The $500 budget range is what I like to think of as the true home barista’s espresso machine sweet spot. This is the budget guideline I used when buying my own machine, but I ended up spending a little more. I’ll share why below.
At this price point, you aren’t really looking at the entry-level options. You are upgrading the experience and the quality of the beverage you’re going to be making. With this budget, you can pretty much bring home a machine that you can build a shrine to on your kitchen countertop (see my own set-up below).
Yes, there are still going to be higher-priced models. Some of them will have more features. BUT… do you really need fingerprint identification to make your coffee?
Are you familiar with the law of diminishing returns? Those high school Econ concepts actually apply to espresso machine buying (thank you Mr. Posner!). After the $500 price point, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find a machine that does a better job making espresso; what you’ll actually find are machines that have features you don’t really need and that have less bearing on the quality of the drink.
The three machines on my list of makers under $500 are powerhouses equipped to whip up any espresso drink you could possibly crave, with an impressive level of finesse and just enough control to achieve ideal extraction.
My favorite machine, the Breville Infuser, is easy to use after a few turns to get the feel of it, can make any espresso drink you can dream up and makes brewing a satisfying, enjoyable experience. It makes really good tasting espresso that will rival any local coffee shop. It is also shiny, stainless and looks great on a countertop, if you’re into that.
If you can swing it, you should also look into buying the Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine. It is generally $50-$100 more, but it has a built-in grinder. This is the machine I own and use every day. I can’t tell you enough how convenient and awesome having the built-in grinder is. The ease of just pushing a button and having the perfect amount of grounds for a single or double shot is pretty great and beats using a separate grinder and measuring any day. I’ve never regretted spending the extra $50 for this particular convenience, but if you really want both the grinder and the max budget at $500, take a look at the Phillips Vienna below.
Breville’s the Infuser Espresso Machine is one of my favorite deals in this category and I say that because it comes equipped with an array of features that any serious espresso drinker will appreciate and enjoy on a daily basis for a really reasonable price.
Coming in at 17 lbs and 10.2” x 12.5” x 13.2” inches in size, the machine is similar in weight and size to most other machines and will fit comfortably on your kitchen countertop, island, or coffee bar.
This Infuser comes with several state of the art features to make delicious espresso: a pre-infusion function, which applies low water pressure at the beginning of extraction, to expand the ground coffee beans gently, ensuring even, complete extraction, a 1600W thermocoil heating system with an integrated stainless-steel water coil, which controls the water temperature with a great deal of accuracy to keep within the ideal 195-200 degree range.
It also has an auto-purge function, which automatically adjusts water temperature after steaming, ensuring that the espresso is extracted at the optimal temperature. It comes standard with an Italian pump with 15-bar pressure, which helps facilitate full flavor extraction and volumetric control with preset, manual override or re-programmable volumes.
These features are great for espresso drinkers with a little more knowledge than a rookie, who prefers to have a little more control over the process. This machine can be simplified through it’s automated processes, but if you want to brew espresso using a more hands-on experience, on this list the Infuser is definitely the machine you should seriously consider.
The rest of the machine’s features include: a 61 fl. oz. (1.8 L) water tank and a drip tray that are both removable, making cleaning the espresso machine pretty quick and painless; PID technology, which regulates water temperature; a 54 mm stainless-steel portafilter with commercial-style spouts and a 54 mm tamper stored magnetically on the espresso machine itself.
It has a dry puck feature that removes excess water from the ground coffee beans in the filter basket for easy disposal of the puck; a pressure gauge, which enables you to monitor the pressure generated during flavor extraction and know whether the espresso is being over or under-extracted; a dedicated hot water outlet, which enables you to enjoy your other favorite hot beverages, like tea and hot chocolate; a steam wand that swivels 360 degrees, which allows you to froth milk easily; it can also accommodate frothing jugs of varying sizes.
The only thing that is really missing on the Infuser is the built-in grinder. If, like me, you want a Breville AND the convenience of not grinding and measuring by hand, you will need to up your budget just a bit for the Barista Express. It’s worth it.
The Breville received a stellar rating of 4 and a half stars out of 5 on Amazon, making it a consumer top-pick as well as my top choice.
The Gaggia 14101 Classic Espresso Machine is the lowest price espresso machine on this list, but still offers a great list of features for intermediate brewers.
The Classic weighs 21 lbs and measures 25” x 13” x 12” inches and is the second largest option on this list. While on the heavier side, it is narrow and stylishly minimalist in appearance.
This is a quick and snappy machine. It offers a 17-1/2-bar pressure pump (more than you’ll ever need) with a high-voltage boiler and a three-way solenoid valve, which releases the pressure from the grouphead immediately once an espresso pull is completed. This allows the portafilter to be removed and the next shot to be prepared instantly; ideal if you are brewing for more than just yourself.
Both the grouphead and the portafilter are made of heavy-duty, marine-grade brass with chrome plating, ensuring that the temperature generated during the brewing process remains stable. I think this is a pretty cool design feature and attention to detail that I really appreciate.
The rest of the espresso machine’s features include: a combined frother and hot-water dispenser, a cup warmer, which lets you leave your cup here for several minutes without worrying that your cup might get cold, single and double-shot stainless-steel filter basket, a coffee tamper and 7-gram measuring scoop, and a 72 oz removable water tank, which makes refilling the espresso machine easy.
This machine does not allow quite as much hands-on customization of your brew as the Breville or Philips and is better suited for users that prefer a more automated experience, while still enjoying well-brewed espresso at home. It is also a bit less costly than the other options.
The Classic received a solid rating of 4 stars out of 5 on Amazon with a ton of great written reviews.
The Philips Saeco Vienna Plus is a super-automatic espresso machine currently being sold through Amazon for $495.00 and is the most expensive option on our list. Given its hefty price tag, you should expect a lot from this guy. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. The Vienna Plus delivers on all fronts and is a general fan favorite, which you can also read more about here and here.
It weighs 22 lbs and measures about 18” x 13” x 16” inches in size. It is a bit larger and heavier than comparable models, but it is durable, made to last and still compact enough to fit comfortably on just about any kitchen countertop.
It is also nice to look at and has a stylish matte black exterior that I think looks pretty cool if aesthetics factor into your decision-making.
What is great about the Vienna Plus is that it comes with a host of features that enable you to customize both the consistency and strength of your brew. I’m a finicky drinker, so the ability to tweak the process a bit is important to me.
Philips has some fancy names for the features on it’s espresso machines, but what you really need to take away from that is they do a great job of getting you from ground beans to tasty, aromatic espresso shots with great crema. Here’s a breakdown of some of them: on the Vienna, there’s an optional “Aroma System” pre-brewing cycle, which injects hot water into the ground coffee beans in order to fully extract flavor from every granule. Next is its “OptiDose” technology lets you choose from 6 to 9 grams of ground coffee beans per cup. There’s also an integrated Pannarello steam wand, which like most machines in this range doubles as a milk frother and a hot water dispenser, for making your other favorite hot beverages, like tea and hot chocolate.
The rest of this espresso machine’s features include: a built-in, adjustable, durable conical burr grinder, something the Breville does not include; a 15-bar pressure pump, which helps the espresso machine fully extract flavor from every coffee granule; easy to clean drip tray and dreg drawer, a brew group that not only enables you to tamp, brew, and dispense within just one brewing cycle; a stainless-steel boiler; and a 12-ounce sealed bean container.
The only complaint with the Vienna is the noise level of the grinder. It is a bit loud and jarring in the morning. I don’t find this to be true of my Breville Barista Express, but I have a feeling it varies, based on the user sensitivity to noise.
This machine received a solid rating of 4 stars out of 5 on Amazon. As an overall package with the most comprehensive set of features, this is an easy pick as one of the top espresso machines under 500 dollars.
Don’t let yourself be blinded by an espresso machine with a hefty price tag without first reviewing its features and consumer response. Price isn’t always an assurance of quality. I hope this guide helps narrow the field for the $500 range and makes your choice easy and fun.
Chatting about coffee is my passion! Leave me a question in the comments, I answer each and every one and would love to get to know you better.
I am a die-hard espresso fan. I love every form of the drink from straight espresso shots to lattes and cappuccinos. I currently use a Breville BES870XL Barista, it is an awesome machine. BUT, my dream machine is definitely an Italian Quickmill Andreja. Those bad boys make badass espresso. I love answering your questions, leave a comment or question below!