If you have made it far enough to read this article about the best espresso machine under $500, you are at an exciting stage in your coffee journey! You are moving beyond entry-level machines at this price bracket and can expect the basic features of mid-level espresso machines. Here at The Coffee Folk, this is our favorite price bracket. We recommend the machine we used every morning for a decent couple of years and absolutely loved it.
This price bracket is what multiple coffee gurus have called the sweet spot for home brewers.
You are investing in a high-quality espresso machine at this price range, which doesn’t break the bank. This article will review what we think are the best espresso machines under $500 for 2023.
Our recommendation is that The Breville Infuser is the single best espresso machine 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.
Best Espresso Machines Under $500
The Best Espresso Machine Under $500
The Breville Infuser espresso machine 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. We loved this machine so much that when we first heard about it, we went out and brought one and never looked back.
What sets this espresso machine apart is a few top-line features that significantly shape the quality of the espresso. 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 that automatically adjusts the temperature of the water after steaming 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 coffee is first soaked in water at low pressure before the pressure is increased for a crema-rich shot. The low-pressure pre-infusion allows the ground coffee to expand and ensures a consistent infusion for a well-balanced brew. It also comes with pre-set 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 Express. While slightly over $500, it is basically the Infuser with an inbuilt ceramic burr grinder, allowing you to grind fresh coffee beans.
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, feel free to read our comprehensive review of the Breville Infuser.
Gaggia Classic Pro
Tested and Tried
The Gaggia Classic Pro is a classic Italian espresso machine that has been around for almost 30 years. It is sturdy, reliable, and can be trusted to make a great shot of espresso. Gaggia has 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. Put simply; the Gaggia is a workhorse that will last for years and hold its value well.
Key features include a 58mm commercial-sized portafilter, 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 Pro is not as customizable as some of the other more modern machines on this list but isn’t meant to be.
The Gaggia Classic Pro has a simple build designed to produce delicious espresso. It has only three switches, used to control the power, brewing, and steaming functions. There are a few quirks to the machine, though. The brewing pressure is higher than normal, set to 15 bars rather than 9 bars. This is to cater to pre-ground coffee; however, if you are using freshly ground coffee, this will need to be tweaked. The boiler also doesn’t have PID temperature control built-in. Because of this, it struggles to maintain stable brewing temperatures and requires some temperature surfing to counter this. These two issues can be solved with mods, which most users opt to install.
The Gaggia Pro also features a commercial-style steam wand allowing you to produce some quality steamed milk. The only downside is that this machine is a single boiler, so you can’t brew your espresso while steaming your milk.
The Gaggia Classic Pro is about one thing: making a great espresso shot. It is an extremely popular machine among hobbyist baristas looking for an entry-level machine. So if you are looking for a high-quality machine that will last, is easy to use, and makes a great shot, this model is a real contender. But bear in mind, it does require a bit of modding to get it performing at its best.
Best Value for Money
The Breville Bambino Plus is another solid offering from Breville. This compact machine is packed with a ton of features! It seems that the rationale behind this model was less money on build quality so that more money could be spent on features. And it does boast some seriously impressive features. These include pre-infusion, PID temperature control, and a thermojet heating system enabling it to heat up in 3 seconds and switch between steaming and brewing with virtually no wait time.
But its most notable feature is the steam wand that can be used automatically and hands-free (a feature that is unheard of at this price point). The user can select between three different milk temperatures and textures. Then simply needs to insert the steam wand into the milk pitcher and allow the Bambino Plus to work its magic.
The Breville Bambino Plus has a 54mm portafilter and both single and double-shot baskets. However, it does only come with double-walled baskets. These are great for beginners and very forgiving, but for espresso enthusiasts, they won’t cut it.
Overall, we are very impressed with the Bambino Plus; it can produce good espresso and great milk. This espresso machine is a good fit for someone who wants good espresso but is less interested in learning the skills.
Best Manual Espresso Maker
This is the only manual espresso machine on this list and probably won’t be a great fit for MOST people. However, this would be a superb option for the true espresso enthusiast. The Flair range of espresso machines are all lever machines with a proven and trusted track record.
They are somewhat fiddly to pull a shot (as are most manual machines), but they can make delicious espresso. The Flair Pro 2 is stunningly beautiful and comes with a pressure gauge, a heavy-duty frame, and a drip tray. It also has a larger overall capacity than many other Flair models. The downside to all manual espresso machines is that they take more effort and don’t include a steaming wand. So for any milk-based drinks, you will need to purchase a separate milk frother like the Nanofoamer.
However, the quality and beauty of this machine is outstanding. It is not for everyone, but if you are even vaguely interested in manual espresso machines, then the Flair Pro 2 should be a serious consideration. See our article on Flair espresso machines for a more in-depth look at this type of machine.
Espresso with Style
The Delonghi Dedica espresso machine is all about compact elegance and quality espresso. Like Gaggia, Delonghi has been in the industry for years and knows how to make espresso machines that brew great coffee. At the lowest price on this list, the Delonghi 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. While quality trumps aesthetic appeal, it is worth noting that 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 customizable as some other machines, it can make a decent shot of espresso. The espresso doesn’t have the depth of flavor you would find from espresso on the Gaggia or Infuser. It has programmable single and double shot buttons as well as portafilter baskets for both ground beans and ESE pods. The Delonghi Dedica comes equipped with a pannarello-style steam wand. This is simple to use for beginners and creates frothy milk, but not the silky micro-foam that is the goal.
The build quality is not as good as other machines on this list, with a lot of plastic incorporated into the design, but this is somewhat expected considering the price. Its slim footprint also means the drip tray is very small, and there is not a lot of clearance between the portafilter and drip tray.
Overall, the Delonghi Dedica is an elegant and affordable coffee maker for the home brewer on a budget. If you can stretch the budget, we recommend spending a bit more and investing in a machine that will produce better espresso and milk and have a more durable build.
All in One
The Gaggia Brera is a bit of an outlier on this list as the only super-automatic espresso 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. You put in whole beans, and the machine grinds them for you, doses, tamps, and then pulls a shot of espresso. It also comes with a Pannarello milk frother so you can froth your milk. The milk frother will produce frothy milk but not micro-foam. The Brera offers plenty of customization as well- users can adjust grind size, the dose of ground coffee, and cup size.
The Gaggia Brera has a built-in ceramic burr grinder with only five different settings, which is very limited. There is also a bypass doser for pre-ground coffee, which is a good option if you want to use decaf coffee.
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.
Best Espresso Machine Under $500 | Final Thoughts
If you are looking at investing in an espresso machine for around $500 there are a range of standout options, depending on your needs. We recommend that the best espresso machine under $500 is the Breville BES840XL Infuser. It is loaded with high-end features and makes a superb espresso.
Alternatively, the Gaggia Classic Pro is the best option for the espresso enthusiast, offering a commercial-quality build and components.
And finally, the Breville Bambino Plus is an excellent entry-level machine offering fast brewing times and automated milk steaming.
So whether you are just entering the coffee scene or a brewing veteran, an espresso machine under $500 could be a terrific next step on your coffee journey. If you still aren’t sure which machine is right for you, check out our guide to the best espresso machines.
Things To Consider When Buying An Espresso Machine
The world of espresso machines can be somewhat daunting at first look. There is 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.
Understanding The Types Of Espresso Machines
A super-automatic machine, also known as a bean-to-cup machine, does everything for you. The home brewer puts the coffee 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. A super-automatic espresso machine is an excellent option for those who prioritize 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, a superb machine fitting into this price bracket. If you are interested in buying a bean-to-cup machine see our guide to the best Super-Automatic espresso machines.
At this price point, a semi-automatic espresso machine is the most common type of machine. This machine pumps hot water through a pre-ground and pre-tamped portafilter to extract a shot of coffee.
With a semi-automatic machine, the user will have to:
Brewing is a lot more hands-on than with a super-automatic espresso machine. 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 close involvement in the brewing process. But on the other hand, it can be a fairly steep learning curve for those relatively new to the espresso scene. Overall, as this article will show, we believe that a semi-automatic espresso machine is the way to go for MOST coffee enthusiasts.
Manual espresso makers are the way to go for those who are unashamedly coffee geeks. As the name suggests, these machines 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. A manual espresso machine can produce some of the best espresso out there but comes with a steep learning curve. Many manual espresso machines do not come with the ability to froth milk.
While Nespresso machines also fit into this price range, we haven’t included them as we think you can get something better with a $500 budget. Nespresso machines are convenient to use, but they do not produce real espresso. If Nespresso is your thing, then check out our article on the best Nespresso machines.
What To Look For In An Espresso Machine
Because the goal is to invest in an espresso machine that you can regularly use (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 that suits your needs and will help and not hinder your love of good coffee.
The heating system is one of the key elements required to produce delicious espresso. If water is not heated to and maintained at the optimal brewing temperature (195-204F), the espresso will be under-extracted, tasting sour, or over-extracted, tasting bitter. There is a range of different heating systems available:
PID Temperature Control
PID (Proportional-Integral-Derivative for those who love acronyms) is a digital temperature control that carefully regulates the water temperature with great precision. This ensures that water is heated and maintained at the right temperature for optimal espresso extraction.
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 to wet the grounds, which helps prevent channeling and therefore aids even extraction. This feature will help you produce better espresso, which is what it is all about.
It is worth noting that various espresso machines (including the Gaggia below) use what is called a pannarello steam wand/milk frother. This is an attachment to the steam wand, which automatically aerates the milk to maximize foam production from undersized boilers. The positive aspect is that this milk frother is very easy to use and is a gentle entry into steaming milk. The downside is that steamed milk tends to be more foamy than silky microfoam, which is the goal. Panarello wands can be good for the beginning espresso brewer but will restrict the more advanced home brewer. A good commercial-style milk frother /steam wand is also essential for latte art.
Three-Way Solenoid Valve
A Solenoid valve is a helpful feature that releases pressure from the group head once you have finished brewing, allowing you to remove the portafilter immediately after extracting.
An auto-purge function automatically purges the hot water after steaming, bringing the temperature down to the optimal extraction temperature.
The espresso machines begin to have some great features at this price bracket. A few to look out for are:
The final thing to consider is the accessories that come with the espresso machine. Some machines have everything you need to start brewing, like filter baskets, a tamp, a milk pitcher, and cleaning supplies. Others offer cheap accessories or none at all. These are extra costs you will have to factor in.
Finally, if you want to know how to best use one of these bad boys, see our Beginners Guide To Espresso.