Tom's Guide Verdict
The versatile Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker can brew a standard cup of coffee as well as your favorite cafe-style specialty drinks. It doesn't do cold brew coffee, nor does it make tea. Regardless, it still offers plenty of flexibility for at-home baristas.
Multiple brew styles and sizes
Intelligent warming plate
Permanent filter included
No cold brew or tea options
Coffee sometimes burns
Why you can trust Tom's Guide
The Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker is a lot like the all-inclusive Ninja Hot and Cold Brewed System but is priced around $30 less. Both machines are capable of brewing regular coffee in various serving sizes plus cafe-style specialty drinks. They even share features like Delay Brew and a fold-out milk frother. The trade-off for the Ninja Specialty's lower price tag, however, is a lack of brew functions versus the Hot and Cold Brewed System.
Cup capacity: 10 cups (50 oz)
Size: 12 x 8.8 x 15 inches
Brew sizes: standard, XL, travel mug, XL multi-serve travel mug, half carafe (five cups), and full carafe (10 cups)
Brew styles: classic, rich, over ice, specialty
Unlike the Hot & Cold machine, the Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker does not make cold brew, nor is it capable of steeping tea. However, if you don't need anything more than a kettle to make tea, and you're patient enough to make cold brew overnight in a mason jar, these omissions from the Ninja Specialty's control panel will hardly matter — especially since it still boasts a variety of brew strengths and sizes.
How does the Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker fare against some of the best coffee makers in its price range? After weeks of careful testing, we're here to share our impressions.
Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker: Price
The Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker was released in 2019 with an MSRP of $180. Today, it's available at Amazon for $150. It's a refresh of the now-discontinued and similarly-priced Ninja Coffee Bar. The differences between the two coffee machines are almost negligible; the Ninja Specialty has a sleeker and more rounded design but ditches the Coffee Bar's extra-strong Cafe Forte brew setting.
The Ninja Specialty is $30 less than the comparable Mr. Coffee Espresso and Cappuccino Maker, which leaves a slightly smaller footprint and has an automatic milk frother, but only brews one cup at a time.
A permanent filter is included with the Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker so you won't have to be on the hook for purchasing paper filters, however you can use a #4 paper cone if you wish. Remember to wash the reusable filter well after each use to avoid bitter coffee. (It's top-rack dishwasher safe.)
Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker: Features
The Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker offers six brew sizes: standard cup, XL cup, travel mug, XL multi-serve travel mug, half carafe (five cups), and full carafe (10 cups), which matches the slightly more expensive Hot & Cold model.
There are also two brew strength options; 'classic ' and 'rich.' You can also select 'over ice,' to brew hot coffee over ice without watering it down. The 'specialty' setting produces highly-concentrated coffee for lattes and cappuccinos.
The Ninja Specialty doesn't offer brew strength options for iced coffee, and the specialty drinks are one-size only (4-oz.). Still, the Ninja Specialty has quite an array of brew settings for a machine of its price.
As for convenience features, the Ninja Specialty has a Delay Brew button for those mornings when you'd like to wake up to a fresh pot of coffee. At the base of the brew basket is a sliding Drip Stop switch, which comes in handy if you must have your first cup of coffee before brewing the rest of the pot.
Since the Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker comes with a glass carafe, the base of the machine has an Intelligent Warming Plate that adjusts the temperature according to how much coffee is in the carafe. You can program how long you want the warming plate to stay on, with a max time of four hours. Alternatively, you can manually control the temperature of the warming plate by pressing the Stay Warm button.
Single brews don't require any coffee pods, which is becoming more typical of pricier machines. If you're keen to turn your K-Cups into lattes, however, you can shell out another $40 and pick up the Keurig K-Cafe Special Edition with its sleek brushed-nickel finish reminiscent of cafe-style espresso machines.
Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker: Design
The Ninja Specialty Machine measures 12 x 8.8 x 15 inches. It's less wide than the Hot and Cold by about two inches but otherwise shares the same dimensions.
The left of the Ninja Specialty features a fold-away milk frother and hanging storage for the included Ninja Scoop, a convenient tool that includes the number of recommended scoops for every brew size printed on it.
In the center is a pull-down platform for single-cup brews. In addition to the 50-oz. glass carafe, the base of the machine accommodates travel mugs and tumblers. There's also a red light that indicates whether or not the warming place is active.
On the right is a 50-oz. plastic water reservoir with a flip top and markings indicating minimum fill lines for every brew size. The design of the Ninja Specialty makes it simple to remove the reservoir if you need to take it to a tethered water source; however, I prefer the more discreet placement of the Hot and Cold Brew System's reservoir behind its control panel.
While you'll still need to create a fair amount of counter space for the Ninja Specialty, you won't have to worry about storing brew baskets that aren't in use — which is something to consider with the Hot and Cold model.
Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker: Ease of use
The control panel of the Ninja Specialty Coffee is straightforward. There's a single knob to select which brew size you'd like. Or, just press the button that corresponds to the type of coffee you'd like and you're good to go.
Brew times for the Ninja Specialty are roughly the same as the Hot and Cold System. It takes approximately 10 minutes to brew a full carafe on the 'classic' setting.
All removable parts of the Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker are top-rack dishwasher safe — that includes the glass carafe. If the machine needs a more thorough descaling of calcium buildup, the Clean button will illuminate.
Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker: Performance
Overall, the Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker produced some decent cups of coffee. Unfortunately, there were moments when my coffee was bitter— and at times even burned —when I chose the 'rich' setting. I used the same type of coffee and brew setting with the Ninja Hot and Cold Brewed System and didn't have that issue.
I should note that I tend to pour myself a cup of coffee as soon as a carafe is ready, so I can't blame the burnt bitterness on the Intelligent Warming Plate. Quite the contrary, actually, as I found it did a good job of keeping my better pots of coffee warm without overheating them.
While I'm not the biggest fan of iced coffee, the 'over ice' setting on the Ninja Specialty did a fine job of not watering down the coffee, but like the Hot and Cold System, my iced coffee wasn't particularly smooth.
The specialty coffees were my favorite and generally easy to make, especially with the fold-out milk frother at the ready. I'm particularly fond of the flat whites and cappuccino-style coffees I tried because the 'specialty' brews provided a perfect and well-balanced base upon which I could add frothy milk and other accents (like cinnamon).
The Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker makes a few whirring start-up sounds and emits a high-pitched beep when it's finished brewing. Otherwise, it's a relatively quiet machine.
What we didn't like
I do wish there was more flexibility with choosing brew and size settings when it comes to iced coffee and specialty drinks, but this isn't out of the norm for most at-home specialty brewers. However, the Braun MultiServe allows for multiple brew strengths for iced coffee, albeit for about $30 more than the Ninja.
The buttons on the Ninja Specialty are almost flush to the control panel. This isn't an issue, except when it's time to set the clock. It's not a design that lends itself to hitting the same button repeatedly. Given that you only have to set the time once you have it plugged in — and again if you want to use Delay Brew — this is a minor quibble.
Should you buy the Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker?
Overall, the Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker is a versatile machine with everything you need to make a range of specialty drinks. It'll suit anyone who wants a coffee machine that can brew a decent cup of morning coffee yet also handle fancier drinks when the need arises.
The Ninja Specialty is a cheaper alternative for anyone who doesn't need as many features as the Ninja Hot and Cold Brewed System. Aside from the Hot and Cold Brewed System's ability to make tea and cold brew, these two Ninja coffee machines have many overlapping functions. Both machines are quite good at what they do, so it'll ultimately come down to your preferences and budget.
Bear in mind that the Ninja Specialty makes espresso-style drinks. If you're seeking a true espresso maker, the DeLonghi Stilosa is one of the best espresso machines you can buy and costs about $50 less than the Ninja. If it's a standard coffee maker you want instead, save even more cash by opting for the Braun BrewSense drip coffee maker, which also allows for single-cup brews.
Freelance writer and editor Alison is an expert mattress tester for Tom's Guide, and hails from Philadelphia, USA. Alison has reviewed a wide range of mattresses, pillows and other sleep accessories for Tom's Guide, putting the latest hybrid, memory foam and cooling mattresses from Casper, Nectar, Awara, Brooklinen and other leading brands through their paces. Alison has been sharing buying advice and retail news for over a decade. When she isn't reviewing mattresses, other home products or hunting for great deals to save you money, Alison can be found teaching/training in martial arts, fawning over skincare, and indulging in her quarantine-borne hobby: cooking.