First, about me. I would not call myself a coffee snob. I generally drink one 10 oz. mug of coffee in the morning, black. I do strongly prefer dark, rich roasts, and for many years I subscribed to Gevalia until the worldwide coffee shortage meant I could not depend on my favorites being delivered. I am the only one in my family who drinks coffee, so I have gotten by all my life with a small, Mr. Coffee-type brewer, where half a pot gave me my 10-oz. cup.
Although my opinion has always been (and still is) that the excellence of a cup of coffee depends mainly on the coffee itself, I had read that the machine that makes the coffee matters, too. Specifically, I had heard that ordinary home coffee makers could not heat water as hot as commercial coffee makers, and this is why coffee made at a restaurant is better than coffee made at home. So in the back of my mind I've wondered whether a coffee maker more expensive than a Mr. Coffee might make a better cup of coffee.
Another reason I decided to try a higher-end coffee maker is the inconvenience of measuring water each time I made a single cup of coffee. Some of my previous coffee makers had detachable reservoirs, which made the process of measuring out exactly the right amount of water for one cup a little easier, but most did not. A better machine like the Ninja Coffee Bar holds a tank of water and dispenses exactly the amount you need, depending on the size of your serving and the type of coffee you are making.
On setting up and reading about the Ninja Coffee Bar, I was delighted to discover the convenience of choosing different styles of coffee and different volumes by turning a knob and pushing a button. At first the number of choices was a bit bewildering to a simple coffee drinker like myself, but I quickly caught on. There is a knob with four different settings: Cup, XL Cup, Travel Mug, and XL Multi-Serve. The volume of coffee made depends on which setting you choose and then which of three buttons you push: Classic, Rich, or Over Ice. For example, the Cup setting makes 9.5 oz. with the Classic button and 8.7 oz. with the Rich button. The XL Cup gives you 11.5 oz. with the Classic button and 10.3 oz. with the Rich button. I tried all of these combinations and was very happy with all of the results. The Rich setting definitely made a richer cup of coffee, but I would not say that the Classic was just a watered-down version of the Rich. It was, as promised by the instruction booklet, smooth and balanced. The Rich choice is recommended if you are adding milk, cream, or flavoring, but I enjoyed it black.
In addition to the four-settings x Classic/Rich/Iced choices, there are also two buttons that function independently of the four settings: a specialty button and a café forte button. The former always dispenses 4 oz of extra-rich, concentrated coffee for special recipes, and the latter always dispenses 8 oz. of robust, full-bodied coffee, drinkable black or au lait. I found the café forte choice to produce a very nice cup of black coffee indeed, with nuances I never tasted with my old Mr. Coffee.
This morning I tried the specialty option, using a recipe for pumpkin spice latte from the very interesting 40-coffeehouse-style recipe booklet that came with the Ninja. I chose this recipe because (1) I like pumpkin spice coffee, and (2) it allowed me to try out the Ninja's built-in frother. The frother produced an awesome frothy mix for the latte. The result was tasty, but incredibly stronger than the pumpkin spice lattes you'll find in coffee shops. As interesting as the recipe book is, a shortcoming is that it does not recommend what kind of coffee to use with rare exceptions such as blueberry coffee for the Blueberries & Cream Iced Coffee recipe. So you'll need to use your own knowledge of roast types to use the recipe booklet.
I also had difficulty finding a recommendation about a recommended coarseness of grind, There is one line in the instruction booklet that suggests a "medium grind." I suppose that term refers to the "auto-drip" setting on the grinder I use in the store where I buy coffee. It certainly worked well with both the permanent filter and paper filters, although the store grinder suggested a finer grind for paper filters.
A couple of more details about the coffee-making process. There's a double-sided scoop for measuring small or large scoops of coffee, and it clips conveniently to the side of the coffee maker. The Ninja comes with a permanent filter, although you can use a #2 paper cone filter if you like. I tried both and found no difference in the quality of the coffee. A lever on the filter holder can be switched from left to right to prevent dripping when removing the filter holder for cleaning. I discovered by accident that if you push a brew button after failing to return the lever to the left, the machine gives you a warning beep. Nice feature.
The base of the Ninja contains a cup platform for holding ordinary mugs. It can be raised like a drawbridge if you are using extra-tall cups. The frother swings forward or back, out of the way as needed, and can be removed easily for cleaning. In fact, all of the movable parts of the Ninja worked very well, moving or separating as they should, but also being steady and sturdy while in place.
Before pressing one of the brew buttons you must turn on the Ninja by pressing a button labeled "Pre-Heating." The preheating of water takes about three minutes; when the light goes out you are ready to brew. Once you press a brewing button, a small amount of hot water is delivered to "infuse" the coffee. Then there is a pause before the process continues to completion. It does not take long to brew a cup. There is no heater of any sort for your mug, so it is recommended that you warm up your mug with hot water for a few minutes before brewing.
The quick-start guide contains sufficient information to brew all of the available types of coffee, while the owner's guide gives you some more details and the recipe book some ideas for special coffeehouse recipes. I know I will continue to enjoy the Ninja Coffee Bar, and I think you will, too.