Best Cheap Espresso Machines

For a coffee lover on a budget, buying an espresso machine might be challenging. As a beginner barista, you have limited knowledge in the field.

How do you choose the best cheap espresso machine? What are the criteria that separate a good espresso maker from a bad one? We will try to familiarize you with the technology, and guide on how to choose the best espresso machine for your budget.

espresso gear gaggia carezza

For years owning an espresso machine was a synonym for spending a lot of money. The espresso and latte preparation was reserved for professional baristas, or wealthy people. This has changed now, and espresso preparing is affordable, and if you purchase the right equipment, you will soon forget about the burnt, overpriced espresso shots from Starbucks.

WalMart doesn’t want you to buy the best espresso maker because they want to sell all the brewers on the shelves. And in all fairness, their personnel couldn’t possibly know which are the best machines, unless they were espresso lovers.

Many specialty stores don’t carry the low end equipment because the margin is lower. One of the most convenient alternatives is online shopping. Besides the convenience, online shopping is a good option because shoppers can see the product’s rating and see other people’s experience with the product. For espresso machines, the ratings and customers’ comments are very important, because it allows potential buyers to know what is the bang for their buck, if the product is reliable, and how easy is to use it.

How To Choose an Espresso Machine if You Are on a Budget?

Semi Automatic Espresso Machine

For the low end of espresso machines, there are a lot of questions a potential buyer needs to answer when planning. A good planning will allow them to budget the purchase, and to plan for an upgrade, if necessary. From a budget perspective, most looked for price ranges for espresso machines are the 100 dollars machine, the 200 dollars range, and under 500 equipment.

From a budget perspective, most looked for price ranges for espresso machines are the 100 dollars machine, the 200 dollars range, and under 500 equipment.

What are the differences between these espresso brewers? There are a lot of differences, but in the end it comes down to your preferences, (and budget).

Manufacturers would like to tell you that some of these differences could make or break your shot. But in reality, if you know what you are doing, you can pull great shots with cheap machines. And let’s not forget that your personal taste plays a big role, but we’ll touch more on that in a moment.

According to Wikipedia, an espresso machine brews by forcing pressurized water through a puck of compacted coffee. However, we are not going to talk about Aeropress or Moka pot, even though by extension they can be considered espresso brewers. At the end of the day, Italians, the inventors of the espresso and cappuccino, prepare them at home using “la macchinetta del caffe” and a manual milk frother.

Your Taste Dictates the Machine you Will Buy

Just to make things clear, not everybody thinks at the same thing when they say espresso. For a vast majority of people, espresso is just a stronger coffee, that serves as the base for a latte, cappuccino, or a flat white.

For the coffee connoisseur, though, espresso is a beverage that is brewed under certain parameters, and it tastes quite unique, unlike any other coffee type. You can only get that unique taste by using pump driven espresso machines, that can create 9 bar of pressure or more. 

I love that sharp, concentrated coffee taste. For me, espresso is coffee at its best. However, I have friends and family who hate the strong taste of espresso. As the barista person in my circle, my advice is to drink whatever coffee brew you like. If you like steam espresso, that’s it for you. If you like the shots from a Nespresso machine, because they taste a bit mellower than regular shots, that it for you.

Espresso Machine Choices for the Price Constrained Buyer

The espresso machine market is ever evolving, with new innovations and new players coming all the time. We have today quite the range of choices, from manual espresso makers, with no electrical parts, to completely automated machines, where you pop in a capsule, press a button and you have your shot. Here is a list with all possible espresso coffee maker types:

  • Pump driven espresso machines – best for the classic espresso
  • Steam espresso machines – best for getting milky drinks on a very low budget
  • Capsule based espresso machines – best for convenience
  • Manual espresso makers – best for hobbyists that don’t mind a little manual work and like to tweak their shots to perfection
  • Moka pot, or French press – for a stronger coffee, not an espresso, but close enough for preparing a cappuccino or a latte

Your Budget Will Affect Your Buying Decision

Depending on your needs, you might need to adjust your budget. If you are new to espresso, and you are just learning the art, a machine around 100$ should be good enough. If your budget permits it, set your budget to 200 for the brewer only, you will get some nice features that will help control the process better. 

If you have some experience with espresso brewing, I recommend considering a slightly more expensive machine. This will give you more control over the brewing, and more consistent results. You can take a look at our selection of Cheap PID Espresso Machines, which are more expensive, but worth taking a look at.

A list with the best affordable espresso machines, from steam espresso machines at 50$, to pump driven machines at $100. (Mr. Coffee, De’Longhi, illy, Nespresso)

We personally don’t recommend buying the $50 machines, you will eventually have to replace them. You will either realize they are not what you want, or they’ll catch dust in the attic. So they will cost you more in the end.

And we are not talking about inconvenience in use, and poor overall quality. However, if you absolutely need to stay on a $50 budget, you can go the Moka pot route. The disadvantage is that you don’t have a milk steamer with those, so you will have to improvise, but the coffee maker is really cheap. Here is our review of the best stove top espresso makers.

Steam Based Espresso Makers

For close espresso replicas, without gourmet ambitions, a steam-based brewer will do it. They are very appropriate for preparing milk-based coffee beverages, where espresso flavor is drenched in milk and sugar anyway. These will give you a quality similar to Starbucks where the espresso is not the main feature, but who cares anyway, because we need a stronger coffee anyway.

On the other hand, if you want perfect espresso shots, and are trying to escape the daily Starbucks routine, a more expensive, pump driven equipment would be the right choice.

We dedicated an entire article for steam espresso coffee makers, and we recommend you read it. There are a few advantages to get a steam based machine, and we explain all the pros and cons in our article.

black and brown Moka pot
A Moka Pot is, in theory, an espresso brewer, because water is forced through the coffee layer.

A Moka pot is a a low pressure steam espresso maker. Here is an article where they compare the best stove top espresso makers on the market. But if you want the best tasting espresso, you should probably steer away from this option. Coffee from a Moka pot is decent, but it doesn’t have the same complex flavors as espresso.

Steam espresso machines are inexpensive, but you aren’t pulling a real espresso shot. Your caffeinated beverage is similar to a moka pot coffee. It is close to an espresso, but because of the lower pressure during the brewing, there is no way you can get a great espresso. It is a decent option for a starter coffee maker for the unpretentious espresso lover. The price tag for a steam based espresso machine is around 50$.

Mr. Coffee ECM160 4-Cup Steam Espresso Machine

Mr. Coffee ECM160 is a decent, inexpensive espresso maker, that can satisfy most of the latte lovers. It makes a decent coffee if you know how to use it, and it steams milk beautifully. As a steam espresso machine, it does not have enough power to make a real espresso. The shot you get from Mr. Coffee though is better than a moka pot shot.

This is a decent introductory espresso machine for people on a low budget. It will help you refine your taste buds, and make you understand better espresso as a gourmet coffee drink, but it will never satisfy true espresso lovers.

If you buy this, plan to buy a tamper as well. The machine does not include a real tamper. If you want to buy one, you will need a 50mm tamper, like this tamper on Amazon. Don’t forget to budget for a decent coffee grinder. Or, if you plan to keep it on a low budget, you can buy pre ground coffee. 

One of the advantages of a steam espresso machine, like the ECM160. is that it brews 4 demitasse cups of coffee. The carafe that comes with it makes it easier to portion each batch into shots. for your lattes.

Mr. coffee steam espresso machine

 An alternative from the same class is the Capresso 303.01. This espresso maker is very similar to the Mr. Coffee ECM160. The only issue with this unit is that many customers complain that the espresso isn’t quite hot enough.

Inexpensive Pump-Driven Espresso Machines

There are a few types of pump driven espresso machines, and depending on the number of features they can range from one hundred to two thousand dollars. These include semi automatic, automatic, and super automatic machines. We will only touch the semi automatic class since the other two are out of the intended budget.

The inexpensive semi automatic espresso machines are the perfect way to start your coffee journey and escape the daily visits to the coffee shop.

Even the most affordable machine like the De’Longhi EC155 can get you great espresso results. Sure, you have to know what you are doing, and there is a learning curve associated with brewing espresso, but that is true with more expensive equipment as well.

The inexpensive semi-automatic espresso machines are the perfect way to start your espresso journey and escape the daily visits to the coffee shop.

Even the most affordable machine like the De’Longhi EC155  can get you great espresso results. Sure, you have to know what you are doing, and there is a learning curve associated with brewing espresso, but that is true with more expensive equipment as well.

A cheap, well made pump driven espresso machine will ensure you have enough pressure to pull a good shot. It has two thermostats, one for the brewing unit and one for the milk frothing unit. It has a pump capable to ensure the required 9 bar of pressure we need for brewing. Also, the pressure and brewing temperature are automated, for your convenience.

With one of these machines, you can pull great shots day after day, and these machines are A cheap, well made pump driven espresso machine will ensure you have enough pressure to pull a good shot. It has two thermostats, one for the brewing unit and one for the milk frothing unit.

De’Longhi EC155 One of the Best Cheap Espresso Machines

This is one of the best affordable espresso machines on the market. I recommend it to anyone who is starting with espresso brewing and doesn’t want to spend a lot of money on equipment.

The unit has separate thermostats for brewing and steaming, it has two filter baskets, a removable water reservoir.

The basic tamper that comes with it doesn’t do a good job. You might want to replace that with a proper tamper. The tamper size for the De’Longhi EC155 is 52 mm, but this 51mm tamper is perfect for your filter baskets. A 50mm tamper might work too.

As you can see in the video below, you can get good coffee, and a perfectly frothed milk, but the use of the machine is a bit cumbersome, and even the most organized people would have problems using it neatly.

De’Longhi EC155 Pump Espresso Machine Video Review

All in all, De’Longhi is one of the most cost effective espresso machines, offering the most bang for your buck.

This is an espresso machine I’ve recommended to one of my cousins. The pressurized baskets help the beginner home barista pull decent shots, and not get discouraged. I recommend it to anyone who is just starting to make espresso and cappuccino at home, and don’t have the necessary skills and experience. 

De'Longhi EC155 pump espresso machine

Mr. Coffee Pump Driven Espresso Maker

Mr. Coffee BVMC-ECMP1000 Espresso Maker is a brewer just under 200$, with some surprising features for a budget espresso machine. The greatest feature in our opinion is the automatic milk frother. This is a fantastic feature that turns any novice into a barista. You just need to fill in the milk reservoir and press a button and voila, your frothed milk is ready. This is a feature seen only at machines a few time more expensive.

Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista Video Review

The espresso unit is also great, you can get a decent espresso, as long as you use good, fresh, coffee beans, and you own a decent grinder. Most buyers of this absolute bargain buy it for the automatic cappuccino and latte brewing, but let’s not forget that the espresso brewed with this machine is great.

Sure the machine is a little messy, and there are features that I would totally miss if I were using this for my daily routine. But at the end of the day, this is probably one of the most feature-rich machines for the price.

mr. coffee cafe barista espresso machine

Gaggia Classic

The next spot belonged once to the absolute winner in its class, the amazing Gaggia 14101 Classic. Gaggia don’t make it anymore. Unfairly compared to Rancilio Silvia, a machine that sells a few hundreds more, the 14101 was probably the best choice for a beginner barista and was a bit cheaper than its successor, the Gaggia RI9380/46 Classic Pro. We included our review of the Gaggia RI9380/46 Classic Pro, which is a little bit better than the 14101, but consequently, more expensive .

Featuring a stainless steel housing, it has an amazing look and feel, you just love to have it on your kitchen counter. The brass portafilters and the brass grouphead ensure brewing temperature stability. It comes with one single, and one double shot filter basket, a basic tamper, (which you might want to replace), and a measuring scoop.

The three way solenoid valve ensures the pressure is released once you finished brewing, this minimizes the mess and allows you to remove the portafilter right after brewing. The bonus feature is the fact that it can be used with ESE pods, for people who use them.

For cappuccino lovers, Gaggia Classic’s frothing wand is okay. But many home baristas find it difficult to hone their skills to use it. You can replace it with the advanced pannarello frothing wand which makes steaming and frothing milk much easier.

gaggia classic pro

De’Longhi EC702 Pump Driven Espresso Machine

The EC702 is a solid choice for an entry-level espresso maker. It features a stainless steel cup warmer, a thermoblock heating system, and it uses the DeLonghi’s patented dual thermostat system that allows separate temperature control for milk steaming and for brewing.

The thermoblock is quite well built, maintaining the proper temperature for back-to-back shots.

The 15 bar pump is capable of pulling real espresso, ensuring the optimal shot extraction, as close as it can be to a high-end coffee shop made espresso. 

The machine can use ground coffee and ESE pods for those who like a bit more convenience in their espresso brewing routine. 

The patented panarello milk frother is a great addition, allowing perfectly steamed milk without any training.

de'longhi ec702 pump driven espresso machine

 

The machine comes with a set of pressurized filter baskets, which are great for beginners. If you are into serious espresso brewing, you’ll want to buy some unpressurized baskets though.

The pressurized baskets help you get crema every time, but the taste can vary a lot between shots. 

The water reservoir is decently sized, holding 44 ounces, and it is removable, and accessible from the side. 

The machine looks great, and it will blend nicely in most kitchens.

DeLonghi EC702 Video Review

Capsule Based Espresso Machines

The capsule based espresso machine is all about convenience. You can get a decent espresso with these machines, although, the quality and style of the shot can vary consistently. But if convenience is what you need, a pod espresso machine is the perfect choice, because it minimizes your intervention, and it gives you a few minutes extra time to dedicate to you morning chores.

As a guide for your purchase process, the Nespresso machines have unique way of extracting the shot, which makes it a little bit less intense than the typical espresso. The crema you get from a Nespresso machine is not the same as the crema you would get from a semiautomatic espresso machine. Many people love the mellower shot from a Nespresso machine, but espresso traditionalists don’t like it.

Other manufacturers focused on how to get closer to the traditional espresso taste, and invested innovating in this direction. illy has great achievements in the field, and their machines are as close as possible to the portafilter espresso. 

illy Y3.3 iperEspresso Review 

illy Y3.3 is an easy-to-use, practical and aesthetically appealing espresso machine. With a small footprint, at 10 inches height, and the width of 3.94 inches, the machine fits small kitchens, and it looks great on the counter. 

The amazing look is part of the Italian approach to make beautiful objects, and illy enlisted the work of Piero Lissoni for designing this machine.

But that’s not its most important feature. Unlike other capsule based espresso makers, illy pulls real espresso shots with real crema.

The iperEspresso machines hold a few patents and the amount of innovation that goes into them makes them the best on the market. The idea behind iperEspresso machines is to produce quality espresso with the convenience of a pod coffee maker.

We love the Y3.3 for the clean lines with a minimalist approach, and because they pull great espresso shots.

The only problem with this type of espresso maker is that they don’t have any milk frothing/steaming capabilities. It is amazing for plain espresso lovers, but if you need to make latte and cappuccino, or a latte, you will need to buy a milk frothing device separately.

illy y3.3 iperespresso capsule espresso machine

I got an email from a reader, asking what was the difference between the old illy Y3.2 and the new illy Y3.3. Not many changes, but one recurrent complaint about the 3.2 was the hard to access power button. The 3.3 has the power button on the front panel. Press the espresso button to power on, and press longer both buttons on the panel, (about 2 seconds), to power off.

Nespresso Vertuo Plus – Espresso Machine by De’Longhi

Nespresso Vertuo Plus made by De’Longhi is one of the smallest espresso machines. We know we said we like better illy, but you are the one who drinks it, and in our comparison article we said that not everybody likes the same coffee.

The things we like about Vertuo Plus:

  • It’s very fast, water gets hot in about 10 seconds.
  • Adjustable coffee style: American style and espresso style
  • Adjustable shot size: single and double
  • Very compact
  • Clean lines with a modern look
  • Easy to access water tank, (however, this comes at a cost: a larger footprint on the counter.)
  • Different capsules to adjust to your beverage style. (A big plus in my eyes.)
nespresso vertuo plus de'longhi

 The thing you might not like about the Vertuo Plus:

  • Doesn’t have a frothing or steaming system, so you might need to buy a separate one.
  • Capsule based coffee is more expensive in the long run than coffee beans. 

Nespresso has its own fans because coffee is more mellow than a regular espresso.  If you are a Nespresso fan and you know you want one of their coffee makers, Nespresso Vertuo Plus is a great inexpensive one.

The coffee maker is cheaper, but in the long run, your daily cup of coffee will get more expensive because of the capsules.

Breville  ESP8XL Cafe Roma Espresso Machine

It might not be the cheapest espresso machine of our line-up, but it certainly one of the best machines of the bunch. 

The machine comes with everything that you’ll need to create barista-quality drinks. Even beginners will have no trouble making an excellent cup of brew using this machine.

If you’re new to espresso and want to go deeper into the concept, the Breville Café Roma is the ideal machine to have at your disposal.

You won’t be able to make espresso as fast as a commercial machine, but you can still make cafe-quality coffee at home with a few simple adjustments.

breville cafe roma espresso machine
  • The machine produces an aroma and taste that rivals the best professionals.
  • It’s easy to use. Setting it up is easy. You just need to brew and drink.
  • Cafe Roma is a quality and affordable espresso machine.
  • Maintenance is minimal, and it is easy to clean.
  • Stainless steel gives it a beautiful finish adding to the aesthetics of your kitchen. 
  • The heating system is a thermoblock, which warms up fast.
  • The steam wand has a froth enhancer that will help you get gorgeous frothed milk for your cappuccino or latte. 
  • If you need microfoamed milk, just remove the froth enhancer, and you will get a beautiful microfoam.

Manual Espresso Machines

The manual espresso machine is probably the least recommended for a beginner home barista. It requires the most skills and knowledge, and it’s the least convenient. You have to dedicate a few extra minutes than you would with semiautomatics every time you pull a shot. However, for those who want to learn more about espresso, they are a great way to dive in into the art of crafting amazing espresso shots.

There are many types of manual espresso makers, but the lever operated units are the best, because they allow the barista to create a lot of pressure when pulling a shot.  

The appeal for manual espresso makers is not only artistic, but practical as well. A lever operated espresso maker will allow the operator to change all of the brewing parameters from water temperature and grind size, to the amount of pressure applied during extraction. 

Flair Espresso Maker

The Flair makes delicious espresso shots without using any electricity. The pressure needed to extract the shot is generated by the barista, with the help of of lever.

Flair is an inexpensive alternative in a hobbyist market, with prices ranging in the $1000 and up.

To use the Flair, you need to add ground coffee into the filter, then pour hot water and then press down.

The Flair is a perfect choice for traveling, because it is very compact. If you have the time and energy to dedicate to pulling your daily shots in a manual fashion, it could be extremely rewarding. With a manual espresso maker, you have perfect control over the extraction process, and you can tweak all of the brewing factors.

flair manual espresso maker

Conclusion – What You Miss With Cheap Espresso Machines

OK, you might ask, why would I pay more, if a cheap machine is so great? Well, the inexpensive espresso machines, being so cheap, have their limitations. These limitations make them undesirable for the advanced espresso enthusiasts. Smaller boiler, cheaper materials, no PIDs for precise temperature brewing, less brewing controls, etc.

The more expensive machines from the automatic and super automatic class have more control options, allowing you to tweak your shots to perfection. This, unfortunately, is not available even with the best cheap espresso machines.

At the same time, don’t get confused by the advertised “many bars of pressure”. The machine will only need 9 bar. If a machine has 15, it’s fine, but they need to normalize that pressure at 9 bar.

One often neglected aspect is the forthing/steaming wand. While most modern semiautomatic espresso makers are equipped with a steaming wand, it takes a bit of training to use the standard wand to froth milk. Many of the capsule based espresso makers just don’t have milk steaming capabilities, so you will have to include that in your budget as well, if you want to prepare cappuccinos.

If your budget is tight, please go ahead and buy a cheap espresso machine. But if you buy a cheap one because you think there is no difference between an expensive machine and a cheap one, I urge you to reconsider. The midrange espresso machine is what you are looking for.

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