You want espresso, man, you just freakin’ need it. But you don’t have a lot of cash to pony up for the machine. Or maybe you’re just getting your feet wet and don’t feel like slappin’ down a handful of cash on something you either just aren’t going to use that much or are unsure about.
We get it. Espresso can be an acquired taste.
And for those who don’t want to spend a lot of money acquiring the taste (say, maybe the person looking for the best espresso machine under $300), we get where you’re coming from.
Rest easy. We’ve got your back.
Considerations for Choosing the Best Espresso Machine Under $300
Fortunately, a good espresso machine that makes good espresso for under $300 can be found. You’ll just need to do a little more digging and keep a few things in mind.
Bells and Whistles
You’re not looking for bells and whistles here. In fact, the existence of bells and whistles is something you probably want to run away from.
The more money a company spends on outfitting a machine with bells and whistles, the less money they’re spending on the parts that matter — the boiler or thermo block, the pump, the quality of the portafilter, etc. Those are the things that make the espresso. Those are what you need to be focused on.
To make espresso, you’ll likely be using ground coffee beans.
Good. That’s the best way.
But sometimes when you’re in a rush, or if you’re looking to experiment, you may be tempted to try out Easy Serve Espresso pods or other types of things.
If this is a possibility for you, make sure the machine you’re getting is either compatible with ESE pods (not all machines are) or has a kit you can pick up to add the compatibility.
Plastic vs. Steel
In a perfect world, everything would be made of wood or steel. Or shiny glittery diamonds. But in this imperfect world, we have to make do with plastic sometimes.
In this price range, you’re going to be seeing a fair amount of plastic. There’s no way around it. Now, plastic doesn’t always look like plastic. Chrome plated plastic is a real thing and looks quite nice and shiny. But chrome plating eventually wears off.
The bigger issue is inside the machines themselves. The more metal (preferably stainless steel, chrome plated brass and such) there is, the better.
Why? It keeps the temperature more stable.
Aluminum is all right, but it doesn’t do a very good job of retaining heat. Why do you need to retain heat? Consistent temperature of the water used to make the espresso makes a better shot.
Filtered vs. Unfiltered
At this price point, you’re unlikely to find a filtration system in the machines. Does that ruin your quest for good espresso made in your home? Hardly.
The water is important, don’t get us wrong. It’s one of the most important parts of the equation.
But going overboard isn’t going to necessarily make a whole lot of difference. Some people swear by bottled water, some think tap water is fine. Some just use the Brita jug filter in their refrigerator and call it a day. You’ll likely need to experiment a bit to see which tastes best for you.
Additionally, no matter how filtered the water is, you’ll need to descale the machine from time to time, depending on usage. Like all things in life, balance here is the key.
Steam vs. Pump
Pump. It’s what you’re looking for. Fifteen bars of pressure is pretty much what most companies advertise, but all you’ll really need is 8–10.
But you need the pump. Espresso just isn’t espresso without the pump.
Espresso, at its heart, is coffee made by water being forced through coffee grounds at pressure.
By using steam instead of a pump, it just isn’t espresso. It may be strong coffee, but espresso it ain’t. Without that pressure, the ground coffee isn’t able to achieve full extraction, nor is it able to produce crema, the wonderful elixir that is crucial to espresso being, well, espresso.
“Don’t all espresso machines use steam?” you ask. You’re right, they do.
The boiler or thermo block heats up the water until it becomes steam, but then the pump pushes it down through the grouphead, into the portafilter, returning it to its liquid state. Without the pump, it wouldn’t work, and it wouldn’t be espresso.
So you need the pump. If a machine you’re looking at doesn’t mention the amount of pressure, take another look.
If it’s touting steam as how it makes the espresso but doesn’t mention a pump, take a big step away from it. It won’t make espresso.
The Other Things
Oh, the other things. Yeah. There’s a little more to making a shot of espresso than just the machine and the beans: you’re going to need a few more things. Not many, but a few. Luckily, most of the machines in this price range are going to allow you to make a decent cup of coffee if you do your part. And doing your part means preparing the right beans the right way.
Here’s a simple list of things you’ll need to use your espresso machine to its fullest:
Grinder: gotta grind those beans. $40 or $50 will get you a decent conical burr grinder that will do a good enough job. Of course, you could lose your mind and spend two grand on a grinder for your $300 espresso machine, but we’re betting you’re a little more sensible than that.
Scale: espresso requires 7 grams of ground coffee beans. Think you can eyeball what 7 grams looks like? Yeah, neither can we. Pick up a little digital scale. You’ll get consistent shots of espresso if the amount is always the same.
Tamp: gotta press it down right, right? You’ll need to check the size required for your particular machine because they run the gamut from 45 mm. to 58 mm.
There are some other things you may or may not want, like a milk frothing pitcher, a milk frother if your machine doesn’t have one, or a better measuring spoon. But if you’ve got a grinder, a scale, and a tamp, you’re good.
Our Picks for the 4 Best Espresso Machines Under $300 in 2019
Alright, here’s the good stuff. The four machines we feel we can recommend that don’t go over the $300 mark. Buckle up.
- Milk container for easy cappuccino and latte
- Automatic, preprogrammed milk frothing
- Adjustable drink tray
- Pre-programmed drink choices
Mr. Coffee may be a name more commonly known with automatic drip machines than anything else, but they’ve been making coffee machines since the early seventies.
Their forays into espresso machines are not surprising. What is surprising is how they ended up making a decent machine that doesn’t do a bad job of making a shot of espresso.
Now, to be clear, this machine isn’t top of the line. And the huge milk dispenser on the front of the machine shows us it’s pretty much aimed at the latte and cappuccino lovers. I mean, that’s a lot of milk. But if you’re interested in such a thing, it can automatically froth and add milk to your espresso.
It’s got a smallish reservoir at 55 ounces, but it does have a sliding cup-height platform. The making of the espresso is fairly foolproof once the grounds are in the portafilter — just press a few buttons and wait for it to be done.
It kinda takes some of the control out of the hands of the user, but if you’d rather not mess with the intricacies of making a shot of espresso, this may be a good thing.
- Milk container for the cappuccino and latte lover
- Preprogrammed push button drink options
- Decent construction for the price
- That milk container is way too big
- All the programming takes too much control from the end user
BEST SUITED FOR: With the milk container, you’ve gotta love cappuccinos and lattes if you’re buying this machine. It’s also ideal for the new espresso lover who doesn’t want to learn the finer details of pulling an espresso shot.
- Water reservoir window and large-ish reservoir
- Dual-wall filter makes it a little easier for the new barista to pull shots of espresso
- Thermo block for fast heating
Yeah, remember what I said about not being able to find much stainless steel in this price range? Looks like I was wrong. The Breville Café Roma comes with a lot of stainless steel. A lot. It looks shiny and nice.
How does it work? Glad you asked.
It works just fine. Like many machines in this price range, the functionality is somewhat simplified. There are not many options but the user has a little more control over the production of the shot than other machines (we’re looking at you, Mr. Coffee). It’s got a steam wand, naturally. Decent sized water reservoir, removable drip tray, of course. Just a real basic machine.
One of the nice things about this machine is the reservoir window. On the side of the machine is a window that lets you know how much water is in the reservoir. It’s not high-tech, but it’s a nice touch that is entirely functional.
Oh, and it comes with a fair number of accessories: two espresso cups with saucers, frothing jug, tamp, measuring spoon, and cleaning tool. Not saying they’re the highest quality, just nice that they include all that.
One drawback — the double wall filters. While they do help to make espresso production easier for the novice barista, when it comes time for cleanup, it could be a pain. Like poking each hole with a pin time consuming. Could be. Not saying it will be. Just want to give you a heads up.
- Simple operation. Just what you need and nothing more
- Lots and lots of shiny stainless steel
- Dual wall filters make it easier for the novice to produce decent shots of espresso faster than single wall filters
- Nice accessories set
- Dual wall filters can get pretty clogged and are difficult to clean out
- Once past the basic levels, you might want a more advanced machine
Best suited for: This is a great machine for people who want to start learning how to build their own espresso shot. The dual wall filters help smooth out the bumps in the road, but if they get clogged, you’re going to spend some time cleaning them.
- Bottomless portafilter as well as regular portafilter
- Single Boiler to keep things hot
- Simple, easy-to-use design
Capresso is owned by Jura, a Swiss company that makes well-respected high-end espresso machines. The Pro is not high end, but it is a workhorse, making cup after cup of quality espresso if you do your part.
Now, to be clear, by workhorse, I’m not promising you it’s going to last forever, taking whatever you throw at it and spitting out perfect espresso every time. It’s more like a good pair of jeans or an old truck — they don’t stand out, they don’t have a lot of flash. But they show up and do their job pretty much every damn time.
The Capresso Pro’s bright spot, in all honesty, is the bottomless portafilter. It’s an uncommon feature in this price range. What’s a bottomless filter? Glad you asked. Most portafilters have a spout of some kind on the bottom to direct the espresso-y goodness into your cup. A bottomless filter, sometimes called a naked filter, has no such spout on the bottom end of the portafilter. The espresso simply flows through the mesh into your cup. Or two cups – the Capresso can make two cups of espresso at a time (and it’s the only one we recommend in this price range that can.)
Why is that good? It gives you a visual indicator of what’s right or wrong with your espresso. Just by looking at the liquid flowing into your cup, you can see if the grounds are tamped unevenly, if it’s too wet, if there’s too much or not enough. You know what, just watch this video. It’ll show you what I’m talking about:
One more thing: the Capresso uses a single boiler over a thermoblock. Why? While thermoblock technology is common in this price range, if it’s not done well, it can be problematic. If the thermoblock is a two-piece design, it can leak easier than a single-piece thermoblock or a single boiler.
- Bottomless portafilter allows you to perfect your shot pulling skill
- Simple, uncluttered design isn’t showy but looks nice
- Single boiler can result in fewer problems down the road than a thermoblock
- Apart from the bottomless portafilter, there are very few bells and whistles, if you’re looking for those
- Can’t use tall cups
Best suited for: This machine is best for a person who wants to spend some time learning how to pull a proper shot of espresso. Its pedigree give it weight, its simple design looks fantastic, and the simplicity allows the user to focus on what matters most — the shot of espresso.
- Stainless steel construction
- Very compact design and footprint
- Automatic flow stop
The Dedica is flat out the coolest looking machine we list here. Stainless steel construction with a retro feel make it look, to me, like something you’d find in a professional environment. It’s not, don’t get me wrong; it’s totally a consumer model, but it just looks so freakin’ cool.
But that doesn’t matter a damn bit if it doesn’t make a decent cup of espresso. The Dedica sets you up to do just that very thing. Thermo block technology, like most machines here, gets the machine heated up super fast. It’s thin, only six inches wide, so it won’t take up much space. It’s got a built in milk frother for a cappuccino if you want and a cup warmer on top.
The Dedica is a well-designed and slick-looking little machine. It simply looks awesome and again, like all the machines here, if you do your part, it will too.
- Looks awesome
- Cup warmer on top
- Super compact design
- Simple operation
- Did I mention it looks awesome?
- The reservoir can leak a drop or two if it’s not put on juuuust right.
- And speaking of the reservoir — 1 liter, just 33 ounces
- Because of its thin width, attaching and removing the portafilter requires a hand on top of the machine to prevent it from rocking
Best suited for: The Dedica is a classy machine for someone who appreciates classiness. It’s shiny and beautiful and doesn’t need to be put away. So if you’re looking to buy a machine that just blends in, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for a conversation piece that begs to be used, this is the one for you.
Our Best Pick
I gotta say, coming into this, I thought it would be the Dedica. I mean, just look at that beauty. But after examining everything, I have to say the nod goes to the Capresso.
It’s a solid, unassuming machine that will let you be a barista in the comfort of your own home at a reasonable price.
The single boiler is more likely to have a longer service life than a thermoblock, the bottomless portafilter lets you see where you’re making mistakes in your shot crafting and the stainless steel milk frother is what you should find on an espresso machine but, unfortunately, often don’t.
What more could you ask for?I’ll be honest. If you’re looking for the best espresso machine under $300, it gets a little hard to find something that will make decent quality espresso.
Doesn’t mean it’s impossible, just a little more difficult.
While the machines may tick all the boxes, there is less room for error. Kinda like what barista champion Charles Babinski says in this video:
It’s all about controlling what you can. And with an espresso machine for under $300, like the ones we list above, you’re getting off to a good start.