When it comes to product packaging, consumer brands tend to be as explicit as possible in order to avoid confusion. If a shopper isn’t quite sure what they’re buying, they’ll probably leave it on the shelf. You won’t find prime rib labeled as tofu, milk as an alcoholic beverage, or a bag of sugar as salt.
There is one anomaly in grocery stores, and that’s Chock full o’Nuts coffee. The familiar can of ground beans is pure coffee, its contents completely divorced from its name. There are no nuts whatsoever. There’s even a disclaimer on the label: "No nuts. Just Coffee." But even the manufacturer admitted to The New York Times that some people avoid buying the product because they’re not quite sure what’s in it. So what gives?
In its earliest incarnation, Chock full o’Nuts actually made sense. The company originated in New York in the 1920s, where founder William Black was told he couldn’t sell anything out of his leased space in the basement of a building that was also sold by the drugstore located above him. To abide by the terms and to appeal to the theater crowd nearby, Black sold nuts. His venture quickly expanded to 18 nut shops that also sold sandwiches and coffee.
When the Depression hit in the 1930s and nut sales dwindled, Black increasingly utilized his roasters for coffee instead. Canned coffee came in 1953, and Black decided to keep the name of his shops for this new consumer product. The company even offers a brief history of its brand on the label, mentioning its nutty origins before again reassuring people there are no nuts.
Whatever sales might be lost to the confusion apparently doesn’t bother the Massimo Zanetti Beverage Group, the Treviso, Italy-based parent company of Chock full o’Nuts. The brand has a strong awareness in the northeast, and consumers are apparently quick to catch on when the coffee rolls out to other parts of the country. That initial curiosity over the name may actually further brand awareness: Chock full o’Nuts is the country’s fourth-largest seller of off-the-shelf coffee, behind Folgers, Maxwell House, and Nescafé.
Ironically, while their coffee is popular, Chock full o’Nuts wasn’t able to convince consumers they offered a solid snack product. The company tried going back to nuts in the 1960s, selling dry-roasted peanuts, cashews, and almonds. Few shoppers were interested. It turns out the last thing anyone wanted from Chock full o’Nuts is actual nuts.
Update: The Ninja Hot & Cold Brewed System is on sale for $120 ($40 off) for Sam's Club members until May 19.
For people who just want a cup of joe to help them get out the door in the morning, the French presses, Chemexes, Aeropresses, Moka pots, and other specialized devices that coffee aficionados swear by probably seem more overwhelming than appealing. Ditto the fancy cappuccino machines at local cafes. That’s where Ninja’s new Hot & Cold Brewed System comes in: It was created to give coffee addicts a myriad of options with minimal fuss, not to mention minimal equipment. And it makes tea, too!
“Coffeehouses are known for having an endless selection, but current at-home brewers haven't given users the vast variety of choice we thought possible, and certainly not all in one product," Mark Rosenzweig, CEO of SharkNinja, said in a press release. "The Ninja Hot & Cold Brewed System changes the category entirely. This innovative system is more than just a machine you use in the morning; it's your all-day brewing partner.”
The Hot & Cold Brewed System comes with two baskets: one for coffee and one for tea. It knows what you're making to make based on the basket you insert, and the available options for that basket will light up. The machine allows the user to make six different sizes of coffee or tea, from a single cup all the way up to a full 50-ounce (10-cup) carafe.
And of course, as the name suggests, the system can make both hot and iced beverages. For coffee, it has five brew options: classic, rich, over ice, cold brew, and specialty (a concentrated brew for milky drinks like cappuccinos). If you’re making tea, you can choose between hot and cold brews optimized for herbal, black, oolong, white, or green tea.
When you select an over ice or cold brew, the machine automatically doubles the strength of your beverage so it doesn't get overly diluted by the ice cubes in the carafe. Even better, the Ninja can make cold brew in just 10 to 15 minutes, whereas other systems and methods typically take hours. (Hot coffee is brewed at 205°F, while the cold brew is made at 101°F.) And the system has a hot and cold frother that folds into the side so you can make barista-level lattes, too.
These bells and whistles sound impressive on paper, but how do they perform in real life? Ninja sent me Hot & Cold Brewed System to test for myself.
Ease of Use
Though it might look like something developed by NASA, the Hot & Cold Brewed System is designed to easily work with the twist of a dial and the push of a button, and it delivers. From loading in the correct amount of grounds with the system’s “smart scoop” to picking what type of brew you’d like, it’s simple enough to use even while bleary-eyed in the morning. It’s also easy to schedule a delayed brew so you can do the rest of your morning routine while your coffee brews. (Here’s the only drawback I can think of about this machine: When it starts brewing, it’s kind of noisy—loud enough to make my cats jump. It’s not a dealbreaker, but if you live in a small apartment and plan to brew coffee so that it’s ready right when you wake up, it might be something to consider.)
The system even tells you when it needs to be descaled. The “clean” button will light up, at which point you simply fill the water reservoir with descaling solution and water and press the clean button. A countdown lets you know how much longer the clean cycle will last.
Taste and Flavor
I swapped out an old, cheap coffee maker for the Hot & Cold Brewed System, and the difference was immediately noticeable. Whether hot or cold, the coffee made by the H&CBS was a better, smoother cup of joe. That’s due to what Ninja has dubbed Thermal Flavor Extraction automated brewing technology, which, according to a press release, “knows the precise temperatures, correct bloom times, and proper levels of saturation for every possible beverage combination to ensure a great taste every time.”
Whatever tech they use, it works. The coffee I make in this machine is consistently tasty. The rich brew setting works exactly as advertised, too, providing a richer, bolder flavor than the classic brew.
Features and Accessories
One of the best things about the H&CBS is the fact that it cuts down on waste significantly. Unlike other machines, it doesn't require any plastic pods or paper filters. Instead, it comes with two permanent filters, one for coffee and one for tea.
And the cold brew function is a game changer if you prefer iced coffee to hot. Not only does it brew quickly, but it eliminates the messy cleanup that comes with making cold brew yourself.
Typically priced at $230 for the thermal carafe version (or $200 for the glass carafe), the Hot & Cold Brewed System is significantly more expensive than a simpler drip coffee machine. But if you’re a cold brew addict looking to treat yourself, it’s worth it. Consider springing for the slightly more expensive thermal carafe model, which will keep your java hot or cold for hours. (I’ve left ice in it overnight and found cubes the next morning.)