, and dual heating elements to deliver a quick heating performance. The three-way solenoid valve that is only found in commercial machines makes an appearance and combined with the also commercial steam want the performance of this machine should be exceptional, at least on paper.
The first impression that I had with this machine was interesting, as I didn’t expect such a substantial machine at this price point. That mostly comes from the brushed stainless steel body, and everything else stainless steel. I saw that the group head was made from high-quality chromed brass and felt pretty good in hands. The machine measures 9.5x8x14.2-inches in total and I think that if you want durability this is the machine you should buy.
I am not easily impressed with the machines and I don’t usually make these claims, but the Gaggia Classic Pro delivers a commercial-grade performance, especially for its price. The espresso came out just perfect and the machine extracted the exact aromas and flavors from the coffee without over-extraction or any burning aroma in the mouth. With the steam wand, I was capable of creating latte art, while some other machines can froth milk, the Classic Pro did it to perfection.
For those that want an espresso experience at its best, the Gaggia Classic Pro is the best under $500 price.
Things You Should Look Out For When Buying An Espresso Machine
While there are countless things that you should check before buying an espresso machine, I will talk about the most important. If you stick to the suggestions in this guide there is no chance to make a mistake when it comes to buying an espresso machine under $500. Let’s take a closer look.
Type of the Machine
There are several types of espresso machines in the under $500 market. However, I will list the most important and the most useful to you. This will depend also on your budget and your skill level.
Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines
If you want to have more control and are a little more experienced in espresso-making you should definitely take a look at semi-espresso machines. With these machines, you can choose the number of grounds you will use in your coffee, tamp them, and adjust the brew strength to some degree, of course still depending on the machine quality. For the pure espresso experience, these are the machines I recommend. Every espresso enthusiast knows that these are royalty.
Automatic Espresso Machines
Moving on we have automatic espresso machines that deliver a pretty pleasing experience and are super convenient. These may not offer you an elevated level of control, however, you will see that these are very easy to use. Even a beginner with no prior experience can brew excellent coffee with these kinds of machines right from the get-go. You just need to add the beans to the hopper and press a button to brew your espresso drink. Some machines even make cappuccinos, lattes, and other milky drinks.
This is definitely the most important thing when it comes to the quality of your machine and espresso in general. To be considered an ‘espresso’ the water must go through the grounds in the portafilter with at least 9 bars of pressure. On the list above you will see that most of the machines exceed 9 bars of pressure comfortably, meaning that your machine will be extremely consistent at all times.
Nobody likes a cold cup of espresso, and for that to happen the machine you are planning to buy should be equipped with high-end components that will be able to heat the water properly in the boiler. This means that the machine should be able to heat the water up quickly and keep it that way in the boiler. This will definitely depend on the materials used in the boiler and the heating components.
A rule about hot water & coffe machines: If the model you choose can’t get hot water in less than a minute, then it’s not worth buying.
Before moving on you should check to see what materials your espresso machine is made off. For example, if your espresso machine is made out of durable materials such as stainless steel, you know that it will be by your side for longer than a plastic model. This also counts for the pipes and important components such as pressure pump, boiler, and the heating coils.
For top-quality espresso, you will definitely need a grinder. While you can get away with buying pre-ground beans, it is not just the same as your beans will lose their aromas and taste in the first days of being grounded. To negate this you should buy the best coffee grinder, for your needs. However, there are several machines that have in-built grinders in their bodies that will deliver a great performance, so it is a nice addition to the value.
Besides quality espresso, if you want to also prepare milky drinks such as lattes and cappuccinos you should definitely need to check out if your machine has a frothing wand. Also, you need to know whether or not it can do it properly. You can also opt for an aftermarket milk frother which is pretty cheap, it just isn’t the same experience, delivering not very satisfactory results.
Size of the Machine
While it is overlooked most of the time, this is also a very big factor that should help you decide for or against an espresso machine. This will depend on your predetermined space for your espresso machine. I know that you can make space or plan another place for your espresso machine, nobody wants to remodel for an appliance. Check to see if the footprint of the device will fit into your kitchen and also make sure its height is perfect and won’t obstruct your cupboard.
This is not a really important factor or an aspect you should really look out for but in this category the more the merrier. If the espresso machine you are planning to buy comes with cups, a tamping tool, jugs, cleaning brushes and so on it is better. But then again it is not the end of the world if the machine you are planning to buy doesn’t provide you with these things, as you can buy them on Amazon, they are already pretty affordable as well.
Ease of Use and Maintenance
This is a pretty important factor and will solely depend on your prior experience with espresso machines and your enthusiasm. You can be an absolute beginner but if you want to learn to operate a more complicated machine it is even better. Also, be sure to check out some videos on how the espresso machine you are planning to buy is cleaned. If the task is really tedious and tasking or you have to repeat it every single brew than you probably should look elsewhere.
The water reservoir is very important. You don’t want an espresso maker that empties the water tank after you make 3 or 4 cups of coffee. That’s why, getting an espresso maker that has a large water reservoir is a big plus.
Tips on Brewing Better Espresso
Always make sure that you use good and fresh beans. You will most likely find your preferred beans and roasts, but I would suggest you to never settle for lesser beans of lower quality.
Keep your machine well maintained and clean at all times just like the manufacturer suggests you to. Follow your manufacturer’s instructions from the user manual and even check out Youtube videos on how to clean up your machines. Just like your car, an espresso machine won’t run properly if it isn’t maintained properly.
Make sure that your water is clean and filtered if possible. I always suggest coffee shops install water filters for their espresso machines since this will not only make your espresso taste better, it will also make your machine easier to clean and decrease any kind of damage to your machine.
Always remember to preheat your machine before starting brewing. Espresso is a perfect balance between, properly ground coffee, adequate pressure and the right temperature, any of these elements are off and your coffee will be off as well.
To conclude this guide I would like to mention once again to be careful when you are buying an espresso machine. Determine a budget before shopping and search for the machine that offers you all the desired qualities. Be sure to check out user reviews if you choose for a model and check reviews about the machine so you are not disappointed. However, choosing a machine from the top picks that I have mentioned earlier will result in you in a super safe worry-free machine that will deliver you exceptional espresso every day.
I hope that you decide on your first or next espresso machine without any difficulty, and of course, I am always pleased to help you make an informed decision. Until next time.