Do you want to make fancy coffee drinks from the comfort of your own home? Maybe you want to work on your barista skills or maybe you're trying to spend less at coffee shops, but is it possible to buy a good espresso machine on a budget? In short...yes.
Fancy espresso machines can be thousands of dollars, and while having one with all the bells and whistles is nice, spending thousands of dollars on an espresso machine is not in the average budget. Luckily, there are many espresso machines on the market, some of which are even in the double digits, so you can easily find a machine to meet your needs without breaking the bank.
Why the drastic price difference? With a less expensive machine you don’t get all of the bells and whistles...you only get some of them. We have put together a guide to help you find the best cheap espresso machines on the market that rival even the most expensive models, so read on to decide which features best suit your lifestyle, and use our guide to find the best machine for you!
Best Overall Espresso Machine
- Create lattes and cappuccinos at the touch of a button
- Removable milk reservoir
- Can be switched into manual mode for more control
- Easy to clean
- Milk froth can be inconsistent
We think this espresso machine from Mr. Coffee ranks as the best overall budget espresso machine, and is perfect for those looking for an easy way to make espresso, cappuccino, or even lattes.
It is a fairly compact machine which features a one touch control panel that can easily brew any type of coffee drink you crave. The metal filter is attached to a strong handle and includes two filter baskets to choose from (a single and double shot). The automatic milk frother comes with a dedicated milk tank and control panel that takes the guesswork out of creating the creamiest cappuccinos and lattes.
As an added bonus, the adjustable tray allows for various sized cups and mugs, and with multiple removable reservoirs, clean up is a breeze.
Best Manual Espresso Machine
- Sleek design
- Easy to clean
- Produces a rich crema
- Can be a pain to reload if you are making multiple shots
The Flair Espresso Classic is a great machine to use when camping or traveling if you don’t mind a bulky device and have access to boiling water, but it also serves as a great machine for the home. It is made from high-quality stainless steel and aluminum, and it’s sleek design makes it both attractive and space saving; a perfect fit for the modern kitchen.
This is a machine that is designed for those who enjoy the full process of making their favorite espresso drink. Pulling a shot of espresso takes considerably more work than an automatic or semi-automatic model, but it really only takes between three and five minutes. The beans must be uniform and finely ground, but not too finely or this machine will get clogged, so read your user manual and make sure to use a burr grinder.
The brewing head is detachable and you can purchase extras so you don’t have to continuously clean the head if you are brewing for more than one person.
Best Semi-Automatic Machine
- Stainless steel boiler
- Takes ESE pods
- Sleek space saving design
- Easy to clean
- Built in tamper is not ideal
- Not tall enough to fit some coffee mugs
- Some plastic components
The DeLonghi EC155 is an extremely affordable entry level option. In addition to being affordable, it is also one of the more frequently recommended espresso machines for overall performance.
It features a stainless steel boiler for durability, a three in one filter that can use ESE pods or ground coffee, and has separate thermostats to allow for both water and steam pressure to be controlled individually for a great shot of espresso every time.
This Italian-made machine also comes with the patented DeLonghi Cappuccino Frothing Wand for easy milk frothing for your favorite coffee beverages and the black and stainless steel exterior is compact making it a seamless fit for many modern kitchens.
Best Automatic Machine
- Ease of use
- Capsule machine
- Fast and Easy
- Space Saving
- Must use Nespresso pods
- Offers no customization
This is one of the best budget espresso machines if you are looking for simplicity, and is perfect for those busy mornings. It is fast, energy efficient, and brews a consistent espresso every time.
Nespresso machines work by forcing water, at 199.4 degrees, through the ground coffee using a high-pressure pump. You simply place a Nespresso capsule into the machine, press go, and you have a rich espresso in a matter of minutes, making it great for the office.
The capsule is pierced by several small needles and water is forced through at a pressure of up to 19 bars. This high pressure produces a rich crema incomparable to other coffee machines in a similar price range.
It holds 9 to 11 used capsules which are easy to load and eject, and as an added plus, they are recyclable. The most notable feature of this automatic machine is the Nespresso capsule brewing system, which means you are committing to using Nespresso capsules.
Best Travel Espresso Maker
- Very affordable
- Produces great crema
- Requires lots of clean up
- A lot of work for a single shot of espresso
This machine is great for campers and travelers but be forewarned, you will need access to hot water. The Wacaco Nanopresso is a compact machine that allows you to make espresso virtually anywhere. While the cap can be used as a cup, we recommend you have a reliable travel mug or thermos on hand for easier storage.
You simply scoop ground coffee into the filter basket, add hot water, and extract a rich espresso by pumping the piston. This portable machine can produce up to 18 bars of pressure and will make just over 2 ounces of espresso. While this machine uses ground espresso, a capsule adapter can be purchased to accommodate ESE pods.
Best Stovetop Espresso Maker
- Available in multiple sizes
- Easy to use
- Classic design
- Hand wash after every use
- Not actual espresso
If you prefer to brew your coffee the old fashioned way, try a stove top model. Bialetti was one of the first Moka pots on the market and is still the standard today.
It’s stylish aluminium design looks clean and polished making it a statement piece to display in your kitchen, and while this Moka Pot doesn’t brew actual espresso, it brews a strong coffee that can be used to make your favorite Latte or Cappuccino at a fraction of the price.
With different sizes available, you can make anywhere from a single cup to 12 cups in one brewing, making the perfect stove top machine for entertaining, and coming in under $100, this is a great machine for the budget conscious.
How much should I expect to pay for a good espresso machine?
Everyone deserves to be able pull a shot of espresso in the comfort of their own home without having to spend thousands of dollars on an espresso machine. While super fancy espresso machines with all the bells and whistles can be thousands of dollars, you can easily find a quality machine machine to suit your budget.
The best cheap espresso machines skip out on some features in order to offer a less expensive product without sacrificing quality, so think about what you truly need in an espresso machine before you begin shopping.
What makes true espresso?
Espresso is basically coffee brewed under pressure. Espresso machines force a small amount of nearly boiling water out under at least nine bars of pressure through finely ground coffee. The result is a thicker, creamier coffee with more caffeine. Pressure is the key to making true espresso which is why stovetop espresso machines like the moka pot don’t produce “real” espresso according to coffee aficionados. Keep in mind, you will need a machine with at least a 15 bar capability in order to build up enough pressure to maintain a steady nine bar pressure for your coffee.
Types of Espresso Machines
Manual (or Lever) Espresso Machines
The manual espresso machine was introduced in 1905 and is sometimes called a lever or piston machine. Manual machines are piston driven and require the user to pump a lever in order to generate the pressure needed to pull a shot. These machines require skill and practice, and once you have mastered them, you will be rewarded. Manual machines allow you to control everything about your espresso shot. As the name suggests, you basically do everything (from grinding the beans, pushing the espresso, and frothing the milk) yourself.
Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines
If you enjoy the satisfaction that comes with hands-on espresso making but don’t want to have to do absolutely everything yourself, a semi-automatic machine is right up your alley. Semi-automatic machines raise the bars of pressure for you but you still get to choose how much coffee to put in the portafilter, you tamp the grinds to the appropriate pressure, and you start and stop the pump to control how much water is used per shot.
Fully Automatic Espresso Machines
If you are a home barista who prefers to be completely in control of your morning cup, this machine is not for you. However, if you want a consistent morning coffee without the hassle, look no further.
These are one touch machines. You program the machine to your preference in coffee strength and milk frothing and the machine will create your preferred beverage time after time with no fuss. These machines are great for individuals who are short on time and need to quickly grab a cup of coffee as they head out the door. While they don’t quite pair up to the manual or semi-automatic machines, they are a great pick for those looking for a consistent cup of coffee on the go.
Portable Espresso Makers
Compact espresso machines, also known as travel espresso makers are great for people who enjoy camping, living the RV life or just have tiny kitchens and need something small. Compact machines use pressure to pump water through compacted coffee grounds but unlike other machines, most travel espresso makers do not have a heating source. While you will need a way to heat the water, this feature means most compact models don’t require electricity, making them ideal for travel.
Capsule Espresso Machines
Capsule espresso machines like Nespresso would fall under the umbrella category of automatic machines. Similar to the ESE pods, these machines use capsules that are pre-packaged with compressed coffee grounds. While ESE pods can be used in a number of espresso machines, most capsule machines, require you to purchase capsules designed specifically for them. You simply place the capsule into the espresso maker, a needle pierces the pod and water is pushed through at high pressure.
These machines will produce a consistent shot of espresso in under 2 minutes with very little clean up, and are great for individuals who want consistent quality espresso without the time or fuss of doing the labor themselves.
Stove Top Espresso Makers
Stove top espresso makers, called moka pots are small and simple devices that brew a very strong coffee. Technically they aren’t espresso machines but some people swear by them for their morning cup. Moka pots work by pushing boiling water, pressurized by steam, through ground coffee to produce a delicious brew. The pressure in stove top machines tops out at 1 to 2 bars so they are unable to produce the rich crema that you will get out of a true espresso machine.
Steam based Espresso makers vs. Pump-driven Machines
Steam based machines have been used for years and are one of the oldest kinds you can find on the market. As the name suggests, coffee is produced when steam builds up and pushes boiling water through the coffee grounds. Steam machines are usually cheaper alternatives to pump machines which is a plus, but they also have their drawbacks. With steam machines, you usually have to wait for it to cool down before you can brew your next cup of coffee and steam machines usually don’t produce enough pressure to produce the rich crema that great espresso is known for.
Pump machines on the other hand, use a pump to inject pressure into the boiling water, forcing it through the compacted coffee grounds. The constant pressure produced by the pump ensures that your espresso will not be bitter and produces a rich layer of crema on top. The down downside is that pump machines are often more expensive than their steam based counterparts.
What to look for in an espresso machine
Espresso machines by default are fragile products that require a lot of care and maintenance. When looking for an inexpensive machine, one of your primary concerns should be durability. What materials is it made of and will they last?
The build materials of cheaper machines are well…cheaper, and often less durable. Less expensive models typically use more plastic components, to keep the price down, rather than the metal components used in the top of the line options. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that the machine won’t brew a great espresso, unfortunately, it does mean the lifespan of your machine will be shorter. When looking for a machine, we suggest you make sure it has a stainless steel boiler. A stainless steel boiler should allow the machine to last longer, brew better espresso, yet still be affordable.
Since plastic components are less durable, lower priced machines do not typically get as hot or use as high of presser as their more expensive counterparts. With a less expensive model, your espresso may be a bit weaker and the flavors less distinct. If you love to drink an espresso shot straight up, spend as much money as your budget allows, but if you prefer a latte or cappuccino, a less expensive machine should work just fine.
Single or Double Shot
Single or double shot refers to the amount of espresso you get from your machine each time you brew. When making the decision between single and double shot espresso makers, consider how you will be using your machine. Do you often serve coffee to guests or just make your regular morning cup? If you typically only make coffee for one, a single-shot machine should meet your needs but if you have a partner who likes a latte first thing in the morning or you often serve a cup to a friend in the afternoon, a double-shot machine will make your life much easier.
ESE Pod Compatible
The best shots of espresso require very finely ground beans and unfortunately, most regular grinders just don’t make the cut. ESE refers to Easy Serving Espresso and the pods are simply coffee disks that are inserted into the portafilter of your machine. They aren’t going to impress your hipster friends, but if you have a machine that can accommodate these pods but they certainly will make your life easier. ESE pods take the grinding porting out of espresso making and make cleanup a breeze. They also tend to be less expensive than nespresso capsules while producing a similar product.
A machine with a milk frother widens the range of coffee drinks you can make at home and diminishes the need for extra gadgets laying around. Unfortunately, it is also one more thing you need to clean and maintain. Having a milk frother is ideal if you regularly drink lattes and cappuccinos,but since there are a number of separate appliances out there that can be used to froth milk, the lack of a frothing option shouldn’t be a deal breaker.
Bars of Pressure
Most espresso aficionados will tell you that nine bars (that is nine times the atmospheric pressure at sea level) is the ideal pressure for making the perfect shot of espresso, but you can find machines out there that take pride in having higher pressures. The amount of bars used in brewing a shot of espresso is really a matter of taste so don’t get caught up in the “bars of pressure.” As long as you are happy with the flavor of the resulting espresso, bars shouldn’t really matter.
A portafilter is the part of an espresso machine that locks the filter basket in place before your brew. Portafilters usually come in sizes from 40 to 60 millimeters and knowing your portafilter size is useful if you intend to buy spare filter baskets or when purchasing a tamper. You want a tamper that is suited to the size of your portafilter.
A steam wand is the part of the machine that heats and foams the milk for your latte or cappuccino. You definitely want to consider this feature if a milky coffee is your preferred beverage.
There are several types of steam wands available and each one works a little differently. Some wands are controlled by the push of a button, some require you to turn a knob to control the amount of steam that passes through the wand into the milk, and others froth the milk by pulling it through a valve which heats and foams the milk and pours it directly into your coffee.
If you prefer a foamy cappuccino and want total control over the milk frothing process we suggest a machine with the knob controlled steamer. If you are looking for ease and convenience, either of the other types should be sufficient.
The water reservoir is the water tank that stores water for both making espresso and generating steam for the milk frother. The larger the reservoir, the greater the amount of espresso you can make without refilling the tank. If you are making coffee for one, a smaller reservoir will suffice but if you frequently entertain a few friends for an afternoon espresso, you will want a larger reservoir. Something to keep in mind: the larger the reservoir the bigger the machine so if you need to conserve counter space, you may want to stick to the smaller reservoir.
Secondary water spout
Many pump machines have a secondary water spout, often called a tea water dispenser. This feature is great if you have someone in the house who also enjoys a morning cup of tea. While this spout is intended for filling tea mugs, it is also a great way to heat your coffee cup before making your favorite drink. A hot water spout is certainly not essential, but it is a nice feature to have.
Other things you will need
A burr grinder
Most experts will agree that a burr grinder is the best all-around choice for consistency and quality when it comes to grinding coffee. Espresso requires an extremely consistent fine grind that you will be hard pressed to achieve in a blade grinder. There are a number of great burr grinder on the market that will quickly get you to espresso grind with the touch of a button, but if you prefer the old school approach, a hand grinder gives you fine control over the coffee grounds. Hand grinders don’t use electricity which makes them great for camping but they can be a little bulky.
An espresso tamper
A tamper is the tool used to evenly compress the espresso grinds into the portafilter basket of your machine. Some espresso machines come with a tamper but if yours doesn’t you will need to buy one. It is important to know the size of your portafilter so you can purchase the appropriate size tamper (If your tamper is too large, you will not be able to get it into the brew basket to compress the grinds).
Not in the mood to press the grinds into the basket, or just not sure that you are using enough pressure? They even make nifty little spring-loaded tampers that apply just the right amount of pressure on your coffee grounds to make sure they are packed just right.
A milk frother
If your machine has a milk frother, then ignore this section, but if you go with a budget model that skips this feature you may want to purchase a milk frother. If you want to be able to enjoy lattes and cappuccinos, you will need a way to produce the steamy, frothy milk unique to these beverages. In a pinch, you could simply microwave milk or heat it in a saucepan and then whip it with a wire whisk, but you will never be able to get it as foamy as you can with a dedicated milk frother, so if a cappuccino is your preferred beverage, we recommend you consider a frother.
A steaming pitcher
Most espresso machines that have steam wands usually include a steaming pitcher but if yours doesn’t, you will want to look into purchasing one. While you could use a measuring cup or even a coffee mug, steaming pitchers usually have tapered sides to prevent the milk for splashing out as you steam and froth it, so a dedicated pitcher will help prevent messes and even more importantly, burns.
Espresso Machine Care and Maintenance
If you want to enjoy perfect tasting coffee every time, you must clean your machine regularly. The same oils that provide the flavor to the coffee beans and create the rich crema that tops your espresso, can build residue, gradually emulsify and cling to your machine. Oils alos deposit a film on the portafilter and brew basket which will eventually block the filter holes and leave deposits on the portafilter spout.
Keeping your machine clean will both extend its life and prevent an unpleasant, rancid flavor in your coffee.
How to clean your espresso machine
Before you begin cleaning your espresso machine, check the manufacturer’s guidelines in the user manual. Each machine is a little different and it is best to stick to the manufacturer’s instructions but a few basic cleaning tasks should be done regularly.
Purge the steam wand with a final blast of steam and wipe it down after every use. Run a shot of water through the machine after each brewing session and if you have a machine with a three-way solenoid valve, every 10 to 15 shots, do a clean water backflush.
What you will need
- A dishcloth
- A kitchen towel
- A scouring pad
- A bowl for the portafilter to soak in
- A steam wand brush
- A backflush basket
- Backflush detergent/espresso machine cleaner
How to do the actual cleaning
- Wipe away any residue from the shower screen
- Put the backflush basket into the portafilter and add detergent (check the instruction manual for the recommended amount)
- To flush away coffee oil residue that is trapped in the system, run the machine pump, wait 15 seconds, repeat several times.
- Using a dishcloth dipped into some of the cleaning detergent, rinse away any deposits from the portafilter basket, the rolled edges of the shower screen, and the group head threads.
- Rinse the drip tray and blank basket to remove any remaining detergent. The water should now run clean (If not, repeat step 2).
- Replace the drip tray and portafilter and repeat the backflush process using clean water to remove any remaining detergent.
- Clean the steam wand using a clean, damp dish cloth to wipe the exterior and use your brush and hot water to clean the inside. Place the steam wand into a container and thoroughly purge it by opening the steam valve for 30 to 45 seconds.
- Rinse and wipe clean the portafilter basket and use a scouring pad (we recommend Scotch-Brite) to clean the inside surfaces of the spouts and portafilter.
- Put the basket and filter into a large container and cover with warm water mixed with a little of the cleaning detergent. Allow the parts to soak for around 30 minutes but be sure not to submerge the handles because they could be damaged by the cleaner.
- Rinse everything thoroughly, wipe dry, and re-assemble.
Are Cheap espresso machines any good?
Absolutely! Inexpensive espresso makers satisfy the needs of many coffee lovers each and every morning. Just remember, to keep the price of the machine down, production has to make a few sacrifices, meaning cheaper machines are often made of weaker materials or missing certain features offered in pricier models. If you are a true coffee lover and are looking for features that are often left off of the less expensive versions, you should consider saving for a more expensive espresso machine.
What is the difference between expensive and cheap Espresso Machines?
Since both the expensive and cheap models function in a similar way, the difference in the taste of the resulting coffee is minor.
The price point does however differ in design, noise production, power consumption, number of features, ease of operation and maintenance, and durability.
In some cases, a higher price may be justified but price point should not prevent you from enjoying espresso at home. As long as you are using quality beans, a great espresso can be produced from a cheaper machine just as it can be with a more expensive model.
What you don’t get with a cheap espresso machine
As mentioned earlier, inexpensive espresso machines have their limitations like a smaller boiler, cheaper materials, less control over the overall brewing process, and fewer “extras.” These limitations are minor but often make cheaper machines less desirable for the advanced espresso enthusiast.
Pricier models from the automatic and super automatic ranges offer more control options, allowing the brewer to teak each shot to perfection. Unfortunately, these features are note available on cheaper espresso machines.
What drinks can you make with your new espresso machine?
You just invested in your new espresso machine or maybe you are still considering one of the models mentioned above. Once you master the art of creating the perfect espresso we suggest you experiment with all of the different beverages you can create with your new machine. It is always fun to try something new and the possibilities are endless. Here are a few of our favorite recipes to start with!
Straight up espresso
The espresso you make with your new machine form the basis for all of the drinks mentioned below so it is important to perfect your pull before you venture on to other drinks.
Espresso is usually brewed with the darkest roasts so it is usually a very concentrated brew with a strong flavor (making it perfect for the milky drinks below). It is brewed with very little water so it is usually very high in caffeine and uses high pressure to brew so it should have a rich, foamy crema on top.
The Caffè Americano is basically one or two shots of espresso mixed with hot water. You can either drink it as is or add cream and sugar. The extra water makes the Caffè Americano a longer drink than espresso and gives it a milder flavor, but remember, it packs the same caffeine punch as straight up espresso.
The Cappuccino is named after the Capuchin friars of Italy (after the colors of their robes) and is still a very popular drink today. It is made from espresso mixed with a small amount of steamed milk and topped with a thick layer of foamy milk. You will definitely need a steamer wand to produce the rich foamy milk that gives this beverage its distinct taste and mouthfeel.
The Latte is a very popular drink enjoyed by those who don’t like their coffee too strong. It is similar to the cappuccino but in reverse. Steamed, frothed milk is poured into the cup and then a shot of espresso is poured in the middle and then topped with a thin layer of foam. The higher milk ratio of the Latte makes it a milder beverage and perfect for adding a flavored syrup.
A Macchiato is for those who enjoy espresso but prefer a little milk. Simply brew one to two shots of espresso and spoon a little steamed milk on top. The Macchiato has less milk than the cappuccino and hardly any foam, making it a great drink for those who enjoy a strong coffee flavor.
If you like your brew super strong and want to impress your hipster friends, this is your drink, but bewear, Ristretto is not for the faint of heart. This power packed espresso uses the same amount of grounds as a regular espresso but only half the water, creating a very strong shot with a very high caffeine level.
Ristretto can be used in place of espresso in all of the milk based coffee drinks, giving them an extra caffeine punch.
A Lungo is the opposite of the Ristretto. It begins with a traditional espresso but is topped with extra water. How is that different from the Americano? The Caffè Americano is topped with clean hot water, while the lungo is topped with hot water that runs through the grounds of the machine, making it a “longer” shot.
Cortado comes from the Spanish word cortar which means “to cut.” And rightly so, because a cortado is an espresso that is “cut” with milk. The Cortado contains a one to one ratio of milk to espresso making it similar to the cappuccino, except it is served with no foam. Many people who love the rich coffee flavor of straight up espresso but have stomach issues opt for a Cortado because the small amount of milk helps cut the acid of the coffee without losing much of its flavor.
This coffee/dessert hybrid is sure to please any palate. An Affogato is simply espresso poured over a scoop of gelato, usually vanilla, but hey, we don’t judge. This sweet treat combines hot and cold with sweet and bitter, making it a perfect way to end a meal or a decadent afternoon pick me up.
There are a number of great espresso machines out there in the $200 or less range so anyone should be able to find a machine that fits their budget. More money gets you more bells and whistles so think about what options you would use regularly when deciding on a machine. Cheaper machines tend to be pretty bare bones when it comes to programmable and adjustable options. You may be able to adjust the cups size but most likely you will not be able to adjust bars of pressure or brew strength. Some also don’t come with steaming wands and the ones that do can often be awkward, less ergonomic, and break easier. Luckily, there are a variety of milk frothers on the market that can easily remedy this problem.