The bold and rich flavor of espresso simply has no rival in the world of java. Spoiled by the fancy offerings of high-end cafes sprouting up on every metropolitan corner, many people are trading in their drip coffee makers for espresso machines, and the market is now saturated with options for the home barista.
The difference between coffee and espresso has nothing to do with the kind of beans you use—it all comes down to the method of brewing. For making espresso at home, there is no substitute for a home machine that places your finely ground beans under pressure while forcing hot water through.
Before you buy…
A good espresso machine for the home can cost a pretty penny, although it will quickly pay for itself if you are drinking a few specialty beverages a day from your local café.
Before you buy, decide how involved you want to be in your brewing. Besides budget and quality (generally directly related), the main deciding factor should be how automated you want your experience to be.
For the ultimate in control, consider a manual machine. For surprisingly little money, you can buy a lever model built to last a lifetime. The downside of going this route is that it starts a journey on homing in on that perfect shot that can last a lifetime. Of course, for some, that is the whole point!
For a more automated experience, expect to pay a little more. Automatic machines offer a range of control. Some allow you to adjust everything from water temperature to dosing, others trade customizability for simplicity, such as pod and capsule systems which deliver the most dependably consistent finished product at the touch of a button.
Here are the top picks by category so you can jump right to the product that best meets your budget and automation needs:
Top Overall (Just over $500) – Breville BES870XL Barista Express
Top Overall Under $500 – Breville BES840XL/A The Infuser
Top Super Automatic – DeLonghi ESAM3300 Magnifica
Top Under $300 – Mr. Coffee BVMC-ECMP1102 Cafe Barista
Top Pod or Capsule Style – Nespresso Inissia
Top Manual – Flair Manual Espresso Maker
Best Overall Espresso Machine (Just over $500)
Pump: 15 Bar Italian Pump
Water Reservoir: 2 Liters
Bean Hopper: 1/2 lb
Dimensions: 13.2” W x 12.5” H x 15.8” D
I know, this is cheating a little since this machine is over the $500 mark…but it’s close and I thought many readers might want to know about this very popular model. It just has all the right features and an excellent reputation among java snobs that it seemed a shame to cut it out of the lineup for this review of the best espresso machines for the home.
This is a high-end machine that will satisfy the home barista that needs to be involved with their espresso, without being too intimidating for those new to making this gourmet coffee drink.
You can store your beans right in the hopper and grind the exact amount you need to spec each and every time. Water temperature is adjustable (+/- 4°F), and you can reprogram the presets on single and double shots to get precise dosing control.
The pressure is automated, and it is engineered to start low to saturate grounds before kicking up to high pressure for maximum extraction. The pressure can’t be directly adjusted, although a finer grind and firmer tamping will naturally boost it. Some experimenting will be the name of the game with this espresso making experience.
If you are looking for a slightly less expensive model that still has most of these features…read on to the next review for another Breville that might be more up your alley.
- Control brewing temperature, dosing volume, and grind coarseness
- 2-liter removable water reservoir
- Conical burr grinder with a 1/2lb bean hopper
- Large capacity, high-power boiler for fast recovery times between shots
- Warm your cup before brewing with a dedicated hot water outlet
- Automatic pressure adjusts from low to high during brew to get every drop of flavor out of your beans
- Accommodates larger coffee mugs for double shot espresso
- Fully rotating steam wand for stable foam for latte art and silky cappuccino
- Outstanding craftsmanship and customer support
- Large boiler will take a few minutes to heat up before you can start frothing or brewing
- Pressure of the brew is only adjustable by changing the grind coarseness and tamping pressure
Best Overall Espresso Machine Under $500
Pressure: 15 Bars
Water Reservoir: 1.8 Liters
Dimensions: 12.5” W x 12.5” D x 13.2” H
If your budget cap is a strict $500, then this model comes in under the wire and is my number one choice in this budget range.
It has most of the features that make the Breville Barista (review above) such a great choice, although it lacks the coffee grinding capabilities. If you already have a favorite burr grinder, then this won’t be an issue and may even be an advantage of this model since that is the main reason for the price difference.
It still includes the pressure gauge, fully rotating milk frother, digital temperature control, hot water tap, and customizable dosing that the Barista has, but for about $100 less of an investment.
- Three color choices to fit any kitchen décor
- Low-pressure pre-infusion feature opens grounds up to optimize flavor extraction
- Use 1 or 2 shot presets, or override for complete dosing control
- 360° rotating frothing wand for plenty of control and maneuverability
- Integrated tamper for convenient and precise tamping
- Hot water outlet to make preheating your cups a snap
- Easy to clean with a removable drip tray
- Tall cup clearance under the spigots
- 4 portafilter baskets for single or double shots in either single or dual wall filters
- Pressure cannot be directly adjusted
- Takes a bit of practice and experimenting to get the perfect shot
Best Super Automatic Espresso Machine
Pressure: 15 bars
Power: 1,350W, dual boiler
Water Reservoir: 7.5 cups
Bean Hopper: 8.8 Ounces
Dimensions: 15.3” W x 14.4” H x 11” D
Coming in right around $500, this espresso maker offers a fully automatic experience from a long-trusted name in espresso, DeLonghi.
The conical burr grinder that is integrated into this machine is the real deal. You can fine-tune your grind with 13 settings to choose from. You can brew 1 or 2 shots at a time and customize the dosing so that the flavor is right in your optimal zone.
But this super automatic espresso machine doesn’t just grind your beans, it moves them directly to your portafilter, tamps, and then stores up to 14 cups of used grounds before you will need to dump them. This fully automated machine is a good choice for those that have several espresso drinkers in the house.
Although some home baristas will miss being able to dial in the tamping pressure, brewing pressure, and brew temperature, those looking for a no-fuss experience that still allows plenty of customizable options will find that a good balance has been struck with this model.
- “Direct to Brew” system goes from whole beans to portafilter to used grounds disposal with the touch of a button
- Stainless steel, low pitch, adjustable conical burr grinder for a professional grind
- Program grind coarseness, brew strength, milk foam texture
- Rapid recovery between shots thanks to a double boiler system
- Adjustable dispensing height to accommodate tall mugs up to 4.25”
- Integrated and adjustable milk frother
- One-year manufacturer’s warranty
- Control panel offers a lot of options for customizing but is somewhat complicated
- For dark roasted, oily beans, you may want to grind separately
Best Espresso Machine Under $300
Pressure: 15 bars
Power: 1040 W
Water Reservoir: 54 Oz.
Dimensions: 8.86” W x 11.22” D x 12.6” H
This is one of the best inexpensive espresso makers if you are looking for an easy to use machine that also has a full 15 bars of pressure to extract a rich crema from your beans—while staying on a budget.
This model features an integrated milk frother optimized for your choice of latte or cappuccino, pouring the steamed milk right into your drink after the brew cycle is complete. Make double or single shots of the drinks that you love most with a few easy selections on the touch button control panel.
Going with a semi-automatic machine gives you some control since you will grind your own beans and decide on what dosing and tamping works best for your tastes—without being overwhelming and complicated.
- Excellent price point considering the milk frothing feature
- Simple to use controls for single or double shots
- Integrated milk frother adds the perfect amount of steamed/frothed milk
- Up to 15 bars of pressure for a full extraction of flavor and rich crema
- Large, 54 Oz. water reservoir removes for easy filling
- Three color options to fit any decor
- Milk container easily removes so you can keep milk cold in fridge between uses
- Takes a few minutes to achieve proper temperature for brew and steam
- Lacks customizable pressure and temp
Best Pod or Capsule Style Espresso Machine
Pressure: 19 Bars
Water Reservoir: 23.8 Oz.
Dimensions: 4.6” W x 12.6” D x 9.1” H
For those of us that want a great cup of espresso with as little fuss and muss in the morning as possible, a capsule espresso machine is one way to go. You just can’t beat a pod system for convenience and consistently excellent results.
Nespresso by Breville has the formula down, and this is among their most popular models in its class for several reasons. First, it is an incredibly compact machine—small enough to fit on your desk at the office!
Second, buy the bundle and you get an Aeroccino, a stand-alone milk frother perfect for making cappuccino and latte. Even with the frother, this is a kit small enough to take on the road for travel or keep at your desk for delicious gourmet coffee any time of day.
- Extremely fast warm up with a hot shot in under 1 minute with a cold start
- Perfectly brewed espresso with plenty of rich crema every single time
- Detachable water reservoir for easy filling at home or office
- No need to grind your own beans or dial in the perfect temp, pressure or tamp
- Matching Aeroccino milk frother to make thick and stable froth for gourmet drinks
- Automatically shuts off after 9 mins to save energy and prolong the life of the machine
- Large assortment of 13 coffee varieties including ristretto, lungo, decaf, espresso and flavored
- 1-year manufacturer’s warranty
- Separately sold capsules (required) add expense to home espresso making
- Completely automatic process leaves no room for baristas to adjust settings
Best Manual Espresso Machine
Many coffee aficionados these days are getting into the process of making gourmet drinks, from toasting and grinding their own beans, to learning how to make the perfect microfoam for latte art.
For the barista wannabe, a manual espresso machine offers the ultimate “hands-on” experience. Yes, it’s all about feel, and for some, that is what makes espresso special.
Dial in your grind, perfect your tamping, and literally pull the lever to create the pressurized conditions to extract the full aroma from your beans. The term “pulling a shot” comes from the origins of this drink, made with very similar machines in the coffee houses of Europe.
This manual press has only a few moving parts—nothing to break here. Plus, it is perfect to take camping. If you can boil water, then you can make delicious espresso while enjoying the outdoors.
- Excellent price point for pro-grade gear
- Take complete control over every aspect of your espresso for the full barista experience
- Easy to clean with no descaling ever required, unlike with automated machines
- Bundle comes with an additional brewing head and stainless-steel tamper
- Simple construction with no complicated machinery to eventually fail
- Carrying case for easy travel included
- No electricity required—make great espresso while camping
- Expect a fairly steep learning curve to learn to pull the perfect shot
- You will need a separate burr grinder and milk frother
Conclusion: Get a Great Espresso Machine for Under $500
Whether you want a hands-on or hands-off experience, you can find a very respectable espresso machine in this price range. I hope this guide has helped you to find the right fit for your home brewing needs.
If you have some experience with brewing at home, and want to share some of your tips with our readers, please feel free to leave a comment below to get a conversation started!
If you are looking for something more premium, check out our top premium machines.