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Ninja Coffee Bar CF092 review:


Modern coffee tastes have moved way beyond your basic mug of drip. These days, java drinkers hanker for a variety of beverages, including stiff shots of espresso, creamy lattes, refreshing iced coffee and practically everything in between. Kitchen appliance maker SharkNinja, formerly Euro-Pro, feels its new $200 Ninja Coffee Bar CF092 can satisfy many of these cravings right from your countertop.

While the flexible coffee maker does automatically brew in many different container sizes and even boasts its own built-in milk frother, it doesn’t live up to SharkNinja’s hype. More expensive than its predecessor the $140 Ninja Coffee Bar CF080 (itself a mediocre performer), this pricey machine brews coffee that tastes worse. You’d be much better off buying a $190 Bonavita BV1900TS to make big pots of quality drip. For delicious single portions of joe choose the $16 Oxo Good Grips Pour-Over, which serves superb coffee one cup at a time.

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Design and features

Constructed from thick, black plastic parts with faux-chrome highlights, the Ninja Coffee Bar certainly doesn’t look like a premium coffee maker. Placed next to luxury competitors like the $299 Technivorm Moccamaster KBT 741 and the $580 Ratio Eight, which use metal, glass, even wood within their frames, the Coffee Bar looks downright cheap. Even the spartan stainless-steel chassis of the $190 Bonavita BV1900TS makes the Coffee Bar look chintzy by comparison.

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The updated Ninja Coffee Bar still has the same retro appliance look.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Still, I do find the retro appliance styling of the Ninja somewhat charming. Its large buttons labeled in capital letters are easy to read and easy to press, too, since they’re well-spaced from one another. This coupled with lots of bright LED lights, sharp lines and angled surfaces give the Coffee Bar a decidedly 1980s alarm clock appearance, which I admit isn’t for everyone.

Underneath its unique styling, the Ninja Coffee Bar is still a traditional coffee machine. Essentially a rectangular tower standing 14.8 feet tall and sprawling 11.6 inches wide by 7 inches deep, this is one big machine and takes up even more space than the massive Moccamaster KBT 741.

On the left side of the appliance you’ll find a 43-ounce glass carafe that sits on a circular hot plate. Above that is a brew basket that accepts either the bundled permanent filter or disposable paper filters (Type 4). SharkNinja also equipped the coffee maker with a handy drip-stop switch, placed at the foot of the basket.

Like its predecessor, the updated Coffee Bar has a removable water reservoir. The clear plastic tank (54 ounce capacity) sports a series of fluted ridges along its sides that are easy to grip. There’s also a hand-size indentation on its right edge, which makes it a cinch to grab as well.

Below the reservoir is the Ninja Coffee Bar’s main control area. It includes a “Multi-Serve Dial” for selecting the coffee container size you plan to use (ranging from small 9.5-ounce cups to 43-ounce carafes). Here too are buttons to engage specific types of brewing programs. Five in all, the keys are labeled Classic Brew, Rich Brew, Over Ice Brew, Specialty and Cafe Forte. Each brew style is designed to create coffee of varying strength, with Classic the weakest and Rich Brew slightly stronger. Cafe Forte is stronger still, while Specialty is the most intense, with an almost espresso-like concentration.

The entire coffee machine rests on top of a trim, flat pedestal, which houses a few more controls such as the power key along with buttons to command the hot plate. There’s a tiny LCD screen here, too, which displays a digital clock and allows you to set a time for delayed brewing.

The Coffee Bar’s most novel feature, however, is a motorized frothing whisk that’s designed to aerate milk for frothy cafe drinks like lattes and cappuccinos. The whisk is attached to an arm that lives in back of the appliance and swivels forward when it’s ready for action.

Performance and taste

SharkNinja makes breathless claims about this new Ninja Coffee Bar system, going so far to say the gadget offers a “Better than a coffeehouse experience. At home.” Sadly, this statement could not be further from the truth, since the coffee the Coffee Bar makes is substandard and at times completely undrinkable.

Specifically, beverages I brewed with the machine using the ratios (coffee to water) recommended in the manual were weak and watery. This was the case whether I used the Coffee Bar’s Classic Brew or Rich Brew program. The only difference was a more pronounced bitterness I tasted in Rich Brew coffee.

Keep in mind that the manual suggests 2 to 3 tablespoons of coffee per cup you brew. Since both units are inherently inaccurate, I weighed 3 small scoops of my test coffee, which came to 0.44 ounce. For the record, I ground my beans with a burr grinder (medium coarseness) and used the scoop included with the machine. Additionally I relied on Costco’s Colombian Supremo roast — my go-to test beans.

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There’s a preset to brew up carafes of coffee over ice.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

I noticed marginally better flavor after I upped my coffee grounds dosage to my preferred 0.741 ounces per cup, especially after dialing my grind coarseness up one notch (more coarse) and using the Rich Brew mode. The drink was less bitter, but even so, it still had an extremely unpleasant chalky finish.

Brewing full carafes of coffee using my standard test ratio (2.3 ounces coffee, 40 ounces water) was utterly disastrous. Liquid the Coffee Bar CF092 whipped up in this fashion was strong, but in a bad way — intensely bitter and impossible to drink. Understandably, the TDS (total dissolved solids) percentage numbers I recorded (measured with a refractometer) from my coffee samples ranged from very low (0.9 percent) to quite high (2.1 percent).

The SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) considers a “golden cup” of coffee to have an extraction percentage between 18 and 22 percent. Likewise brewed coffee should ideally have a TDS percentage between 1.15 and 1.35 percent. This figure indicates how much of coffee’s soluble compounds have been leached out into the brewing water solution.

Of course I’ve tasted great coffee with higher TDS stats, specifically from the Kitchenaid Siphon Brewer (2.0 TDS). I’ve also gagged on java within the ideal TDS percentage range, so numbers aren’t the whole story. Other critical factors to brewing coffee correctly include water temperature and time. Specifically, your grounds must reach 196.6 degrees Fahrenheit (91.4 Celsius) within one minute of the brew process and never exceed 204.8 degrees Fahrenheit (96 degrees Celsius).

Herein lies the Ninja Coffee Bar’s true failing. The machine consistently hit 196.6 degrees Fahrenheit before the 1-minute mark. Unfortunately temperatures within the brew basket kept climbing well past 205 degrees F (at the second minute mark), often reaching 211 or 212 degrees F (100 Celsius) at the end of its 7 minutes, 15 second brew time — that’s too much heat to brew coffee that tastes right.

By comparison, the previous Ninja Coffee Bar CF080 treated its grounds with a bit more care. While that machine also ran too hot, its brewing temp at least stayed at 209 degrees F or below.

I wouldn’t get too excited about the Coffee Bar’s milk frother, either. It isn’t a true frothing accessory in that it doesn’t actually steam dairy (or even heat it). The gadget is really just a tiny motorized whisk that aerates milk by spinning through it quickly. For best results, I had to heat my supply of milk before frothing it.

Conclusion

You might be strongly tempted to consider the $200 Ninja Coffee Bar CF092 as you stroll through store aisles or scan the deals on your favorite websites. On paper, the machine certainly comes with plenty of features and capabilities such as a built-in milk frother and the ability to brew automatically across numerous container sizes. All the extras in the world, however, can’t excuse a coffee maker that brews its beans poorly — and the Coffee Bar CF092 is guilty as charged. That’s especially true at the Coffee Bar’s high price.

For a little less money you could buy the $190 Bonavita BV1900TS, which is one of the best home brewers on the market. To get absolutely delicious single portions of coffee, look no further than the $16 Oxo Good Grip Pour-Over. And, if you’re absolutely wedded to the Coffee Bar’s flexible feature set, you’d be better served by the original $140 Ninja Coffee Bar CF080. Not only does it offer most of the same capabilities, it also costs less and makes better coffee.

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