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 best espresso machine under 500, 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 X-Small 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 RI9380/46 Classic Pro Espresso Machine is an affordable espresso machine, but still offers a great list of features for intermediate brewers.
The Classic weighs 210lbs and measures 9.5″ x 8″ x 14.2″ 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 4.6 stars out of 5 on Amazon with a ton of great written reviews.
This is the second Gaggia on the list and for good reason – Gaggia, like De’Longhi is one of the old school classics and all of their machines are known to perform well.
From the Brera super automatic, you can expect a few more amenities than the Classic, BUT you’ll find them at a higher price point. For the price, we’d pick the Breville, but if Gaggia is your preferred brand, then this has more of the bells and whistles.
The Brera offers: a 17 bar pump, a bypass grinder that will allow you to brew using whole or pre-ground beans, an adaptation system that gradually learns your preferred grind, 5 grind settings, a stainless steel panarello steam wand, and a 40 ounce water tank. The user interface is simple and straightforward to use and because it’s a super automatic, there is no tamping or portafilter.
The steam wand on this machine is also part of the super-automatic features and will froth your milk for you, no interference on your part/ The rapid steam technology also assures a really fast heat up time and a quick transition from extraction to steaming.
Both the water tank and the drag box are removable and accessed front the front of the machine. Breville’s water reservoir is only accessible from the back, which gets frustrating. I’m a big fan of anything that front loads for the convenience factor alone.
You’ll also find this model has dual spouts so you can extract two cups of espresso simultaneously.
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.
This little Philips Carina model is a sweet super-automatic option that is easy to use and requires very little from you as a user. I love this model for the beginner as it is a nice introduction into the world of at-home espresso.
Here’s what the 1200-Series has to offer: a 12-step ceramic burr grinder so you can adjust the grind to suit your beans, an intuitive touch display to easily select your coffee beverage of choice (these drink options can also be customized to store your favorite recipes), 3 different temperature settings, a dual pour spout so you can brew two shots simultaneously and a convenient front-loading water tank.
I also want to highlight the panarello steam wand for frothing milk for lattes and cappuccinos. This is an auto wand, so you don’t have to have any barista skills to operate it – it froths the milk for you to your specifications.
This machine is so easy and straight-forward to use that it’s a really solid, high-end pick for this price point.
Like the Gaggia Brera, the Duo Temp Pro is also an excellent machine, we just happen to like the features on the Infuser better for the price point.
Here’s what you can expect from the Duo: a 15 bar Italian pump, manual tamping and extraction with control of shot volume, a steam wand for frothing, and a roomy 60 ounce water tank. There’s no grinder on this one, so it falls a little behind the Brera on that score.
We do like the less automated system Breville offers and find it produces a better shot, but you don’t get quite as many features as you find on the Gaggia.
Nespresso and De’Longhi are known for teaming up to produce some mildly enhanced versions of Nespresso classics and that’s pretty much what you get with the Lattissima Touch.
Like all Nespressos, the Lattissima is a one button, capsule operation. You’ll find it has a convenient 6-button system for producing a range of drinks from cappuccinos to lattes, all without any real effort by you; even frothing is handled by the machine (the De’Longhi contribution). It also comes equipped with a 19-bar high-pressure pump, with a 40 second heat up time for milk-based drinks.
It also takes the Original line of capsules from Nespresso, which has the largest variety to choose from, and our personal pick over the more limited Vertuo line. For fast, no-hands espresso drinks, this is the TOP pick. You sacrifice a little on overall drink quality, but you can’t kick the convenience factor.
This sleek little piece of kitchen art is a mini powerhouse and a great option if you want to stick with Breville but want a slimmer profile and more streamlined features than the Infuser.
The Bambino offers an automatic steam wand for milk frothing, a 3 second heat up time, low pressure pre-infusion to ensure maximum flavor extraction, and a seamless auto-purge for making the next cup swiftly and smoothly.
The Infuser is a well-made, quality machine, but falls short of the Infuser for the high price tag and pared down list of features. It is a top pick if you’re looking for a space-saving option that looks sleek and performs well.
I love this machine for it’s futuristic retro styling and simple user-interface for a quick and easy espresso-making experience. It falls down toward the end of our list because it’s more of an aesthetic pick rather than a practical one as it’s not nearly as feature-rich as the other machines from Breville and De’Longhi.
The Smeg offers a straightforward user experience with just three simple buttons controlling the shot size (single or double) and the activation of the steam wand. Like most of the other machines on this list, it offers 15 bars of pressure, a milk frother and will take a range of different pods in lieu of ground coffee, depending on your preference.
Overall, while this machine is great to look at, what you’re paying for is the Smeg name and styling.
A newer offering from Nespresso, this is a really beautiful collaboration with Breville and a solid choice if you’re on the hunt for a capsule machine.
Like all Nespresso products, the Creatista is capsule based for single serve ease of use. It offers a bunch fo great features for a super-automatic experience, including: ristretto, espresso, and lungo settings, frothing settings including flat white, cappuccino and latte machiatto using the included automatic brother with 8 texture levels and 11 temperature adjustments, a speedy 3 second heat up, and an easy to use TFT LCD display.
The profile on this machine is super slim and compact so it’s the perfect addition to a small space counter top. It is easy to maintain with front access to the drip tray and convenient pod holder for used capsules.
If you are looking for a simple, straightforward capsule style machine, this is a beautiful collaboration between two industry giants.
The Dedica is the lowest cost option on the list and falls squarely between the $200 and $500 price points. It’s a solid option if you’re looking for a mid-range price point with a top quality pedigree, but sparser features list.
This machine offers the standard 15 bars of pressure, an adjustable frother, and stainless portafilter. Heat up and extraction time is about 35 seconds. The water tank size is about 35 ounces and the overall design is slim at just 6’’. It’s an especially nice pick for small spaces like an apartment or office.
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!