Everybody loves coffee. Every morning, millions of cups are brewed in order to power us through the workday, so it’s safe to say that coffee is one of the world’s favorite drinks. Do you drink coffee? Chances are that you do.
And every coffee drinker loves good coffee. That means, more often than not, espresso. Espresso has been the most popular way to brew coffee for more than a hundred years, and it still remains that way.
But making espresso is not so easy; you need a big expensive machine to do so. Finding out which machine may, or may not be, good for you can be a difficult endeavor. That’s the reason for this article: we’ve put together a list of 10 of the best espresso machines under $300 on the market right now, along with shirt reviews to help you get a sense of how each coffee maker works.
First, a sneak peek into our three top choices on the list.
- Our top choices
- The 10 best espresso machines under $300
- SOWTECH Espresso Machine 3.5 Bar 4 Cup Espresso Maker Cappuccino Latte Machine with Steam Milk Frother and Pot
- Mr. Coffee Espresso and Cappuccino Maker | Café Barista
- DeLonghi EC155 15 Bar Espresso and Cappuccino Machine
- Bonsenkitchen Espresso Machine 15 Bar Coffee Machine With Foaming Milk Frother Wand
- Calphalon BVCLECMP1 Temp iQ Espresso Machine with Steam Wand, Stainless
- KLARSTEIN Passionata Rossa Espresso and Cappuccino Machine
- Breville ESP8XL Cafe Roma Stainless Espresso Maker
- Espressione Stainless Steel Machine Espresso and Coffee Maker
- Nespresso Vertuo Plus Coffee and Espresso Maker by De'Longhi
- Yabano Espresso Machine, 20Bar Compact Espresso and Cappuccino Maker with Milk Frother Wand
- Types of espresso machines
- What to consider when buying an espresso machine
- Accessories you may need
- Final verdict
Our top choices
- For its excellent milk frothing system
- For its convenience
- For its minimalism and quality
The 10 best espresso machines under $300
SOWTECH Espresso Machine 3.5 Bar 4 Cup Espresso Maker Cappuccino Latte Machine with Steam Milk Frother and Pot
Kicking off the list with Sowtech, a relatively unknown brand, which has been pulling out affordable, stylish, and great little coffee makers.
This particular one is probably one of the best options for newbies. It’s compact, small, and really easy to use as there aren’t many settings or controls that could confuse you. Instead, Sowtech bets on a really simple design, and it really pays off.
There is, however, one shortcoming: it doesn’t create enough pressure. Professional, and even semi-professional, espresso machines are expected to generate at least 15 bars of pressure, this is crucial to create a thick and flavorful espresso. This coffee maker only generates 3.5 bars of pressure, which resolves in below-average espresso.
Mr. Coffee never disappoints. This coffee maker is stylish and can make a great cup of coffee. But it doesn’t stop at that: it comes with a milk frothing system that makes cappuccinos and lattes.
This milk frothing system replaces the traditional steam wand, making it easier to get a consistent froth each time. It is a small receptacle into which you pour the exact amount of milk you need, and then adjust the dial according to which beverage you are going to make (cappuccino or latte).
The button panel is really easy to navigate. It is also quite ergonomic and minimalistic, taking up a really small portion of the machine, which helps in making it look elegant.
An example of what most espresso makers used to look, and feel, up until not too long ago. You see, a lot of espresso machines have taken a modern turn nowadays and have digital displays, a lot of buttons and controls, and so on. And this, of course, has a lot of advantages.
But part of the charm of espresso makers is that they were quite intuitive, simple. The EC155 is a great example of that: it only needs two dials to make it work. One at the very front for the coffee spout and another, on top, which operates the steam wand.
Dials are vastly favored by baristas because they tend to be more reliable, there’s a certain mechanical thing going on during your workflow that is easier to do with dials. Buttons? Not very reliable. And screens completely kill your rhythm if you make a lot of coffee.
All in all, a small but reliable machine that is satisfying to use.
A fantastic coffee maker that skillfully combines the old school and the modern look in one machine. The Bonsenkitchen espresso maker will look a lot like a futuristic, modern machine and yet when using it you still feel like an old-timey barista, as the controls are pretty much the same.
Surprisingly for a machine under $100, this coffee maker has a rather high-quality Thermoblock system which helps it heat up water at very quick speeds, meaning that there is very little waiting to make your coffee, as well as less delay when switching between coffee and steam.
The quality of the coffee itself is very good, although the espresso can feel a little watery. The specs say 15 bars of pressure, although, in reality, it might be a little less, hence the quality of the espresso feeling a little off.
I’ve worked with Calphalon a lot and I’ve written a lot about this particular coffee maker, and I always come to the same conclusion: this coffee maker is insanely good for its price. It isn’t really marketed as a professional machine, and yet it performs at a very high level.
The stainless steel finish itself is enough reason to get it for me, as it looks great and makes you think of older machines that used to look a lot like this. Then you have the controls: a simple on/off switch and just one dial to operate the whole machine, meaning coffee and steam.
The coffee is absolutely fantastic, and to top it off this is one of the simplest machines out there. You can make coffee-shop quality coffee with literally no idea what you’re actually doing. It’s amazing, and definitely one of my personal favorites.
We’ve been talking quite a bit about machines that try to recreate older designs or at least incorporate it in part, but this Klarstein machine goes a step further and gives us an espresso machine that is impossible to tell apart from espresso machines of the 80s and 90s.
It is extremely compact, even though the water tank itself is quite big for a machine of this size (holds enough for 6 cups at a time) which is a big plus for an espresso maker, as they tend to be quite big and take up a lot of counter space.
There aren’t really any options aside from coffee and steam, which are chosen through a clear-cut dial, which makes things rather easy. As for the quality of the coffee, it’s very good, although the steam wand may lack a little punch if you like to make very foamy beverages.
The Cafe Roma is one of my all-time Breville favorites. It differs a lot from the usual Breville way of making machines, and it is definitely a throwback, and yet it has all the horsepower of bigger and more modern Breville models.
Ditching the digital screen for a pleasing retro aesthetic, the Cafe Roma is operated solely using a dial that lets you choose between one of two options: coffee and steam. That’s exactly how it should be! There is also an on/off switch, and that’s about it.
While the Cafe Roma is an excellent machine and produces above-average coffee, it does lack a lot of additional settings and other things that more modern machines may have. This is a great option for retro fans like myself, but it does feel a little bland compared to other machines.
A one of a kind coffee maker that can do both lattes, and drip coffee. Of course, there are many other machines that work like this, a dual style between espresso and drip, but none can achieve the same quality as the Espressione.
The Espressione has a 15 cup carafe that feels light, yet durable, at the left side, which is the drip coffee side; and on the right side, you can find the coffee spout for the espresso. Right next to that, on the Espressione’s right side, you can find a series of switches that operate the machine, a unique take on buttons and dials, which is quite easy to use and eliminates any confusion (or vagueness) that sometimes arises from dials or digital displays.
Honestly, it is quite hard to find a machine that can do both these things, and actually does it really well; a great option for those of us who love espresso but also like to indulge in black coffee from time to time.
Are capsule coffee makers espresso machines? Some people may disagree, but I genuinely think that they are. Of course, this may not be the case for all capsule coffee makers but it certainly is the case for this one.
Vertuoline makes espresso in a different way from what you’re accustomed to. On top of using water pressure, it also uses a rotating mechanism that spins the capsule to create optimal extraction. Vertuo machines rotate hundreds of times per minute, resulting in rich espresso, and thick crema.
While regular Nespresso machines, and other similar capsule coffee makers, might not be the best choice for espresso enthusiasts, the Vertuoline will surprise you with an excellent quality that also comes with all the convenience of capsule coffee.
The first thing you will notice about this coffee maker is the big meter upfront. This is the pressure gauge, which is a really cool way of visualizing your espresso being made. You can see clearly how many bars of pressure the machine is creating to extract your espresso, which by the way, goes up to 20 bars (5 bars above the average amount). And while more water pressure doesn’t necessarily mean better coffee, it doesn’t hurt.
The operation panel is straightforward and easy to read thanks to the blue backlights on each button. Overall, the Yabano looks (and feels a lot) like classic analog espresso makers, but with the modern twist of the backlights and the big pressure gauge, which is quite flashy and really draws attention to itself.
The quality of the coffee is phenomenal, and the steam wand has nothing to envy of other bigger machines.
Types of espresso machines
Espresso machines have come a long way from back in the 19th century when they were mainly a big tank, all powered by steam. Nowadays, we actually have many different types of espresso machines:
The increased interest in alternative ways of making coffee has given manual espresso makers a lot of attention lately. These work by relying totally on you, the barista, to create the needed pressure to make the coffee. There is no power, no steam involved: only your own muscles. A great example of this would be the Flair espresso maker.
You provide the grounds, the hot water, and ultimately the pressure by pulling on a lever (or two) to create the right amount of force needed for espresso.
They aren’t as convenient and they take a lot of time between shots, but at the same time, they can provide a much different flavor and experience than other machines. They’re really fun.
The most common type of espresso maker. They create pressure automatically and only need you to transport the grounds around using the portafilter and to froth the milk using the steam wand. But as for the actual work, that’s all the machine’s doing.
Semi-automatic still remains the most popular because they are part convenient and part manual, leaving a lot of room for baristas to apply their own personal touch to each coffee, creating masterpieces in the process, or making each coffee according to how one particular customer likes it, which is freedom you may not have with super-automatic machines.
Fully automatic espresso makers, also known as super-automatic espresso machines, do all the work for you. They will grind the coffee, froth the milk, and even pour it into the cup for you. The amount of things they can do is absolutely crazy. They dose perfectly, too, so there’s no need for a portafilter, effectively eliminating baristas from the equation.
There are a lot of reasons why people like super-automatic machines, the most obvious being that they are insanely convenient and function like a barista in one machine, but they do have their disadvantages. They are not as fun, for one than other machines because you don’t get to influence the equation at all – even if this is changing thanks to more settings to personalize each drink.
Most importantly, fully automatic machines are rather expensive and a medium-range one can cost anywhere from $3000 to $10000, or more, which is why they aren’t as popular as they could be.
Capsule espresso makers can cause quite a stir. Some people love them, some people hate them. The truth is that more and more, people are making the change from regular espresso machines to capsule coffee makers. In the US, capsule coffee makers are quickly becoming the most popular coffee machine to have at home.
And it’s easy to see why. They might not have the quality, but they certainly have the convenience of a super-automatic espresso machine. Suddenly, anyone can make a good espresso at home. And all they have to do is press a button. How great is that?
What to consider when buying an espresso machine
The most important aspect of an espresso machine is, without a doubt, the amount of pressure it can generate. This will tell you just how good the coffee it makes is.
15 bars should be the standard, but you’ll find many espresso makers are below this. They can try to sell you with other features, but in most cases, a machine that can’t generate 15 bars just isn’t worth it.
Higher pressure is a plus, but it doesn’t always mean better coffee. Always aim for 15, and if you find a machine that has more bars and you like it for other reasons, then sure. But don’t fixate on pressure: as long as it’s 15 bars, it’s fine.
Espresso machines can be really hard to clean. And cleaning is of absolute importance if you want your machine to keep making good coffee: so ask yourself – how often do I see myself cleaning this machine?
If you’re an avid cleaner, then you can easily go for machines that have more parts, like Mr. Coffee, which will need you to immediately clean the milk frother after each use. But if you’re not gung-ho about cleaning, then you’re better off but the more simple models that don’t have many parts that could get dirty, like the Cafe Roma
It’s hard to tell whether you’ll be a fan of it if you’ve never used one before. Some machines have steam wands, others don’t, but it’s always best to have it. You’ll be able to steam milk which in turn lets you make cappuccinos, lattes, and all sorts of things.
If you don’t see the fun in mastering this art of experimenting with it, then I highly recommend you purchase a coffee maker that already comes with a milk frother that can do all the work for you.
If the machine you want doesn’t have one, there are always separate milk frothers like the Aeroccino which work perfectly.
Accessories you may need
A grinder is a machine that grinds coffee beans, turning them into coffee grounds ready to become delicious coffee. There are advantages to having one at home, such as being able to buy whole bean coffee, which is cheaper, and also because freshly ground coffee tastes better.
Grinders are expensive, though, and difficult to maintain. Do not feel obligated to get a grinder just because you have an espresso machine. There is a lot of fresh, good-quality pre-ground coffee out there!
Most espresso machines come with tampers already. This tool is absolutely necessary, and its function is to create a tight, compact coffee puck inside the portafilter. After you pour the grounds in it, you need them to be compressed for the espresso machine to perform its job appropriately, so you tamp them using this tool.
Even if your espresso machine already comes with one, it’s probably a good idea to buy more. They are small, get lost, and so on.
Definitely, yes. Even though you can find a lot of espresso machines that are complete rubbish, there are a ton of machines in this price range that produce very good coffee. The key is to be able to accurately read the specs – which, after this article, you’ll hopefully be able to.
It depends. Thanks to advances in technology, there are actually a lot of coffee makers in this price range that is quite worth it. Some can even be called semi-professional and could easily be seen in a small coffee shop.
This couldn’t be said a couple of decades ago when most worthwhile coffee makers could easily go for $500 to $1000 dollars. Today, we’re lucky.
The two most common ones are semi-automatic and fully-automatic ones, but you also have manual espresso machines, which we explained earlier, and the relatively new capsule espresso makers, which have been around since the 90s, but only really caught on in the 2010s.
You can actually find really good affordable espresso makers. Some people think that good coffee requires you to spend thousands on a good machine – that’s not true. At least not anymore.
Whatever decision you make, we’re sure that this article has left you with a better understanding of espresso machines and what features you value the most.
Marcelo is a filmmaker and passionate barista on the side. He spends his free time cooking up new and exciting recipes – and drinking too much coffee in the process.