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Best Espresso Machine Under 500 Dollars Review 2018

We’ve scoured the internet to find the best espresso machine under 500 dollars. Below is a summary of our top four picks.  

Best Espresso Machine Under 500 Dollars Comparison Table

OUR PICK


OVERALL BEST 

Best Espresso Machine Under 500 Dollars

Espresso Machine Under 600 Dollars
Last update: December 10, 2018 9:28 am
Last update: December 10, 2018 9:28 am
Last update: December 10, 2018 9:28 am
Last update: December 10, 2018 9:28 am

Rating

4.4/5

4.4/5

4.3/5

4/5

Price​​​​

$$$

$$$$

$$

$$$$

Style

STYLE

Semi Automatic

Super Automatic

Semi Automatic, Combination

Super Automatic

Dimensions

25” x 13” x 12”

12.6” x 18.14” x 14.64”

10.6” x 12.2” x 12”

10” x 15.5” x 11.5”

Weight

20 pounds

19.84 pounds

15.4 pounds

19 pounds

Reservoir Size

RESERVOIR SIZE

72 ounces

57 ounces

35 ounces

41 ounces

Boiler

BOILER

Single boiler, aluminum, lined with stainless steel.  Has Thermoblock technology

Single aluminum boiler, lined with stainless steel, has Thermoblock technology

Single, aluminum lined with stainless steel, Thermoblock

Single aluminum boiler, lined with stainless steel, Rapid Steam Technology

Adjustable Coffee Spigots?

ADJUSTABLE COFFEE SPIGOTS?

No, uses a Portafilter

Yes.  2.5” to 6”

No, uses Portafilter

Yes.  Range is 3.5” to 4.5”

Number of Grind Settings

NUMBER OF GRIND SETTINGS

NA – No integrated grinder

Ceramic grinder, 5 settings, paired with an 8.5 ounce bean hopper

NA – No Integrated Grinder

Ceramic grinder, 5 settings, paired with an 8.8 ounce bean hopper

Milk Frothing Technology​​​​

MILK FROTHING TECHNOLOGY

Steam wand

Steam Wand & Hot Water Dispenser

Auto-Frother And Steam Wand!

Steam Wand & Hot Water Dispenser

Has Cup Warming Tray?

​No

Yes, passively heated

Yes

Yes, passively heated

Pros

A perfectly full-featured, basic semi-automatic espresso machine

Gives you all the tools you need to create any drink you can imagine

Also accepts pods!
Dual milk frothing system

Robust and full featured. While there aren’t many pre-programmed drinks, with this machine, you can make just about anything

Cons

The reservoir, while generously sized, cannot be used to its full extent.  It needs a small length of hose to suck up the water from the bottom of the tank

Limited programmability

Smallish water tank

Limited programmability

Smallish water tank

Recommended For

RECOMMENDED FOR

Anyone on a budget, who doesn’t mind doing a bit of manual labor to create their favorite specialty coffee drinks.

Single power drinkers.  Small households with 2-3 casual coffee drinkers.  People new to the world of specialty coffee.

Singles.  Small households with only one coffee drinker.  Purists may find it too minimalist for their liking, and it’s too small for power drinkers.

People with small kitchens or limited counter space.  Anyone on a budget.  Not recommended for power drinkers, who will need a machine with a larger water reservoir.

If you’re like many people, you may have a secret (or not so secret) specialty coffee addiction. Part of the morning ritual for millions involves stopping by the local Starbucks or other coffee shop to get a Red-Eye, cappuccino, or other specialty drink.  For some, it may feel more like an obsession than an addiction.

Maybe you’ve dreamed of saying goodbye to your old drip brew machine and enjoying specialty coffee drinks from the comfort of your home. If you have, you’re certainly not alone!

One of the things that holds people back though is the fact that the high-end machines that get all the press are expensive. Count on paying fifteen hundred dollars or more for a machine loaded with bells and whistles. And the most expensive machines on the market will run you as much as a good used car!

Given that, it’s no wonder that many people shy away from getting a home espresso maker.

There’s good news though!  Although the value-priced machines don’t get as much press as the high-end models, there are some great machines out there that cost a lot less than you might think!

In the sections below, we’ll go into detail about what each model can (and can’t) do. But before we do that, we’ll start by looking at all four of our finalists from a high altitude, in table format, to give you an overview.

Overall Best Home Espresso Machine Under 500 - The Gaggia 14101 Classic

Gaggia utterly dominates our list of machines in this price range, claiming three of the final four spots.  There’s a lot to like about the 14101, and honestly, we were surprised to find such a robust machine offered at such a bargain price.  Granted, it’s got its share of flaws and shortcomings, but for the money, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better value.

Solidly Built & High Capacity

Right out the gate, this model impresses with its rugged, stainless steel chassis.  Yes, there are a few plastic highlights, but most of the machines offered at this price range are all plastic.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing because ABS plastic is fairly sturdy and with proper care, it will serve you well.

Having said that, stainless steel is undeniably more durable and just makes the appliance look and feel like it belongs in a professional coffee shop.

As power drinkers, we love machines with generously sized water reservoirs, and the 14101 doesn’t disappoint, offering a whopping 72-ounce capacity!  We regard anything over 60-ounces as being excellent, and this model beats that threshold by a comfortable margin.

Note: However, that the actual capacity is slightly less than what’s listed.  The model suffers from a design flaw that doesn’t allow the pump to pull quite all the water from the reservoir. 

This would be an easy problem to solve.  All it would require would be a small length of plastic tubing that reached the bottom of the tank, but so far, the company hasn’t addressed the issue. 

We took some points off for that failing, but not many, because even with that shortcoming, it still has far and away more capacity than any other machine on our list of finalists.

The boiler is excellent, and sets the standard for models at this price range, being aluminum, lined with stainless steel, and featuring Thermoblock technology for rapid heating.

An Image of Gaggia 14101 Classic Espresso Machine for Best Super Automatic Espresso Machine Under 500

We prefer double boiler systems because we drink a lot of milk-based drinks and such systems can make milk-based drinks more quickly.  With a single boiler machine, you’ve got to wait for the boiler to switch between milk steaming and shot pulling mode. 

Granted, the wait time is measured in seconds, rather than minutes, but if you make a lot of drinks over the course of the day, the time spent waiting can add up!  At this price range though, a single boiler is about all you can expect, realistically, so we’ll take it!

Has All The Basics Covered

Where milk frothing technology goes, the 14101 is decidedly old school, utilizing a conventional steam wand.  It’s excellent and can produce high-quality milk foam at whatever temperature you desire, but people who are new to the world of specialty coffee drinks sometimes find the wand to be intimidating, preferring an auto-frother system.

If you’ve got your heart set on an auto-frother, this machine probably isn’t for you, but if you’re serious about crafting great milk-based specialty coffee drinks, then you owe it to yourself to spend some time learning to use the steam wand well.

An Image of Gaggia 14101 Classic With Integrated Coffee Grinder for Best Fully Automatic Espresso Machine Under $500

It’s not nearly as difficult to master as most newbies think it is.  You can count on your first 3-5 drinks not turning out exactly as you’d hoped, but after that, you’ll be able to work some serious coffee magic!

Note: However, is the fact that this is a semi-automatic espresso machine, rather than a super automatic.

While there are a few differences between the two, the biggest and most noteworthy is the fact that the 14101 does not come with an integrated grinder, which means that you’ll need to spend a little extra to pick one up.  Fortunately, you can pick up a high-quality manual grinder for relatively little money so that it won’t add significantly to the total cost of your in-home coffee bar!

While it’s true that you’ll have to do a bit of manual labor (which is the case with all semi-automatic espresso machines), the upshot is that when you buy a semi-automatic, you tend to get more machine for your money, which is why we believe the 14101 is well deserving of top honors on our list!

The bottom line is that this machine gives you all the tools you need (minus a basic grinder) to make just about any specialty coffee drink you can imagine, at a price you can afford, making it not only best in class overall, but also the best semi automatic espresso machine under 500.  What’s not to like about that?

Best Automatic Espresso Machine Under 500 - The Gaggia Unica Coffee Machine

Although the Gaggia Unica didn’t score quite as high in terms of points, some users may consider it to be the superior machine, because it’s a super automatic, which means that everything you need to start making all your favorite coffee drinks is built into the device.  Just add beans and water (and milk, if you’re making a milk-based drink), and you’re in business!

Good Bones

The Unica has very good bones, and all the basics are well covered, including a 57-ounce water tank, a single boiler with Thermoblock technology, and a high-quality built-in ceramic grinder with five different grind settings.

In an ideal world, we’d love to see the size of the Unica’s reservoir bumped up marginally because, for us, sixty ounces or better is the sweet spot, but this model doesn’t miss the mark by much, and we didn’t deduct many points for it.

Besides, the tank is well paired with the unit’s 8.5-ounce bean hopper, which we like.  One problem we see quite often in super automatics is that they’ll pair a big water tank with a tiny bean hopper or vice versa.

When that happens, you find yourself constantly having to stop to refill one or the other, which gets old very quickly.  Thankfully, the Unica avoids that problem, though again, we’d love it if both the tank and hopper’s size were marginally increased.

Even so, a 57-ounce capacity is enough to keep pace with most power coffee drinkers if they live alone, and the machine can even meet the demands of small households if there’s only one power drinker in the bunch, and that’s a win in our book.

The grinder is good, but we do have one issue with it.  It only offers five grind settings.  The industry average is six, but sadly, none of the machines offered in this price range quite meet the average.

From a practical standpoint, that means that you may find yourself outgrowing this machine quicker than you thought you might.  If you’re a casual coffee drinker and aren’t all that interested in fine tuning your specialty creations, this probably won’t be an issue for you, but if you’re interested in exploring the full range of flavors specialty drinks can introduce you to, then you’ll chafe under this limitation.

An Image of Gaggia Unica Coffee Machine for Best Super Automatic Espresso Machine Under 500 Dollars

Where milk-frothing is concerned, the Unica utilizes a conventional steam wand, and it’s an excellent one.  The steam wand is an area that a lot of value-priced machines skimp on.  Sometimes, they’re implemented with poor articulation or made with cheap materials, but you won’t find either of those problems on the Unica’s wand.  It’s exceptional, and it works quickly and reliably.

As we mentioned when talking about the Gaggia Classic, don’t be intimidated by the presence of the steam wand!  It won’t take much time for you to master it, and once you do, you’ll be able to impress your friends and family with your mad Barista skills!

Extremely Forgiving, Easy to Use, and Clean

While the feature set is somewhat limited (which is to be expected in value-priced machines), this works to the advantage of the Unica, because it means that it’s got a correspondingly simple interface, making it very easy to use.  In fact, it will probably take you longer to set the machine up initially than it will to master its basic functions.

Even with the limited feature set though, it gives you everything you need to make all your favorite specialty drinks, and you’ll be impressed with the results you get, with minimal effort and input on your part.

Like all Gaggia super automatics, the Unica is also very easy to clean.  You’ll get alerts when the machine needs something, and thanks to the fact that it rests on a swivel base, every component is very easy to access. 

While it didn’t take top honors on this list, it is the best automatic espresso machine under 500, and if you’re looking for the convenience that a super auto offers, then it’s hard to argue against the Unica.

Best Semi Automatic Espresso Machine Under 500 - The DeLonghi EC860

Although this model gets outclassed by the machines we’ve already talked about, it is well deserving of a spot on our “best espresso machine under 500 dollars” list.  While it comes up short in a few areas, there are two things that this model does well, that no other model on our list of finalists can touch. 

An Image of Delonghi EC860 Milk Frothing of the Best Fully Automatic Espresso Machine Under $500

Starting with the high points then, this is the only model on our list that offers both a conventional steam wand and an auto-frother, giving you the best of both worlds!  If you want to practice your Barista skills, you can do that.  If you’re looking for the convenience of an auto-frother, you can do that too!

Even better, while some value-priced machines offer auto-frothers that produce milk foam of questionable quality, that’s not the case here.  Even coffee purists who tend to turn their noses up at auto-frothers will be pleasantly surprised with the results.

Best of all, Delonghi makes keeping the milk carafe (an essential component of the auto-frother) clean by incorporating a purge button, right on the carafe itself.  That’s top-notch design that makes the machine easy to use and keep clean.

The second feature you’ll love about this model is the fact that it accepts pods!  Yes, you read that correctly.  If you’ve been pining away for a Keurig or other pod based drink system, you’ll love this feature, because you can use the machine in that capacity when you want, and pull conventional shots when that suits your fancy, again, offering you the best of both worlds.

A Few Downsides and Limitations

Having spent some time singing the praises of the model, it’s only fair that we turn our attention to its limitations, and unsurprisingly, it’s got them.  Almost every machine does, whether value-priced or not.

In this case, the biggest limitation in our view is the smallish water tank, which is just 35-ounces in size.

Note: As a semi-automatic, the EC860 doesn’t come with a built-in grinder.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because you can buy exactly the grinder you want, and even better, as the least expensive machine on our list of finalists, you’ll have the money to buy a grinder and still come away spending less money than you would if you’d purchased the most expensive machine on the list.

The only other negative worth mentioning is the fact that some users have complained that the steam wand is a bit on the short side, which makes it somewhat trickier to use.

While it’s true that the steam wand is a bit stubby, we didn’t have any particular difficulty using it but wanted to mention it here for the sake of completeness.

An Image of Delonghi EC860 Water Reserviour of the Best Super Automatic Espresso Machine Under 500 Dollars

Rounding Out The Final Four, The Gaggia Brera

The Brera shares some design traits in common with our top pick, the Gaggia Classic.  Both are constructed using thin plates of stainless steel, which make them more durable than machines built with ABS plastic.

An Image of Gaggia Brera Espresso Machine for the Best Super Automatic Espresso Machine Under 500 Dollars

While the water tank is too small for our liking (41-ounce capacity), it’s perfect for casual coffee drinkers and smaller households, so if that describes you, then you’re going to love it. 

Normally we gripe when there’s a size mismatch between the water tank and the size of the bean hopper, but here, with the Brera’s 8.8-ounce bean hopper, the size mismatch isn’t severe, and if you like your coffee on the strong side anyway, it won’t feel like a mismatch at all.

Milk-frothing is done via a conventional steam wand, and in the case of the Brera, the implementation is excellent, thanks to the addition of Rapid-Steam technology, which virtually eliminates the wait time you see with single boiler machines.  That feature alone makes the Brera well worth considering if you love milk-based drinks.

As with the other super automatic on our list, this one has a ceramic grinder with five settings, so nothing new to talk about there.  It’s a good grinder, but falls well short of being great, and suffers from the limitations we mentioned previously.

While it only offers limited one-touch functionality, it’s got more features than you’d expect in a value-priced offering, and while it didn’t win top honors, in its way, it is one of the best espresso machines under $500 and is highly recommended.

Best Super Automatic Espresso Machine Under 500 Conclusion

And that wraps up our roundup review, and our quest to find the best espresso machine under 500 dollars. Even if you don’t agree with our top pick, any of the machines we’ve mentioned here will serve you well.

At this price range though, all the machines on offer have a somewhat limited feature set and tend to be targeted at specific kinds of users, with particular interests and needs.  As you move up the price scale, that’s when you find more generalized machines that cater to broad segments of the market.

Because of that, it’s important that you look closely at the specific features each machine offers, so you can get a feel for the type of user it’s targeted to.

Here’s a quick summary of our finalists, and who would be most interested in each model:

  • Buy the Gaggia 14101 Classic if you’re a hands-on kind of person, who’s interested in burnishing your Barista skills and getting into the details involved with crafting each drink you enjoy.  Our overall winner as the best espresso machine for home under 500.
  • Buy the Gaggia Unica if you’re more interested in convenience, and want to automate as much of the process as possible, while still retaining enough control to produce coffee shop quality drinks at home.
  • The DeLonghi EC860 is the most budget-friendly entrant on our list, and has a lot going for it, including the fact that it gives you the option to use either an auto-frother or a conventional steam wand and it accepts pods!
  • The Gaggia Brera is an excellent choice for those who are looking for an inexpensive machine with a robust feature set and lots of convenience.  While it doesn’t offer much in the way of one-touch convenience (typically reserved for more expensive models), it’s got pound for pound more features than the other models on the list, making it more of a generalist machine, which is a rarity in the value-priced market.

So, which one is right for you?

Sources & Resources

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