The $138.00 Ninja Coffee Bar is very well designed, offers easy access, easy cleaning and a ton of different options.
On the left, there’s a filter basket along with a 43 ounce glass carafe. The filter holder slides easily, so you can fill (or clean) the filter with no effort. The machine comes with a permanent filter, but it also accepts standard #4 cone shaped paper filters. At the bottom of the filter holder, there’s a drip-stop knob, which allows you to get a carafe in the middle of a brewing process.
The 43 ounce glass carafe (there’s also an option with thermal carafe) is placed on a hot plate which turns on automatically after brewing. The hot plate keeps coffee hot for 2 hours, then turns off. If you don’t need it, you can turn it off manually by pressing the stay warm button.
On the right, there’s a rich control panel (see ease of use) and removable 43 ounce water reservoir sitting on top. The reservoir is simple to fill too: you can either remove the water reservoir from the unit or open the flip flop lid and refill.
Bad: Even though it looks nice with all the stainless steel/ black details, the machine is mostly plastic and feels slightly cheap. But, almost all coffee makers within this price range have a lot of plastic parts so this is expected and let’s say a standard quality for the price.
I like that you can clean all the parts of the brewer well (especially those that come in contact with coffee oils), so that’s another huge plus.
EASE OF USE
The true value of the Ninja system is a huge choice of options and the fact that you can really make a ton of different coffee drinks at home with this machine.
To make coffee, fill the reservoir with fresh water, slide out filter basket, place a filter (permanent or #4 cone paper filter) and add a proper amount of coffee. The machine comes with a scoop for easy measuring and uses ground coffee. The Ninja system doesn’t work with k-cups, Verismo pods, Nespresso pods or any type of coffee pods. If you’re brewing a single cup/ travel mug, remove the carafe and lower the cup platform.
Now, the options: you can brew a single cup, travel mug, a half carafe or a full carafe. You can choose a classic brew, rich brew, over ice brew (if you want to make iced coffee) and specialty brew for lattes and cappuccinos. It’s important to say that Ninja doesn’t make espresso (because espresso machines use pressure to extract coffee), but it does make a concentrated coffee that resembles the espresso taste and strength. So, although it’s not a true espresso, it’s a nice replacement and tastes great when combined with milk.
I love the cup sizes too. At classic brew setting, Ninja makes 9.5 oz single cup, 14 oz travel mug, 19 oz half carafe and 38 ounces at full carafe setting. When you choose stronger brew, the machine will use less water to make coffee more concentrated, so the brew sizes will be different. For example, single cup makes 9.5 ounces at classic brew, 8.8 ounces at rich brew, 3.7 ounces over ice brew and 3.1 ounce at specialty brew setting. Compared to other systems, these cup sizes are very nice and more important, they all tasted good.
Here’s a quick comparison: if you brew a k-cup at 4 oz or 10 oz setting, there will be a significant difference in how they taste because Keurig brews the same amount of coffee with different water volumes. So, if you like your coffee strong, k-cup brewed at 10 oz setting probably won’t taste good enough. You can either use smaller cup setting (4 – 6 oz) to make a stronger brew, or buy a k-mug pod which has more coffee inside. Starbucks Verismo on the other hand, has the ability to make real espresso, but, most people find that its serving size for espresso of 1 – 1.5 ounce is way too small. This size is actually a size of a single espresso shot, but still people often complain about this. And with the pod price of $0.90 per serving with Verismo, the ninja 3.1 oz concentrated brew sounds like a much better – and a money saving option.
You can also set this machine to brew coffee in the morning (24 programmable auto on option), the clean function will let you know when it needs to be descaled…So, as far as the options, the Ninja has everything.
Now, if you’re looking for a coffee maker that makes that perfect cup of coffee and brews at just the right temperature, timing and optimal extraction, you should know that Ninja isn’t SCAA certified brewer. The machine needs more time to reach the optimal water temperature than it’s recommended and at certain points the temperature goes above the ideal values. So, if you have a really refined coffee taste, you may find the coffee to be too bitter and a bit over extracted. That said, if brewing at SCAA gold cup standards is more important to you than all the fancy features I’ve mentioned, Oxo or Bonavita might be a better choice than the Ninja.
If you don’t want to go into that many details, and you’re simply looking for a nice home coffee maker that makes a nice cup of coffee and gives you all kinds of options – the Ninja is perfect. With this coffee maker you can make standard coffee, strong coffee, iced drinks and cafe style drinks, with ease. And the coffee is strong and hot (that also counts).
THE MODEL WITH THE BUILT-IN FROTHER
Besides the classic Ninja coffee bar, the company also offers a $200 Ninja coffee bar with the frother. This model also has three additional cup options – the XL cup, XL travel cup and forte brew option.
It’s important to mention that Ninja built-in frother doesn’t heat the milk. If you want to make a hot froth, you must first heat the milk in the microwave and then make a foam. Also, the froth made with cold milk (for iced drinks) won’t be as rich as you might expect. The machine makes really nice layers, though.
I don’t think this model is significantly better than the old one, so I would probably combine a classic Ninja system and some automatic milk frother (you can find some great options on Amazon) for this money. Of course, some simply prefer the all-in-one option.
MAINTENANCE AND SUPPORT
You can keep your Ninja coffee maker nice and clean in just a few simple steps. I recommend to give it a quick clean after each use. When done brewing, let the machine cool and remove the basket filter. Discard the paper filter (or rinse if you’re using the permanent filter), quickly rinse the brew basket and the carafe. That’s it. Wipe the unit with a soft, damp cloth once a week and descale the unit every 3 months or when the Clean light turns on.
I also like that you can get all kinds of accessories for the Ninja system, from tumblers, pitchers, mugs to grinders.
Recommended cleaning / descaling solution for the Ninja coffee bar system is Full Circle Coffee and Espresso Equipment Descaling Liquid.
It seems that Ninja could be serious competition for the Keurig k-cup system. It’s easy to operate, offers various options and the cost per cup is an important factor: around $0.25 per serving if you use coffee from the grocery store and around $0.60 if you buy freshly roasted coffee from popular roasters like Verve, Stumptown, La Colombe or Blue Bottle.