These days, it seems like making coffee is all about perfecting one type of brew. Methods like Aero Press, Chemex, French Press and espresso are having a moment, especially as interest in Starbucks and Dunkin alternatives rises. I have a handful of friends committed to swinging through the drive-thru on their way to work or for an afternoon pick-me-up, but if I were to poll everyone I know, I'd bet that the majority of them are more interested in buying high-quality beans to grind and brew at home.
When I'm looking for a coffee maker, I'm looking for a coffee shop-killer. Does Ninja's Specialty Coffee Maker fit that billing? It earned a spot in our guide of the best coffee makers thanks to its ability to dish out an excellent single-serving brew, but it is much more than that. It's pitched as a jack-of-all-trades, and I'd be remiss to leave out the fact that it won the Specialty Coffee Association's coveted Certified Home Brewer certification — something of a rarity in the coffee world. Is it worth the money? I tested it to find out.
Speedy brewing: As is the case with many of the drip machines I've used over the years, you just set it and forget it...literally. It takes so long to brew that you forget you were making coffee. Most machines take forever to brew a full pot, but the Ninja is one of the speediest machines I've used. If I just want a single cup, it is lightning fast. If I want a full carafe, it only takes a few extra minutes to give me enough coffee to last a couple of days.
Variety: With six sizes and four brew strengths, its coffee-shop-killer abilities are on full display immediately. If you want just a few ounces of espresso-strength coffee, you can have it. If you want iced coffee, choose the "Over Ice" option and you'll have a concentrated brew made with ice melt taken into account. Prefer drip? You can have a single-serve cup or choose to fill the glass carafe with 50 ounces at once. Should you crave something a bit fancier, the machine has a built-in frother that aerates milk, cold or hot, to your exact specifications. This means that a cold chai latte or a hot cappuccino is easily within reach, even for the inexperienced home barista.
The Not So Good
Size: This machine is very big. This might work for folks who are working with a ton of kitchen counter real estate, but if you don't have a lot of room, it will be a tight squeeze, especially when compared with more labor-intensive single-serving coffee options.
Decent at everything?: This machine is able to do a lot. You might be enamored with the options it provides, but it will not blow your mind with any single brew method. Specialty mode yields espresso-like results but it doesn't make true espresso by any means. The iced coffee method helps you make cold coffee at home, but it still comes out hot and requires a ton of ice to be cold enough to drink right away. This is fine if you have an ice maker or are a diligent ice-tray-filler, but could be a problem if you want multiple iced coffees in a short amount of time.
The Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker is a jack-of-all-trades but a master of none. I really like this machine for someone who wants coffee each day but doesn't want to head to the coffee shop to fulfill their caffeine addiction. Its combination of brew strengths and brew volume makes it a great option for homes with multiple people (or someone who drinks a whole pot by themselves each day). All in all, despite its quality across the board, it may leave serious coffee drinkers wanting more. It won't make the best coffee you've ever had in your life, but it will absolutely do the trick if you want to make a variety of coffee drinks at home each week.