Coffeehouses just aren’t for me, a reaffirmed belief as I awkwardly ordered a cappuccino served by a thick rimmed glasses barista who noticeably scoffed at my mainstream presence. To a broader degree, this is a perceived lifestyle of a modern coffee drinker, an archetype that airs of an unobtainable coolness that defies the point of the commodity itself.
Maybe I’m reaching but Ninja has brought some of the exclusivity home with the $180 Coffee Bar Brewer by doing what they do best: throwing in lot of features for a relatively equivalent price. A beverage machine for the dilettante all done with just a push of button, in short, advanced gourmet for everyday usefulness.
True to its name, the Coffee Bar is a coffeemaker that also happens to make specialty brews with capable efficiency. The design isn’t inherently boutique as lots hard black plastic and pieces of stainless steel (to a lesser degree) are used liberally, while pull-out filter basket and a removable ribbed cylindrical water tank is clear for proper filling gives off a retail aesthetic. It’s bulky and won’t garner envious attentions of hipsters like more opulent machines but is functional in design to compensate those loftier expectations. And it should be considering all that countertop space it occupies at 9.5-inches wide, 14.76-inches tall, and a depth of 8.8-inches.
Below the reservoir is where the control panel sits, and is adorned with a digital clock, plenty of buttons to select a multitude of programmable brewing functions, and delaying the drip patterns. Also present is a prominent dial for volume and automatically adjusts the process for cups, thermoses, and either full or half carafe. Everything else you need is included too such as a glass carafe, microwave milk frother, double-sided scoop, and a permanent No. 4 filter for the basket to better retain the flavor. The unit also comes equipped with a hot plate that keeps your pot nice and warm up to 2 hours.
Thanks to the embedded dummy-proof “Auto-iQ” functionality, the Ninja Coffee Bar can make a basic cup of joe out of grounded beans (we used Walmart’s in-house Great Value and some Starbucks branded Classic Roast blend) will yield the most balanced and smooth taste in “classic brew”. The initial heating took roughly 15 seconds using scalding water to initiate a preinfusion method that readies the grounds for the actual brew cycle, after halting for saturation the machine activated and dripped a flow of hot water at a somewhat leisurely pace.
For java connoisseurs it might be worth noting that when everything kicks in the getting a full 38-onuce carafe took about 7 minutes at a final average temperature of 209.4 °F, while the first three minutes were 191.3 °F – this keeps the Coffee Bar spot-on for completion time but slightly out of ideal range of an academically perfect brew in temperature (204.6 °F as dictated) by SCAA standardization (Specialty Coffee Association of America); which is amazing that an institution such as this even exists.
My simple cups of coffee had a taste that wasn’t offensive when sipped, properly medium in roast quality followed a forthright bitter finish. Not bad if you casually drink coffee every morning for the caffeine first, and don’t have time to admire the palette of the blend itself. If extracting a satisfying deep taste out of your coffee is a priority though, you’re going to adopt the “rich brew” option which reduces the amount of water by a few ounces to extract a more pronounced flavor. The immediate result is that the added milk and/or creamer of your choice does compliment the brew better, without much effort or extreme variation.
For something beyond regular coffee, “over ice brew” is an enjoyable alternative to play around with and works with some forethought. The brew is halved and concentration is increased to make room for the ice in you cup or carafe, this also lends itself to mixed adult beverages. The overall results involved some trial and error as having the right amount of ice cubes is pivotal to how strong or watered down the drink will be. Essentially some amount of sweetness will be neutralized in making an agreeable iced mocha or double-shot White Russian, although the issue can be remedied by adding more cubes after the drink is prepared, rather than beforehand.
The real draw is the “specialty brew” option which handles all manner of macchiato, pseudo-espressos, and other imaginary concoctions. The Coffee Bar in general does an excellent job in offering a barista-like foundation to create your drink, although lacking much of the sophistication that would make it truly legitimate. No matter what though, the included frother plays a major role in making these drinks possible, after carefully pouring in the milk everything from flat white ristrettos to cappuccinos were effortlessly created with astounding effect. The aroma, flavor, and concentration came with a taste that was smooth and irrefutably richer very unlike the normal cup of coffee this same machine made previously – it’s not a real espresso maker, but quite the pleasing imitation of exceptional café latte.
Admittedly, this review took me a while because I had to acquaint myself with coffee again, but the Ninja Coffee Bar Brewer is an adaptable contender that offers both practicality and tailor-made touches that few would even think of. For open-minded drinkers it really is that good for whipping up almost any java beverage you can imagine, but the abundance of plastic does cheapen its luxurious appeal. Aesthetics aside, we really can’t find much to fault with this smart and overachieving coffeemaker.