What really distinguishes espresso from coffee? The preparation! You can’t just use any old coffee machine. Steam presses heat water until it’s almost boiling, then pressurise it and run it through finely ground, tightly packed beans. The result? A steaming espresso in less than a minute. Believe it or not, you can make your own espresso at home and at a reasonable price. With this guide, we’ll help you find the best espresso machine for under £500.
We’ve looked closely at several features for our reviews. Firstly, it’s important to know whether a machine is semi-automatic or super-automatic. Do you want a machine that does everything for you? Or do you want a more hands-on experience? As pressure and temperature are essential elements of espresso preparation, we looked at the pressure each machine can produce as well as its power. We also considered the capacity of the water tank to assess how often the machine will need to be refilled. Finally, we looked at the warranty coverage, just to be sure.
To conduct our research, we took a close look at a range of machines, as well as hundreds of expert and real-life user reviews. Our guide begins with a table comparing the overall ratings of each product. Then we move straight on to our detailed product reviews. Finally, our buying guide explains what features to look out for and what you can expect from the best espresso machine under £500.
De’Longhi ESAM3300 Magnifica
One of the best automatic espresso machines available for under £500, the De’Longhi ESAM3300 Magnifica has all the features of a full-size espresso machine, but in a compact and modern design. It works with ground coffee but also has a direct brewing system, which grinds the whole beans immediately before brewing.
To make a good espresso, you need at least 9 bar of pressure. This machine delivers 15 bar, which is enough to give you professional coffee flavours at home.
As it is a super automatic machine, it does everything for you. All you have to do is choose the strength and cup size. It even remembers your preferences so you get the right size and strength, every time.
The simple control panel has rotary controls and push buttons to adjust settings. Choose from five different coffee strengths and four cup sizes, and with the height-adjustable coffee spout, tall glasses fit easily. A cup warmer maintains the temperature after the espresso has left the machine.
Want to make more than one drink? This machine maintains the perfect temperature to make cup after cup without having to heat up, so there’s no waiting around.
Another great feature is that it mixes steam and milk to make other coffee drinks. Simply change the settings to make a thick foam for cappuccinos or a creamy latte. Simply place a container of milk under the nozzle and let the machine do the rest.
Cleaning is easy. A removable drip tray prevents many spills, and the machine automatically adjusts to one or two shots of espresso to prevent overflow. A descaling indicator also lets you know when it’s time to clean the inside of the machine.
De’Longhi has made a few changes between this model and the previous, older one, some of which were not well received. The current model has more plastic parts and is not as durable.
- super automatic
- 15 bar
- 1.8 L
- Limited to 1 year
- grinds beans, 1 or 2 cup selection, 8.8 oz bean container, cappuccino system, patented direct brew system.
Krups Nespresso Coffee Machine xn6008
One of the best features of the Nespresso Expert is its degree of customisation. Not only can you choose between four cup sizes and three different temperatures, but you also have a wide variety of pre-measured and pre-packaged capsules to choose from to ensure you get the flavour you want.
This machine provides 19 bars of pressure for full aroma extraction and true coffee flavour. That’s not all, it heats up in less than 30 seconds and has an energy saving feature that automatically turns it off after nine minutes. It also has LED alerts when maintenance is required, such as when the water tank needs to be refilled or when descaling is necessary.
If you’re looking for a smart espresso machine, you’ll be pleased to know that the Nespresso Expert can be controlled by an app on your smartphone. Using Bluetooth technology, you can schedule your next brew and adjust your preferences, but also manage maintenance alerts and order capsules when you need them. Multiple devices can connect to the same machine at the same time, but the connection and the app can be quite faulty.
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What’s really great about this design is that it sits flat against the wall, making the best use of counter space. The styling is inspired by a coffee machine and features rotating dials that make it very easy to use.
The machine holds 10-12 used capsules and alerts you when the collection container needs to be emptied. Unfortunately, you cannot use regular beans and Nespresso does not make refillable pods.
Sage Appliances 41006981
Although the Sage Appliances is considered an entry-level machine, it is packed with features that make it easy to make your own espresso.
The most impressive feature of this machine is the one that gave it its name, duo time technology. This is an automatic purge function that flushes the heating system after steaming to quickly lower the temperature. This is an effective way to avoid burnt drinks.
To ensure that every brew is perfect, the Duo Temp uses a low pressure to pre-infuse the grounds before increasing to 15 bar for extraction, keeping the espresso more balanced and flavourful. This function is also fully controlled by the machine, allowing a beginner to make a great espresso with minimal effort.
The hidden storage space is the perfect place to store the included RAZOR cup, cleaning tools and magnetic temperament. Everything is at hand when you need it, but stays out of sight.
The traditional steam wand takes a little practice but can give professional results in the long run. As it has only one hole, it can heat milk unevenly, but with practice it becomes easier to master. It takes some time for the milk to reach the right temperature. This is good for beginners, but can become tedious as you become more proficient.
The stainless steel finish and sleek design of the Duo Temp is also very attractive. This device takes up a lot of counter space, but it is very pleasing to the eye, which makes it somewhat forgivable.
While almost everything about this machine is impressive, the water tank can be a little difficult to open. It doesn’t have the same solid, durable feel as the rest of the machine.
- 15 bar
- 61 ounce water tank, 19-22 g dose, manual espresso volume control, thermocoil heating system, maintenance indicators.
Krups Nespresso coffee machine
The Nespresso CITIZ & MILK has an impressive, award-winning design that is so compact it is perfect for small kitchens where counter space is limited. It is modern, stylish and surprisingly versatile. It’s the best home espresso machine for under £500
Despite its small size, the CitiZ offers 19 bar of pressure and simple, user-friendly controls. With two programmable cup size buttons and an adjustable drip tray, this machine fits everything from small coffee cups to travel mugs.
The energy saving feature turns the machine off after 9 minutes of inactivity, but you can extend this to 30 minutes if you want more time.
This machine has a Flow Stop function which is an automatic shutdown of the machine to prevent the espresso from overflowing. Once it is ready, it can be a little noisy as the pressurised water passes through the capsule.
The CitiZ comes with a separate milk frother. It uses a simple automatic system that is ready in seconds and works with hot or cold milk so you can make lattes, iced cappuccinos, etc. The dishwasher-safe whisk attachment and ceramic-reinforced non-stick chamber reduce cleaning time. And that’s not all, the machine itself has an easily removable 34-ounce water tank that is easy to clean and refill. All in all, this product is really easy to maintain.
The downside of the CitiZ is that it is only compatible with Nespresso capsules. While other third-party options are available, they don’t work as well and won’t give you the delicious results this machine is capable of. Also, if you choose a large cup size, you may need to use two capsules.
DeLonghi EN 560.B Lattissima Touch Pod
If you don’t have a lot of counter space, the De’Longhi Nespresso Lattissima Plus is so compact that it can even fit on a shelf. In fact, with the capsule compartment fully open, it’s only 14 inches high. Despite its size, it delivers 19 bars of pressure and creates high-quality single-cup drinks.
The system is very easy to use. Simply choose your preferred Nespresso capsule, insert it into the machine and choose between espresso, cappuccino, latte or regular coffee using the four-button control panel. That’s it. The machine does the rest, skilfully creating a dense foam and perfect layers. If you want to customize your settings, you can. Just hold down the drink button until you get the perfect blend. It even saves your changes for the next time you make a drink.
One of the best things about this product is the milk container. It heats, froths and steams milk so you can make lattes, cappuccinos, macchiato or even a cup of hot chocolate if you feel like it. Best of all, the container is completely removable, so you can put the milk back in the fridge when you’re done, instead of wasting it. Cleaning is also very easy.
The Lattissima uses a fast-heating thermoblock system that makes coffee drinks in just 25 seconds and milk drinks in 40 seconds, although sometimes neither seems to reach a sufficient temperature. The machine also maintains the temperature, so you can make a second cup immediately.
What can you expect from an espresso machine for under $550?
If you’re thinking of buying an espresso machine for under £500, it’s useful to know what features to expect and what features are reserved for much more expensive machines.
At this price point, you’d expect an espresso machine to have a milk frother. In fact, four of our choices have one.
Being able to produce sufficient pressure is also very important, as it is the force of the water passing through the grounds that makes an espresso an espresso. You need at least a bar of pressure. Each of these machines produces 15 bar or more.
Some features are nice to have, but you won’t usually find them on machines under €500. Many of the more expensive machines have a built-in grinder. Although you’ll find one on our editor’s choice, the De’Longhi ESAM3300 Magnifica, it’s not a standard feature.
Another thing that’s becoming more and more common is the smart espresso machine that connects to your smartphone or tablet via a Bluetooth connection. This is something you’ll usually only find on high-end models, but one of our picks, the Breville Nespresso Expert, is equipped with this smart technology.
Features to consider when choosing an espresso machine
There are a few things you should consider before choosing the right espresso machine for you. Let’s take a look at some key features.
Type: semi-automatic vs super-automatic
One of the main things to look for is whether the machine is semi-automatic or super-automatic, especially if you have never made espresso before.
Semi-automatic machines have a boiler, portafilter and extraction switch that are operated by the user. Although almost everything is automated, you can still control the extraction time. Usually this is done by selecting a preset, but some machines have programmable buttons that give you a little more direct control.
Super-automatic machines do everything for you. At the touch of a button, they grind the beans and then pack and brew your coffee for you. While some of our choices, like the De’Longhi Nespresso Lattissima Plus, seem to do everything, you still have to load the capsule into the machine, so they’re not really super-automatic.
Coffee temperature and water pressure
We mentioned pressure earlier but it bears repeating. Using pressure to force hot water through the beans is what makes an espresso an espresso. You will need at least 9 bars of pressure to create enough force to extract the flavour from the beans.
Temperature is also very important. As a lot of heat is lost during brewing and as the espresso passes through the air in a cup, the machine needs to be able to rise to around 190 degrees. By the time the espresso is ready to drink, the temperature has dropped to about 160 degrees. So if the machine cannot reach 190 degrees, your espresso will always be a little too cold in your cup. Sometimes this may require preheating the machine or brewing with only water.
A milk frother adds a lot of versatility to an espresso machine, as everything you need to make lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos and Americanos is on board.
Whilst some appliances have an automatic steamer that lathers and layers the right amount of milk for you, you can find appliances that use a traditional steam wand like the Breville Duo Temp Pro.
Maintenance and ease of cleaning
Some of these machines are very easy to clean. Removable drip trays, water tanks and dishwasher safe parts are all handy features to look for.
Cleaning and maintenance indicators are another very useful feature. For example, the De’Longhi ESAM3300 Magnifica has a descaling indicator that tells you when it is time to clean the inside of the machine.
Warranties are really important, especially with a product like this. There are a lot of electronic and moving parts, which means that there are many opportunities for something to go wrong. Fortunately, all of our products are covered by a one-year limited warranty, with the exception of the Nespresso Expert which is covered by a two-year warranty.
Tips for making the perfect espresso
First of all, use good fresh coffee. Although some of our choices, such as the Nespresso CitiZ C111, require you to use their pre-filled capsules, there is plenty of choice and the quality is excellent.
A clean machine is important. For example, if the decalcification light on the De’Longhi ESAM3300 Magnifica is on, you can’t really expect it to make a great espresso.
Preheating. We’ve mentioned the importance of temperature and this is one way to make sure the machine is in control.
Use filtered water if possible. Not only will you get better quality coffee, but you’ll also be gentle on the machine.
Our top choice, with a score of 9.8, is the De’Longhi ESAM3300 Magnifica. It’s the only super-automatic option on our list, which means it does everything for you, including grinding the beans. Its compact, easy-to-use design even steams milk and remembers your settings to give you exactly what you want, every time.
Next up, with a score of 9.5, is the Nespresso Expert from De’Longhi. This smart espresso machine has Bluetooth technology and app connectivity that is usually only found on high-end models. Its flat-to-wall design and small footprint are ideal for small spaces.
Finally, the Breville Duo Temp Pro is an excellent semi-automatic option with a 9.3 rating. It was named for its Duo Temp technology, which allows you to switch from steaming milk to brewing without burning. The built-in storage and traditional steam wand make it a practical and enjoyable choice.
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