Best Espresso Machine Under $1000 – The 2016 Perfect Guide
This guide compares top espresso machines that are under $1,000. But it doesn’t make sense to compare one machine at the top of the range against something that is right opposite on the lowest side of the price spectrum, like the Mr. Coffee ECMP50 Espresso / Cappuccino Maker. So a range of $500 – $1,000 is much more practical.
In this price range, you will quickly notice that the machine types are either semi-automatics or fully-automatics. Depending on the model, it may include a built-in grinder thus reducing even more manual work required for making your cup of espresso.
Now, before we go further:
Do you know the differences between a manual, semi-automatic, fully-automatic, or super-automatic espresso machine? If not, click here to see the section that explains differences under the “The Best Fully Automatic Espresso Machine Reviews” page.
As with all products, and services as well, you really do get what you pay for. Machines in this range, especially closer to the upper end of $1,000 are well-built and some may feature easier to clean or self-clean mechanisms making maintenance a breeze. If you want to quickly jump to the reviews, take a look at the quick menu below.
- 1 The No. 1 Recommendation: Breville The Barista Express Coffee Machine BES870XL
- 2 The No. 2 Recommendation: Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine
- 3 The No. 3 Recommendation: De’Longhi Magnifica ECAM 22.110.SB Compact Automatic Espresso / Coffee Machine
One important thing I have learned from being involved with an Office Coffee Service company, is the importance of a grinder. There are different types of grinders such as type: burr or blade. Even the material composition is a factor such as whether it’s made from a steel construction or ceramic.
Each type has its own distinct features and benefits. But a good espresso machine with an in-built grinder should feature a conical burr grinder made of steel if not ceramic.
You might be wondering,
“…is a grinder really that important? Doesn’t it just grind coffee beans? What’s the big deal?“
Welcome to the world great espresso making! Yes, it does matter. There are different grind level settings to determine the coarseness. This affects the taste AND strength of the espresso. The bean-to-cup speed is also a factor, especially for espresso aficionados. The idea is that the best espresso must be made as soon as it is processed into ground coffee.
The longer you wait, the more of that taste and aroma disappears.
Do you already own a grinder and just want an espresso machine and need help choosing one? I would still recommend getting one with an inbuilt grinder. Machines in this range have solid construction, but they are not perfect; they do malfunction. Having an extra grinder as a backup helps especially on mornings where you need that quick espresso fix.
Although price is a good indicator of product quality and features, the highest within the range is not necessarily the best. Here are 3 top choices rated by consumers themselves:
The No. 1 Recommendation: Breville The Barista Express Coffee Machine BES870XL
The newer model to the Breville BES860XL, the Barista Express Coffee Machine is actually the cheaper of the 3 recommendations listed here but is the highest rated out of the three at 4.5 stars. It was also the winner of the SCAA Best New Products awards in 2013. For those who do not know, the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) was established in 1982 and is one of the world’s largest coffee trade associations. They discuss specialty coffee issues and have annual competitions and awards to keep trade partners on their toes!
Is This Machine Expensive?
Although this machine is the cheapest of the three, it certainly isn’t the lowest in features and is, in fact, comparable to the other two. If you ever wondered whether you could actually make your own espresso or gourmet coffee at home, the answer is most certainly YES! You can absolutely be as good as the baristas you see at your local coffee shop.
This is a semi-automatic machine so it gives you the option to adjust some basic preferences; nothing complicated that you may see in some specialty or retro-coffee shops.
How Big Is It? Will It Fit In My Kitchen?
Weighing in at just 23 pounds, this machine is also relatively small compared to some of the fully featured and larger super-automatic machines. It measures at just 13.25″ (W) x 16″ (H) x 12.5″ (D) and can fit snugly on your kitchen counter corner assuming your kitchen conforms to the relatively new kitchen cabinet rules with 21″ clearance from your kitchen countertop to your upper cupboards.
Older Kitchens May Pose A Challenge
If you have the older and traditional style kitchen where clearance from the countertop to the cupboards was around 18 inches, you may have some problem with the bean hopper at the top; 2 inches is not a lot of space to get your beans in so take that extra to do some quick measurements around the area where you plan to put the machine. Do not forget to take into account the electrical outlet to plug the machine into.
Does It Grind Coffee Beans? If So, What Kind of Grinder Is It?
As I alluded to earlier about grinder quality, this machine features that built-in grinder that is fed by the 1/2 pound sealed bean hopper to keep your beans fresh. This grinder happens to be a conical burr constructed from stainless steel! The benefits of this type of grinder is that it does what it is supposed to do: grind the beans as opposed to smashing it to bits like the blade counterpart. A good burr grinder grinds beans to a consistent and uniform coffee granule, based on your coarseness setting, resulting in the strength, aroma, and taste that suits your preferences. This dial setting is located on the left side of the machine, under where the hopper is located. The speed of the burr is also a factor because it could “burn” the beans in the grinding process thus ruining your espresso.
What Else Is Good About It?
Other features of this machine include the 54mm tamper that is magnetized and is normally stored in the left compartment, underneath where the power button is located. The tamper can be removed for more expert control. The portafilter is a matching 54mm with a stainless steel basket construction. This goes into the hands-free cradle and freshly grounded beans will dispense into the filter automatically. You do need to specify the grind amount via a simple dial and the filter size to let the machine know whether you are using a single or double-wall filter basket. The filter size specification is done at the push of one button.
Once the grinding is done, you need to remove the portafilter and the ground coffee should look something like a little hill that may give the impression too much coffee is ground. This is good. Freshly ground coffee should be loose so you just need to use your (clean) thumb and fingers to distribute the coffee and use the magnetized tamper and press firmly. You will know you have the right coffee dose because once tamping is complete and you leave the tamper sitting on top of the portafilter, the tamper should sit just flush against the top of the portafilter.
A pressure gauge shows you the range from the pre-infusion zone to the full espresso pump pressure zone. The result should be a very nice and thick, somewhat dark, flow of espresso slowing coming out.
It gets better:
The “Thermocoil” feature of this machine allows you flip a switch on the right-side to turn on the steaming function to heat your milk almost immediately.
The purge function then automatically returns the water temperature back to a suitable setting for another perfect cup of espresso. You can also adjust the water temperature by ±4°F (±2°C) in ±2°F (±1°C) increments; different beans require different water temperature for optimal flavor. The programmable function of 30 or 60 ml for one or two cups respectively, lets you get the right cup all the time.
The carbon filter in the ~½ gallon (2-liter) water tank helps reduce scale build up. De-scaling should be done at least once a year especially if you are in an area with hard water. Remember about the countertop to cupboard height? The water tank is at the back of the machine and is pulled out vertically. If your cupboard doesn’t provide adequate vertical space, you may need to move the machine each time you need to refill the water tank. Some customers have complained about the location of the water tank for this unit.
If you have an open-style kitchen with a power outlet close by, I recommend placing the unit such that the water tank is more easily accessible and preferably closer to the water faucet, but not too close.
Some other nice touches to this machine include a removable drip and dreg tray and right beneath it, storage for the cleaning kit and filter baskets.
Even though you have cleaning kits handy, you should expect to create a minor mess with each brew; ground coffee is bound to scatter around the drip tray and minor splashes from the espresso.
Stainless steel is a nice finish but for those looking for variety, this machine does come in “black sesame” and “cranberry red” colors.
In conclusion, this machine features some amazing features for its price. It is not perfect but close enough as it is rated an average 4.5 stars by hundreds of users.
Here is a point-form summary of some this machine’s features:
- The lowest price of the three options presented here but highest rated of the three on Amazon.
- Conical burr grinder made of stainless steel with a 1/2 pound sealed and removable bean hopper.
- The newer “Thermocoil” instant heating system rated at 1600 watts with a 15 Bar Italian pump.
- Convenient purge function to adjust water temperature automatically after steaming milk for yet another optimum cup of espresso.
- Simple and easy to use LARGE push buttons; nothing complicated and confusing.
- Stainless steel finish or, if you prefer:
The No. 2 Recommendation: Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine
Rancilio machines are used in many commercial applications, like hotels, restaurants, coffee shops or chains. So imagine a commercial quality espresso machine redesigned for the home or home office use, and you get the Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine.
If you have read elsewhere that this machine is a fully automatic or super automatic machine, that website is wrong. This machine has all the hallmarks of a semi-automatic with buttons to operate the boiler/heater, brew function, hot water, and steam function. As you continue reading, you will understand and believe this is most certainly semi-automatic.
IN FACT: the manufacturer itself classifies this as semi-automatic.
Since we just mentioned facts, let’s just quickly take on some small fact bites:
- The Rancilio brand has been around since 1927 from Italy.
- Founded by Robert Rancilio and steadily educating the world about espresso and spreading the espresso culture.
- Today, the Rancilio Group has joined with another catering equipment giant Ali Group, with a large prominence is leading hotel and restaurant chains, not to mention schools, top restaurants, and even airports.
This machine is built to last.
The construction is an iron frame covered with stainless steel side panels. So this makes the machine heavier at 31 pounds even though it is smaller than The Barista Express by Breville. This machine measures 11.4″ (W) x 13.4″ (H) x 11.4″ (D). The lower height makes it slightly easier to fit between kitchen countertops and overhead cupboards.
The ~½ gallon (2-litre) water tank, or reservoir as Rancilio calls it, is food grade plastic and removable. You can take it to your sink and Rancilio recommends you fill it with “fresh” water; I strongly recommend filtered water if you have a water filtration system installed in your kitchen.
Now for a little “commercial” feel:
There are two silicone water tubes that you have to put into the water reservoir. The pump will suck water into the boiler in one tube while the other is to handle over-pressure and pushes the water back out. A number of commercial espresso machines have these water tubes. This doesn’t mean the manufacturer poorly designed the machine, in fact, it’s just the opposite. They focus more on the important elements such as the overall construction, boiler system and so on.
For simple things like tubes feeding a boiler or overflow, no fancy design is required; the money you save on tubing design (not quality mind you) is money spent on other parts of the machine for better quality.
Another item bearing the “commercial” feel is the ergonomically designed patented 58mm portafilter that fits in the commercial grade group head. This offers more heat stability and improves extraction quality. You may notice this is slightly wider than Breville’s portafilter.
The 12 oz (0.3 liter) boiler, the size of which you will find in some commercial espresso machines, is brass and chrome-plated giving the unit outstanding steam power and reducing the lag between each brew.
Even the stainless steel steam wand with its free range of motion paired with the commercially designed steam knob makes you feel like a barista.
The package also includes a 7g coffee scoop, two filter baskets for single or double shots, and a plastic tamper.
In summary, this semi-automatic machine is built for the long run and gives you clear-cut commercial-style buttons and dials to make your perfect brew. You will need to a separate coffee grinder such as Rancilio’s Rocky Coffee Grinder HSD-ROC-SD, which is usually half the cost of the espresso machine.
Here is a quick review of the key features:
- Commercial grade group head providing more heat control and stability. This improves the brew quality.
- Patented 58mm portafilter that’s ergonomically designed just like the Rancilio commercial line of machines.
- Stainless steel wand with a flexible range of motions.
- Solid and professional knob for steam control.
- Iron construction with stainless steel panels for long lasting use.
- If you must use coffee pods or capsules, an adaptor kit can be purchased.
The No. 3 Recommendation: De’Longhi Magnifica ECAM 22.110.SB Compact Automatic Espresso / Coffee Machine
The successor of the De’Longhi Magnifica ESAM3300 is this new and improved machine, the Magnifica ECAM22110SB. It hosts all the features of De’Longhi’s line of full-size automatic machines but made this one compact and lightest of the 3 machines recommended on this page.
How Big Is It? Will It Fit In My Kitchen?
At just a little over 20 pounds, this machine measures 9.4″ (W) x 13.8″ x (H) x 17″ (D). The width of the machine is not nearly as wide as the other two and is just slightly taller than the Rancilio Silvia by 0.4″. However, this machine is considerably deeper at 17″ so it would seem bigger because it would occupy more space from the back wall to the front of the countertop. This is assuming you will have the back of the machine facing the wall.
What Is So Great About This Machine?
The machine boasts a patented cappuccino system frother to brew the classic Italian gourmet selections such as lattes and cappuccinos with a rich and creamy froth. How fast can you drink your cappuccino? Or is someone in your household waiting? No problem. This rapid cappuccino system lets you prepare an espresso or cappuccino, immediately after the other without the need to wait for the boiler to heat up the water.
One feature the other two machines don’t have is to grind whole coffee beans or to use pre-ground coffee. It accomplishes this with an extra and separate compartment where the whole beans are stored, to process specialty ground coffee, decaffeinated ground coffee, or just plain regular coffee. This compartment is not meant to “store” the pre-ground coffee for a long time. The machine needs to be on and then you pour one spoon of pre-ground coffee when you want it.
Does It Come With A Grinder? Blade or Burr?
It is worthy to note that the type of grinder this machine comes with: a professional quality conical burr grinder (low-pitch) giving you the grind settings for all types of coffee beans. That being said, there have been a few reports where customers had problems with the bean hopper and the grinder. The beans are somehow not dropping into the burr grinder consistently. This has nothing to do with the quality of the grinder itself but the bean-feed mechanism may be faulty. But it also calls into question of whether the users are operating the machine properly.
Speed is also key to this machine because it skips the manual step of having to use a portafilter and tamper. It features a unique and patented direct-to-brew offering almost instant fresh espresso.
But here’s the kicker:
The entire brewing system can actually be removed for cleaning.
The control panel is simplistic with just several buttons and a rotary dial. You can specify temperature, 5 coffee strength and 4 cup size settings. This doesn’t mean there is no learning curve at all, super-automatic or not. You will need to experiment with the frother, understand the grind settings, but once done, it would be simpler than semi-automatics.
A built-in water filtration system means you can use tap water. But one neat feature of this machine is the ability to indicate when decalcification is required. For this to work properly, you need to tell the machine your water type. Luckily, De’Longhi is one step ahead. Included with the package is a “Total Hardness Test” Indicator; strips of paper dipped in water to tell you the water hardness level. Once the level is indicated, you just follow the included instructions to set the water hardness and it automatically reminds you when to decalcify.
Here is a neat idea – the water tank is on the right side of the machine and slides out the front.
One word: convenient.
Apparently, De’Longhi claims all parts are dishwasher safe.
Power consumption is rated at 1250 W. But it does have a power saving switch so you can save up to 77% electricity. The only thing to watch for about this feature is that the hot water or steam function won’t be instantaneous in this mode. You will need to wait a few seconds before the machine can pump out hot water or steam.
And finally, if you were ever in a rush in the morning to brew your cup and left the house without turning off the machine, fear not. The unit comes with an automatic shut-off feature.
To conclude, this machine has it all and yet is compact, at least as far as width and height are concerned. Simple controls and a water tank that comes out the front. With an average 4 star rating on Amazon, this unit is one you should certainly consider. Would you like this in silver or black?
A quick review of the features:
- Superb low-pitch burr grinder with grind settings for a consistent grind.
- A patented frother called the “Cappuccino System” allows you to make rich and creamy froth from milk and steam with no wait time – cup after cup.
- “Direct-to-Brew” system allows instant coffee bean grinding and the system is removable for easy cleaning.
- Unique option to grind whole beans or process pre-grounded coffee beans for a different taste.
- Top shelf cup warmers – recommended by De’Longhi for the perfect cup of espresso or cappuccino.
- De’Longhi has a specialized call center dedicated to help users set up their new unit or for assistance with use and maintenance: 1-866-528-8323.
Price is no guarantee of quality or features, but it sure is a good indicator. If you like to tinker with settings and feel like a real barista, then either Breville’s The Barista Express or Rancilio’s Silvia may suit you better. But if you just want to skip the portafilter step and just push a few buttons and turn a dial with minimal fuss, consider the De’Longhi Magnifica ECAM 22110SB.
About This Research and Review:
* More than 44 project hours* invested researching and producing this article.
* The Research & Analysis component of the project is usually a combination of:
- Analyzing country-specific appliance manufacturer’s / authorized distributor’s documentation and websites;
- Cross-referencing e-retailer’s listed specifications of the appliance against the manufacturer / authorized distributors;
- Only Assessing Verified customer reviews and comments (positive & negative) from reputable e-retailers;
- Physical inspection of the small appliance where possible / available.
* Stated hours may increase due to our constant checking for manufacturer’s updates, news, etc.