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 $190 Bonavita Connoisseur remains 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 Oxo Cold Brew Coffee Maker. Those who'd rather own one coffee appliance that's ready for anything, you can't beat this Ninja model's remarkable flexibility.
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.
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.
This brewer tackles tea too. The Ninja System's separate tea filter can accept both loose-leaf or tea bags. The machine detects the filter when you insert it into its slot. You then choose between herbal, black, oolong, white and green presets to match what you'd like to brew.
As drip brewers go, the Ninja Hot and Cold Brewed System is a solid machine. It brews fast, needing an average of 6 minutes and 19 seconds to brew half carafes (rich flavor preset). For this size, it uses about 33 ounces (0.98 liter) of water.
That's not as swift as the premium $299 Technivorm Moccamaster KBT. The Moccamaster filled its pots in 5 minutes, 45 seconds. Bonavita's $190 Connoisseur finished the task at a slower in 6 minutes, 25 seconds. Keep in mind, both machines used my standard test water volume that's slightly larger (40 ounces, 1.2 L).
I ran this water amount through the Ninja system, but that caused it to emit a low water warning before it completed. However, the brewer made full carafes (48.2 ounces, 1.4 L) in 8 minutes, 9 seconds. Neither the Moccamaster nor Connoisseur can make that much drip at once.
The ideal water temperature (197 degrees Fahrenheit, 92 degrees Celsius to 205 degrees F, 96 degrees C) is essential for brewing coffee properly. Thermocouple readings I recorded inside the Ninja system's brewing chamber confirm this coffee maker gets hot, and fast. For these tests I brewed a half carafe.
After one minute of the brew cycle, heat levels hit 137.3 degrees Fahrenheit (58.5 degrees Celsius). By the second minute, that climbed to 194 degrees F (90 degrees C). At this point the brewer lost control of its temperature. When the timer hit the third minute, I logged 204.5 degrees F (95.8 degrees C).
With each consecutive minute I saw temperatures rise higher, landing at a height of 206.9 degrees F (97.2 degrees C) by the fifth minute. Readings ultimately crashed to 194 degrees F (90 degrees C) when brewing ceased.
Despite these swings, the Ninja System achieved solid refractometer numbers. I recorded consistent TDS (total dissolved solids) percentage results across three runs (1.1, 1.1, 0.9 percent). That calculates to an average extraction percentage of 22.3 percent. This is slightly above the ideal range. That's commonly held to be between 18 and 22 percent.
I did pick up a hint of bitterness, evidence of over extraction, when I sampled cups from these test pitchers. That said, it was enjoyable enough to drink. While there was some roughness around the edges, the coffee still had lots of pleasant flavor too.
I especially enjoyed the Ninja's specialty setting. Brewed from just 6 ounces of water and 9.2 ounces of coffee, it doesn't make much. What you get though is strong and concentrated. Adding warm, frothed milk (created with the attachment) definitely improved the drink with sweetness and complexity.
Cold brew is not the Ninja System's strength. It steeps grounds in water for just 15 minutes. What it made during that period tasted thin and weak. It lacked the syrupy sweet strength of true cold brew.
The thermal carafe that comes with the Ninja is on par with other appliances. I logged a full 3 hours and 37 minutes before its contents dropped below 150 degrees F (66 C). That's a little longer than the Connoisseur which kept its carafe hot for 3 hours and 31 hours. Of course the Moccamaster hung on for a marathon-like 6 hours.
Priced at $229, the Ninja Hot and Cold Brewed System is far from inexpensive. And due to its high water temperatures, and slight tendency to over extract its beans, I can't recommend it over the cheaper $190 Bonavita Connoisseur. Even the pricey $299 Technivorm Moccamaster KBT 741 is a better option if you seek speed and superior brew.
Don't buy the Ninja for its cold brew feature either, because you'll be disappointed. That said, the Ninja System strikes a unique balance between serving solid drip, and tasty latte-style drinks. If that's what you're after then this countertop machine makes a lot of sense.