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We’ve investigated the best espresso machines under $300 for 2020 and come up with nine strong candidates. If you brew for two or more people and your household’s tastes range from straight shots, to rich Americanos, to foamy lattes, then our top pick for the best budget espresso machine is clear: It’s the Breville ESP8XL Café Roma.Of course, different espresso machines are good for different things. To get the best value in a home espresso machine, you first need to look in the mirror. What drinks do you want to make? How interested are you in the finer points of espresso making? You won’t find an espresso machine under $300 that can do it all, so the first step is to understand what you want it to do.
Top 4 espresso machines under $300 by category
With that in mind, and before we go into more detail on these nine machines, here are four quick picks, one for each major category of machine. To learn more about these types of espresso machines (manual, semi-automatic, fully automatic and capsule), see our espresso machine buying guide near the end of this post.
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Best espresso machines under $300
1. Breville ESP8XL Café Roma
The Breville ESP8XL Café Roma scores big points for the simplicity of its design, operation and maintenance. It’s a big, solid, durable machine that’s made of stainless steel. It has some heft and will take up space on your counter, but it will look good doing so.
With a thermoblock boiler, the Café Roma heats up quickly. Its pressurized portafilter takes a bit of the guesswork out of your grind, and it comes with filter baskets for a single, double or ESE pod. Clearance between the spout and drip tray is enough to accommodate taller cups.
The removable water reservoir holds enough for four double shots, or three lattés if you need some of that water to steam milk. I wouldn’t mind a little more control over the steam wand. It has only one setting that isn’t particularly strong, but at this price point let’s not nitpick—it’s still a great machine for making milk-based drinks like flat whites and cappuccinos. And on the plus side, the stainless steel wand pulls right off for easy cleaning.
- Three filter baskets, can use grounds or capsules
- Heats up quickly
- Generous water reservoir
- So-so milk frother
- Some noise and vibration
2. Caphalon Temp iQ
The Calphalon Temp iQ is right there with the Cafe Roma if you’re looking for a real espresso machine that does all the basics well. We actually have a hard time choosing between the two, so if you like the look of one more than the other, go for it.
The Temp iQ was known in a previous life as the Sunbeam Mini Barista, before parent company Sunbeam re-branded it a few years ago. It’s still essentially the same machine, with a few cosmetic changes.
Like the Cafe Roma, this fully automatic machine has a 15-bar bump and thermoblock boiler to brew espresso at the correct pressure and temperature.
It comes with one single and one double pressurized portafilter. These forgiving portafilters are designed to lessen your margin for error and give you good crema on top of your espresso, even if you don’t get your grind and tamp exactly right. But the really nice thing about these portafilters is that they are 58mm, which means if you do develop some skill as a barista, you can try the machine with a regular portafilter and it will still fit.
The operation could not be simpler. Just load and lock your portafilter, then turn a dial on the front of the machine for either a single or double shot. The machine will do the rest.
Locking the portafilter isn’t as easy as it sounds, though. You need to use a little muscle, and you might have to steady the machine with your off hand while you do it.
Our only other complaint is that the machine is on the noisy side. You’ll hear some strange sounds as it brews, and the steam wand really howls!
Nonetheless, this is a really good machine at its price point and an ideal introduction to hands-on espresso brewing.
- makes good espresso
- comes with frothing pitcher and tamper
- simple, intuitive operation
- looks good on your counter
- mostly plastic housing
- difficult to lock in portafilter
- loud steam wand
3. Nespresso CitiZ
It’s fast. It’s easy. It takes up very little space. If your priority is a high quality-of-coffee to ease-of-use ratio, then the Nespresso CitiZ is for you. We believe it’s the best Nespresso machine under $300. It warms up in 25 seconds and brews in 30. Once you have your capsule in, you choose either an espresso or a lungo (slightly more volume, less concentrated) from the programmable buttons, and that’s it.
The CitiZ can also be paired with an integrated milk frother, the cheapest machine in Nespresso’s line that offers this option. The Aeroccino frother comes attached to the machine and whips up passable microfoam in less than a minute. So by pressing two buttons, you can have a latte or a cappuccino. Keep one of these at the office and you will drastically cut down on your trips to Starbucks.
The fully automatic CitiZ is a nice step up from Nespresso’s Essenza Mini. Like its little cousin, it uses pods from the original line, which are slightly cheaper than the newer ones and will still be available for a long time. You can use it only with Nespresso capsules (easily ordered online), which limits your selection somewhat, but rest assured—it’s excellent coffee and produces a nice crema. Nespresso has enough variety to keep you going for a long time.
We have a full Nespresso CitiZ review in another post if you’d like to learn more.
- Warms up quickly
- Simple, push-button use
- High-quality coffee
- 34 oz. water tank among Nespresso’s largest
- Auto shutoff feature
- Fairly loud when brewing
- Holds only nine spent capsules, so frequent emptying required
- Capsule collecting tray can get messy
4. De’Longhi EC680M Dedica
The De’Longhi EC680M Dedica is a good-looking machine that, again, won’t take up much space on your counter. It feels a bit more like a real espresso machine, for the simple reason that instead of dropping in capsules, you load up a portafilter with grounds and wedge it into place under the brew head. With the coffee in place, you can take advantage of automation that still offers some flexibility: three temperature settings, and options for choosing the shot volume and brew time.
The machine comes with three filter baskets: a single, a double, and one that accommodates ESE pods. The filter baskets aren’t big, so if small portions concern you this might not be the machine for you.
The Dedica heats up quickly. Its milk frother is quite basic and may not provide the raw material necessary for latte art masterpieces, but if all you want to do is plop some foam on top of your cappuccino, it works. The machine might be a bit noisy for some, but the convenience and coffee quality make up for it.
- Very stylish
- Heats and brews in about a minute
- Some automation
- Three filter baskets
- A bit noisy
- Comes with low-quality tamper
- So-so milk frother
- Does not adjust to accommodate tall mugs
5. Flair Espresso Maker
Are you ready to go to work? You won’t get any help from a computer when you use the Flair Espresso Maker, but if the stars align you might just get a great espresso.
The Flair pulls espresso shots. It doesn’t steam. It doesn’t froth milk. It has a cast metal base, stand and lever, and an extraction chamber where the magic happens. You preheat the chamber with hot water, then assemble it between your cup and the Flair’s piston. Then you pull, slowly, with full control.
Given that you have to boil your water in advance, preheat the chamber, grind your beans and put everything in place, the Flair isn’t the machine for a really quick morning coffee. But that’s not the point. The point is to have fun tweaking all those variables until you get it just right—and then start the learning process all over again with a new batch of beans.
The Flair is portable and even comes with a handy travel case, so you don’t have to compromise your coffee while camping.
Looking for a super in-depth review? Try home-barista.com.
- Legit, old-school espresso
- Encourages learning and mastery
- Built of solid materials
- No milk frothing
- Each shot takes some work
- Pre-heating recommended
6. Mr. Coffee Café Barista
The Mr. Coffee Café Barista is another solid semi-automatic machine that gives you quite a bit of automation without having to resort to capsules. You can make espresso, cappuccinos or lattés, and in fact there’s a button for each right on the panel. Press once for a single, twice for a double.
It heats up quickly (you can tell that’s a big factor for me, as it probably is for you), and comes with an automatic milk frother rather than a wand. The nice thing about this is the removable reservoir, which not only makes for easy cleaning but also allows you store unused milk easily in the fridge. The drip tray is also removable, which allows you to fit taller cups under the spout.
This machine will take up some space on your counter, and if you do go this route, be advised that the machine may need a good cleaning with vinegar before first use in order to operate properly.
- Removable milk reservoir
- Create milk drinks at the push of a button
- Many dishwasher-friendly parts
- Large water reservoir
- Takes up space
- A lot of plastic
- Does not adjust to accommodate tall mugs
7. EspressoWorks All-In-One Espresso Machine & Cappuccino Maker
The semi-automatic EspressoWorks All-In-One Espresso Machine & Cappuccino Maker has a fairly small footprint and a very short heating time of about 45 seconds. The removable water tank is plainly visible at the side of the machine, which is nice because you won’t need a stepstool and a flashlight to check your water level like you do with the Capresso Pro. It includes a grinder (which the others on our list don’t), but don’t let that fool you into thinking you’re getting some exceptional deal here. It’s a two-blade grinder—the same kind you might use to grind up beans for an old drip coffee maker—and it will not grind finely or evenly enough for high-quality espresso. For that, you will need a separate burr grinder. Plenty of removable parts make the EspressoWorks All-In-One easy to clean. It comes with a stainless steel milk-frothing jug and two stainless steel portafilter baskets for single and double shots.
- Easy to use and clean
- Small footprint
- Heats up quickly
- Heating tray keeps cups warm
- Visible water tank
- Makes some noise
- Reports of milk frother breakdown
- Included blade grinder inadequate for espresso
- Does not accommodate tall mugs
8. ROK EspressoGC
ROK’s slogan is “Feel the coffee,” and you certainly will with this manual machine, the ROK EspressoGC. It has two handles, which is a good thing because it seems to demand a little more strength that the Flair. Otherwise, the process is similar: pre-heat the portafilter and your cup, load up the machine and start pressing.
The portafilter’s spout is detachable so you can switch between single and double. The machine also comes with a portable milk-frothing pump.
It’s a nice, shiny-looking machine out of the box, but know that because it’s aluminum the finish will dull quickly. The satisfaction of nailing a perfect shot, however, will not.
- Two spouts for portafilter
- Solid build
- Each shot takes some work
- Need strength to achieve minimum nine bars of pressure
- Preheating recommended
- Removable spouts are fragile
9. Nespresso VertuoLine Evoluo by De’Longhi
Where the CitiZ uses Nespresso’s original conical pods, the Nespresso VertuoLine Evoluo by De’Longhi uses a newer pod design that is shaped like a dome and spins during brewing, applying centrifugal force to help extract coffee from the grounds. (You probably don’t need to know this, since blissful ignorance is what drew you to capsule machines in the first place.) You can make either espresso or coffee with the Evoluo, you just need to choose the right capsule. The machine reads a barcode on the capsule to figure out what it’s making, and portions out the water accordingly. If you’re into milk drinks, you can buy Nespresso’s Aeroccino frother for an extra $50 or so when you buy the Evoluo. The Evoluo’s removable water tank holds just over a litre, a little more than the CitiZ, so you don’t have to refill it quite as much. The cup tray, like the CitiZ’s, can get out of the way to accommodate taller cups. While both machines have a relatively small footprint, you will need a little more room for the Evoluo.
- Can make coffee as well as espresso
- Large water reservoir
- Removable cup tray
- Limited to Nespresso VertuoLine capsules
- Slightly higher capsule price
- Does not dispense hot water separately
Espresso machine buying guide
Home espresso machines vary widely in the demands they make on you. We’ll go through them here, moving from most demanding to least demanding.
Types of espresso machines
Manual espresso machines
Manual espresso machines have no electrical or electronic components and actually rely on your physical strength and finesse to achieve the right pressure for pulling a shot of espresso. Nothing will do a better job of teaching you the art and science of espresso. It’s easy to mess up, but when you nail it, the results can be sublime. They are for the patient purist.
Semi-automatic espresso machines
Semi-automatic espresso machines have electronic temperature controls and built-in pumps, so you can set the temperature just right and you don’t have to push the water through yourself. But you do have to decide when to start and stop the flow of water, and you can learn how different variables affect your shot by tinkering with the settings.
Fully automatic espresso machines
Fully automatic espresso machines give you minimal control over settings and they also control the water flow, based on your selection. You still grind the beans and load the grounds yourself.
Capsule espresso machines
Capsule espresso machines are simple, compact, hands-off machines. You fill the water reservoir, drop a capsule of pre-ground coffee into the machine, place your cup under the spout, push a button and walk away.
Tips for buying an espresso machine
As you set out to choose a machine, here are a few questions to ask yourself that will help narrow down your options. How steep is the learning curve? Usually, there’s a tradeoff between feature-richness and user-friendliness. The more a machine can do, the more time it takes to learn. Some people want a high degree of control and don’t mind having to do a little homework to get it. Others just want simplicity. Somewhere between those two extremes lies your sweet spot.
What style of coffee you want to make? Some machines do one style well, others are more versatile. Make sure you’re looking at machines that can handle your type(s) of drink.
How much coffee will you prepare at a time? The size of the water reservoir can vary. If you entertain a lot and don’t want to constantly be refilling it, you’ll need a big one. Some machines also require more downtime between drinks and can’t make them in rapid succession.
How quickly does the machine heat up? If espresso is part of your morning routine and your mornings are rushed, you probably don’t want to wait 15 minutes for your machine to heat up. Most of the machines I’ve chosen here heat up quite quickly.
Can it froth milk? Some machines are equipped with a steaming wand or an automatic milk frother. Others make only the coffee, in which case you would have to buy a milk frother separately to make cappuccinos and lattés.
How tall are your cups? If a machine has low clearance beneath the portafilter spout, you may need dedicated espresso cups or short cappuccino cups. On many models, a removable or adjustable cup tray allows for taller cups.
How much counter space do you have? Some machines have a bigger footprint than others. You’ll want to check the weight, too, if you plan on storing your machine in a cupboard when you’re not using it.
How hard is it to clean? Cleaning your espresso machine is important for health reasons, but also to ensure it continues to operate properly and produces the best possible coffee. You must do some basic cleaning after each use, because it doesn’t take long for unpleasant odours and tastes to develop. Try to find a machine that makes this quick and easy.
Finally, check out customer reviews online to find out what people are saying about a machine’s durability. Don’t let one negative review deter you—every machine on this list has had at least one unhappy customer—but if broken parts seem to be a pattern, proceed with caution. At the very least, make sure the item has a good warranty and the brand provides good customer support.
Espresso accessories you might have to buy separately
Only one of these machines comes with its own grinder, and it’s not a great grinder. Of course, the two capsule machines on our list use capsules with pre-ground coffee so they won’t require a grinder, but all the others will. Any knowledgeable barista will tell you that grind is everything, so for quality espresso prepare to invest about $250 in a good burr grinder that’s built to last.
Many of these models include a tamper, but they tend to be plastic and more pliable than you want. A good steel tamper does a much better job of compacting your grounds for optimum extraction, so consider investing $20 or so in one.
Whatever your tastes, the best espresso machine under $300 for you is bound to be on this list. But if you want a more in-depth read on all the considerations that go into buying a home espresso machine, take advantage of the comprehensive guide over at Coffee Geek.