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Best Manual Espresso Machine Under 500 Dollars Review 2018

Before we introduce you to our top pick, let’s take a quick top-level view of the contenders.

OUR PICK

Honorable Mention

OVERALL BEST

Best Manual Espresso Machine Under 500 Dollars

Last update: December 10, 2018 3:19 pm
Last update: December 10, 2018 3:19 pm
-17% DeLonghi BCO430
$206.99 $249.95
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Last update: December 10, 2018 3:19 pm
Last update: December 10, 2018 3:19 pm

Rating

4.4/5

4.3/5

4/5

4.7/5

Price

$$$

$$

$$

$$$$

Style

Semi Automatic

Semi Automatic, Combination

Semi Automatic, Combination

Semi Automatic, Hybrid

Dimensions

Ridiculously expensive. A machine like this cries out for user profiles, and they weren’t included.

Could stand a larger water tank.

Bean hopper is too small, we’d love to see the display upgraded to TFT (Thin Film Transistor).

Grinder could use an upgrade to ceramic and more settings. User profiles would be an awesome addition.

Weight

20 pounds

15.4 pounds

14.2 pounds

23 pounds

Reservoir Size

72 ounces

35 ounces

40 ounces

67 ounces

Boiler

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

Single, aluminum lined with stainless steel, Thermoblock

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

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

Adjustable Coffee Spigots?

No, uses a Portafilter

No, uses Portafilter

No, uses a Portafilter

No, uses a Portafilter

Number of Grind Settings

NA – No integrated grinder

NA – No integrated grinder

NA – No integrated grinder

Stainless Steel burr (stepless) grinder with an 8 ounce bean hopper

Milk Frothing Technology

Steam wand

Auto-Frother And Steam Wand!

Steam wand

Steam wand

Has Cup Warming Tray?

No

Yes

Yes

Yes, but it’s very small

Pros

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

Also accepts pods!
Dual milk frothing system

An espresso machine and drip-brew coffee maker in one! Plus a steam wand for your milk-based drinks.

Generously sized water reservoir, grinder and bean hopper, very easy to use

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. No cup warming tray

Smallish water tank

Small water tank

Bean hopper could be bigger, grinder is stainless steel, rather than ceramic, too much spillage when the grinder loads the Portafilter

Extras & Notes

Got all the basics covered.

Has a cup warming tray, customization options, and programmable buttons!

Incorporates a 10-cup drip-brew coffee maker

The best part about this machine is that unlike most other entry-level models, you won’t outgrow this one any time soon!

Recommended For

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

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.

Anyone on a budget who loves specialty coffee drinks and drip brew coffee. 

This is an especially newbie-friendly machine and a great model to learn Barista skills on. Great for power drinkers and large households.

Are you looking to replace your aging drip-brew coffee maker with something that will allow you to begin exploring the world of flavor that awaits you in the realm of specialty coffee drinks?

If your funds are limited, but you’re still looking for a way to replicate the coffee shop experience from the comfort of home, then you’re going to love this roundup review where we search for the best manual espresso machine under 500.

Obviously, the more money you have to spend, the more espresso machine you’ll be able to buy, and while this price range is still considered the lower end of the price spectrum, we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the machines we’ve been able to unearth.

The choice was an agonizing one because all four of the models listed here have something special about them that makes them compelling, so even if you don’t agree with our top pick, any of the other models listed will serve you well.

Our Winner – The Gaggia 14101 Classic Espresso Machine

The Gaggia classic is a bit of a departure from most other machines offered at the lower end of the price spectrum. While it’s built with a few plastic highlights, most of the machine is encased in a thin sheet of brushed stainless steel.

Granted, more expensive machines have thicker and more durable cases, but no matter how you slice it, this is a significant upgrade when compared with machines made entirely, or almost entirely of ABS plastic.

It’s also a surprisingly large machine for the money, although not so large that it will be particularly problematic to find it a permanent home on your kitchen counter.

There’s a lot to like about this model, but in our view, it’s greatest strengths are these:

  • coffee
    It’s got a big, beefy 72-ounce water reservoir. We’re power drinkers, and this is one of the first questions we ask when we look at a new machine. Our minimum standard is sixty ounces, and the Gaggia Classic exceeds this by a comfortable margin, which is very much to our liking.
  • coffee
    It’s super easy to use. In fact, with its minimalist interface, the drip-brew coffee maker you’ve got now is probably more complex!
  • coffee
    The Gaggia Classic utilizes a conventional steam wand to handle milk frothing. If you’re new to the world of specialty coffee drinks, you may find this to be somewhat daunting, but don’t let it intimidate you!
Gaggia Classic is a great machine for starters.

While it’s true that your first few drinks may not be all that you had hoped for, once you get the hang of the steam wand, you’ll find that it gives you an exquisite level of control and will enable you to create some genuine coffee magic for yourself, your family, and your friends. It is excellent!

As you can see then, it’s got the basics well covered, and armed with this machine and a decent grinder (you’ll need to buy one, as is the case with virtually every semi-automatic on the market), you can make any specialty coffee drink you can imagine.

Having said that, the Gaggia Classic has a few shortcomings. We don’t regard any of them as major, deal-breaking issues, but they’re worth making a note of. In no particular order, they are:

  • Although the water reservoir is generously sized, the pump can’t completely empty it. You can rig a workaround by installing a short length of plastic hose, or just resign yourself to the fact that you won’t get quite 72 ounces of capacity from it.
  • No cup warming tray – The cup warming tray is more important than one might imagine, given how much heat you can lose when you dispense coffee or steamed milk into a cold cup, so it’s a real pity that this model doesn’t include some means of mitigating the loss.
  • A cheaply made tamper – the one that comes standard with the machine is plastic, and sooner, rather than later, you’re probably going to want to invest a few bucks to get a good one. It’ll work in a pinch, and it will certainly allow you to start using the machine on day one, but it’s less than ideal.

Again, none of these are sufficiently large issues to dissuade most would-be purchasers, but they do detract from, and in some ways weaken the design.

Our Second Pick – The DeLonghi EC860

Delonghi EC860 offers both an auto-frother and a conventional steam wand

Delonghi and Gaggia are two of the top manufacturers of espresso machines, so it’s no surprise to see both company names showing up on our list, and the EC860 is a superb design that only narrowly missed winning top honors on this list.

It’s got far more strengths than weaknesses, but in our view, the features that make this model shine are:

  • The fact that you can adjust the boiler temperature through three levels (normal, hot, and hotter) – something you can’t do on many low-cost machines
  • The fact that you can adjust the auto-shut-off time
  • A cup-warming tray (something our top pick lacks)
  • Programmable buttons that allow you to set the amount of water you get when pulling shots

In our view, there are two other features that make this model shine, and honestly, if we had to choose between them to name the very best feature of the design, we couldn’t.

The first is the fact that it offers both an auto-frother and a conventional steam wand. There are a few other models that provide both, but all of them are vastly more expensive, which makes this a real gem in the value-priced market segment.

Second is the fact that when you buy the machine, you get a special basket for your portafilter that will accept pods! This gives you the best of all worlds.

You get the flexibility of a semi-automatic and the ability to craft any specialty drink you want, several convenience features typically only found in super automatics and capacity to turn your machine into a Keurig anytime you want to. What could be better?

Having said all that, the EC860 does have one major shortcoming, and that is its relatively small water tank. Offering only a 35-ounce capacity, this is the primary reason this model didn’t win top honors.

In Third Place – The DeLonghi BCO 430

Although Delonghi didn’t capture our top spot, they are the only manufacturer to gain two spots in this “best of” list, which is a huge honor in its own right.

Although the BCO 430’s water tank is too small for our liking (only 40 ounces), it’s got a feature we’re simply wild about, and that is the fact that in addition to being a fully functional espresso machine with a steam wand, it’s also got a 10-cup, drip-brew coffee maker built in.

In our view, this makes it the perfect machine for people who are just venturing into the world of specialty coffee drinks.

If your old drip-brew coffee maker is on its last legs, this is a great model to replace it with. After all, what could be better than having the ability to make a full range of specialty drinks, and enjoy a hot cup of Joe, all with the same machine?

Honorable Mention – The Breville BES870XL

The reason that this model didn’t claim top honors as the best manual espresso maker under 500 dollars is simply that it normally lists at $530, so slightly above our maximum price cap, although if you’re willing to wait, you can find it on sale for around, or slightly below the $500 mark.

Since it was so close to our price cap, we wanted to give it a special mention here, and there’s a lot to like about this model.

Breville has an outstanding reputation for making high-quality, long-lasting kitchen appliances, and the BES870XL is no exception. Like the Gaggia classic, this model is clad in brushed stainless steel, making it far more durable than cheaper models, which are constructed mostly, if not entirely of ABS plastic.

Its best features include:

  • A generously sized 67-ounce water tank
  • Precise temperature control, thanks to a PID located on the front face of the machine
  • A small but functional cup warming tray
Breville BES870XL is a great machine to learn barista skills

All of those features pale in comparison to the fact that this is one of the very few semi-automatic espresso machines that also features a built-in grinder that deposits the freshly ground beans straight into the waiting portafilter. From there, all you have to do is tamp it and load it into the coffee side.

The best thing about the grinder is that it doesn’t have a fixed number of settings. It’s stepless, allowing you to fine-tune to your heart’s content!

The only real drawback with the grinder is the fact that it tends to make a bit of a mess when dispensing into the portafilter, but that’s more of an annoyance than anything.

The bottom line is, even if you don’t want to wait for a sale, this model is only about thirty bucks above our arbitrary $500 mark and is extra money well spent if you can afford it. Its price is the only reason it didn’t win the top spot on our list.

Buying the Right Grinder

Ceramic burr grinders are one of a kind.

Since most of the machines on this list don’t come with built-in grinders, we wanted to include a short section on buying one that will serve you well.

Some people regard semi-automatics as being inferior because they lack an integrated grinder, but actually, it can be seen as an opportunity. The reason is simply that when you buy a super-automatic, you’re stuck with whatever grinder the manufacturer decides to give you. Choice is removed from the equation.

That’s a pity because most built-in grinders are inferior to ones you’d select for yourself. In fact, on average, the grinders that come with super automatic machines only have six grind settings. That’s…underwhelming, and it just doesn’t give you enough control.

Getting the grind right is a pivotal to crafting a great specialty coffee drink, and the more settings you have, the more you can zero in on your preferred flavor settings. That’s the hidden advantage of buying your own grinder. You get exactly what you want!

Grinders come in three basic flavors: Bladed, Stainless Steel Burr and Ceramic Burr.

Bladed grinders have the advantage of being incredibly inexpensive, but produce a highly inconsistent grind, and as such, are not recommended. Besides, why would you want to spend upwards of five hundred bucks on a decent espresso machine, only to pair it with an el cheapo grinder? All that accomplishes is to drag down the quality of the drinks you create, and that defeats the purpose.

Stainless steel burr grinders are good, but the metal can heat up after repeated use. When that happens, it can burn your grounds and ruin the flavor of whatever drink you’re trying to make. Not only does this waste time, it also wastes beans, and nobody likes doing that.

Based on this, ceramic grinders are your best bet, and we recommend getting the best one that your budget will allow. You’ll be very glad you did, and your taste buds will thank you for it!

Best Manual Espresso Machine Under 500 Dollars Conclusion

And that concludes our roundup of the best manual espresso machine under $500. The Gaggia Classic is a superb, well-rounded machine with very few weaknesses. And despite that fact that it features a conventional steam wand, it’s actually quite forgiving and newbie friendly.

As we said at the start though, even if you don’t agree that the Gaggia Classic is best in class, any of these machines would serve you well. Here are some reasons why one of the other models might work better for you:

  • If you’re not a power drinker, then the DeLonghi EC860 is slightly more feature-rich, which would make it an ideal choice for casual coffee drinkers looking for more bells and whistles.
  • The other Delonghi, the BCO 430 is great for people who are on the fence and not quite sure whether they want to completely embrace the world of specialty coffees.
  • Finally, the Breville BES870XL would have taken top honors, but it went a shade over our $500 limit. Even so, if you have a few extra dollars to spend, it’s the logical choice and is the best value on the list.

Best Online Offers for our Top Pick

Last update: December 10, 2018 3:19 pm

Last update: December 7, 2018 4:58 am

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