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The 3 Best Espresso Machines Under $500 (Buying Guide and Reviews)

Let’s start with the good news: Tons of people have taken to making espresso at home and are getting personal with their coffee. So, in order to supply all these espresso enthusiasts with the tools they need, the market of home espresso machines is booming!

Okay now for the bad news: This boom in espresso machines and products for home-use has led to many options that are truly not worth your time or money.

With all the glamour and jargon that tends to be associated with espresso as compared to other brews, lots of people struggle to differentiate between the good and the bad.

It can be a daunting task to select a high-quality espresso machine that doesn’t cost a fortune if you aren’t a coffee expert or industry professional, and we get it. So to help you out, we have chosen our top 3 automatic and semi-automatic espresso machines for less than $500. Let’s take a look.

The 3 Best Espresso Machines under $500

Model Specs Features Amazon
DeLonghi EC685M Full-Automatic
35oz Water Tank
52mm Porta Filter
E.S.E. Pods
Steam Wand
SEE ON AMAZON
Gaggia 14101 Classic Pro Semi-Automatic
72oz Water Tank
58mm Porta Filter
Pre-Infusion
E.S.E. Pods
Steam Wand
3-Way Solenoid Valve
SEE ON AMAZON
Breville BES840XL Semi-Automatic
61oz Water Tank
52mm Porta Filter
Pre-Infusion
E.S.E. Pods 
Steam Wand
3-Way Solenoid Valve
PID Controller
SEE ON AMAZON

Before we dive into the various features on each of these espresso machines, let’s address the settings and specs that are industry standard for this tier of the espresso machine market.

All three of our picks share features like a strong 15 bar pressure pump, a cup warmer, and brew-compatibility with E.S.E. pods. They can also be expected to feature the following:

  • A high-quality steam wand
  • A hot water spout for Americanos and hot tea
  • Removable water tank and drip tray for easy maintenance

With these standard features available across the board, the machines are more clearly distinguished by the high-tech, premium features we are about to discuss. Though it is important to have options so that your espresso comes out just as you like it, a machine with a lot of manual controls may contribute more complexity than consistency to your brew.(1)

While it’s great to have a machine that gives you complete control, this is no good if you’re not sure how to use all the features.

All three of our picks here are user-friendly, so don’t panic. It can be easy to get caught up in the flashy and super-specific features of other models, so we have chosen three that fall somewhere in the middle between point-and-shoot and ultra-customizable.

some of the best espresso machines under 500 come with a built-in steam wand

PID-Controlled Water Temperature

A PID, or Proportional Integral Derivative, is a small device that uses mathematical equations to achieve precise and consistent water temperature in your espresso machine. Espresso machines that use PIDs as opposed to a mechanical thermostat are able to maintain a more consistent temperature, making the extraction more uniform. (2)

Before PID controllers, espresso boiler temperature was controlled by thermostats or pressure stats….The boiler had to cool down below a set temperature before turning on, and continued heating up slightly past the shutoff point at the top end, making temperature stability quite volatile and difficult to precisely control.

The Breville espresso machine that we selected as one of our top 3 uses a PID to keep the boiler at a consistent temperature, ready for great espresso. Other machines, use a thermoblock to heat the water as it passes from the tank to extract the coffee, eliminating the issue of maintaining the temperature of the entire boiler.

Pre-Infusion

Pre-Infusion is a common feature for both espresso machines and drip coffee machines as well as a best practice for manual brews. An espresso machine with a pre-infusion setting releases a small amount of water at a low-pressure onto the coffee grounds and then pauses, allowing for the coffee to bloom and for water to saturate the entire bed of coffee for uniform extraction.

You may already know that roasted coffee releases CO2. The gas releases even faster once the beans are ground, opening up the coffee’s capacity for extraction once exposed to water. When your espresso machine performs pre-infusion, it is allowing the remaining pockets of carbon dioxide to bubble up so that the water extracts a stronger coffee flavor.

Espresso machines use pre-infusion to increase the consistency of the brew.

The second benefit of pre-infusion is that, by saturating the grounds gently, the impact of any inconsistencies in the grind or tamping is minimized. When the water is applied at high pressure, it will be more likely to move in a uniform way through the grinds, rather than jetting through the center of the coffee bed, resulting in an unbalanced espresso shot.

3-Way Solenoid Valve for a Dry Puck

No one wants to spend their time banging a wet, sludgy puck out of their portafilter. That is why so many espresso machines like the Breville Infuser and the Gaggia Classic Pro use 3-way solenoid valves to release the water pressure on the portafiler and deposit it into the drip tray after the brewing cycle. This system leaves you with a dry puck that easily drops out of the portafiler.

3-way solenoid valves make it easier and cleaner to brew multiple shots in a row. In addition, the valve closes automatically after brewing to eliminate bothersome dripping through the brew group.

Customizable Brew Settings

While the above features are oriented towards the espresso machine’s ability to automatically regulate and produce espresso, there are many coffee enthusiasts looking for more manual control over the brewing process.

Many espresso machines offer users the option to set shot volume, espresso temperature, and customize frothing. Beyond these adjustable features, machines may come with pressurized or non-pressurized portafilters, the latter allowing the brewer more control over the tamping and pressure on the grounds.

espresso pouring out of a portafilter

Essentially, what we are trying to say here is that you can find an espresso machine with features as automatic or manual as you need, so take a moment to think about what kind of control you want over the espresso you enjoy. The trick with more adjustable settings is that it definitely takes some time to find the sweet spot for your “perfect” brew, you will just have to drink a lot of espresso in pursuit–what a challenge!

The 3 Best Espresso Machines Under $500

DeLonghi Dedica EC680 Full-Automatic

DeLonghi Dedica EC680 Full-Automatic

The DeLonghi Dedica is a superbly programmable espresso machine that delivers professional quality espresso in a package perfectly suited to a home kitchen. This sleek automatic espresso machine is just 6 inches wide, a great fit for even the most crowded counter top.

The thermoblock water heating system is incredibly fast, the machine can be ready for brewing in under 40 seconds. It is also a fast and powerful brewer, with a 15 bar Italian pump. The machine is equipped with a cup warmer, descaling alarm for regular maintenance, and has an energy-saving standby mode, so you can enjoy your first of several espressos of the day without wasting electricity.

Aside from being ready whenever you need it, this machine also gives users the freedom to adjust brew temperature, shot volume, and foam and steam levels when frothing. Thanks to these settings, you can set your machine to brew either a single or double without having to think about brewing two separate shots. The Dedica can even be programmed for the hardness of the water in your household to give you accurate descaling and maintenance reminders. Though the machine’s water hardness settings are geared towards regular maintenance, users should note that water hardness can also impact flavor. (3)

Soft water can leave your coffee flat or lacking in body.

While it provides these user-friendly customizable settings, the Dedica espresso machine does not have a pre-infusion mode, which may result in slightly less consistency in your espresso brews.

This is a great tool for the less experienced espresso brewers among us, given that it provides automatic air and temperature regulation on the milk frother, making achieving the perfect froth nearly fool-proof. That being said, it does not come equipped with a solenoid valve, so cleaning out the removable portafilter may require more than one knock against your knock-box.

SEE ON AMAZON

Gaggia 14101 Classic Pro Semi-Automatic

Gaggia 14101 Classic Pro Semi-Automatic

This new semi-automatic model by Gaggia has several key updates for excellent espresso brewing. Now with 3 switches on its control panel, the machine has a basic on/off switch, a brewing on/off switch, and a steam on/off switch. The Gaggia has a 15 bar pressure pump and dual heating elements including a thermoblock that get the machine brew-ready in under 5 minutes and steam-ready in just 30 seconds.

Unlike the DeLonghi, the Gaggia 14101 Classic Pro includes both a pre-infusion mode and a 3-way solenoid valve to leave you with a dry coffee puck.

The commercial steam wand for excellent frothing and updated quieter pump make brewing really easy and stress-free, simply grind your beans of choice, deposit and tamp them in the removable portafilter, and watch rich espresso flow out of the machine. Since this machine does not have a timed descaling alarm, Gaggia recommends full maintenance every two months, or whenever you notice a decrease in water flow.

This is the espresso machine that comes in the closest to $500, but with all its features and Gaggia’s strong history as a leader in the world of espresso, it is still a great investment.

SEE ON AMAZON

Breville BES840XL The Infuser Semi-Automatic

Breville BES840XL The Infuser Semi-Automatic

The Breville Infuser Automatic Espresso Machine is, like basically all Breville products, an excellent brewing tool. Available in silver, red, and black, this 15-bar machine is both stylish and precise. We already mentioned that it has a PID to measure and maintain the perfect water temperature, delivering consistent and delicious espresso.

As is hinted in the name “The Infuser,” this espresso machine has a pre-infusion feature to maximize flavor and uniformity in your shots. It comes with both pressurized and non-pressurized removable portafilter baskets, so you can choose exactly how automatic you want the machine to be. Similarly, though the volume of the espresso shots comes pre-set, the Infuser gives users the option to re-program this detail of their espresso extraction. The auto purge function automatically adjusts the water temperature as you switch between brewing and frothing.

The Breville “Infuser” uses 19-22 grams of coffee for each shot, as opposed to the standard 11-13 grams, giving you a true shot of flavor. Once you have brewed your espresso and are ready to enjoy it, you can knock the used grounds out of the portafilter easily thanks to the 3-way solenoid valve.

The Breville Infuser will go into a power-saving sleep mode after one hour of idleness and will turn itself off after three hours. Another automatic function that makes your life easier is the Breville’s automatic descaling and maintenance alert light, letting you know when your machine needs some TLC.

SEE ON AMAZON

The Verdict: The Best Espresso Machine Under $500

Though all of these machines are worthy choices and keep you under a $500 budget, each one represents the best option for a different kind of brewer.

If you are a consumer just getting started brewing your espresso at home and are less concerned with exactly hitting the mark on every brew and slightly more concerned with your budget, the DeLongi is your best bet. It makes good espresso without over-complicating the process, what is not to love about simple elegance?

If, however, you are looking for something a step up, that provides structural and technological support for precise and consistent espresso without having to manually manipulate the brew, the Gaggia is about to become your brewing best bud.

Breville Infuser

Finally, for the espresso brewer looking for more direct control over the brew process while still flying under a $500 limit, the Breville Infuser is likely to be the best tool.

We love all three of these espresso machines, so leave a comment to share which one you choose!

Disclosure: I may get a commission for purchases made through eCommerce-links in my posts. More details here.

FAQs

To clean your espresso machine, you should be thinking about your regular and slightly less regular maintenance routines. Make sure you wipe down your steam wand, portafilters, and drain hose as well as backflush the machine when you finish every use. (4)

Descale your machine on a monthly basis and clean it either with vinegar and water or with the cleaning products specified by the manufacturer. If you have a machine with an automatic descale/maintenance setting, you don’t have to worry about timing the cleaning, since the machine will tell you when it needs to happen.

Yes, all three of these machines come with limited one-year warranties. Read the full warranty policy and consumer information by the manufacturer to learn the details.

Espresso requires a fine grind to extract the coffee over the correct period of time and to deliver the classic flavor you love. To achieve a consistent grind and rich, flavorful espresso, use a quality burr grinder to grind just enough coffee for your brew.

E.S.E. stands for Easy Serving Espresso, coffee pods that can be brewed in an espresso machine without fussing with coffee grinds. You can probably guess by now that we prefer real, freshly ground coffee to a packaged coffee pod. However, if these pods are the key to your favorite espresso, rest easy since all three machines we discussed are compatible with them.

References
  1. Guerra, G. (2019, January 7). How To Make Barista-Quality Espresso at Home. Retrieved from https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2019/01/how-to-make-barista-quality-espresso-at-home/
  2. Kilbride, D. (2017, June 8). How Does Pressure Affect Espresso Quality? Retrieved from https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2017/06/pressure-espresso-quality/
  3. A Brief History of the PID. (2015, October 15). Retrieved from https://home.lamarzoccousa.com/history-of-the-pid/
  4. Guerra, G. (2018, November 2). How to Clean & Maintain Your Espresso Machine. Retrieved from https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2018/11/how-to-clean-maintain-your-espresso-machine/