Well done!! The fact that you have found your way to this article shows that you are well on your way towards entering into the world of espresso! The only warning we have for you is that there is no turning back. Making a latte from the comfort of your kitchen has been one of our favourite aspects of home brewing and we are sure it will come to be for you too.
In the under $200 price bracket you can expect to get an entry level espresso machine that pulls a consistent shot, is easy to use, and allows you to steam your own milk. But even if you are convinced this is the price range for you, the choice can still be tricky. Nespresso or Semi-Automatic? What even is Semi-Automatic? How many bars of pressure is needed? In this article we will seek to help you navigate the sometimes confusing world of espresso machines before reviewing what we believe to be the best five Espresso Machines under $200.
What are the different types of Espresso Machines?
Manual Espresso Machines
These are for the hipster who loves anything technical and wants to make an art out of brewing. These machines allow complete control over every step of the espresso-making process from grinding to tamping to pressure and extraction time. They can be difficult to use but lead to a very balanced and textured shot of coffee when you master it. Manual Espresso Machines tend to be very high end and on the more expensive end of the price spectrum.
Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines
The majority of Espresso machines under $1000 (excluding pod and capsule machines) tend to be Semi-Automatics. These machines have electric pumps and tend to have a far more automated process than the manual machines. The operator/barista controls the grinding and tamping while the machine generally governs the pressure and extraction time (in the under $500 range [add link] you can expect to have some customisation over the extraction process but not generally in the under $200 range). Semi-Automatics are our favourite option for the coffee lover beginning his journey into the world of espresso. They give a taste for the hands on process of espresso making and milk frothing while remaining relatively easy to master, especially on entry level machines. The majority of machines reviewed in this article are Semi-Automatics.
Super-Automatic Espresso Machines
These are for the coffee lover who doesn’t have the time or inclination to develop their barista skills. These machines are similar to having a personal barista as they are fully automated so do everything for you from grinding and tamping to brewing and milk steaming at the push of a button. They can produce a great cup of coffee however they are generally on the higher end of the price scale.
These are for the person who wants the quick fix. These machines are convenient, untechnical, and easy to use. The process is as simple as inserting the capsule, pushing a button, and enjoying the espresso that comes out. However, the coffee enthusiast may find the coffee lacks depth and there is little possibility for development. Also, while various companies such as Nespresso now have environmentally responsible disposable options, an awful lot of these pods do end up in landfills. Capsule machines are similar to Super-Automatics in that the real advantage of these machines are convenience and consistency.
Pods: These are discs of coffee compressed between 2 layers of filter paper- they vaguely look like a tea bag. Some machines allow you to use both ground coffee or pods.
Capsules: These are made from aluminium or plastic with a foil top and contain a sealed dose of coffee. They allow the coffee to stay fresh for up to 9 months.
Making the right choice
To find the perfect espresso machine for you, you really need to know what you are looking for. So with that in mind, here are a few considerations to help you figure which type of machine might be your next step on your coffee journey.
What is required to pull a good Espresso shot?
Freshly Ground Quality Coffee
One thing that you will rightly hear again and again as you get more involved in the espresso world is that your single most important piece of equipment is a quality burr grinder. While pre-ground coffee is fine at this price range, if you are even thinking of upgrading it is worth seriously considering buying a quality burr grinder. Also if possible stay away from those pre-ground beans in the supermarket aisle, and find a specialty coffee roastery near you. The taste of your espresso will never exceed the quality of your beans.
A minimum of 9 bars of pressure
Espresso is made by forcing hot water (~195-200F) under high pressure through finely ground, compacted coffee. This results in a shot of extracted coffee ideally with a layer of rich, golden crema on the surface. A good espresso machine should produce a minimum of 9 bars of pressure for optimal extraction.
Water temperature at 195-205F
Espresso machines have a boiler in which the water is heated to the correct temperature. The ideal temperature for a good extraction is 195-205F. Less expensive machines have a single boiler for both steam and espresso, while pricier machines have twin boilers.
25-30 seconds of brewing
Typically a double shot of coffee should take between 25 and 30s to extract. This is especially important for manual and the more customisable semi-automatic machines. Entry level espresso machines will often simply have a pre-programmed single and double shot button so that you don’t need to worry about shot volume or extraction times.
Top 5 Espresso Machines Under $200
This semi-automatic espresso machine is our favourite entry level machine in this price bracket. It is a sturdy, well built machine with a stainless steel casing that will look great on any bench top. It comes with both single and double shot pressurised filters that make it easy to produce a good shot of coffee. In addition to this it has a dual filter holder that can cater to ESE pods as well. The machine is fitted with a panarello steam wand making milk frothing easy. It has 15 bar pump pressure and a 44 oz water tank. Overall this machine is our pick as the best espresso machine at this price point.
This machine is perfect for the Nespresso lover. Most of the Nespresso machines feature the same core technology so this machine is able to produce drinks of very similar quality to the more expensive machines. The machine is very compact and even comes fitted with a handle making it simple to move and store away if you don’t have room on your bench.
It has a nice minimalist design, available in multiple colours, that will suit any decor. It has the usual 19 bar pump pressure and a 24 oz water tank. The machine brews 2 different cup sizes: espresso (1.35 oz) and lungo (5 oz) but can also be reprogrammed if you prefer a different sized shot. It comes with an aerochino which can produce hot or cold frothed milk. Nespresso machines are great entry level machines as they are convenient and very simple to use and they feature a wide range of coffee flavours to choose from. This machine also comes with 16 free pods when you buy it to sample the different nespresso flavours.
This machine is great for the latte and cappuccino lover. It is a funny machine in that I would say it is halfway between semi and super automatic. You still pull your own espresso shot but then you push a button to select what drink you want and it automatically pours frothed milk and espresso into your cup. The machine has a dual filter holder catering to both coffee grinds and ESE pods. The machine comes with 15 bar pump pressure and a 55 oz water tank. The automatic milk frother makes it ideal for the person who loves milk based drinks but doesn’t want to learn how to use a steaming wand.
This machine is ideal for the coffee connoisseur who loves espresso. It is 100% manual and non-electric. It has an elegant, durable design that will make any benchtop look hip. Being a manual machine it takes a bit of work to master the art of using it, but when you do it is capable of producing the best shot of coffee of all the machines on this list.
The brewing process is a bit fiddly, involving removing the brew head and filling the portafilter with tamped coffee, filling the hot water cylinder above that and finally placing the piston that the handle attaches to on top. You then pull the handle down which generates 8-16 bars of pressure forcing your hot water through the coffee and producing your espresso. It is also highly portable and comes with a travel case. This is a great option for the espresso lover who is committed to learning how to pull a good shot and is willing to invest time and effort in experimenting. Also as a nice added perk it does just look very elegant and sophisticated!
This machine is what we believe to be the best value machine on this list. It has a lot of the features you are looking for with 15 bar pump pressure and a dual filter holder at an incredibly affordable price. It is a very compact semi-automatic machine which is great for those with limited counter space. Well not the best looking machine, it is easy to use and comes fitted with a steam wand. This is a great machine for those looking to dip their toes into the world of coffee without breaking the bank. While obviously at this price it is very much an entry level machine, it is a bargain for the price and a gentle entrance into espresso making.
In our opinion the best espresso machine for under $200 is the DeLonghi EC702 Espresso Maker. This machine has all of the features you would want in an entry level machine. It has a durable design with a stainless steel casing and boiler. It has a decent pump pressure allowing it to produce a good shot of espresso and it comes with a milk frother so you can practice your latte art. We recommend buying a new 50mm tamper to use with this machine to help you get a consistent extraction and a 20 ounce milk pitcher to get better frothing.