The Best Espresso Machines under $500 2020

If you have made it far enough to be reading this article then you are at an exciting stage in your coffee journey! By this price range you are moving beyond entry level machines and can expect the basic features of mid-level espresso machines. Here at The Coffee Folk this is our favourite price bracket. In fact the machine we recommend is the one we used every morning for a decent couple of years and absolutely loved.

This price bracket is what multiple coffee gurus have called the sweet spot for home brewers.

At this price range you are investing in a high quality coffee machine which doesn’t break the budget. This article will review what we think are the best five espresso makers under $500.

Our Pick: Breville The Infuser

Our recommendation is that the Breville Infuser is the single best espresso maker in this price range.  The Infuser has state of the art features, is of the highest quality, and best of all produces a superb shot of espresso. If you are willing to invest in this price bracket then you really can’t go beyond this coffee machine.

Things to consider when buying an espresso machine

The world of espresso machines can be rather daunting at first look. There are a stack of different machines with different features, each claiming to be the best! So here are a few tips and explanations to help you find the right espresso machine for you.

Different Types of espresso machines

  • Super-Automatic
    A Super-Automatic machine does everything from bean to brew. The home brewer simply puts the beans into the hopper and then the machine grinds the beans, measures them out, tamps them, and extracts the shot. Some of the pricier Super-Automatics also automatically steam the milk while less expensive models tend to require manual steaming. The Super-Automatic is a great option for those who prioritise convenience over control and effectively want good coffee on tap.

    This list mainly deals with Semi-Automatics as the Super-Automatic’s tend to be more expensive. One notable exception is the Gaggia Brera which is a superb machine that fits into this price bracket. If you are interested in buying a Super-Automatic check out our article here. While Nespresso machines also fit into this price range we haven’t included them as we think for this amount you can get something better. But if Nespresso is your thing then in this article we review the best Nespresso makers.

  • Semi-Automatic
    Semi-Automatic machines infuse hot water through a pre-ground and pre-tamped portafilter of beans to extract a shot of coffee. This means that the one operating the machine will have to manually grind the beans, measure them out them, tamp them, and then steam the milk. Therefore the quality of the espresso is strongly influenced by the skill and competency of the home brewer. On the one hand this means there is room for development and a close involvement in the brewing process. But on the other hand it can be a fairly steep learning curve for those who are relatively new to the espresso scene.

  • Manual
    Manual espresso machines are the way to go for those who are unashamedly coffee geeks. These machines, as the name suggests, give the home barista complete control over every aspect of the extraction process. So not only does the home brewer grind, dose, and tamp but they also control the water temperature, the pre-infusion time and pressure, and the pressure for the main extraction. Manual espresso machines are capable of producing some of the best espresso out there but come with a steep learning curve and usually a fairly expensive price tag. There are no manual espresso machines on this list as they tend to be in a higher up price bracket with one or two key exceptions.
Diagram listing parts of an espresso machine

What To Look For In An Espresso Machine

Because the goal is to invest in an espresso machine that you can use regularly (we use ours at least daily), it is important to get a machine that is easy to operate and maintain. Different things that come into this include the size of the water reservoir and drip tray (who wants to be filling up the water every second coffee!?), how easy the buttons or interface are to use, how easy the machine is to clean, and how long you may have to wait between extracting your shot and steaming the milk. Find a machine which suits your needs and which is going to help and not hinder your love of good coffee.

  • Features
    At this price bracket various of the espresso machines begin to have some great features. A few to look out for are the dry puck feature (which makes cleaning up a breeze), PID Temperature control, pre-infusion function, a solenoid valve, and an auto-purge function. With the exception of the dry puck function, these all both aid the extraction process and help make an even nicer cup of brew. The Pre-Infusion function in the Breville models is particularly noteworthy as it infuses a small amount of water on low pressure into the coffee puck which helps prevent channelling and therefore aids even extraction. Basically, just having this feature will help you produce better coffee which is what it is all about.

  • Steam Wand
    It is worth noting that various espresso machines (including the Gaggia below) use what is called a pannarello steam wand. This is an attachment to the steam wand which automatically aerates the milk to create the desired microfoam. The positive aspect is that these wands are very easy to use and are a gentle entry into steaming milk. The downside is that the steamed milk tends to be more foamy than the silky microfoam which is the goal. Panarello wands can be good for the beginning espresso brewer but will restrict the more advanced home brewer.

Finally, if you want to know how to use to best use one of these bad boys see our Beginners Guide To Espresso

Top 5 Espresso Machines under $500

Breville BES840XL Infuser – The Best of the Best

This espresso machine really is in a league of its own in this price bracket. It is reliable, consistent, loaded with high-end espresso features, and most importantly makes a delicious shot of coffee. In fact we loved this machine so much that when we first heard about it we went out and brought one and have never looked back.

What really sets this machine apart is a few top line features which significantly shape the quality of the coffee shot. These include an adjustable PID controller (basically an instrument which carefully regulates water temperature and can be adjusted in 2F brackets), an auto-purge function which automatically adjusts the temperature of the water after steam for optimal extraction, and most importantly the pre-infusion function from which this machine gets its name.

The pre-infusion function means that the ground beans are first soaked in water at low pressure before the pressure is increased for a crema-rich shot. The low pressure pre-infusion allows the grinds to expand and ensures a consistent infusion for a well-balanced brew. It also comes with single or double shot buttons with a manual override for further control.

It is worth noting that if you are convinced of the merits of this machine, then you should at least consider the Breville Barista. While slightly over $500, it is basically the Infuser with an inbuilt ceramic burr grinder which is super convenient. Worth at least thinking about…

We believe the Breville BES840XL Infuser is the best espresso maker under $500 and we feel sure that you will come to love it as much as we do. If you are still not convinced then feel free to read our extended review of the Infuser here.

Pros:

  • Makes consistently great espresso
  • Powerful steam want for high quality microfoam
  • Programmable controls
  • Lots of high end features
  • Dry puck feature

Cons:

  • Non-standard 54mm portafilter
  • Can’t steam and brew at the same time

Gaggia 14101 Classic – Tested and Tried

The Gaggia Classic has been loved and trusted for almost 30 years now. It is sturdy, reliable, and can be trusted to make a great shot of coffee and to last. Gaggia have been in the coffee industry for over 70 years and it shows. The standouts of this machine are its commercial grade quality as well as its design which is built for longevity. This means that the grouphead and portafilter are both made of heavy duty brass which stabilises temperature as well as lasting a long time.

Other features include a 58mm commercial size grouphead, a 72 oz. water reservoir, a 17.5 bar boiler, and the solenoid valve which allows for a quick turnover between shots. The Gaggia Classic is not as customisable as some of the other machines on this list but isn’t meant to be.

This espresso maker is really about one thing which is making a great shot of black coffee. So if you are looking for a machine that allows for customisation and lots of features then this might not be the coffee machine for you. But if you are looking for a high quality machine which will last, is easy to use, and makes a great shot, then this model is a real contender.

Pros:

  • Perfect for beginners
  • Makes great espresso
  • Easy to clean
  • Large water reservoir
  • Durable and robust

Cons:

  • Cup clearance is short so can only fit small cups when portafilter inserted
  • The pannarello steam wand isn’t of the greatest quality
  • Water temperature can be hard to see

Breville Duo Temp Pro – Best for the Money

The Duo Temp basically takes the best features of the Breville Infuser and puts them in a far more affordable model. If you are hesitant to put in the extra money for the Infuser but want a quality machine that will last then this is probably our favourite option.

Like the Infuser it has a PID controller, an auto-purge function, and the pre-infusion function for crema-rich espresso. The basic difference between the Duo Temp and its older brother is programmability. Unlike the Infuser, the Duo Temp does not offer customisable temperature control or shot volume control.

This is a particularly great entry level machine for those just entering the espresso scene. It is powerful, makes great coffee, and yet is relatively simple to use. If you are looking for a quality machine that won’t break the bank then this machine is a great option.

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Easy to use
  • Shares many great features with the Infuser

Cons:

  • Doesn’t allow for manual volume or temperature control

De’Longhi EC680 Dedica – Espresso with Style

The Dedica is all about compact elegance and quality espresso. Like Gaggia, De’Longhi have been in the industry for years and know how to make espresso machines that brew great coffee. At the cheapest price on this list, the Dedica is especially good for the home brewer on a budget who cares about the quality of the coffee but is less concerned with other bells and whistles. It is also worth noting that while quality trumps aesthetic appeal, aesthetic appeal does count for something. This machine simply does look good and graces any benchtop.

And the Dedica is more than simply a pretty face. While not as customisable as some of the other machines, it can make a balanced shot of coffee. It has programmable single and double shot buttons as well as portafilter baskets for both ground beans and ESE pods. The Dedica is an elegant and affordable all-rounder for the home brewer.

Pros:

  • The most compact machine on the list
  • Elegant design
  • Programmable shot volume

Cons:

  • Small drip tray
  • Mostly plastic construction
  • Less depth of flavour than the Infuser and Gaggia Classic
  • Comes with an average quality Tamp
  • Some customers have had technical issues with this model

Gaggia Brera 59101 – All in One

The Brera is a bit of an outlier on this list as the only Super-Automatic machine. And the reason for this is that generally good Super Automatics are expensive. But the Gaggia Brera is an outstanding exception.

This machine makes a great cup of coffee at the push of a couple of buttons. Basically, you put in whole beans and this machine grinds them for you (with five different grind settings available), tamps it, pre-infuses the grind, and then pours the extracted coffee through the grouphead. It also comes with a Pannarello steaming wand.

The Gaggia Brera is a great option if you are looking for an all-in-one machine that will give you quality espresso without all the effort of Semi-Automatics.

Pros:

  • Very customisable
  • Relatively easy to use
  • Brews quality Espresso
  • Comes with a built in ceramic Grinder

Cons:

  • Requires regular cleaning and maintenance
  • Oily (dark roast) beans may clog the brew head
  • Small water tank

The Takeaway

After reviewing a number of machines, we recommend that the best espresso machine under $500 is the Breville BES840XL Infuser. We have owned and loved this machine. It is powerful, comes with a great track record, is loaded with high end features, and best of all makes a superb cup of brew.

So whether you are just entering the coffee scene or are a brewing veteran we think that the Breville BES840XL Infuser could be a terrific next step on your coffee journey.

Happy Buying!

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on email
Share on print

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *