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Best Super Automatic Espresso Machine Under 500 Dollars Review 2018

Let's start with a top-level view of the four machines that made it to our Best Super Automatic Espresso Machine Under 500 Dollars list. Even if you find yourself not agreeing with our top pick, the bottom line is that any of these machines will serve you well, without breaking the bank.

Comparison Table

OUR PICK


OVERALL BEST 

Best Super Automatic Espresso Machine Under 500 Dollars

Espresso Machine Under 600 Dollars
Last update: June 22, 2018 12:24 am
Last update: June 22, 2018 12:24 am
Last update: June 22, 2018 12:24 am
-21% Saeco X-Small Vapore
$470.30 $599.00
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Last update: June 22, 2018 12:24 am

Rating

Price​​​​

$$$$

$$$$

$$$$$

$$$$

Style

STYLE

Super Automatic

Super Automatic

Super Automatic

Super Automatic

Dimensions

12.6” x 18.14” x 14.64”

10” x 15.5” x 11.5”

11.5” x 8” x 12.5”

15.2” x 16.7” x 15.3”

Weight

19.84 pounds

19 pounds

10.4 pounds

15.7 pounds

Reservoir Size

RESERVOIR SIZE

57 ounces

41 ounces

60 ounces

33 ounces

Boiler

BOILER

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

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

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

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

Adjustable Coffee Spigots?

ADJUSTABLE COFFEE SPIGOTS?

Yes.  2.5” to 6”

Yes.  Range is 3.5” to 4.5”

Yes.  Max height ~5.5”

No, fixed height.  Will accommodate cups up to 3.74” tall.

Number of Grind Settings

NUMBER OF GRIND SETTINGS

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

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

Stainless steel grinder, 3 settings, paired with a 9.6 ounce bean hopper

Ceramic grinder, 5 settings, paired with a 6.5 ounce bean hopper

Milk Frothing Technology​​​​

MILK FROTHING TECHNOLOGY

Steam Wand & Hot Water Dispenser

Steam Wand & Hot Water Dispenser

Has both an auto-frother and a steam wand which dispenses hot water on demand

Steam Wand & Hot Water Dispenser

Has Cup Warming Tray?

Yes, passively heated

Yes, passively heated

Yes, passively heated

No

Pros

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

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

Tremendous value for the money.  Best feature is the two frothing options

Well rounded, capable machine for the money

Cons

Limited programmability

Limited programmability
Smallish water tank

Stainless steel grinder. Only three grind settings. No way to save preferred settings. Limited customization options

Small water tank
Unable to adjust dose strength
90’s styling

Extras & Notes

Drink Selection
Espresso
Americano
Café Latte
Cappuccino

Drink Selection
Espresso
Lungo
Americano
Café Latte
Cappuccino

Recommended For

RECOMMENDED FOR

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

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.

Novices and hobbyist/casual users who value convenience over a plethora of options.

Beginners, hobbyist and casual coffee drinkers only. The reservoir is too small to satisfy power drinkers, and there aren’t enough options to satisfy purists.

Do you have an expensive coffee shop habit?  Are you looking for a low-cost way to brew all your favorite specialty coffee drinks at home without having to spend too much time learning to become a Barista?

If you do, and you don’t want to pay an arm and a leg to get the coffee shop experience at home, then this article is for you.  We’ve scoured the internet as part of our quest to find the best super automatic espresso machine under 500, and we think you’ll be pleased with the capabilities of all four of our finalists.

While it’s true that you can certainly get a better, more full-featured model if you’re willing to spend more money, we think you’ll be pleased with what these machines offer.  All of them fall short of perfection, but they put all the tools you need to create a wide variety of specialty drinks at your fingertips, and there’s a lot to be said for that.

Let’s jump right in and see what these machines can do!

Best Super Automatic Espresso Machine Under 500 Winner – Gaggia Unica

In our opinion, the Gaggia Unica represents the best value for the money in the under $500 market segment

While it’s true that there are other machines on the list with a slightly bigger water tank and more programmability, we regard the Unica as a superb mix of form and function, offered at an exceptional price, which is ultimately the reason we gave it top billing.

It should also be noted that this machine is offered by Gaggia, one of the major forces in the industry, and is the only company to have two models featured here at the $500 or less price point.

In addition to being modestly sized and light weight, owing primarily to the fact that the machine is constructed almost exclusively of ABS plastic.  That’s to be expected in machines at this price range, and we certainly don’t hold it against manufacturers. 

Besides, with proper care, there’s no reason that a plastic machine can’t give you several years of reliable service, and Gaggia has a reputation for quality, which should put your mind at ease on that front.

An image Gaggia Unica espresso machine, out top pick in our best super automatic espresso machine under $500 review

It’s a reasonably attractive, though not stunning machine, and the fact that it is mounted on a swivel base for easy access to all components makes it even easier than usual to find a permanent home for it, even in smaller kitchens where counter space is at a premium.

While we regard the unit’s 57-ounce water tank as being a bit undersized for our tastes (we tend to look for at least a sixty ounce capacity), it doesn’t miss the mark by much, and the reservoir is mated with an 8.5-ounce bean hopper, which is a good pairing.

One thing we see far too often is that a manufacturer will put a large water tank with a very small bean hopper, or vice versa.  When that happens, it disrupts your drink making flow because you’re having to stop on a near-constant basis to refill one or the other (or both).

Most Gaggia models avoid that problem and we’re glad for it, because such size mismatches make those machines annoying to use. Unfortunately, one of the biggest weaknesses of all the super automatics at this price point is the fact that the grinders aren’t all that great.

The Unica has about the best of the lot here, featuring a ceramic grinder, which we like, with five different grind settings, which we don’t like so much.

The industry average is six settings, so none of the machines at the value end of the price spectrum even rise to the industry average.  It’s a bit of a disappointment, but those kinds of issues are commonplace with less expensive machines.  Manufacturers do what they must in order to keep prices low.

In addition to having a limited number of grind settings, one other thing to be mindful of with built-in grinders in general is the fact that they don’t do well with oily beans, which means you’ll want to steer clear of Dark Roast.  Instead, find a good Medium Roast you enjoy and stick with it.

An image of the Gaggia Unica coffee machine's removable brew unit

Again, this problem isn’t unique to a single model, but is a limitation of super automatics in general.

Another thing we really like about this machine is the fact that the coffee spigots telescope to accommodate cups up to 6” in height, and provide a broader range of movement than any other machine on this list.

That matters more than you might think, because if you make sure to position the coffee spouts right next to the lip of whatever cup you’re using, you’ll increase the amount and quality of the crema in your cup.

Finally, we have to give props to Gaggia for their excellent steam wand.  If you’re new to the world of specialty coffees, don’t let it intimidate you!  It does take some time and practice to master use of the wand, but once you get the hang of it, you can craft just about any drink you can imagine.

Even better, the steam wand is quite long, which makes it easy and convenient to use.

The only real limitations you’ll find in the Unica are born of the manufacturer’s desire to keep costs low.  You won’t find any user profiles or much in the way of advanced functionality, but that’s true of every super automatic espresso machine offered at or near this price point.

If that’s what you’re looking for, then you’re going to have to resign yourself to spend more money.  At this price, however, it’s awfully hard to beat the Gaggia Unica, and it is well deserving of the top spot, in our view. It’s an exceptional “first machine” to anyone just beginning to explore the world of specialty coffee drinks.

Gaggia Brera Espresso Machine

An image of Gaggia Brera, a durable espresso machine

The Gaggia Brera came quite close to claiming the top spot as the best super automatic espresso machine under $500, and if you’re looking for something a bit more durable, then this is the model you want.

It’s got a thin sheet of brushed stainless steel on the front face of the machine, which makes it more rugged and better able to stand up to daily use.  It’s also a smaller machine, so if our top pick proves to be too large to comfortably fit in your home kitchen, then you should have an easier time with this one.

Unfortunately, in some ways, it’s smaller size works against it.  There just isn’t room, for example, to fit a large water tank inside this unit, so its capacity tops out at just 41 ounces, which is a bit small for our tastes. 

Even so, if you’re only a casual coffee drinker, this won’t give you much pause, and it should be noted that the Brera’s grinder is a lot like the one found on the Unica, being ceramic and featuring five grind settings.

Built a top the grinder is a generously sized 8.8-ounce bean hopper, which is good, but almost verges on being too large for the water tank.  It doesn’t quite cross that line, but pushes right up to it.

The steam wand isn’t quite as long as the one offered on the Unica, and the coffee spouts only telescope far enough to accommodate cups of 4.5” high, so the range isn’t as broad as it is on Gaggia’s other model, but overall, it’s quite good, and solidly built.

Krups EA8250 Espresseria

An image of the Krups EA8250 espresso machine

There’s a lot to like about the Krups EA8250, but it’s built with a very specific user in mind, which was ultimately the reason we did not name it as the best fully automatic espresso machine under $500.

In our view, its best features are as follows:

  • It’s got the biggest water tank of any model on our list, which definitely gets a nod of approval from us and makes it ideal for power drinkers.
  • That big water tank is paired with an impressive 9.6-ounce bean hopper
  • It’s incredibly easy to use, and offers more convenience features than our top picks

Having said that, it does have its share of problems, the biggest of which is the fact that the grinder is less than we’d hoped for.  Not only is it stainless steel, but it only offers three grind settings, which is decidedly substandard (remember, the industry average is six).

Also, there’s the fact that in order to bump up the size of the feature set, Krups opted to construct their model out of ABS plastic.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, most of the models on our list are constructed with the same material; it’s just that it’s not as durable as stainless steel, which is much more common in high end machines.

In our view, the best feature of the EA8250 is the milk frothing system.  It’s one of the few models that offers both a conventional steam wand and an auto-frother, which is highly convenient, because let’s face it, sometimes you don’t want to practice your Barista skills and would rather have all the work done for you.

The auto-frother is a bit cumbersome compared to others we’ve seen, but having both options available is a big win, especially given the modest price of the unit.

As long as you’re not too picky about the flavor of the drinks you create (limited by the small number of grind settings), this is an excellent option to consider.

Saeco XSmall Vapore

This is a good, solid machine, especially for people who are new to the world of specialty coffee drinks, but as you’ll see, the XSmall Vapore got certain limitations that kept us from naming it the best super automatic espresso machine under 500 dollars.

Let’s start with the fact that it’s got a positively tiny water tank, with a capacity of just 33 ounces, paired with a 6.5-ounce bean hopper.  While that’s fine for single people and casual coffee drinkers, it just doesn’t have the capability to keep pace with power drinkers and large households.

The coffee spouts are fixed in their positions, and will only accommodate cups up to 3.74” in height, which is another serious limitation in our view, as is the fact that the steam wand, while functional, is a stubby little thing that can be a bit tricky to use.

Despite these limitations, and the fact that its 90’s styling might be off putting to some, it’s a sturdy, capable machine that will serve you well, and gives you all the tools you need to make all manner of specialty drinks.

Perhaps the best feature this unit brings to the table though, is its price.  When the model was first introduced, it was priced above our $500 threshold, but as it has aged, the price has steadily priced, and nowadays, it is the least expensive model on our list.  If you’re a cost-conscious shopper, then this one deserves extra attention.

An image of Saeco X-Small Vapore, an espresso machine recommended for people who are new to the world of specialty coffee drinks

Best Super Automatic Espresso Machine Under 500 Dollars Review Conclusion

As you can see, our quest to discover the best super automatic espresso machine under 500 dollars has revealed some surprisingly robust and capable machines!

While we stand by the Gaggia Unica as being the best in class for the reasons we talked about above, we also know that everyone’s tastes and preferences are different.  Here then, are the reasons why you might opt for one of the other models that made the short list:

  • The Gaggia Brera is the model you want if you’re looking for a more rugged and durable machine.  It’s thin stainless steel outer shell gives it a more industrial look and feel, and makes it longer lasting.  It’s slightly smaller than the Unica, so if space is an issue, this is an excellent choice.
  • The Krups EA8250 is the easiest and most convenient machine to use, and has the biggest water tank, making it an ideal choice for power drinkers and larger households.
  • Saeco’s Vapore has its limitations, but as things stand now, it is the lowest priced unit on our list of finalists, and as such, it’s most attractive to those who don’t have a lot of money to spend.

Which one is right for you?

Best Online Offers for Our Top Pick

Last update: June 22, 2018 12:24 am

Last update: June 16, 2018 3:39 am

Sources & Resources

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You won’t want to miss our detailed roundup review, where we search for the best super automatic espresso machine under 500.
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