I Tried the Cult-Favorite Coffee Maker That Starbucks Fans Are Obsessed With
When I heard through the Leaf Rakers Society on Facebook that a certain Ninja coffee maker can eliminate all those Starbucks runs by churning out drinks every bit as good at home, I had to put it to the test. I got the Ninja Hot and Cold Brewed System with Thermal Carafe, which is the newest version of the model that these Facebook members were raving about. Now, this wasn’t an easy assignment, but I suffered through it to give you the lowdown. I drank lots of Starbucks’ barista-created drinks side-by-side with ones I brewed right in my own kitchen. Needless to say, I didn’t get a lot of sleep.
Full confession: I’m a die-hard Melitta pour-over gal and only pull out an automatic drip machine when I’m having company and need to serve a crowd. (Related: I’ve Tried Nearly Every Drip Coffee Maker. Here Are My Favorites.) And when I’m out, Starbucks is my coffee shop of choice. So Melitta and Starbucks are my personal frames of reference.
The Pros of the Ninja Coffee Maker
I was super impressed right off the bat with the Ninja — it’s incredibly well-designed and easy to use. With its ability to make hot and cold coffee and tea in a wide variety of types and sizes you would think it’d be complicated to operate, but once you press the “on” button it’s actually quite intuitive, with large, easy-to-read settings. There’s no built-in grinder, but other than that it has every feature I can think of and more.
The basket swings out so the coffee maker can sit under a cabinet and doesn’t have to be pulled forward to fill it with ground coffee or tea leaves. And there are two clearly marked baskets (one for coffee and one for tea) to prevent your Sumatra from tasting like oolong. The machine detects which basket you’re using and automatically adjusts the settings. To fill the water tank, you can lift it out and fill it at the sink. Maybe the best thing: Regardless of how you pour, the thermal carafe simply never dribbles.
A coffee scoop is not only included, but also has its own little storage spot on the side of the coffeemaker so you never have to scrounge around to find it. There’s a frother, which swings out to the side of the machine, and the frothing whisk easily detaches for cleaning and is just as easy to reattach.
If you forget to fill the chamber with water or it’s time to clean the machine, you get a prompt. As it brews, a lighted bar displays the progress, so if you’re impatient you get a sense of how much longer it will be until you can get your wake-up juice. Naturally the Ninja has a delayed brew cycle and a setting so you can pour a cup before brewing’s completed. This isn’t a small coffee maker, but it’s also not as much of a space hog as you’d expect for a machine that does all these things!
You have a choice of six drink sizes, everything from a single cup to a travel mug size to a full 40-ounce carafe. That means this machine can double as a single serve without the need to buy those expensive, bad-for-the-environment capsules.
How Ninja Drinks Compare to Starbucks Drinks
In addition to what it dubs “classic” and I call “regular,” there’s a rich setting that shocked me with its ability to deliver a cup of Joe that’s pretty darn similar to my beloved Melitta and to Starbucks.
Now here’s the slightly disappointing news: There’s a specialty coffee setting that delivers what Ninja calls a “super-rich concentrate” that you use to make cappuccino, frappuccino, and flat whites — and frankly, while the drinks are good (and very pretty!) the concentrate doesn’t pack quite the same punch that Starbucks’ drinks do. However, if what you love is a mild, milky, soothing mug, you may be very happy with the cappuccino.
It should be noted that frappuccino (Ninjaccino!) was tasty, but obviously also requires getting out a blender. The Ninja’s cold brew tasted pretty much like a Starbucks iced coffee; it didn’t have the characteristic sweetness that you love in Starbucks cold brew.
Ninja Coffee Bar Recipes: 17 Great Ninja Coffee Bar Recipes to Spice Up Your Routine at Roasty Coffee
The Bottom Line
If you’re looking for a new automatic drip coffee maker, I can heartily recommend The Ninja Hot and Cold Brewed System with Thermal Carafe. It makes a delicious pot of hot coffee and has lots of terrific features that eliminate so many of those headaches associated with using other machines (like a carafe that dribbles and a basket that’s annoying to fill). Its ability to make a single cup without capsules is a real plus, especially if you go back and forth between wanting a single cup and a whole pot, depending on your day.
Anyone who loves a cloud of frothed milk on their morning java will appreciate having a frother right at hand. However, the specialty coffee concentrate is no substitute for the espresso that typically goes into cappuccinos and lattes. That does kind of make sense, though, when you think about it! Starbucks baristas use expensive, commercial machines. If you could buy a machine that made totally comparable drinks for $180, Starbucks would have a problem. That said, these drinks are decently similar and if you want a machine that can help you get your fix without a trip to Starbucks, this will do it. Just know that you won’t get an exact match — and that you’ll have to make them yourself!
Do you have a Ninja coffee system? Does it help you skip the line at Starbucks? Discuss in the comments below!