Wide variety of coffee sizes
Integrated hot or cold milk frother
Removable water reservoir
Not a true espresso machine
Needs extra side space for using frother
Gold filter isn’t a standard size
After owning a wide variety of other Ninja products, including a coffee maker, we were prepared to take the Ninja Coffee Bar System (CF091) through its paces. Armed with plenty of coffee beans, we brewed large and small cups of coffee, tested the frother, and brewed a few pots in the glass carafe. After lots of taste testing, we evaluated how the quality and ease of use stacked up to other brewing systems. Read on for all the details of our morning (and evening) coffee beverages.
Setup Process: Very simple
Setup is basic, only requiring the clock to be set and the carafe, water reservoir, and other parts to be washed. Then, two full carafes of clean water with no grounds had to be sent through the machine to rinse the system before brewing the first drinkable coffee.
Design: Looks like a robot, brews like a coffee maker
With the frother arm extended and the cup holder in place, this machine looks modern and kind of robotic. With the frother arm in its storage mode and a carafe in use, the machine still looks modern, but not as futuristic. The frother, permanently attached to the machine, swings out for use. We found it a little awkward to use. To operate, we needed one hand pressing the top button while the other held our milk container. Since it needs to swing out from the left side of the machine, we had to make sure we didn’t have it too close to another appliance that would block the frother.
The water reservoir on the right is removable and see-through, so it’s easy to see that water has been added and how much is in there. Markings on the right side indicate how much water should be added for each type of coffee, but you can fill the reservoir and just make a cup. We particularly liked the molded hand-grip design that made it really easy to grab, lift, and move the reservoir whether it was empty or full. It can also be filled while still attached to the machine, if that’s more convenient.
With the frother arm extended and the cup holder in place, this machine looks modern and kind of robotic.
The carafe, which can hold 10 cups, has a generous, easy-to-hold handle, but we found that the carafe was front-heavy even when it was empty, and it felt just as unbalanced when it was full. That wasn’t a problem when we were pouring, but when we were carrying it, we wanted to put a hand on the bottom to keep it from tipping forward. For brewing into a cup, a tray can be dropped down to hold the cup so there’s less splashing. It folds up neatly when brewing into a carafe.
This brewer includes a gold-toned mesh coffee filter that looks similar to those used by other machines, but this one has a tab handle on the side that makes it easy to remove. Unfortunately, the filter isn’t a standard size, so if the included filter gets damaged, you won’t find the replacement at your grocery store. A paper filter can be used instead of the gold filter, which is great if your grounds have a lot of powder that could sneak through the gold filter.
There’s only one filter basket that’s used for every size of coffee beverage, whether it’s a full carafe or a small cup. We were a little concerned that the large filter wouldn’t do a great job for small amounts, but we were pleasantly surprised with the results we got.
Performance: Strong, stronger, strongest coffee
Starting with a basic carafe of drip coffee, we worked our way through the menu, with generally good results. The attached frother doesn’t use steam. Instead, it’s like the small, inexpensive hand-held frothers, but it’s powered by the machine. The plus side is that we could froth hot or cold milk. However, when we wanted hot frothed milk, we had to heat it separately. Since the brewed coffee is plenty hot, we often just spooned on the cold frothed milk.
Specialty Brew is the espresso-like coffee, and it always brews 4 ounces. While this option isn’t a true espresso, we liked the ability to brew an extra-strong cup that we could use to build a cappuccino. It’s strong enough to use for making lattes or cappuccinos, and we enjoyed it with plenty of frothed milk.
While this machine makes a tasty, strong, espresso-like coffee, it’s not true espresso.
The over-ice coffee is an extra-strong brew that won’t taste watered down when it’s brewed over a full container of ice and is the strongest you can brew in all of the available sizes. The Café Forte is always 8 ounces and is a very strong cup of coffee when brewed with the recommended amount of beans. We also found this 8-ounce, one-touch choice to be handy when we wanted a cup of regular coffee with less fuss, and we simply adjusted the amount of ground coffee that we used to brew a single cup that tasted the way we liked it.
Features: So many features
The drip-stop feature uses a lever to stop the flow. At first, we thought that was a bit odd, as other machines stop brewing as soon as the carafe is removed. But we ended up liking the lever feature because it means you can brew coffee straight into a cup or mug without the carafe in place. This feature would also allow you to brew the full amount of coffee, but dispense it a cup at a time. When drip-stop is engaged, the light on that button blinks to remind you that it’s enabled.
We loved the way the panel lit up to show us which options we chose, and the icons for different sizes of cups and other containers were easy to understand. We did have to read the manual to understand the different strengths of brews, but one read was enough to understand the progression. Speaking of blinking lights, when brewing was in process, the light on the button we chose would pulse on and off so we knew we shouldn’t grab the coffee quite yet.
We loved the way the panel lit up to show us which options we chose, and the icons for different sizes of cups and other containers were easy to understand.
A preheating feature makes sure the water is as hot as it should be at the start of the brewing time. We bypassed that preheat function a few times when making a full carafe and didn’t notice any ill effects, but we’d suggest letting the machine heat up fully for smaller amounts of coffee.
A warming plate under the carafe will keep the coffee warm, and the press of a button turns it off. It can also be programmed for zero to four hours to suit your particular drinking style. Brewing can also be programmed ahead of time, so coffee is ready when you need it. We found that setting the time was easy enough, but the downside is that the clock doesn’t retain its setting if it’s unplugged or the power goes out. The machine must also be turned on for the delay timer to work, and since the clock stays on when the machine is off but plugged in it’s good to double-check the machine’s status.
Classic, rich, and over-ice coffee can be brewed in all the available sizes, including one cup, one extra-large cup, one travel mug, one extra-large travel mug, one half-carafe, or one full carafe. The manual lists the sizes in ounces so we could measure our cups and mugs to make sure we weren’t going to overfill when we brewed.
Cleaning: Much like other coffee makers
Aside from the frother, the maintenance on this machine is similar to other coffee makers. The exterior should be cleaned with a damp cloth, while the removable parts should be cleaned as needed. The glass carafe and brew-through filter are top-rack dishwasher safe, but it’s just as simple to clean them by hand. The rest of the removable parts should be hand washed.
For thorough cleaning, the water reservoir lid comes off of the reservoir, so you can thoroughly clean all the nooks. The frother should be cleaned with each use, and it’s simple since the business end of the frother twists off easily for cleaning, then twists back on just as easily for the next use. Like any coffee maker, this will eventually need descaling to remove lime deposits. The “clean” light will turn on when it’s time for descaling, and if you’ve misplaced the manual, cleaning instructions are available on Ninja’s website, based on the date code on your machine.
Included Accessories: A few useful items
A two-ended measuring spoon is included, and it attaches neatly to the side of the machine so you’re less likely to lose it in the kitchen catch-all drawer. That’s a good thing since the measurements on that spoon are important when making the different types of coffee. While the machine has different buttons for different types of brews, they also require different measures of coffee to achieve the proper strengths.
A small booklet with 20 recipes for specialty coffees is also included if you are looking to switch it up with a pumpkin spice latte, for example.
Price: Middle of the road
This isn’t the most expensive coffee maker you’ll find—you can usually find it for around $150— particularly when you compare it to true espresso machines. However, it’s much more expensive than basic coffee machines. It does a fine job of brewing a strong cup of coffee that can be used much like espresso, and it offers plenty of other options that we found justify the cost.
Ninja Coffee Bar System vs. Breville the Barista Express
While the Ninja we reviewed makes a tasty, strong, espresso-like coffee, it’s not true espresso. While that’s not going to deter people from enjoying their coffee—and particularly the many options—some might not settle for anything except a true espresso machine. If that’s the case, we’d have to give the nod to the Breville the Barista Express. It’s much more expensive than the Ninja, but will no doubt please espresso aficionados and budding baristas.
Looking for more recommendations? Check out our guide to the best coffee and espresso machine combos.
Great for coffee, but not quite espresso.
The range of coffees the Ninja Coffee Bar System can make—in both size and strength—is quite impressive, and adjusting each one to our taste was simple enough. We had a few minor quibbles but quickly forgot about them as we ran through all of the options. Most people will enjoy the coffee from this machine, with the understanding that it’s not going to brew a cup of true espresso.
- Product Name Coffee Bar Glass Carafe System
- Product Brand Ninja
- MPN CF091
- Price $199.95
- Weight 9.8 lbs.
- Product Dimensions 14.5 x 11.5 x 9.5 in.
- Wattage 1400 W
- Material Plastic/metal
- Warranty 1 year
- What’s Included Reusable filter, measuring spoon, recipe book