With at-home coffee machines like Nespresso or Keurig giving java lovers more variety than ever, traditional run-of-the-mill drip coffee machines have had to work overtime, innovation-wise, to compete. Enter Ninja and its latest attempt at kitchen supremacy with the Coffee Bar. Capable of crafting roughly 100 different coffeehouse-style drinks — according to its Sofia Vergara-forwarded recipe book — the Ninja Coffee Bar brings a welcome bit of versatility to the drip coffee industry.
But does the laundry list of variation get in the way of producing a quality cup of joe? To get a true sense of just how well the Ninja Coffee Bar understands coffee — and if it’s capable of standing up to its competition — we put the machine through its paces. In other words, we stuck the thing in our office kitchen and used it to satisfy our thirst for caffeine for a few weeks. Spoiler alert: It brews a fine cup of coffee.
Unboxing and setting up
Like any typical coffee maker, setting up the Ninja Coffee Bar is a fairly straightforward process. Unboxing takes little else than simply opening the cardboard top to the container and slipping the machine, carafe, French press, and water container from its nest. From here, the machine plugs into any ordinary three-prong electrical outlet and features the common boot-up routine of a flashing set of digits, which indicate the ability to program the machine’s time. A few simple presses of the “H” and “M” buttons near this digital display is all that’s required before the Ninja stops flashing “12:00” and reads an actual time.
Size-wise, the Ninja Coffee Bar sits slightly larger than, say, a Nespresso Vertuoline machine, which means it may be a tad difficult to fit the machine underneath kitchen cabinets. Specifically, our review unit measured 15.2 inches tall and just shy of 10 inches wide, so while relatively tall, its meager width gives it a lean profile. It is worth noting that if you were able to fit the machine underneath a set of cabinets, the Coffee Bar does require a bit of top-access, so it would still require a touch of space above it to function properly.
Concerning the included set of accessories — i.e. the Ninja brand scoop and integrated coffee filter — the machine doesn’t come with any storage options. If you choose not to leave these lying on the counter, you’ll be stuck stashing them in a nearby drawer. Though the scoop would fit easily into any small space, the permanent filter is awkwardly shaped and would require a little more storage space.
Outside of its accessories and aesthetics, the Ninja Coffee Bar’s interface allows even amateur drip coffee lovers the ability to easily make everything the machine has to offer. Be it setting up a delayed brew, selecting the built-in cleaning function, or turning on the carafe warming plate, the interface boasts an incredibly easy learning curve. When switching between brewing a full pot, travel mug, or single cup of coffee, a slight alteration of the Ninja Coffee Bar’s lighted dial quickly switches between all options. Additionally, making a Classic, Rich, Over Ice, or Specialty Brew requires but a simple press of their respective buttons. All told, the easy-to-read interface makes it an absolute breeze to craft everything from an Americano to a full pot of coffee.
Now plugged in (and displaying the correct time), our Ninja Coffee Bar was ready to do what we brought it in for — i.e., to brew a batch of java. To make sure the machine was completely setup, we filled the included water reservoir and grabbed a bag of our favorite ground coffee before diving into the instruction manual. Up first was a tried-and-true cup of iced coffee. Unlike many coffee makers on the market, the Coffee Bar boasts the capability of brewing a single cup of coffee — without using a pod — making it easy to whip up just enough for a single cup and avoiding waste.
Built to brew everything from a standard cappuccino to a mocha Ninjaccino — a real thing, we promise — there’s nothing the Coffee Bar can’t create.
What makes this process even easier was the included Ninja-branded coffee scoop and companion recipe book. While the spoon itself featured two different sized scoops, the recipe book informs owners of exactly how many scoops are required to brew either an entire carafe of coffee or a single cup. Since we wanted just a single cup of iced coffee, we took two small scoops of coffee grounds, loaded them into the brew basket’s permanent filter, and placed our ice-filled glass on the machine’s warming plate — it’s worth nothing that it is crucial to put ice in before the coffee.
After setting everything up, a simple adjustment of the multi-serve switch to “Cup” and a press of the “Over Ice Brew” button were the only things standing between us and a delicious cup of joe. Thanks to its adjustable multi-serve cup platform, the ensuing brew dripped right into our ice-filled cup instead of a few inches lower, which typically results in splashed coffee and more post-brewing cleanup. Moreover, when selecting “Over Ice Brew,” the Ninja Coffee Bar adjusts its brew cycle to increase the concentration of the final product to account for ice, producing a richer coffee flavor. Over our review period — during which we brewed many, many mugs of ice-cold coffee — this feature continued to provide full-bodied flavor, satiating our thirst for a refreshing cup of chilled java.
Making some to share
Aside from serving up a quality iced beverage at a moment’s notice, the Ninja Coffee Bar also excels at producing an entire carafe of richly brewed coffee. Simply upping the ante in terms of scooped coffee grounds, lifting the cup platform, placing the included glass carafe, and selecting “Classic Brew” or “Rich Brew” was all that’s required to pump out a full pot of drip coffee. As expected, the “Rich Brew” setting yielded a slightly darker pot which also boasted a much more intense and rich flavor. We did notice, with any of the brews, that the machine’s permanent filter let a few coffee grounds into the brew, though this didn’t impact the eventual taste of the finished product. As is the case with almost any coffee machine, using a store-bought disposable filter is highly recommended.
When selecting either the “Classic” or “Rich Brew,” we found the Ninja Coffee Bar to produce coffee at roughly 160 degrees Fahrenheit, which proved to be just hot enough to start drinking right away without burning our mouths. Furthermore, when brewing a single cup, the device consistently produced just over 9 ounces of coffee — specifically, 9.3 to 9.4 ounces. While opting to brew a half or full carafe, the Ninja machine routinely brewed roughly 18 ounces and 38 ounces of coffee, respectively. It is worth pointing out that even if you select the option for brewing a full pot of coffee, if the water reservoir isn’t filled to its proper levels — the maximum is 43 ounces — it will shut off the brew cycle as soon as the water is depleted.
Note: The quantities listed above were for the “Classic Brew” setting as it’s worth noting that “Rich Brew,” “Over Ice Brew,” and “Specialty Brew” all produce slightly less coffee due to the increase in concentration.
As for the Coffee Bar’s warming plate, we found it kept coffee warm for up to two hours after each brew cycle — keep in mind the plate automatically turns off after two hours. Despite it shutting off on its own, the coffee stayed at roughly 150 degrees Fahrenheit for the two hours the warming plate was on, delivering cup after cup of hot coffee. Moreover, if we decided to keep the coffee hot past the two hours, pressing the “Keep Warm” button would turn the heating plate back on. However, the coffee did start decreasing in temperature the longer we opted to keep it “warm.”
Like having a barista in your kitchen
Last, though certainly not least, is the Ninja Coffee Bar’s “Specialty Brew” setting. Capable of whipping up an uber-concentrated finished product, “Specialty Brew” is essentially an “Espresso” setting, pumping out a lot less volume but packing roughly three times more flavor than the machine’s “Classic Brew.” When we crafted an Americano or latte, the “Specialty Brew” setting was paramount in not only successfully creating our desired drink but in achieving the correct taste. Obviously, a good batch of beans works wonders in creating a flavorful batch of espresso, though the Coffee Bar’s “Specialty Brew” setting consistently churned out crisp espresso — sans crema, unfortunately.
The easy-to-read interface makes it an absolute breeze to craft everything from an Americano to a full pot of coffee.
As touched on above, Ninja’s Coffee Bar is more than just your run-of-the-mill coffee machine; it’s essentially like having a real-life barista in your kitchen. Built to brew everything from a standard cappuccino to a mocha Ninjaccino — this is a real thing, we promise — there’s hardly anything the Coffee Bar can’t create. During our time with the machine, we found it incredibly simple to craft whatever our coffee desires were clamoring for, though it is worth mentioning that to create something like a frappuccino, there are plenty of outside ingredients required. In other words, just because you have the Ninja Coffee Bar and a bag of coffee, you won’t necessarily be drinking a caramel nutmeg latte in a matter of minutes — that is, unless you have some ground nutmeg, caramel syrup, and one-percent milk on hand.
Though it’s likely most coffee drinkers won’t stray very far from a traditional cup of coffee or espresso, the sheer fact the Ninja Coffee Bar boasts such sweeping versatility is a huge plus. The days of simply enjoying a crisp cup of Folgers are squarely in the rear view and if there’s anything modern coffee drinkers want, it’s variety. To Ninja’s credit, its Coffee Bar has variety in spades.
What else can it do?
In addition to having the ability to brew an array of coffee and espresso-based drinks, the Coffee Bar also has a few other tricks up its sleeve. For starters, the rig lets users choose not only between brewing a single cup or carafe of coffee but also gives the option of producing a travel mug’s worth of java, or even just a half carafe. Additionally, the machine allows for a pre-programmed brew up to 24 hours in advance, boasts an easily removable water reservoir, and features a drip stop slider that makes it easy to stop the flow of coffee with one swipe. This trait proved incredibly helpful after realizing that single cup brews tend to spit out a bit of coffee even after the machine alerted us that the brew had finished.
Like much of what Ninja’s Coffee Bar offers, cleaning the machine is an absolute walk in the park — even if you don’t resort to using its built-in “Clean” function. If you fancy cleaning the rig between brews, simply wait for the machine to cool off before removing the brew basket and any temporary or permanent filter. We found washing the basket out with soap and warm water effectively cleaned any remaining coffee grounds, getting the basket back to a like-new condition. Furthermore, the included glass carafe was also easy to wash with warm water and soap, though we did find that some extra elbow grease (i.e. harder scrubbing) was needed to get some of the stubborn coffee stains out.
Note: Ninja recommends using a bottle brush to help with this kind of stain if simply washing with a cloth isn’t working.
Considering the Ninja Coffee Bar’s immense built-in variety, the fact it costs just shy of $200 is a bona fide steal.
Outside of hand-washing the Coffee Bar’s components, a few of the detachable parts were also safe to toss into a dishwasher. Since we reviewed the Ninja Coffee Bar unit with a glass carafe, we were able to put the carafe, the water reservoir, and the brew-through lid into our office dishwasher for a deeper clean. While the water reservoir isn’t entirely hard to wash by hand, having the ability to put the glass carafe in the dishwasher is a much more efficient way to clean it than simply washing by hand.
So what about its “Clean” function? Over time, any coffee maker will begin to accrue a bit of a calcium buildup and while this is totally normal, it’s worth it to clean and descale the machine to allow it to continue to produce fresh tasting coffee. The Ninja Coffee Bar’s built-in “Clean” button helps do much of this work for you. After filling the water reservoir partly with white vinegar (16 ounces), simply fill the remaining area with clean water. Once this is done, clicking the “Clean” button begins the machine’s cleaning process and after eight minutes, it’s now time to completely rinse out the carafe and water reservoir. It’s then recommended to run fresh water through the machine two or three times to completely rinse the vinegar — as you’d expect, leftover vinegar will make your coffee taste a bit stranger than normal.
The DT Accessory Pack
With the ability to make a wide array of different types of coffee, Ninja’s Coffee Bar is as versatile a coffee maker as we’ve seen — of the drip variety, of course. Moreover, the machine requires just a few easy button presses before brewing the exact kind of coffee you desire, rendering the amount of time spent waiting for a cup of java almost none existent. When making iced coffee, the Coffee Bar ups the brew’s concentration level to account for the ice, producing an incredibly flavorful cup of coffee.
Considering the Ninja Coffee Bar’s immense built-in variety, the fact it costs just shy of $200 — and even less through the online retailer, Amazon — is a bona fide steal. Throughout our time reviewing the rig, we noticed no sign of depreciation nor did it produce anything less than batch after batch of rich, high-quality coffee. Keep in mind the taste testers fancy a dark cup of coffee so while we enjoyed the rich and specialty brew the Coffee Bar offered, light coffee drinkers may deem these brews a tad on the strong side — though, the “Classic Brew” setting easily makes up for this.
All told, Ninja’s Coffee Bar doesn’t revolutionize the at-home coffee brewer industry but if it’s variety and selection you seek, look no further.