Wednesday, December 29, 2021

The Best Affordable Programmable Large- and Small-Batch Coffee Maker

One of my husband's holiday gift wish list items this year was a coffee maker that he could use to brew just one or two cups of really good java. He had been looking online at small-batch coffee makers that brew and hadn't found a reasonably priced one that had mostly good reviews. After doing my own due diligence on his behalf, I chose to buy him a Ninja CE251 Programmable Brewer with a 12-cup carafe and a small batch setting.

It makes delicious coffee in a choice of two brew strengths, brews at an appropriately hot water temperature for great flavor without bitterness, can be programmed the night before (so you wake up to the smell and taste of freshly brewed coffee!) and comes with a permanent gold-tone filter that you can use instead of disposable paper filters, if you prefer. It's also easy to fill and clean.

Most importantly, unlike most of the other coffee brewers I reviewed during my research, this Ninja programmable coffee maker with a superior-performing small batch function makes just one to four ups of Joe that's just as rich, hot and flavorful as when you're brewing a full carafe for up to 12 cups. 

Whether you want to brew a full pot for several people or a party crowd, or prefer to brew just one or two (or three or four) cups for yourself and maybe someone else, you'll love this Ninja CE251 Programmable Brewer with small batch settings. 

Image of Ninja CE251 Programmable Brewer with text "Program & Brew Delicious Coffee for one person or a crowd!"
Ninja CE251 Programmable Brewer

You Don't Need to Be a Gourmet to Appreciate Good Quality, Hot, Freshly Brewed Coffee

I grew up with a dad who was a coffee connoisseur (dare I say coffee snob?). He was fussy about his beans, insisted on buying them freshly roasted and grinding them just before brewing them in a drip coffeemaker (although, late in life, he eventually replaced his classic Chemex drip carafe with a programmable coffee maker) and refused to drink coffee that had been brewed more than 30 minutes earlier and wasn't practically scalding hot.

To dad's dismay, for most of my life I drank coffee only with sugar and cream. Even with that dilution, it tended to upset my stomach, so I became primarily a tea drinker. Even so, however, dad did instill in me an appreciation for freshly brewed coffee made from freshly ground beans over coffee that was made with lesser-quality, stale beans or has been sitting in the carafe on a warmer for an extended period of time. 

Then, in 2019, after I adopted a ketogenic diet that helped me lose nearly 60 pounds, my husband and I read "biohacker" Dave Asprey's bestselling book The Bulletproof Diet and I started drinking "bulletproof coffee" most weekday mornings, using Asprey's official Bulletproof coffee recipe made with freshly brewed Bulletproof brand coffee frothed in a blender with grass-fed ghee (clarified butter) and Bulletproof Brain Octane C8 MCT oil. The fat keeps me full and satisfied for hours, and the C8 MCT oil not only helps burn fat as part of a very low carb or ketogenic diet but also helps keep my brain and attention more sharp and focused while I'm working, while the caffeine helps keep me awake and alert. This mixture is so smooth and creamy and the low acidity of the Bulletproof coffee beans agrees with my digestive system far better than ordinary coffee beans, so I no longer need to add cream. Instead of sugar, I sweeten it with one of my favorite keto diet-friendly sugar replacements, such as BochaSweet granulated or Besti monk fruit and allulose blend granulated sweetener.

My husband also has been drinking bulletproof coffee twice a day, a cup first thing in the morning and a second cup mid-afternoon. He finds that it helps tremendously with maintaining his mental acuity, focus and energy during his long and stressful workdays without making him feel wired and jittery, which regular coffee always does but Bulletproof brand coffee does not.

Integrated coffee measuring scoop on side of Ninja CE251 Programmable Coffee Brewer
The Ninja CE251 Programmable Coffee Maker has an integrated coffee measuring scoop

Don't Brew More Coffee Than You Need

Before I bought my husband his new Ninja CE251 Programmable Brewer, we were using my dad's 20-year-old coffee maker, which also had a 12-cup glass carafe but no small batch settings. Using it to make a small batch of coffee (4 cups or less) produced terrible coffee, so he would brew a full carafe's worth. Unfortunately, that was also the case for most of the coffee makers with small-batch settings I looked at that didn't cost a fortune, as well as the single-serve coffee makers that weren't inordinately expensive and didn't use K-cups or other coffee pods, which he have stopped using as we are trying try to minimize our consumption of single-use plastic disposable items.

Good Coffee Is Too Expensive to Waste

Good quality coffee, including sustainably grown, Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee beans that have been tested for mycotoxins (harmful mold toxins), like those in Bulletproof brand coffee, is expensive and a shame to waste. 

So, after brewing a carafe of it, my husband would pour out a cup of the fresh brew for himself (and one for me, if I was having some that morning), then let the rest cool in the carafe to room temperature, pour it into a couple of large hydration bottles and refrigerate them. In the early afternoon, he would decant and reheat a cup of the refrigerated Joe in the microwave it before blending it with grass-fed ghee and MCT oil to make his second Bulletproof coffee of the day.

Coffee Should Be Consumed as Soon as Possible After Brewing

Unfortunately, the coffee oils that give the brew its rich flavor and aroma oxidize when they are exposed to oxygen, both in the air and in the water used to brew it, especially when heated. So, the longer the coffee sits after you brew it, the more the oils oxidize, making the beverage taste more bitter and smell stale. So, the sooner you drink your coffee after brewing it, the better!

That's another reason not to make more coffee than you plan to drink in the next 30-60 minutes. 

Photo of Ninja CE251 programmable coffee brewer with 60-oz. removable water reservoir
The 60-oz. removable water reservoir is easy to bring to the sink to fill

Why the Versatile, Affordable, Programmable Ninja CE251 Is the Best Small Batch Coffee Maker Option

Here are the features and benefits that make the Ninja CE251 the best programable coffee maker for brewing both large and small batches without breaking the bank.

Delicious, Rich Flavor and Aroma, Whether You Make a Single Cup or a Full Carafe

Unlike most other 12-cup carafe programmable coffee makers with a small batch option, this versatile Ninja model delivers the same excellent, flavorful, piping hot brew when you use the small batch settings (for 1–4 cups) as when you make a larger 6–, 8– 10– or 12–cup batch.

Note: Virtually all electric coffee makers consider a "cup" of coffee to be 5 fluid ounces, not the 8 fluid ounces in a standard US measuring cup.  

Affordable

The Ninja CE251 Programmable Coffee Brewer was available on Amazon for less than $80 at the time this post was published, a great price for a coffee maker with such thoughtful design, excellent performance and consistent brew quality for both large and small batch brewing.

Two Custom Brew Strengths

A choice of Classic or Rich strengths and Ninja's Thermal Flavor Extraction® Technology produce hot, flavorful coffee with no bitterness. The Rich strength setting provides a darker, more robust brew and maintains its smooth flavor when you add milk or cream.

Removable Water Reservoir 

One of the things my husband and I really disliked about my dad's 20-year-old coffee maker that we had been using was the fact that the water reservoir was permanently attached to the machine, so we had to use the carafe to measure the water and then pour it into the reservoir, which was hard to do without spilling any. The water reservoir was also black opaque plastic with a window, which made it inconvenient to see the water level.

The water reservoir on the Ninja CE251 large and small batch coffee maker is see through, BPA-free plastic with clear, easy-to-read markings and indentations that make it easy for even small hands like mine to hold it securely when pulling it out to fill at the sink and carrying it back to reattach to the coffee maker.

24-Hour Programmable Delay Brew

You can program your brewer as much as a day in advance, so you can set it up at night to wake you with the aroma of fresh coffee. One of my favorite childhood memories waking up to the smell of Dad's strong, freshly ground and brewed coffee in the morning!

Flavor Straw and Mid-Brew Pause

The "flavor straw" keeps the coffee circulating as it's brewing so the heat and flavor are uniform throughout the batch, while the mid-brew pause lets you remove the carafe briefly to pour a cup or two while waiting for the rest of the batch to brew.

Adjustable Warming Plate

Although I highly recommend drinking your coffee within an hour of brewing it for the best flavor and aroma, the Ninja CE251 gives you the option of programming the warming plate to stay on for up to 4 hours.

Permanent Gold-Tone Filter

A permanent gold-tone metal coffee filter is included with this Ninja coffee brewer. You have the choice to use either the permanent metal mesh filter or disposable #4 cone paper coffee filters; do not use a paper coffee filter inside the permanent metal mesh filter.

If you use the permanent metal mesh filter, you will retain more of the coffee oils for a more flavorful, aromatic brew. If you fill it with ground coffee with a medium grind in the permanent metal filter, as recommended, there should be minimal sediment from the "fines" (finely-ground, powdered coffee too small to be filtered out by the metal mesh). 

Alternatively, you can remove the gold-tone filter and use #4 disposable paper filters instead, which will absorb a lot of the coffee oils and make the brew less flavorful and aromatic but also filter out more of the fines, if having even a small amount of sediment bothers you. I highly recommend using natural, unbleached #4 cone paper filters for both flavor and health and safety reasons. 

Twist-Lock Carafe Lid

Unlike the lid to the glass carafe of my dad's old coffee maker that we had been using, the lid to this Ninja programmable coffee brewer easily locks and unlocks with a simple twist. Now I don't have to risk breaking a nail to attach or detach the carafe lid!

Easy to Clean and Maintain

One of the things my husband hated about our old coffee maker was that, because the water reservoir was not removable, in order to clean it he had to put the entire machine into the sink, even though the built-in electronics needed to be kept dry. In addition, the opaque black plastic made it almost impossible to see whether it was properly cleaned or needed descaling.

The Ninja CE251’s see-through removable plastic reservoir can be carried to the sink for filling or cleaning while keeping the electronics well away from any water. 

Although it is preferable to hand-wash the permanent gold-tone coffee filter, the removable water reservoir and the glass carafe, all three are top-rack dishwasher safe. The manufacturer recommends using a ball-shaped, soft foam brush for thoroughly cleaning the inside of the glass carafe.

As with any electric coffee maker, periodic descaling is recommended to remove buildup from the heating element inside the machine. Although you can use a special descaling solution made specifically for cleaning coffeemakers, 16 ounces of ordinary white vinegar works fine and is significantly cheaper. Follow the simple instructions in the Ninja CE200 series product manual and quick start guide for pouring the descaling solution or vinegar into the removable water reservoir and pressing the Clean button on the control panel on the front of the coffee maker, followed by running a Classic brew cycle with just clean, fresh water. 

You Don’t Have to Be a Coffee Connoisseur to Appreciate the Difference in Taste!

My husband doesn’t consider himself a serious coffee enthusiast like my dad by any means, which is why he was surprised and delighted at how much better the same freshly-ground Bulletproof coffee “The Mentalist” medium dark roast beans tasted after being brewed in his new Ninja CE251 Programmable Coffee Brewer compared to the previous batches brewed in our old coffee maker.

A Great Gift for Any Coffee Lover

Although we haven't had our Ninja CE251 Programmable that long yet, so far we are both thrilled with this purchase. My husband couldn't be happier! It would make a great gift for yourself or someone else who enjoys a great-tasting cup of coffee, needs to brew small amounts most days but also appreciates the ability to brew a full 12-cup carafe when company comes, as well as ease of use and easy cleaning and maintenance. 

Close-up photo of Ninja CE251 Programmable Coffee Maker control panel
The control panel on this programmable large- and small-batch coffee maker is simple, intuitive and easy to read

For those of us who work from home, it's also a treat to be able to brew a small quantity fresh throughout the day.

The Best Affordable Programmable Large- and Small-Batch Coffee Maker by Margaret Schindel

Posts About My Keto Diet Journey

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Preparing to Succeed on the Keto Diet, Part Two

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13 comments:

  1. The Ninja programmable coffee brewer looks perfect for either a small batch of coffee - or coffee for a crowd. Thanks for reviewing all the benefits of this product, Margaret.

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    1. My pleasure, Elf! My husband and I are both surprised and pleased by how good the coffee is, whether we brew only a cup or two or a larger batch, and how easy this electric coffee maker is to fill, program, clean and maintain.

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  2. Perfect timing for this one Margaret, as Fran and I are in need of a new coffee pot. We always make a full 12 cup pot in the morning and then use our single one cup Keurig the rest of the day. I like the features on this and will certainly check it out. Thanks

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    Replies
    1. Awesome, Sam! I think you and Fran will really be pleased with the Ninja CE251, not only for the excellence of the brew but also for the ease of use and versatility.

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  3. Thank you Margaret for this in depth look at a great programable coffee maker. Like Sam, we brew 12 cups in the morning and then later in the day we might brew another 6 cups. I am a coffee-holic (I'm sure there is such a thing). Black and hot is the only way to go. I will have to try your bullet proof recipe (I haen't tried it yet), when our current coffee maker bites the dust, I will definitely have a look at this one! I appreciate your review and all the great points of this coffee maker!

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    1. Olivia, it really is worth investing in the more expensive Bulletproof brand coffee beans, whether you buy them whole and grind them yourself or even if you buy them pre-ground. The vacuum valve in the bag does a great job of keeping them fresh, although I also seal the bag a second time inside a large reusable Stasher silicone storage bag, just for “a belt and suspenders,” as my dad used to say. This Ninja CE251 makes such awesome coffee that I’m sure you and your husband would love its smooth, rich, aromatic and flavorful brew!

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  4. Hubby and I like coffee but do not currently have a coffee maker. Thank you for this very useful in depth review of this Programmable Coffee Brewer. It sounds a good machine with some great features and what a wonderful gift!

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    1. Thanks for your kind words, Jasmine! Like you, I’ve always been more of a tea drinker, but between the clean, sustainably grown Bulletproof coffee beans and the smooth, flavorful brew, convenience and versatility of this Ninja CE251 programmable, I’m becoming more and more of a coffee fan!

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  5. We have not owned a coffee brewer in years, since we switched over to the Kuerig k-cup system. There are definitely times that I miss my coffee brewer. Most recently, at Christmas when we had several family members here. It would have been nice to have a fresh pot of coffee available instead of everyone having to wait for their turn at the Kuerig. It doesn't surprise me at all that Ninja offers one. They have certainly become a trusted company. I also love the programmable option with this maker. Thanks for the great review and recommendation!

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    1. Sylvestermouse, thanks so much for your kind words! I agree about the quality of Ninja brand products. We were gifted a single-serve Keurig K-cup system years back and used it for a couple of years, but we didn't love consuming so many single-use plastic pods that would end up in landfills so we switched to a permanent gold-tone K-cup filter basket. However, even when using our own fresh ground coffee, we weren't crazy about the flavor or the lack of control over the brew strength, and the coffee never seemed to brew hot enough. That's when we brought my dad's old programmable 12-cup carafe machine back out again. Both my husband and I have been pleasantly surprised at the difference in the quality of the coffee and the convenience, versatility, ease of use and cleaning of our new Ninja CE251 programmable brewer! If you decide to consider another brewer, I highly recommend giving this one a try.

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  7. Margaret, this is coffee machine my brother and his wife have. I've used it at their home (being there of course, on and off for months). My brother's wife is very good at brewing the amount needed and not wasting. We aren't as disciplined in our home (we have a different machine) - I thought their coffee machine was high quality and made delicious coffee. I'll vouch for this machine as well. Oh and I agree, this would make a great gift.

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    1. Barbara, thanks so much for letting me know that you have used your brother’s Ninja CE251 programmable coffee brewer and enjoyed the taste of the coffee it makes! No discipline required to get the proportions right on this machine - it’s easy leash! I scoop of ground coffee (using the included integrated coffee scoop that is stored on the side of the unit) per cup of water as marked on the clear reservoir. The coffee it makes really is yummy, and I love the ease of use, filling and cleaning, too!

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