A coffee maker that brews tasty drip coffee, lattes complete with frothed milk, hot tea and makes chilled drinks over ice sounds far fetched, but that's the $229 Ninja Hot and Cold Brewed System in a nutshell. On top of that versatility, this countertop machine can also serve drinks in multiple sizes, ranging from small cups to full carafes.
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This Ninja coffee maker has a few weaknesses. It can't control its temperature as well as other premium drip machines. For that, and for a superior cup, the $190remains your best choice. And while the Ninja's cold brew function is an interesting extra, the results won't impress true aficionados. If you live for cold brew, you're still better off buying a dedicated brewer like the $49 . Those who'd rather own one coffee appliance that's ready for anything, you can't beat this Ninja model's remarkable flexibility.
Compact yet packed with extras
Coffee makers tend to be dull plastic boxes or covered in unremarkable stainless steel. The designers of the Ninja Hot and Cold Brewer took a different approach. While it's made almost entirely from plastic, the surface of the appliance is a glossy, piano black. This, plus sleek LED indicators and a few silver highlights, give the coffee maker a stylish appearance.
The machine is shaped like a rectangular block. It's a little taller than it is wide, but it's still small enough to slide under low kitchen cabinets. The Ninja brewer also feels compact given everything it can do. To achieve that design, Ninja cleverly tucked away many of its special tools in hidden pockets and recessed compartments.
You'll find a spot cut out for the coffee scoop on the brewer's left side. Inside its cradle, the scoop sits flush and practically out of sight. There's also retractable arm that houses a milk frother, which swings out when you're ready to use it.
Likewise, the machine has a flip-down resting pad for brewing into cup and mugs. It lives in the cavity normally reserved for a thermal carafe. Above that is the filter assembly, with a motorized drip stop. It accepts your choice of two filter baskets, one for coffee and the other for tea.
On the right side of the coffee maker is a removable water tank. It makes for simple refills with either sink faucets, or when resting on your kitchen counter. You'll find the control panel here too (right front face), along with a glowing LED clock display.
Many brew methods, not much control
Making coffee in the Ninja Hot and Cold Brewed System is a heavily automated affair. The machine has no manual modes at all. In fact, the Ninja System decides one critical brewing parameter that's usually up to you -- the amount of water it uses.
Drip coffee makers typically drain their entire water reservoir dry each run. That could be a little or a lot, depending on how much water you give it. The Ninja brewer is different. It uses programmed water volumes, all based on preset container sizes.
There are five to choose from (small cups, larger mugs, travel mugs, multi-serve containers, half carafe and full carafe). With a full tank, swivel the selector knob to choose your brew size. They're laid out in clear, illuminated symbols. Next, pick from two drip flavor modes; classic and rich. The latter uses less water to create a stronger brew.
A "specialty" mode brews with the least amount of water. The result is a concentrated 4 ounces of coffee liquid. It's meant to be the base for foamy milk drinks such as lattes and cappuccinos.
Two additional modes give the Ninja system its chilled coffee chops. A "brew over ice" preset flash-chills hot coffee as it drips down into ice-filled containers (glasses or its carafe). The "cold brew" function does something unique.
The traditional cold brew method calls for steeping coffee grounds in water for at least 12 hours. Instead, this coffee maker fills its filter with warm water (not piping hot or room temperature). Grounds sit immersed in the water bath for 15 minutes. After that, the motorized drip stop valve cycles open to drain "cold" brewed coffee into your container below.