While some coffee drinkers are perfectly content with a cup of regular coffee, others prefer the smooth taste of an espresso. Espresso — which is made by using pressurized water to extract liquid from finely ground coffee beans — takes more work, but with the right espresso machine and coffee grinder, it can be as simple as tamping (or compressing) your ground coffee and pressing a button. Some of the higher-end machines made for more experienced baristas can cost thousands of dollars, but if you’re looking for a relatively affordable one that gets the job done, we compiled some espresso machines under $600 based on expert guidance.
SKIP AHEAD Best affordable espresso machines under $600
How to shop for an espresso machine
In our guide to espresso machines, the experts we consulted told us there are a few things you should look for when shopping for a machine:
- Automatic vs. semi-automatic: The most common type of espresso machine is pump-driven. These machines can be broken down into three categories: automatic, semi-automatic and manual. Most of the affordable espresso machine models are either automatic or semi-automatic. An automatic machine does most of the work for you and is better for beginners, but it’s typically the priciest option. A semi-automatic machine gives you more control over your espresso, but it takes more time.
- Temperature control: A good espresso machine will have a stable temperature. Look out for PIDs — or Proportional, Integral, Derivative controllers — which give you the ability to choose your temperature to the degree. The ideal temperature for an espresso is between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Graham Peeples, director of beverage at Methodical Coffee.
- Grinder: Whether you decide to buy a machine with a built-in grinder really comes down to your preferences. Beware, though: They are convenient, but built-in grinders “[often] break down or get to the point of performing poorly relatively quickly,” warned Michael Phillips, Blue Bottle Coffee’s director of coffee culture.
Best affordable espresso machines under $600
We used expert guidance to round up the best affordable espresso machines under $600. All of the espresso machines we recommend can reach the ideal extraction pressure (9 bars) and either come with temperature control or can have it installed separately.
Several of the experts we previously spoke to noted that Breville makes some of the best espresso machines. This semi-automatic model in particular has digital PID temperature control adjustable in 4-degree increments, plus a pressure gauge that can help you extract like a pro. The pump is powerful, too — it can apply water pressure at up to 15 bars. (A bar is a metric unit of pressure.)
Peeples called the Gaggia Classic a “no-frills machine that will get the job done.” This semi-automatic machine has a maximum pump pressure of 15 bars, and the rapid heating boiler has the machine ready to brew in about five minutes, according to the brand. Since the machine uses a single boiler (meaning that the steam wand and the group head, also known as the brew head, share a boiler), you need to wait about a minute when you switch over to the steam setting. The Gaggia Classic doesn’t have PID temperature control, but you can install one separately for under $100.
This Breville machine has programmable shot times and PID temperature control. Its ThermoJet system heats up the machine so it’s ready to start in three seconds, according to the brand, and the machine uses a lower pressure pre-infusion for an even extraction and more balanced flavor. It comes with a frothing jug that you can use to steam milk.
Though it’s well under $600, this semi-automatic espresso machine has many of the features of a higher-end model: In addition to PID temperature control, it also has pre-programmed single and double shots and up to 15 bars of pressure. A similar (and slightly pricier) model comes with a built-in grinder.
De’Longhi, known for its partnership with capsule espresso-machine maker Nespresso, also makes affordable pump-driven espresso machines. This automatic 15-bar machine has two separate thermostats — one for the water and another for the steam — and the patented portafilter (or filter holder) can hold one to two espresso shots or an espresso pod. According to the brand, the removable water tank and drip tray also make the machine easy to clean.
This semi-automatic espresso machine sports dual PID temperature control and up to 15 bars of pressure. It can connect to Wi-Fi and sync with the SmartHQ app so you can remotely program your espresso’s volume and strength. The machine comes with a burr grinder — which breaks the beans down more evenly than a blade grinder, according to experts — that has 16 adjustable settings.