If you’re someone who has mainly used ordinary coffee makers for most of your life, the world of espresso machines can certainly be an unfamiliar one. It’s easy to go to your favorite coffee shop and order a latte or cappuccino, but making one at the home or office is an entirely different story.
To some however, learning how to make espresso beverages can be easier than trying to find the best espresso machines out there, especially if you’re operating within a certain budget. There’s a lot of variance, and a lot of different types, making the buying process rather difficult.
Fortunately, we’re here to help. In this buying guide, we’ll be taking a look at the best espresso machines currently available that are within a reasonably affordable range, spanning anywhere from under $100, to under $1,000.
Knowing what to look for in your espresso machine purchase is crucial, so we’ll also be going over all the different aspects you can consider beforehand that will steer you in the right direction -- and avoid making the wrong purchase.
So, with that said, let’s first start with why you need to be careful when choosing the espresso machine you go with.
*Notice: On mobile devices, scroll right to see entire table.
The Best Espresso Machine Under $1,000
The Best Espresso Machine Under $500
The Best Espresso Machine Under $200
The Best Espresso Machine Under $100
At its core, all espresso machine serves the same purpose: to make shots of espresso. How it goes about making the espresso, and any other features offered are what contributes to the large amount of variance between them.
And while the end product of an espresso machine is essentially the same as any other, the difference in quality, how the espresso is made, how much it can make in a given amount of time, how often it can be used, and extra features all matter in terms of what matches your preferences.
By all accounts, espresso machines are not cheap, so ending up with one that doesn’t meet your needs can be a fairly large waste of money.
For instance, let’s say you are not very skilled in the world of espresso beverages, and you decide to purchase some pricey model made by a good brand because you assume it will be what you need for your office, and everyone will be able to use it.
If it’s a manual machine that also requires a lot of time to heat up and holds a small amount of water, you’ll find yourself in a bad situation. Nobody will know how to use it correctly, and it won’t be able to make more than a few beverages at a time, with long waits in between.
We’ve got you covered though, so read on to avoid a situation like this.
By identifying what your needs are, and knowing the main features and aspects of an espresso machine, you can pinpoint the right model to purchase.
Technology and innovation has resulted in an increased number of different espresso machine types, making it easier than ever to find a design that you’re comfortable with.
The most basic of all espresso machines, the manual espresso machine is also viewed as the best choice for a coffee enthusiast who wants the most control over their espresso brewing, and wants to have the ability to make a superior shot of espresso.
If you’ve ever seen a smaller, all metal espresso machine with a large handle on the front, that’s a manual machine. There are no built-in grinders, no buttons, no automation whatsoever. These are generally for coffee connoisseurs who aren’t afraid of a learning curve.
Manual machines work by the user controlling the actual rate of the water flow through the ground coffee in the portafilter. By lowering the handle, you’re controlling the way the shots are brewed. It can take awhile to get the hang of it, but manual espresso machines have the highest ceiling in terms of the shot quality.
Brewing variables include espresso bean quality, grind fineness, tamp pressure and operation of the brew lever and water flow.
Although manual machines are the least complicated, they can also be among the most expensive espresso machines you’ll encounter. If you want the best possible espresso, and also want an active role in the brewing process, a manual espresso machine is ideal.
Semi-automatic espresso machines can seem more of a manual type to those who are used to watching their baristas press a button to get a shot at Starbucks, but they aren’t.
These espresso machines have an electric pump inside that handles the water flow and pressure aspect for you, leaving you to worry only about the grinding, measuring, and filling of the portafilter.
Semi-automatic espresso machines are the most popular, and it’s mainly due to their hands-on operation, combined with a generally more affordable price point. Yes, you get the benefit of an electric pump and faster water heating times, but you still have an active role in the brewing process.
Using a semi-automatic espresso machine does take a little bit of practice, but it won’t be long before you’ve got things figured out. The main part to learn is how to tamp the grounds into the portafilter, how much to use, and how long to leave the shot brewing.
Most semi-automatic models will allow you to add more water after you run out, rather than having to wait for the pump and reservoir to cool and depressurize like you would with a manual version. This makes them more apt for creating numerous beverages in a shorter amount of time.
Automatic espresso machines are similar to semi-automatic models, with the one big difference being that they handle the water process. This means that you can fill the machine with water and (usually) prepare your portafilter, and then push a button and let the machine to the rest.
Some models may not have a manual portafilter, but will still require that you insert ground coffee into a reservoir so it can use it to make the shot. It really just depends on the product or brand.
Automatic machines usually have quite a few extra features as well, and incorporate some digital controls and such. They tend to have much better steam wands, and often a mug warmer as well. Higher-end models will have different modes that can brew either single/double shots, or brew americanos using added hot water after the shot is brewed.
The most luxurious of them all, super-automatic espresso machines do all of the work for you at the push of a button. More often than not, all you need to do is fill the machine with water and espresso beans, and it will handle the rest.
With these machines, there’s no mess, no fuss, no worrying if you’ve messed the shot up, or anything like that. Just consistent, easy, automated espresso shots that are always the same. If you have a family at home, or need an espresso machine in the breakroom at work, this is usually the best option.
These machines often have a lot of extra features as well, and some will still at least let you choose the types of shots you want to brew, such as ristretto. You can also find machines with timers you can set to brew, and different modes for the steam wand too.
As you probably guessed, super-automatic models are usually the most expensive, although you can find some that have a mid-range price point. For those who drink espresso beverages regularly, or are looking to replace their daily coffee shop runs for $6 lattes, a super-automatic machine will eventually end up paying for itself.
This generally falls back on the type of machine you’re using. As you’ve read above, manual machines are going to be the hardest to use, while super-automatic versions are the easiest.
The ease of use aspect can refer to more than just whether or not the machine handles the work for you. Some may take awhile to heat up, while other can only make a few beverages before needing to cool down and be refilled again.
Before buying, consider how much you’ll be using the machine, and if you’re willing to go through a learning curve at first.
Pretty self-explanatory. If counter space is at a minimum in your kitchen or breakroom, you’ll need to find a machine that can fit. There are some models that are surprisingly space-efficient, while others may be unnecessarily large.
Always get an exact measurement of your available space, and double-check it against the machine’s size specifications before buying. Nobody wants to unbox their machine and set it up, only to find out that it won’t fit into the space under their kitchen cabinets above the counter.
The durability factor is definitely in play if you plan on using the machine on a frequent basis. Manual machines have the longest life spans, since they have fewer moving parts and are the most simplistic.
Super-automatic machines are the most complicated, and have the most that can go wrong over time. Check the warranty and service policy to be sure you can quickly and easily get any problems addressed, even if it means sending the machine into the manufacturer for a fix.
As you may have guessed, espresso machines need cleaning from time to time. For some models, this can be a simply flushing of the reservoir and deep cleaning of the portafilter parts. Others may need descaler tablets that need to be ran through the system to prevent damage from hard water and oil build up.
Some are definitely easier to deal with then others, so look into the cleaning process if you can.
Espresso machines of all types can come with a number of different added features. Some may only have a warming surface to place your mug on, while others may have different shot modes, timers, and built-in water filters that let you use tap water, letting the machine filter it out before brewing.
If certain features are crucial for your preferences, be sure the machine can provide them beforehand.
This semi-automatic espresso machine from Breville is the perfect example of integrating smart, modernized features into a traditional espresso machine design.
The BES870XL Barista is definitely something you won’t mind having on your counter. It’s available in several different color schemes, though we’re partial to the stainless steel color. The white gauges and minimalistic buttons give it a smooth, sophisticated aesthetic that hints at its quality.
The machine uses 15 bar Italian pump and 1600W thermo coil heating system, allowing it to warm up in just a few minutes.
Although the BES870XL Barista is a semi-automatic with a standard portafilter setup, it still utilizes a removable bean hopper and burr grinder system that lets you grind directly into the portafilter basket from the machine.
You simply place the portafilter into the holder, choose your grind setting and amount, and press the grind button to deliver the coffee directly into the portafilter. From there, you and detach the magnetized tamper and compact the grounds before brewing. Very convenient.
The pressure gauge lets you know exactly where the water pressure is so you can brew consistent shots to your liking every time. You also have the option to choose between 30ml and 60ml shot amounts, and can even adjust the water temperature for precision brewing for different bean types when needed.
Another convenient feature of the BES870XL Barista is the removable water reservoir in the back,, which also has a built-in filter to help prevent mineral buildup inside the machine, and ensure better tasting shots. An internal feature above the portafilter draws moisture out after brewing for a drier puck that is easier to dispose off.
A removable drip tray on the bottom can hold both wet and dry spills, and will also let you know when it’s reached capacity and needs to be dumped. Below the drip tray is space to hold the portafilter, and an included cleaning kit as well.
Additional features include an external water spout off to the side, programmable shot amounts, an auto-purge function, and a cleaning light indicator that reminds you when the BES870XL Barista is due.
The combination of features, convenience, and the quality we’ve come to expect from Breville makes the BES870XL Barista the best espresso machine for under $1,000 on the market.
The DeLonghi ESAM3300 Magnifica is a very affordable super-automatic espresso machine that offers an impressive amount of features, along with an easy-to-use format and unbridled consistency.
For a super-automatic, the Magnifica has a smaller size, but offers the same performance that an espresso machine in this class should. You only get one color choice with this model, but the versatile, grey/stainless-steel look will complement any kitchen decor.
The Magnifica offers a good amount of continuance when making multiple beverages. The machine uses a double boiler system, so there’s no waiting in between brewing shots and using the steam wand.
The 60 ounce removable water reservoir holds plenty of water, while the 7 ounce internal bean hopper stores enough beans for numerous shots.
The brewing process itself is incredibly simple. Just adjust the grind coarseness, and then use the front knobs to choose your desired shot strength and size, and press the button. The espresso is delivered through an adjustable spout you can raise and lower depending on your cup size.
Thanks to an Instant Reheat feature, as long as there is water remaining in the reservoir, the Magnifica should be ready to go for more shots afterwards, or you can chose to use the steam wand if you’re making a latte or cappuccino.
As for the steam wand itself, DeLonghi included a “Cappuccino System” frother built in, that makes it very easy to create microfoam for the rich, velvety consistency you find in superior coffee shops -- but without all the practice.
Additional features include multiple alert icons on the front, such as the de-calcify alert. A spacious drip tray absorbs all of your spills, with an indicator for when it’s full. Cleaning is an especially easy thanks to a removable brewing system.
Those who are looking for an affordable super-automatic espresso machine from a renowned manufacturer will find a lot to love with the DeLonghi Magnifica.
Gaggia’s Classic espresso maker is a superior semi-automatic machine that is very basic in its operation, but produces quality shots and effortless milk frothing. The result is a very high-level semi-auto espresso machine that offers an authentic brewing experience and solid consistency.
The Classic has a tall and sleek appearance that is well complimented by its grey and stainless steel look. Control knobs, buttons, and levers are at a minimum, and the ones that are there are well placed so that they don’t distract away from its aesthetic.
With a 15-bar pump, the Classic offers plenty of power and pressure for a variety of shot types, and can also heat up very quickly, while allowing for multiple uses in a row if the large 72 ounce removable water reservoir is filled to capacity.
The portafilter setup comes with single and double shot attachments, and also include one for using pods, which can be handled by using the machine at a 9 bar pump setting. Everything is seamless regardless of the type of shot you're pulling, and the machine comes with everything you need to measure, tamp, and prepare each shot.
The included pannarello wand has a design that allows you to create denser foam in a much easier way, and it also doubles as a water spout for tea, or if you’re making an americano.
Cleaning up each shot after use is very easy. A three-way solenoid valve provides immediate pressure release from the grouphead once an espresso pull is completed, allowing the portafilter to be removed, the used puck neatly removed and disposed of, and the next shot to be prepared instantly.
Simplicity was Gaggia’s goal here, and they certainly pulled it off well. The Classic is a no-frills semi-auto machine for enthusiasts that like having some added control over their shots, without all the often unnecessary added features. The price point makes it an even more attractive buy.
The Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista is designed to allow even the most novice espresso drinker who has little interest in learning how to master an espresso machine with the opportunity to create quality beverages with little effort.
The machine is a semi-automatic, but does have some added features that you won’t normally find on an espresso machine in this class, mainly revolving around how the milk is prepared.
The Cafe Barista a more on the compact side, and doesn't’ take up that much space on your counter. It come sin the distinct color options, letting you choose from a bold wine red color, a contemporary white, or a traditional stainless steel. All three look great and offer a bit of their own personality.
The machine uses a 15 pump pressure system, and is very efficient in both heating up and during the shot pulling process. The portafilter works in a conventional way,and can hold enough ground for a double shot if needed.
After loading the portafilter, you can choose between three different espresso beverage settings, or bypass them and create a custom shot pull for a more dialed-in flavor more to your preferences.
Here’s what really makes the Cafe Barista different is its automated milk frothing system, which is very much unique and actually pretty impressive. You simply fill the milk reservoir, select your foam amount ranging from latte to cappuccino, and turn it on.
The milk will begin to foam and steam in the reservoir, and then come out a dispenser nozzle that is positioned right above your mug, cup, or glass. No fuss, no worrying about messing up the milk, the Cafe Barista does it all for you.
For an espresso machine under $200, the Cafe Barista is a very econimial choice, and makes a great option for those who want cafe-style espresso beverages with minimal effort.
The Ninja Coffee Bar Single Serve System takes an innovative approach to espresso machines and coffee makers, focusing on a user-friendly experience with numerous options when it comes to beverage types.
This machine is on the compact side, and can easily fit into a corner or in between other appliances on the counter. It comes in one color options, which is basically black with grey and stainless steel accents.
The Ninja Coffee Bar is more of a pod-based coffee maker that doubles as an espresso maker. There are no portafilters or conventional spouts, but rather a system that hold grounds, and then uses an integrated scoop to acquire the perfect amount of coffee needed before loading it into the system,
Operation is simple. You just fill the grounds reservoir on the side, load the coffee using the pod scoop and tamper, and then select the style of coffee you’d like, ranging anywhere from standard, to concentrated, to over ice, and even a proprietary style from Ninja known as “Cafe Forte.”
After pushing the button, the Ninja Coffee Bar pulls the coffee directly into your cup. After that, you can use an integrated spinning milk frother on the side that allows you to froth both hot and cold milk. There is no steaming options, but the versatility is definitely an advantage.
The Ninja Coffee Bar Single Serve System is a little more unconventional when compared to traditional machines, but its innovation, versatility, and ease of use is impressive, especially when considering the model can be had for under $100.
Espresso machine shopping can be a little intimidating if you’ve never done it before. We hope you now have a much better idea as to how one goes about choosing a machine that best fits their needs.
While all of the above espresso machines are quite different from each other, they all hold their own unique advantages and functions, and more importantly, make great espresso beverages. Be sure to take a look at our reviews for a more in-depth analysis into each of these espresso machines.