The preparation really sets espresso apart from any other coffee. Steam presses heat water to near boiling then pressurize and shoot it through finely ground, tightly packed beans. The result? A steaming hot shot of espresso in under a minute.
We took a close look at 15 products before determining the 5 best espresso machines under $500. First, it’s important to know whether a machine is semi- or super-automatic. Do you want a machine that does everything for you? Or do you want to have a more hands-on experience? Because pressure is such an important part of making espresso, we took a look at the amount of pressure each machine can produce. As a result, the De’Longhi ESAM3300 Magnifica became our Editor’s Choice.
More features: grinds beans, 1 or 2 cup selection, 8.8-oz. bean container, cappuccino system, patented direct-to-brew system
One of the best automatic espresso machines available under $500, the De’Longhi ESAM3300 Magnifica has all the features of a full-size espresso machine but in a compact, modern design. It works with ground coffee but also features a direct-to-brew system, which grinds whole beans immediately before brewing.
To make a great tasting shot of espresso, you need at least 9 bars of pressure. This machine provides 15 bars, enough to give you professional coffee house flavors at home.
Because this is a super automatic machine, it does everything for you. All you have to do it choose the strength and cup size. It even remembers your preferences so you get the right size and strength, every time.
The simple control panel has both rotary and push-button controls to adjust the settings. Choose from five different coffee strengths and four cup sizes and, with the adjustable height coffee spout, larger glasses fit without a problem. A cup warmer maintains the temperature after the espresso leaves the machine.
Want to make more than one drink? This machine maintains the perfect temperature to make cup after cup without having to reheat so there’s no waiting required.
Another great feature is that it mixes steam and milk to make other coffee drinks, too. Just change the settings for thick foam for cappuccinos or a creamy latte. Simply place a container of milk under the nozzle and let the machine do the rest.
Clean up is easy. A removable drip tray prevents a lot of messes, and the machine also automatically adjusts for one or two shots of espresso to prevent any spillage. There’s also a decalcification indicator that lets you know when it’s time to clean the inside of the machine.
De’Longhi made some changes between this and the previous, older model, some of which haven’t gone over well. The current model has more plastic parts and is not as durable.
More features: 61-ounce water tank capacity, 19–22 g dose, manual control of espresso shot volume, thermocoil heating system, maintenance indicators
While the Breville Duo Temp Pro is considered an entry-level machine, it’s loaded with features that make it easy to brew your own espresso.
The most impressive feature of this machine is the one it’s named for, the duo temp technology. An automatic purge feature that flushes the heating system after steaming to quickly bring the temperature down. It’s an effective way of preventing burned drinks.
To make sure each brew is perfect, the Duo Temp uses low pressure to pre-infuse the grounds before increasing to 15 bars for extraction which keeps the espresso more balanced and flavorful. This feature is also completely controlled by the machine, making it easier for a beginner to make a great espresso with minimal effort.
The concealed storage area is the perfect place to keep the included RAZOR dose trimmer, cleaning tools, and magnetic temper. Everything is close by when you need it but is kept safely out of the way.
The traditional steam wand takes a little practice but can deliver professional results in the long run. Because it only has a one-hole steam tip, it can heat the milk unevenly but, with practice, it becomes easier to master. It takes some time to heat up to the proper temperature. This is good for beginners but can get tedious as you get more skilled.
The stainless steel finish and streamline design of the Duo Temp look great, too. This machine does take up a lot of counter space, but it’s really nice to look at, which makes it somewhat forgivable.
While almost everything about this machine is impressive, the water tank can be a little difficult to open. It’s doesn’t have the same solid, durable feel as the rest of the machine.
One of the best things about the Nespresso Expert is how much customization it has. Not only can you choose between four different cup sizes and three different temperatures, but you also get a wide variety of premeasured, prepacked capsules to choose from so you can be sure you get whatever flavor you’re craving.
This machine delivers 19 bars of pressure for complete flavor extraction and true coffeehouse flavor. That’s not all, it heats up in less than 30 seconds and has an energy-saving feature that automatically turns it off after nine minutes. It also features LED alerts when maintenance is required, including when the water tank needs refilling or when descaling is necessary.
If you’re looking for a smart espresso machine, you’ll be happy to know the Nespresso Expert can be controlled by an app on your smartphone. Using Bluetooth technology, you can schedule your next brew and adjust your preferences as well as manage maintenance alerts and reorder capsules when you need them. Multiple devices can connect to the same machine at the same time but the connection and the app can be quite glitchy.
One really smart thing about this design is that it sits flat against the wall, making the most effective use of counter space. The style is inspired by a coffeehouse machine and features rotating dials that make it really easy for anyone to use.
The machine holds 10 to 12 used capsules and will alert you when the collection container needs emptying. Unfortunately, you cannot use regular beans and Nespresso does not make refillable pods.
The Nespresso CitiZ C111 has an impressive, award-winning design that’s so compact; it’s perfect for tiny kitchens where counter space is at a premium. It’s modern, elegant, and surprisingly versatile and the best home espresso machine under $500.
Despite its small size, the CitiZ has 19 bars of pressure and simple, user-friendly controls. With two programmable cup size buttons and an adjustable drip tray, this machine accommodates everything from a small coffee cup to a travel mug.
The energy-saving function turns off the machine after 9 minutes of inactivity but you can extend this to 30 minutes if you want more time.
This machine features Thermoblock technology that uses a stainless-steel heating element to maintain precise control over the temperature. Because of this, it heats to the ideal temperature in just 25 seconds. Once it’s ready to go, it can be a bit noisy when the pressurized water passes through the capsule.
The CitiZ comes with a separate milk frother. It uses a simple automatic system that’s ready in seconds and works with hot or cold milk so you can make lattes, iced cappuccinos, and more. The dishwasher-safe whisk attachment and ceramic-reinforced nonstick coated chamber keep cleanup time down. That’s not all, the machine itself has an easily removable 34-ounce water tank that’s easy to clean and refill as well. Overall, this product is really easy to maintain.
One downside to the CitiZ is that it’s only compatible with Nespresso capsules. While there are other third-party options available, they don’t work quite as well and won’t give you the delicious results that this machine is capable of. Plus, if you choose a large cup size, you may need to use two capsules.
If you don’t have a lot of counter space, the Nespresso Lattissima Plus by De’Longhi is so compact, it can even fit inside a shelf. In fact, with the capsule enclosure completely open, it’s only 14-inches tall. Despite its size, it delivers 19 bars of pressure and creates high-quality, single cup drinks.
This system is super easy to use. All you have to do is choose the Nespresso capsule you prefer, insert it into the machine, and select from espresso, cappuccino, latte, or regular coffee using the four-button control panel. That’s it. The machine does the rest, skillfully creating dense foam and perfect layers. If you want to customize your settings, you can. Just hold down the drink button until you get the perfect blend. It even saves your changes for next time you make a drink.
One of the best things about this product is the milk container. It heats, froths, and steams milk so you can make lattes, cappuccinos, and macchiato or even just a mug of hot chocolate if that’s what you’re in the mood for. Best of all, the container is completely removable so you can put the milk back in the fridge when you’re done instead of wasting it. This makes cleanup really easy, too.
The Lattissima uses a quick-heating thermoblock system that makes coffee drinks in as little as 25 seconds and milk-based drink in 40 seconds, though, at times, neither seems like it’s getting quite hot enough. The machine also maintains the temperature, too, so you can make a second cup right away.
This is a Nespresso system so, if you want the best results, you have to use Nespresso capsules. They’re pre-measured, easy to clean up, and made of recyclable aluminum.
To see how we decided what products to include in our list and to learn a little more about what you should take into consideration when making your decision, let’s take a closer look at what these machines can do.
If you’re thinking about buying an espresso machine for under $500, it helps to have an understanding of what features you should expect and which ones really only come with much more expensive machines.
At this price point, you can expect an espresso machine to have a milk frother. In fact, four of our out picks include one.
Being about to produce enough pressure is really important, too, because the force of the water passing through the grounds is what makes an espresso an espresso. You need at least bars of pressure. Each of these produces 15 bars or more.
There are some features that are nice to have but that you won’t commonly find on machines under $500. A lot of the more expensive machines have an integrated bean grinder. While you’ll find one on our Editor’s Pick, the De’Longhi ESAM3300 Magnifica, it’s not something that comes standard.
Another thing that’s becoming more and more prevalent is smart espresso machines that connect to your smartphone or tablet via a Bluetooth connection. This is something you typically only find on higher-end models but one of our picks, the Breville Nespresso Expert, is equipped with this smart technology.
There are some things to think about when deciding which is the right espresso machine for you. Let’s take a look at some key features.
One of the main things to look for is whether the machine is semi-automatic or super automatic, especially if you’ve never made espresso before.
Semi-automatic machines feature a boiler, portafilter, and extraction switch that is operated by the user. While just about everything is automated, you still get to control the extraction time. Usually, this is done by selecting a preset but some machines have programmable buttons that give you a little more direct control.
Super-automatic machines do everything for you. All you have to do is push a button and they’ll grind the beans then tamp and brew your coffee for you. While some of our picks, like the Nespresso Lattissima Plus by De’Longhi, might seem like they do it all, you still have to load the capsule into the machine so they’re not truly super-automatic.
The De’Longhi ESAM3300 Magnifica is the only true super-automatic option on our list and the best one we found in our research.
We mentioned pressure earlier but it’s worth repeating. Using pressure to force hot water through beans is what makes an espresso an espresso. You’ll need at least 9 bars of pressure is needed to create enough force to extract flavor from the beans.
Temperature is really important, too. Because so much heat is lost during brewing and as the espresso passes through the air into a cup, the machine has to be able to get up to about 190 degrees. By the time the espresso is ready to drink, it’s down to about 160 degrees. So, if the machine can’t quite get as hot as 190 degrees, your espresso is always going to be a little too cold when it hits your cup. Sometimes, this can require pre-heating the machine or doing a brew with only water.
A milk frother adds a lot of versatility to an espresso machine because everything you need to make lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos, an Americanos is right onboard.
While some machines have an automatic steamer that froths and layers just the right amount of mil for you, you can find machines that use a traditional steam wand like the Breville Duo Temp Pro.
While it might take a few tries to get right, a traditional wand offers a true hands-on experience and gives you an opportunity to try making foam art for a true coffeehouse experience.
Some of these machines make cleanup really easy. Removable drip trays, water tanks, and dishwasher-safe parts are all really convenient things to look for.
Another really useful feature is cleaning and maintenance indicators. For example, the De’Longhi ESAM3300 Magnifica has a decalcification indicator to let you know when it’s time to clean the inside of the machine.
Warranties are really important, especially with a product like this. There are a lot of electronic and moving parts which means there are a lot of opportunities for something to go wrong. Luckily, all of our picks are covered with a 1-year limited warranty, except for the Nespresso Expert which is covered for 2 years.
Our top pick with a rating a 9.8 is the De’Longhi ESAM3300 Magnifica. It’s the only super-automatic option on our list which means it does everything for you, including grinding the beans. The compact, easy-to-use design even steams milk and remembers your settings to give you exactly what you want, every time.
Finally, the Breville Duo Temp Pro is a great semi-automatic option with a 9.3 rating. It was named for its duo temp technology that helps go from steaming milk to brewing without burning. Onboard storage and a traditional steam wand make this a convenient and fun choice.
Next, with a rating of 9.2, is the Nespresso Expert by De’Longhi. This smart espresso machine has Bluetooth technology and app connectivity that you usually only see on higher end models. The flat-to-the-wall design and small footprint are ideal for small spaces.