My family goes through black coffee like it's water. I, on the other hand, prefer my coffee iced with a splash of milk or creamer or to indulge in a flavored latte. When I was introduced to the Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker, it truly seemed like the best of both worlds in one machine, as cliche as that term may be, to please a very discerning, and divided family about their coffee.
The Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker offers several customizations from cup size to brew style with special conveniences like a built in milk frother and intelligently adjusting warming plate. It's also one of a select number of coffee makers to be certified by the Specialty Coffee Association to meet their Golden Cup Standard.
I've spent the last few weeks starting my mornings with the Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker to write up the following review to see how it fares among the best coffee makers you can buy.
Who will the Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker suit?
The Ninja Specialty Maker is perfect for anyone looking to add a little variety to their coffee routine. Sure, it can make your classic cup of coffee, but you can take it up a notch with an extra-rich brew, iced coffee, and a coffee concentrate that mimics espresso. Plus, the included recipe book is a launching pad for trying coffeehouse-style specialty beverages at home.
In addition to brew customizations, you have plenty of options when it comes to how much coffee you brew, whether it be just a single cup as you run out the door or a full carafe to feed a crowd. It's easy to brew a single cup without the need for a pod.
Coffee-aficionados will also appreciate that its one of a handful of coffee machines recognized by the Specialty Coffee Association that brews coffee according to the Golden Standard.
Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker: Specs
- Water tank capacity: 50 oz./ 10 cups
- Dimensions: 12" L x 8.8" W x 15" H
- Weight: 9.2lb
- Cord length: 2.5'
- Water filter: No
- Warming plate: Yes
- Programmable: Yes
- Cup options: Cup, XL cup, travel mug, XL multi-serve, half carafe & full carafe
- Warranty: 1 year
What's in the box
- Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker with 50 oz. Glass Carafe
- Built-in measuring scoop
- Milk Frother
- Gold-tone permanent filter
- Instructions and Recipe Booklet
For many, the Ninja has the appeal for its ability to brew up to 10 servings, or a single cup. It's easily to simply turn the dial to your selected cup size: 9.5 oz. Cup, 11.5 oz. XL cup, 14 oz. travel mug, 18 oz. XL multi-serve, half carafe & full carafe, or No coffee pods required for single servings, and the included scoop has the recommended coffee portions based on your selected cup size, so there is no guesswork on how much coffee to use. Note if you do use the Rich brew function, it does yield slightly less coffee.
Fill up your favorite cup (or the glass carafe) with ice cubes and select the Over Ice button to brew. The cycle brews slower than the hot, and will start and stop for a short period before beeping to end. Ninja said this is to ensure all the coffee grounds are evenly saturated. I commonly used this feature with a travel-sized mug, and then would top it with cold frothed milk. Divine!
The specialty brew is an ultra-concentrated 4 oz. serving of coffee designed to mimic espresso, and uses two large scoops or 4 Tbsp. While not quite espresso, it is smooth, bold, and intense. While we probably wouldn't opt to drink it on its own, it pairs nicely with the milk frother to create your own latte. The serving is not adjustable, and you can not brew multiple servings at the same time. This was the biggest pain point for me with the specialty brew because if I wanted to brew multiple servings of the specialty coffee for more than one person, I'd have to take the time for the brew basket to cool and clean the wet grounds from the permanent filter.
Fold-out milk frother
The fold-out milk frother is a convenient feature with a designated spot on the left side of the machine that folds out for use. It's a very basic whisk style design and does not heat milk, so you will also have to microwave your milk as an extra step. It made very good froth from both hot and cold milk. You'll want to immediately snap it off to rinse once you finish frothing milk, otherwise, it will drip on to the counter. It's very easy to remove. I also wish that Ninja provided a separate container to froth in, rather than dirtying another mug.
Removable Water Tank
The 50 oz. water tank easily lifts up to transport to your tap, and has grooved handles to make it easier to grasp. It has fill lines that indicate the minimum fill, a half-carafe and a full carafe. No filter, however.
Set up and use
Set up was relatively straightforward and uncomplicated. It involved cycling through two full carafes of just water, and then it's ready to go. You'll also clip in the fold-away frother and the measuring spoon into their respective places.
The machine itself is definitely on the taller scale, and overall, its a rather larger appliance. It also will take up more horizontal space on your counter, while it is not very deep. For the size, I think of it almost as a three-in-one machine: a standard coffee maker, single-serve coffee maker and specialty drink maker in one. Convenient, considering I've rotated among three different coffee makers on the counter for the last several months that I use consistently.
The water tank is easily accessible on the side, and if you do choose to leave it under cabinets, the brew basket conveniently swings open in a really smooth motion. The coffee maker comes with a permanent filter, and the option to use paper filters. For the sake of not being wasteful, or having to buy extra filters, I prefer the permanent one.
To brew, you turn the dial to select your cup size, then select Classic, Rich or Over Ice to begin brewing. For the Specialty option, it doesn't matter what size is selected, it automatically brews four ounces. The Ninja uses a brewing process called Thermal Flavor Extraction, which works to evenly saturate the grounds, automatically adjusts timing to give coffee the right time to bloom, and has a consistent temperature.
First, I brewed a full-carafe of the Classic brew, with the minimum recommended number of scoops, four. The measuring scoop has the recommended number of scoops for your cup size to take out any of the guesswork. I found it a little weaker than I'd like, so found my happy medium at 5 scoops. A Golden Cup Standard was identified as six heaping scoops.
When I do drink coffee black, I like it bold, and the Rich setting definitely amped up the brew strength. It does make slightly less coffee, however.
The iced coffee setting was definitely my favorite feature as we move into warmer temperatures.
For the 4 oz. specialty setting, I soon realized the drawback that if i wanted to make more than one drink at a time, I'd have to wait for the grounds to cool (they really bloom) and clean out the filter. I'm the only one in my family who had any interest in trying the specialty brew, so this wasn't an issue with me, but I can forsee this being a pain point for when two or more people consecutively want to make a latte.
The concentrate itself is quite strong, and while it resembles espresso, it is not espresso, and tastes best when mixed with milk, or following along with one of the recipes in the included recipe booklet.
The milk frother is a nice feature as well, and easy to use and remove to clean. It does not have a heated element like a steam wand you might find on an espresso machine, but at this price point, and the fact that it stores on-board and takes up minimal space, it is convenient. I did not love however, having to take out another mug to heat milk or that you need to disassemble or rinse the frother immediately, otherwise, it would drip on to the counter.
When you brew a half-carafe or larger, the hot plate automatically kicks on for two hours, and knows to intelligently adjust the temperature to keep your coffee from burning. It has a very easy to see indicator light to show that the warming plate is on. The machine however, does not automatically power off after a cycle, or the stay warm function shuts off, so you will have to remember to press the power button off, otherwise it is in a standby mode, and stays lit with your most recent cup-size selection.
On mornings when I was really leaving it to the last second to sign in for work, it was really convenient to pause the brew cycle using the drip stop feature to sneak a cup. A button on the control panel also illuminates to show that the drip stop is on, which is useful if you close the filter basket opening to prevent drips after a brew cycle. There's also a delay brew option, but it must remain on the entire night to run.
How does the Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker rate online?
On Amazon (opens in new tab), the Specialty Coffee Maker has a very positive 4.8 out of 5-star rating, where reviewers praise its "design, functionality, and flexibility."
The story is a little different directly on Ninja's website (opens in new tab), where it received a more critical 3.1 stars, with a very divided population of five-star and one-star reviews. Some frustrated users said the water reservoir would leak, or eventually, the coffee maker wasn't brewing full cups of coffee. After a month of use, we have not noticed any of these issues, but we will be vigilant about this as we continue trying the coffee maker.
How does the Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker compare to other Ninja brewers?
Ninja makes several coffee makers, including a specialty coffee maker with a thermal carafe, a 12-cup traditional coffee maker, and the Ninja Hot and Cold Brewed System (opens in new tab), with the ability to brew cold brew and tea. The Ninja Hot and Cold Brew System is just slightly more expensive than the Specialty Maker.
With the exception of the traditional 12-cup coffee maker, all specialty makers feature the same fold-out milk frother, built-in cup platform, and scoop storage.
How does the Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker compare to other SCA-approved coffee makers.
The Specialty Coffee Association's definition of the Golden Cup Standard means that a particular coffee machine meets the association's standards for water quality, coffee-to-water ratio, grind/particle size distribution with a temperature between 195 and 205 degrees, and a brewing time of fewer than 8 minutes. Just 30 coffee makers have made the list (opens in new tab).
A major allure of the Ninja Specialty Cup is the variety it enables you to create including single cups, iced coffee, and espresso-style beverages. From what we can tell, Ninja offers the only machine with the concentrated coffee option and a built-in milk frother.
The 10-cup Braun MultiServe Coffee Machine (opens in new tab) ($199.95) seems to be the most similar in nature, with its ability to choose from 7 cup sizes and over ice setting, among others.
The Breville Precision Brewer (opens in new tab)($279.95) is another machine that offers various presets including iced coffee, cold brew, and MyBrew which enables you to adjust bloom time, flow rate, and brewing temp according to your preferences, but it is also much pricier, at over $250.
The OXO Brew 8-Cup ($169.95), also offers a similar one-cup option with an accessory filter that re-creates the pour-over experience. The whole coffee maker's existence emphasizes making an SCA-approved cup of coffee, so it does not overcomplicate with an array of coffee choices or programming options.
Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker: our verdict
Ninja proves that it is a coffee connosieur to be reckoned with the Ninja Specialty Coffee maker.
The mid-priced machine offers the most variety of almost any coffee maker that we can think of. It's simple to use, easy to clean (all the removable parts are dishwasher safe), and perhaps most of all, consistently makes a good batch of coffee. I also love the thoughtful design features like the removable water tank, a fold-out milk frother, and built-in measuring scoop.
While the specialty coffee option will not replace the true joy of espresso at home for the most discerning coffee lovers (they'll want to stick to one of the best espresso makers), paired with the built-in milk frother, general coffee fans will enjoy the creativity to craft your own lattes and cappuccinos.
If Ninja were to reissue this machine, we'd love to see an Auto-shut off option that turned off alongside the Stay Warm setting. We'd also like to see the inclusion of a container to froth milk in, perhaps with markings for the appropriate amount of milk, and a water filter. Just little things that can turn a great machine and user experience into an excellent one.
Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker: where to buy
About this review and the reviewer
Jaclyn is the US eCommerce editor across the home titles at Future, including Real Homes, where she specializes in a variety of topics ranging from vacuums to mattresses. She spends her days tracking the latest buzzworthy releases and testing a variety of products to determine whether they are worth bringing into your home. The real fun is in coffee makers, where those around her get to partake in taste testing. And if you're wondering her preferred coffee order, she's currently loving cold brew with oat milk and caramel, and will never say no to a mocha.
All our reviews, as in the case of the Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker, are based on the real-life experience of using these products at home. The products are given to us free of charge and we test them for as long as possible before sending them back to the brand unless we are able to keep them as we are with this coffee maker. This means that we can continue to use the product which gives us the opportunity to return to our reviews for updating, so you can keep up-to-date with how it's fared over a period of time.