The 3 Best Espresso Machines Under $500 For 2023

BY BORIS POVOLOTSKY - 27 Feb 2023[updated on 03 Sep 2023]

In case you don’t have time to read, those are the best home espresso machines under $500 for 2023:

  1. Breville Bambino Plus - PRICE
  2. Gaggia Classic Pro - PRICE - (REVIEW)
  3. Flair PRO2 - PRO2 - Flair Shop
Best Value
product image
Bambino Plus

Breville Bambino Plus is the best bang for the buck. It's the perfect balance between hands-on barista experience and user-friendliness. It includes just the right features for a new home barista.

Top 3 Budget Espresso Machines

Today, espresso is no longer confined to cafés, it’s accessible to all. Even on a modest budget, you can embark on your journey of home coffee brewing adventure. In this post, I introduce you to the best real espresso machines under $500, tailored for budget-conscious coffee enthusiasts.

While this is a budget list, you must understand that brewing espresso at home isn’t the cheapest hobby. I equate this to motorcycle riding, which you DON’T get into for financial reasons, mostly, especially where I come from, but for the sake of riding, pure joy. The same goes for brewing coffee at home.

With that in mind, let’s get started!

1. Breville Bambino Plus

TLDR: A no-brainer. One of the best home espresso machines. It’s compact, heats up fast, has automatic steaming, easy maintenance, and a generous accessory kit. For just $499 on Amazon, it’s a steal!

Breville does very well with its products and it sure knows how to appeal to bigger crowds, accommodating beginner baristas and those on a lower budget.

With this machine you’ll be making impressive cappuccinos and delicious americanos, you’ll be working on your barista skills and having fun without overwhelming yourself both financially and well, mentally.

People make beautiful latte art with the Bambino Plus :)

Bambino Plus Latte Art

The Bambino Plus stands out among even bigger boys like Gaggia Classic Pro and Rancilio Silvia, especially for its fast heat-up time and easy maintenance. The Gaggia Classic Pro and Rancilio Silvia take about 15-20 minutes to achieve temperature stability, while the Bambino Plus is ready in no time.

Another great feature of this machine is the option to steam milk automatically. You can just fill up the jug with milk, insert the steam wand, choose your steam preferences and you’re all set. The steam will start and stop automatically, and on top of that, when you’re done it’ll purge itself after frothing your milk which makes life easier.

Despite being small and compact with great style, it features a full-size portafilter & steam wand, which in turn form a professional machine kind of look. However, it doesn’t just look professional, it is a serious step up compared to automatic machines and Nespresso pods machines.

This machine ships with a rich accessories kit, including three filter baskets with a pressurized and non-pressurized basket for those who still don’t grind their coffee and buy pre-ground. It features a razor tool for evening out your puck after tamping it, and of course, a 54mm tamper (not a plastic one, thanks Breville!). A special addition is a 16 oz (480ml) milk jug, even the luxurious high-end machines do not include a milk jug.

Please, keep in mind, that this machine does not include a built-in grinder like some other Breville models. You must get a good grinder because otherwise, there’s no point in getting a semi-automatic espresso machine. So, get yourself a good grinder along with a fresh bag of roasted coffee beans.

It’s one of the most satisfying espresso machines for beginners because it’s fast and easy to operate, and does not require hands-on barista experience to produce delicious coffee. Keep in mind, however, if you are prone to level up fast in your hobbies, you might end up looking for an upgrade pretty soon, in which case, take a look at our recommendations for prosumer level machines.

Is this the best espresso machine? Sorry. It is, however, the best bang for the buck. For just $499 on Amazon, it’s a steal.

2. Gaggia Classic Evo Pro

gaggia classic pro - black color

TLDR: The Gaggia Classic Evo Pro, Gaggia’s flagship model is an excellent, cheap entry-level machine that is capable of producing high-quality coffee. With proper maintenance and water treatment it’ll last forever. With latest upgrade you get 9-bar OPV out-of-the-box, all you need to do is add a PID and you’re all set.

The newest Gaggia Classic Evo Pro is available and it’s the best entry-level machine for those who want a robust machine that creates a sense of a real, professional espresso machine. It’s bigger and heavier than the Bambino Plus. It takes approximately 20 minutes to warm up because it has a boiler and it doesn’t have automatic steaming feature, so you’re on your own for good and for worse. This is a machine that will allow room for growth and development as a home barista.

The Gaggia Classic Pro was my first semi-automatic espresso machine, that took me from Nespresso pods to a genuine appreciation of all things espresso. A couple of years ago, after endless research both online and offline with other coffee hobbyists, I decided to get the Gaggia Classic Pro. Gaggia is an Italian company established in 1947 that still makes great coffee machines to this day. Some of the old Gaggia machines (lever machines) still operate and work flawlessly today, but the company’s focus is primarily on modern machines.

In brief, the Gaggia Classic is an excellent, cheap entry-level machine that is capable of producing top-level coffee. The Gaggia is solid and reliable and can last decades with proper maintenance. The GCP has an enthusiastic following that has modded this machine into beast mode with PID, adjusted OPV for SOP pressure, and more.

I had the previous generation of GCP, today, there is a newer model called “Gaggia Classic Evo Pro”, it’s available in various colors and major features. The hottest contribution of the last upgrade is a 9-bar brew pressure, you no longer have to adjust the OPV spring, hurray! They’ve changed the plating around the group for better looks and durability.

Additionally, the newest Evo model should be more silent in its operation, and feature a more protective boiler.

In recent years, this machine was upgraded and is now offered in various colors to your liking, red, blue, and more.

Here are the features in a list:

  • Single Boiler: The machine is equipped with a single aluminum boiler with a 100ml capacity. While it might be considered relatively small when compared to pricier mid-high-end machines, it’s a proper, substantial boiler that takes time to bring it up to temperature. Many users will start brewing after 15-20 minutes, some recommend 30 minutes. You can speed up the process by performing flushes and letting the boiler recover afterward.

  • 9-bar of pressure: The new Gaggia Classic Evo Pro includes an adjusted OPV from the factory giving you the correct pressure for brewing espresso at home without tinkering inside the machine yourself.

  • 3-Way Solenoid Valve: The Gaggia Classic Pro incorporates a 3-way solenoid valve that serves to release pressure from the group head after you’ve brewed your shot. This pressure is released into the drip tray as water drops. This is considered a good mechanism, however, it necessitates a regular backflushing routine as part of your maintenance to prevent the accumulation of stale coffee residues in the shower screen.

  • Industry Standard Portafilter: This machine sports an industry standard 58 mm portafilter which is beneficial because there are many possible customizations and accessories such as various baskets, bottomless portafilters, tampers, and more.

  • Commercial Steam Wand: Yes. The Gaggia Classic Pro has a commercial-grade steam wand, enabling you to steam like a barista. You can work on your latte art, you can control the temperature of your milk and achieve satisfying textures. At first, it can be challenging, but it gets rewarding fairly quickly.

Gaggia Classic’s Operation

When preparing a cappuccino or a flat white, you’d turn on the steaming switch to bring the boiler up to steaming pressure which takes about 35 seconds. It’s best to start steaming just before it reaches the pressure, to prevent any loss of pressure over time. The steaming power is sufficient for beginners and will enable you to pour some incredible latte art.

The machine comes with both pressurized and non-pressurized baskets. The pressurized baskets are dedicated to pre-ground coffees. If you don’t have a grinder, then you probably have to buy pre-ground coffee and use a pressurized basket to get okay-ish results. The pressurized baskets, along with the machine’s 15 bars of pressure help create a beautiful shot of espresso, although it’ll only look like a perfect shot, and most probably not taste like one.

It’s not wrong to use a pressurized basket, as long as you like the results, it doesn’t matter. However, a pressurized basket limits the potential extraction and flavor profile of the coffee. To use a normal non-pressurized basket, you need to grind your own coffee and get a dedicated grinder. If you’re interested, you can check my budget high-quality grinders list.

A Plastic Tamper!

The Gaggia also comes with a plastic tamper. It’s more of a joke than a tamper. I recommend you purchase a solid tamper along with your Gaggia Classic Pro. It’s a must-have!

All things aside, this is a perfect entry-level machine for those who seek hands-on barista experience and like to see the results of their skills and preparation. If you want something more beginner-friendly, go with the Breville Bambino Plus.

3. Flair PRO2

The Flair PRO2 is a remarkable manual espresso maker. It does not require electricity, it does not have a boiler or a water reservoir, and this machine relies on manual force to produce espresso that’ll knock your socks off. It is capable of brewing the best espresso you have ever tasted. It’s portable, you can take it anywhere you’d like, although you still need to prepare some ground coffee ahead of time.

This is a manual espresso maker meant for espresso drinkers. You’d need a separate, dedicated milk frother if you want a cappuccino. Please, watch James Hoffman’s instructional video to grasp the intricacies of brewing espresso with the Flair. There are numerous significant differences between the various Flair models that you must take into consideration.

If precision matters, I recommend getting the Flair with a Pressure Kit. I think it’s best to avoid the most basic Flair version, it’s very limited. The Flair is a very budget-friendly espresso maker. Their ultimate version is the Flair PRO2 which offers an expanded brew head, accommodating larger drink volumes. Keep in mind, though, that you must get a high-caliber grinder. You can also get a good hand grinder, although, I think that should come as a second grinder and not serve as a primary grinder.

Those are the features of the Flair PRO2 Espresso Maker:

  • Manual Operation: The Flair PRO2 is a manual espresso maker, putting the power of crafting espresso in your hands without the need for electricity or complex systems.
  • Precision Brewing: Through manual control, you can fine-tune each step of the brewing process, enabling you to achieve your desired espresso profile.
  • Portability: Designed for on-the-go espresso enthusiasts, the Flair PRO2’s compact design allows you to enjoy exceptional espresso anywhere.
  • Pressure Gauge: The Flair Pressure Kit variant features an integrated pressure gauge, offering insight into the extraction process and aiding in consistency.
  • Brew Head Options (Flair PRO 2): The Flair PRO 2 boasts a larger brew head, accommodating greater coffee-to-water ratios and facilitating the creation of larger drinks.
  • Dedicated Milk Frother: While ideal for crafting espresso, for milk-based beverages like cappuccinos, a separate milk frother is needed.
  • Premium Build Quality: Crafted with durable materials, the Flair PRO2 is built to last, making it a reliable companion for your espresso journey.

Some of the features of this compact machine can also be seen as drawbacks. For example, manual operation can turn cumbersome, complex and too frustrating after having bad shots after bad shots. Additionally, the necessity of a dedicated milk frother and the lack of a water reservoir and a boiler means you must have a kettle and external milk frother for milk-based drinks.

I think this is a great little machine that packs a lot of features and a joyful hands-on experience. However, it is less suited for a beginner starting. I do not recommend this as a first espresso machine.

What To Consider When Buying An Espresso Machine

Three main factors to consider are budget, size, and user experience. With a budget of $500, you have the flexibility to explore a range of affordable espresso machines without compromising on quality. Additionally, it’s important to account for the dimensions of the espresso machine to ensure sufficient space for comfortable operation. Keep in mind that the machines I recommend for beginners require a dedicated grinder to achieve optimal results.

Some of you might be familiar with compact Nespresso pod machines that occupy minimal space. However, traditional espresso machines come in various sizes. Among the contenders, the Gaggia Classic Pro is the largest, while the Flair PRO2 is the most compact.

The final factor to consider is your specific needs as a user. If milk-based drinks are your preference, the Flair PRO2 might not be the ideal choice for your first or primary daily machine. For those seeking an effortless experience with milk-based drinks, the Breville Bambino is a suitable option. On the other hand, if you desire a robust machine with a strong presence, the Gaggia is a reliable choice. If your goal is to enhance your barista skills, Gaggia offers a better platform for growth. These factors remain consistent across different budget ranges, making them useful even for your future upgrades.

Other Options

Several machines didn’t make it onto this list for various reasons. My focus was on semi-automatic and manual machines, omitting super-automatic and extremely beginner-friendly models. Recommendations for those kinds of machines are widely available online and I’m not particularly fond of them to review and mention them here.

Some notable mentions weren’t on the list because they’re more expensive. But, in case you’re curious, those are ECM Puristika, Profitec Go, Lelit Anna and perhaps the Rancilio Silvia. You can look them up online, I haven’t got the time nor the opportunity to review them yet but they all seem very interesting. The Rancilio Silvia is an excellent machine to get used for a decent price with some upgrades and modifications (like a PID).

What Espresso Machine To Buy From The List

Beginning to brew espresso at home can be overwhelming. The vast amount of options and possibilities can be confusing. There are manual, semi-automatic or fully-automatic machines. Which one should you get?

I’m all in on taking control into your hands and not settling on simply clicking a button. Otherwise, I’d get a Nespresso or a Jura.

But, which machine to get from your list?
You should get the one that most fits your expectations and what you think you’ll enjoy the most. Each one of those is the best espresso machine under $500 that you can get.

Breville Bambino Plus is the most user-friendly and represents a soft entrance into the world of semi-automatic espresso machines. Its small print and relatively easy workflow with no compromise on quality is a good choice.

On the other hand, the Gaggia Classic Evo Pro has a steeper learning curve, but the whole experience is more rewarding. I started on the Gaggia and I don’t regret it, it has taught me a lot and made me want to delve deeper.

Finally, the Flair PRO2 is a manual lever espresso machine offering full control over the entire brewing process. It’s less convenient and doesn’t have a dedicated steaming capabilities, but if you’re only drinking black coffee, it makes sense. Plus, it’s much more affordable and leaves room for accessories, cups, tampers and whatnot. Being a fan of lever machines, the Flair is definitely on my wishlist!

Please, do not forget to allocate resources for a dedicated high-quality grinder. Do not settle for a cheap grinder, it’ll seriously bottleneck and frustrate you. Visit my budget grinder recommendations.

I hope you found this post beneficial.

Thanks for reading.

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