The Coffee Chronicler reviewing Miicoffee Apex in his studio

Top Espresso Machine under $500: Which One Should You Get?

Recently, some great espresso makers have appeared around the $500 price point. Here are some of my favorites.

Photo of author

Asser Christensen

Licensed Q Arabica Grader, M.A. Journalism

→ Learn about my qualifications and review process.

When it comes to espresso machines the difference between the authentic models and the entry-level plastic stuff is pretty significant. Sure, you can pull a shot or make something close to a flat white with one of the cheapos from the big box store, but you’re never going to get close to espresso perfection – the so-called ‘god shot.’

$500 dollars seems to be where the invisible line is drawn, so if that is your budget, I got good news for you.

At this point, you could get a machine and even afford a few major upgrades, such as precision baskets, puck screens, and calibrated tampers. So, that means that you can geek out and optimize your extraction.

Read on to see some of the top models I have tested over the last couple of years.

Coffee Chronicler top pick 👍
The right balance of value and performance

miicoffee apex in Coffee Chronicler Studio

The Miicoffee Apex is the espresso machine to beat in the "budget" class. Offering PID temperature and a single boiler + thermo block configuration this price point is remarkable.

Please note: If you decide to purchase a product through a link on the site, I may earn a commission without additional cost to you. These commissions help to support the site. Learn more here

Most Capable Espresso Machine under $500

1: MiiCoffee Apex

Miicoffee apex espresso maker on a table, bokeh background

The MiiCoffee Apex is a game-changer in its price range, offering unprecedented value.

Having used it for a couple of months now, I can confidently say that it punches well above its weight.

This machine is distinguished by its adjustable PID temperature control, a professional-grade 58 mm portafilter, and a dedicated brewing boiler. In terms of price, it’s a formidable competitor to entry-level machines like the Gaggia Classic and Breville Bambino Plus.

Featuring a user-friendly display, the Apex makes temperature adjustments and operation straightforward. It boasts a quick heat-up time, although not as fast as the Bambino Plus.

Size-wise, it slots between the Gaggia Classic and Rancilio Silvia.

Its design, while not particularly striking, has an overall acceptable aesthetic.

The machine includes high-quality accessories, such as a brewing and steaming timer, surpassing its competitors.

The Apex’s standout feature is its PID-controlled single boiler, crucial for consistent espresso shots and a significant advantage over machines requiring the technique known as “temperature surfing” (It sounds fun and cool, but it’s not. Trust me…)

The Apex utilizes a thermoblock for steam, allowing seamless transitions from brewing to steaming without the need to pause to purge hot water or increase to stea temperature. While it’s capable of decent milk steaming, those seeking high-powered steam for latte art might find it inadequate.

The Apex operates with a 15-bar pump, deviating from the traditional 9-bar standard. Yet, it still produces great shots. Remember, the pump pressure also depends on the grind fineness in your basket, typically resulting in about 11-12 bars of pressure at the group head with a standard espresso grind.

Overall, I’m impressed with this machine and consider it an ideal choice for beginners learning the ropes. However, it does have a few weird quirks and drawbacks – for more about those, check out my in-depth Apex review here where I also talk more about how it compares to its main rival, the Bambino.

➡️ Check price here

And here’s my video review on YouTube.

2: Breville Bambino Plus

breville bambino plus on table

I really, really like the Bambino Plus, and I actually think it can make better espresso straight out of the box, compared to its famous Italian budget-rival, the Gaggia Classic.

With a little bit of tweaking and a good grinder, you can even get it to perform on a “pro” level.

On the surface, this device looks like a typical semi-automatic, maybe just a bit smaller and plainer, but looks can be deceiving.

This budget model from Breville packs in exciting technology without taking away the fun of being a home barista. It also has a 3-second warm up time, which might not sound that great on paper, but in real life it’s just such a nice feature.

You’ve got PID temperature technology that allows for pulling consistent shots every time. It also means you don’t have to think about temperature surfing, which is a massive headache. (I know I talk a lot about temperature surfing, but you shouldn’t underestimate how annoying this can be).

You also get pre-infusion, which means that the coffee in the puck slowly gets saturated, while the pressure increases. The preinfusion can be held for up to 12 seconds.

Overall, this is the most advanced machine in this particular price range, and I think for most people, it makes more sense than an entry-level single-boiler such as the Gaggia Classic.

Check out my full Breville Bambino Plus review for more information.

💡 Bonus Info: Now you can get IMS baskets in the correct 54 mm size for the Bambino, which means it’s an even more attractive option.

See more reviews

3: Gaggia Classic Espresso Maker

White gaggia classic on white background

Are you not that impressed with all the new and fancy technology? Do you love solid brass metal and detest flimsy plastic? Do you secretly think everything was better in the 90’s?

Then look no further than the Gaggia Classic. The design hasn’t changed much since 1991, so it lives up to its “Classic” moniker.

The machine is compact and affordable, with a commercial-sized 58 mm portafilter.

The Gaggia Classic isn’t as approachable as the more modern Breville machines, but it’s built to last, and you can get a ton of aftermarket accessories. You can modify it with a PID and do some cool stuff if you’re that type of person.

While being a solid espresso maker, it requires much effort from the user to master. In this day and age, there are just technologically superior alternatives that make the whole espresso experience more enjoyable.

Check out my full Gaggia Classic review if you want to learn more.

See more reviews

4: Cafelat Robot

cafelat robot on table in the Coffee Chronicler Studio

I’ve been using the Cafelat Robot for about four years now, and it’s a fascinating device. As a manual espresso maker, it’s not for everyone, but it stands out with its unique charm.

The design of the Cafelat Robot is striking, combining high-quality stainless steel with a Danish-inspired aesthetic. It’s inspired by a vintage Italian espresso maker, the Faemina Baby, which has gone out of production decades ago.

Its quirky look is sleek, cute and modern at the same time. Its build quality is impressive, featuring minimal plastic and a solid construction. I have opened it up inside to fix minor issues with the pipe connecting to the pressure gauge, and I have to say that it’s an incredible clever piece of engineering.

Using the Robot daily is an unusual experience. It has a different workflow from electric or other manual espresso machines, with the portafilter doubling as the brew chamber. This design offers excellent thermal management, keeping the espresso at the ideal temperature.

However, mastering the Robot takes practice. Achieving the right grind size, even distribution, and proper tamping are crucial. Fitting the basket filled with hot water into the machine can also be challenging initially.

The pressure gauge is a useful feature, aiding in consistency. While pulling shots, especially at higher pressures, can be physically demanding, it becomes more manageable over time. Skillful operation of the Robot can produce espresso that rivals much more expensive machines. But remember, a good grinder, quality beans, and patience are key.

This espresso maker offers a rewarding experience for those willing to invest time and effort into their craft. However, it may not be the ideal choice for milk-based drink lovers or those seeking a budget-friendly option. This machine is for true espresso enthusiasts.

Read the full review here.

➡️ Check current price

5: Delonghi Stilosa Coffee Maker

There is no mention of budget espresso machines without a mention of Delonghi. At this point, the Italian brand is almost synonymous with ‘cheap espresso makers that are decent.’

I recently spent several months with the Delonghi Stilosa, a super budget-friendly espresso maker that initially raised my eyebrows with its surprisingly low price. Straight out of the box, the Stilosa is compact and somewhat flimsy. However, under the hood it’s a surprisingly capable machine.

Using the Stilosa daily, I appreciated its quick heat-up time—a mere 3-5 minutes, a stark contrast to my bigger E61 machine’s 25-minute heat up time.

With a few adjustments, like adding a naked portafilter and a professional precision basket, the Stilosa’s performance noticeably improved, bringing it much closer to that of more premium machines.

The machine’s performance in brewing was relatively straightforward, and not much different compared to that of, say, a Gaggia Classic Pro.

Similar to other single boiler machines, the switch from brewing to steaming required some patience for back-to-back usage.

The steaming capability was adequate for smaller quantities of milk but struggled with larger volumes, making it challenging to achieve perfect microfoam for latte art. Despite these limitations, the Stilosa’s moddability intrigued me.

It should be mentioned, that there’s a difference between the EU/Asia and US versions of the Delonghi Stilosa. The EU model; the 230BK, features a single hole steam wand and a standard basket, offering more control over the espresso brewing and milk steaming processes. In contrast, the US version typically comes with a pannarello steam wand and a pressurized basket, designed for ease of use but offering less precision. This distinction makes the EU model slightly more appealing to espresso enthusiasts seeking a closer experience to professional-grade equipment.

Overall, the Delonghi Stilosa offers remarkable value for its price. It’s a solid entry-level option for those dipping their toes into home espresso making, with enough potential for modification to keep more experienced enthusiasts engaged. Its limitations are a reminder of its budget-friendly nature, but with the right expectations and a willingness to experiment, the Stilosa can be a worthy addition to a coffee lover’s toolkit.

Check out my full review of the Stilosa here

See more reviews

How to pick the right home espresso maker

While the market for espresso gear is vast today, the market can still mostly be broken down into three primary schools.

My suggestion is that you more or less forget about the third category. You can find decent super-automatic machines today, but they tend to be a lot more expensive than semi-automatics.

This is because everything is built into a super automatic – hence its other name: the fully automatic. With the press of a single button, you can get a cappuccino.

Get close to the grounds with a semi-automatic

With the semi, you must do the following every time you want an espresso shot.

  1. Grind the beans
  2. Fill the portafilter and tamp
  3. Attach portafilter to the group head and manually monitor the brewing process
  4. Steam milk with the attached steam wand (if you want a milk-based drink)

In the end, the result is similar, but the process is 100 percent different. That’s why semis and supers are likely to appeal to two different subsets of coffee geeks.

If you are a real coffee snob, ahem, lover, you’ll pick the semi because you are much more involved in the process, and you’ll be able to tweak the shot to please your taste buds.

Go for solid gear

Okay, so by now, we agree that the semi is the way to go. But the market is still huge. You can always go for one of the classics. Some machines have been around for decades, which is a long time in today’s hectic consumer environment. Machines like Gaggia Classic are evergreens for a good reason. They are built like tanks, sturdy and get the job done However, I feel like the time is starting to run away from this kind of single-boiler dual purpose machine. This kind of espresso maker is just very inconsistent and difficult to use.

Breville has gained a reputation for creating solid espresso gear that incorporates new technology like PID temperature control at an attractive price, and in my opinion, they just offer a better package for many regular folks, who don’t have time to study the intricacies of espresso brewing on various coffee forums and rabbit holes such as the espresso Reddit.

You could see the choice this way: Would you prefer a new Japanese car with automatic gear and Bluetooth connectivity?

Or would you rather get a vintage Mercedes with a stick shift?

There’s no right and wrong here; both options have their merits. Ultimately, the choice comes down to convenience versus retro elegance and the associated labor.

Photo of author
Asser Christensen

Hello, and welcome! I'm the editor & founder of this site.
I have been a coffee geek since I started home roasting more than a decade ago. Since then, coffee has taken me on countless adventures: From ancient coffee ceremonies in Ethiopia to the volcanos of Sumatra.
My background is in journalism, and today I'm also a licensed Q Grader under the Coffee Quality Institute.