The Best Espresso Machine under $300
Back in the days, espresso machines always had Italian sounding names and a hefty price tag. Luckily, this has changed in recent years. Today, there are a lot of new players on the market, and as a result, the value proposition is a lot better in the lower end of the market.
In 2019 it’s possible to find a very decent espresso machine if you can live without the bells and whistles of a premium model. In this article, we’ll take a close look at the best espresso machines under 300 dollars.
My top pick:
Flair Espresso Maker
How to find the right home espresso maker?
Espresso machines come in all shapes and forms, and it can be a bit of a jungle to figure what the difference is.
- Some machines have a built-in grinder and a more hands-off experience when brewing. These are called super automatics and tend to be pretty expensive. At the 300 dollar range, you’re not going to find great quality here.
- Next up are the manual espresso machines. Ironically, these also tend to be expensive even though they are very simple. This is because it’s generally only Italian heritage brands that produce them.
- Today, you can also find “non-electric manual espresso machines” such as the Flair and the ROK. These kind of devices are somewhat new on the market and represent excellent value. If you’re not looking for a machine with latte capabilities, I’d recommend looking into these.
For most people reading this, a semi-automatic espresso machine would be ideal.
These machines offer the right mix of hands-on feeling and convenience. Sure, you still need to grind, dose, tamp and steam, but you’ll be able to crank out a couple of lattes in a matter of minutes as long as the machine has had sufficient time to warm up (in these small machines, it usually never takes more than 5-10 minutes).
The espresso shot quality will definitely be better with something like the Flair Espresso Maker, however, most regular people won’t sacrifice a steam wand for those extra percents of perfection.
Capsules or pods?
Being a coffee snob and traditionalist by nature, I’m not one to endorse newer inventions like Nespresso’s capsule machine. But I think that they do have some merit. If you want espresso with minimal hassle, these machines genuinely deliver.
With a real espresso machine, there is some work involved and cleaning and maintenance is essential, too. A capsule machine lets you press a button and ‘voila’ – you got espresso.
It’s worth keeping in mind that you can find an alternative to capsules that works perfectly with semi-automatic espresso machines. These are called ESE pods, and they have been on the market for ages in Italy.
They offer all the advantages of the Nespresso capsules, but you can use them in most traditional machines as long as they have an extra ESE pod basket to insert in the portafilter.
Best Espresso Machine under 300 – imho
- Flair Espresso Maker
- Breville Cafe Roma
- Delonghi Bar 32 Retro
- Delonghi Dedica
- Breville Nespresso Pixie
- Rok Espresso Maker
Flair Espresso Maker with Pressure Kit
The Flair is probably not what you envision when you imagine an espresso maker. Nonetheless, it’s a really great little tool that can help you make barista level shots at home.
It has some obvious benefits.
- It’s cheap
- It’s very hard to break (and if you do, you can easily get replacement parts)
- It’s portable
- It makes espresso at the same level as machines 3-4 times the price
However, there are also a signifcant downside:
- There are no steaming capabilities (= you won’t be able to make a latte or cappuccino)
Also, since it’s 100% manual tool, you will have to go through a somewhat tedious process with each shot. Granted, as you get to know the device and develop your muscle memory it will become a breeze to pull a shot. However, there will be a bit of a learning curve.
I’ve been using the Flair for a while and would recommend it to all serious espresso lovers. It’s worth pointing out that most users seem to feel the same way — there are only FEW negative reviews of this device out there.
Pro-Tip: Get the version with the pressure kit for increased control. It’s a lot more fun!See more reviews
Breville ESP8XL Cafe Roma
Breville is an Australian brand that has shaken up the coffee industry. Breville makes equipment with new and intelligent features that only cost a fraction of the Italian competitors.
This model is elementary, though. It’s very much your standard semi-automatic. 15 bars pressure, thermoblock and a steam wand to create that cappuccino foam.
This model doesn’t have any standout features, but it is still noteworthy in one sense. It has an excellent track record. With over 600 reviews on Amazon and most of them being quite positive, it goes without saying that this is a solid purchase.See more reviews
Delonghi Bar 32 Retro
This is one of the cheapest espresso machines that is capable of pulling a decent shot.
You’re not going to win any barista competitions, but if you have non-coffee snob friends, they will likely be impressed with the quality of the lattes and espressos.
The Bar 32 also takes ESE pods, and you’ll be able to pull some pretty epic shots using those. Going the regular way the potential of the shots are determined mainly by the grinder you’ll be using.
But getting this bargain model, you’ll have some extra wiggle room in your grinder budget.See more reviews
When we’re talking budget espresso machines, we can’t avoid talking about Delonghi. The Italian brand is the undisputed king of the cheap semi-automatic espresso machine.
This is not a bad thing – on the other hand, it means that the brand knows what they’re doing. If you’re visiting an Italian home, there’s a good chance they’re pulling their strong espresso shots on a machine like this, too.
The Dedica is one of the Delonghi’s newer models, but it has become very successful due to an impossibly slim and sexy design.
This Italian coffee maker has the smallest footprint of any severe semi-automatic out there. Still, it delivers 15 bar and efficient steaming. Another benefit it that it is capable of using ESE pods, too.See more reviews
Breville Nespresso Pixie
If you want to get espresso machine chances are good, you’d also want that looks good on the countertop. This is definitely the case with this one.
Other than that, it’s worth to point out that this is a capsule espresso machine. That means that you’re locked into a proprietary design when it comes to choosing your coffee. This was bad news back in the days when Nestlé still had a valid patent for producing capsules, but today you can use coffee from a lot of different roasters and brands.
This espresso style is great if you just want a good cup of coffee without knowing ANYTHING about barista skills. If you’d like the more hands-on feeling of pulling a real shot then forget about this model, though.
It has outstanding reviews, so you can be pretty sure that the espresso will be tasty.See more reviews
Rok Espresso Maker
Okay, this one might catch you off-guard, but you really should consider it. The Rok Espresso Maker looks like an oversized walnut cracker, but underneath the shining metal, there’s a competent espresso machine hidden.
The machine is 100 percent manual and non-electric. This is both good and bad. It’s great because it gives you a sturdy device that gives you a high degree of customization when you pull a shot.
The downside is that there is more room for human error and that you have to work more for each shot. Another thing to remember is that there is no steam wand. So if you’re into cappuccinos and lattes, this isn’t the machine for you. However, if you want a correctly pulled shot, then give it a go!See more reviews