Best Multi-Serve Brewer – Ninja Specialty

The Ninja CM401 Specialty Coffee Maker is one of the few home brewers certified by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) that has the option to brew different servings sizes without changing the amount of water in the machine. These machines are called Multi-Serve machines as most coffee machines will brew until the water tank is empty, so if you put in 24 ounces of water you cannot then choose to brew 16 ounces unless you pour some water out. The version we tested had a glass carafe, the Ninja CM407 is the thermal carafe version. We previously reviewed the Braun MultiServe (review) as another SCA approved brewer, however we recommend the Ninja as the best Multi-Serve.

There is a lot to like in the Ninja, it is SCA certified, the filter basket can stand on its own, the brew straw in the carafe, the shower head dripper and a removable water tank. Multi-Serve brewers usually have a manual drip stop and will allow you to brew directly into a cup or any other vessel in contrast to other brewers that use the carafe lid to operate the auto-drip stop so you can’t brew into anything else. The brewer also has pre-infusion process like the bloom process in pour over which is a nice feature. The filter basket swings out which is a nice feature as I like to leave mine open after a brew to allow it to dry faster, with models that open on top it can get in the way of your cabinets.

The machine has pretty big footprint, but I like the open back design that allows you to see through the machine. Brew temperatures were in line with SCA requirements and final brew temperatures were around 170F and water temperature taken while brewing was 196-199F.

The Ninja is a capable machine and I really like the results with making hot coffee in the classic mode. I was not as interested in all the extras such as the built-in frother, specialty setting or other modes. One thing I found frustrating was the manual, because they only say how much coffee you should expect in the final brew on the different modes. We should measure coffee by weight and not with scoops and the manual did not make it clear how much water is used for each serving size. This is the information we need to determine how much coffee to use, I’ve done the legwork for you below.

I suspect Ninja is trying to make this brewer for the mass market and simplifying it by recommending scoops for coffee measurement, but I would have liked to see some more useful information in the manual for an SCA certified brewer presuming they were interested in more discerning consumers.

One thing I like about the Ninja is that you can turn off the hot plate, change the time it stays on and even change the temperature of the plate in the settings (unlike with the Braun). I turned the hot plate off completely and use mine with a Zojirushi 1L Vacuum Carafe with half pot brews as it is too small for a full carafe brew. This is a good option since manufacturer thermal carafes don’t have the same build quality as the Zojirushi. If you want to brew a full carafe, you need to use the included carafe. The cup clearance is high enough to fit my Contigo 20 ounce (just barely) and Zojirushi 16 ounce travel mugs where they would not fit under the Braun.

Below is a recipe chart based off a combination of what was in the manual, what I measured as water output (without any coffee) and the markings on the water tank. The amounts may be off by 1-2 fluid ounces. Overall, I felt the serving selection could have been labeled much more clearly, also since when is a half carafe 68% of a full carafe?

*The Specialty mode is meant to make concentrated coffee for espresso-like drinks. Depending on your coffee, grind size, filter and brew mode the half and full brews may overflow. If this happens you can try to hot rinse your filter first, use a coarser grind or try to rich brew mode.

I used a measuring cup and tested the brew sizes without any coffee or filter to see how much water was used and below is what I found. I don’t know if this there is just some variation, but it didn’t match up precisely with what was in the manual or the markings on the water tank. I used the larger numbers on the chart above to ensure that you were not under-dosing your coffee so this may require some tweaking.

  • Cup – 11 oz.
  • XL Cup – 12.5 oz.
  • Travel – 16 oz.
  • XL Multi 20 oz.
  • Half – 32.5 oz.
  • Full – 48 oz.

The Over Ice mode reduces the amount of water used to 40% to account for about 60% of ice. The Rich mode increases the brew time with a slower drip and per the manual will result in less coffee output. With larger brew sizes make sure to wipe the shower head as some grounds can splash up onto it.

Overall I really liked this brewer and the one I tested has found a new home on my kitchen counter, so I use pour over for most days and use the CM401 for when I need to schedule an early morning brew or larger brew sizes. We also tested the Ninja Programmable Brewer and recommend that as the best value brewer, it is not SCA certified and doesn’t have multiple serving size options, but it is a great value brewer.

Best Value Coffee Brewer – Ninja Programmable

The Ninja CE251 Programmable Brewer is available at many retailers and is a great option if you are looking for the best value in a coffee maker. It makes great coffee and has strong set of features. While this model is not certified by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), some of the machines in the Ninja line are and they may have carried some of the capabilities into this machine. Check out the Ninja CM407 for an SCA certified MultiServe brewer with thermal carafe that can make different serving sizes easily (see our full review of the CM401). We also reviewed the Cuisinart PerfecTemp with a similar price price and the Ninja performed much better.

The machine isn’t the best looking machine out there, but it is thoughtfully designed. Some of the great features are the removeable water compartment, showerhead dripper, drip stop basket holder, programmable auto-on and brew straw to prevent coffee stratification. I wish it came with a thermal carafe option, but at this price point it is a great value. You cannot brew into anything other than the supplied carafe due to the machine design, so an after market carafe or brewing into a mug is not an option.

One reason why you always hear me talk about measuring coffee by weight and milliliters is that there is no standard cup size on these machines. This machine comes with a 60 ounce or 12 cup carafe, which if you do the math would mean they define a “cup” as 5 ounces, but if you test that with a measuring cup the markings on the water compartment aren’t exact. How I measure coffee is use a measuring cup with milliliter markings for water and refer to my chart below to determine how many grams of coffee to use with how much water. I grind the beans fresh each time before brewing, but you can grind the night before if you want to program it for auto start.

One of the main requirements to earn SCA certification is the brew temperature and this machine brews at the ideal temperature. With a final brew temperature of 185F (with hot plate off) for a 700 ml brew, this brew temperature is on par if not better with the SCA certified brewers we have tested. For comparison, a pour over made with fresh off the boil water is about a 178F final brew temperature. I also like that you can turn off the hot plate so you don’t cook your coffee and also set the auto off time for the hot plate. Not have the option for a thermal carafe isn’t a deal breaker, as long as you transfer your coffee within about 20 minutes you should be ok leaving it on the hot plate. I turn the hot plate off all together and make sure to transfer my coffee to a thermos or mug soon after the brew is done, which has an audible alert or there is an auto drip stop when you remove the carafe.

The machine uses #4 cone filters which are easy to find. For the cost, features and brew quality this machine is our pick for best value coffee brewer, with such great results you’re paying for design and build quality/warranty on the higher priced brewers. Check out all our recommendations here.

You can download the Ninja CE241 manual here.