Worth The Money: Ninja 12-Cup Programmable Coffee Maker
While it may seem that Keurig machines and similar single-serve coffee contraptions dominate the market, only 26 percent of U.S. java drinkers use them. That's despite the fact that 41 percent own a single-serve coffee machine. Go figure.
The rest of the market is dominated by the ol' fuddy-duddy standby: the drip coffee machine. It's convenient, economical, and produces less plastic waste than single-serve machines.
What it generally isn't, though, is durable or reliable. Drip coffee machines, especially those under $100, have a habit of leaking over time and producing sour brews. Shoddy construction, thin plastic parts, and clunky designs don't hold up well to daily use. Thirty-dollar, $40, and $50 models often fail after only a couple months.
After burning through several drip models (sometimes literally), I can put a stamp of approval on what I think is the best automatic coffee machine under $100: the Ninja 12-Cup Programmable Coffee Maker.
Top 3 Pros
* My favorite feature *
Don't worry, we're still in the kitchen.
The Ninja uses an oversized showerhead that sprays heated water evenly across the grounds in the basket. You can see it in the pic above. And, oh, what a treat that is.
This is a departure from the spigot in most drip coffee machines that shoots a jet of water through the middle of the grounds. This can leave dry grounds in the basket even after making a full pot of coffee. You paid for all those grounds, so you might as well get the most out of them.
Lifting the lid to watch the bloom as the Ninja's showerhead saturates the grounds brings out the coffee nerd in me (as if this article wasn't proof enough).
The payoff is a smoother, more flavorful cup of coffee. What's better than that?
All the pieces lock together like a puzzle. Several weeks after opening the box, I don't detect any wobble. This makes a big difference in quality and consistency, even in an entry-level machine like this one.
The Ninja 12-cup machine is the perfect balance between price and performance in the under-$100 range.
Amazon sells the Ninja 12-cup coffee machine for $79.99, although I've seen Target beat that price on the shelf before.
While this is a notch higher than the lowest-priced coffee machines out there, it's worth the extra money. You won't need to replace it over and over. Keep the machine clean, and it should crank out quality that approaches the French press daily.
Top 3 Cons
This machine will let you know when it needs to be cleaned. It'll hit you right in the taste buds, without any warning.
When it happened the first time, it was like a switch flipped. The coffee tasted incredible one morning, and bitter the next. No heads up.
Resetting the quality means running some cider vinegar and water through a few cycles. That's standard for coffee machines, but it still took me by surprise at how quickly things turned sour.
Like most drip coffee machines, the Ninja offers two brew settings: Classic and Rich.
Also like most drip coffee machines, I couldn't tell the difference between the two. It's almost as if Ninja needed an excuse to round out the control panel with extra buttons.
I stick with Classic, unless I'm feeling dangerous. Then it's Rich all the way.
Drip coffee machines should pause when the carafe is removed during brewing. The engineering trick to do so is a simple spring. Why this is so hard for manufacturers to pull off is beyond me. I get that springs wear out, but is this the best anyone can do?
The auto-stop feature auto-gave up after a couple weeks. This is annoying. I don't care if it's a $20 model or a thrift store score, I remain perplexed why a true auto-stop feature is so elusive.
It's Worth It
The Ninja 12-cup coffee machine is the best you'll get without bumping up to the next tier of makers. It has the heart of a "nice" coffee machine without the price tag.
You might scoff at spending $80 on a drip coffee machine like this, but you'll wind up saving money in the long run. Plus, you'll get to start your day with a terrific cup of coffee.
Whether you're shopping for a gift or need to replace the clunker on the counter, the Ninja is my go-to recommendation.
Where To Order It
* All images courtesy of Ninja via Amazon