Like it or not, butter, or Bulletproof, coffee, is A Thing. Previously just a murmur of a buttery undercurrent, a silver bullet to nutrition geeks and hardcore sports junkies, it’s starting to gain traction and is the latest fad to be propelled into the popular media for its 15 minutes of fame.
In recent months, we’ve seen features in at least three national newspapers, plus mentions and articles all over the internet. At its most superficial level, it allies itself with the latest discoveries in nutrition that seem slowly to be dawning on the nation at large. Put very, very simply; fat is good and sugar is bad.
If you’ve managed to avoid the trend, then you may not be surprised, though perhaps a touch disgusted, to nd that butter coffee is, quite literally, coffee made with butter. More specifically, it’s made with good- quality, well-roasted Arabica beans, brewed with filtered water, then blended with unsalted butter from grass-fed cows and medium chain triglyceride (MCT), or coconut oil, to create a creamy emulsion.
If you need a step-by-step guide, you’ll find a range of how-to videos on YouTube.
The term Bulletproof coffee has been trademarked by Dave Asprey who discovered, 18,000 feet up a mountain in Tibet, that he was rejuvenated by a creamy cup of yak butter tea. A few years later and he’s built an empire on the principle of Bulletproof coffee, marketing his own branded ingredients including coffee beans (no, we haven’t tried those), along with a whole diet and lifestyle.
Bulletproof coffee is essentially a meal replacement, designed to boost cognitive function and increase energy levels; a performance enhancer if you believe the hype. Owen Bain, a friend and pharmacist who also has a nutrition consultancy called Gourmet Focus, swears by his own version of Bulletproof. It’s essentially the same thing, but without the branded ingredients. He takes his coffee every morning without fail in place of breakfast, and credits the levels of focus that helped him power through the writing of his thesis on it. Owen explains that many of the Bulletproof claims are exaggerated, set in place to boost sales of branded products. He highlights, for example, that most good coffee actually contains no mycotoxins anyway (the main selling point of Bulletproof-branded beans) and that he happily uses beans from the likes of Notes, Square Mile or Nude for his own version of butter coffee.
SO NOW FOR THE SCIENCE BIT
Caffeine, we know, is a proven stimulant with cognitive benefits. However, it’s not long before you’ll get the inevitable post- coffee lull following your morning cup of joe. By emulsifying coffee with oil and butter, the body treats the coffee as a fat. As a result, you get a slow release without the initial buzz, but with a sustained caffeine effect.
Most people are omega-3 deficient, grass-fed butter however has a high ratio of omega-3 to omega-6, along with beta carotene and conjugated lineloic acids. MCT oil is made up of caprylic and caprice acid; after digestion the caprylic acid converts to beta-hydroxybutyrate that crosses the blood-brain-barrier and is then used to create energy and neurotransmitters for brain neurons. This is the bit that improves focus and reaction times. By blending all three ingredients, the idea is that you get a super and sustained brain and body boost. Meanwhile, the high level of protein and fats mean you maintain a consistent blood sugar level with no dips so you won’t feel hungry for hours.
STILL WITH ME?
It’s worth noting that butter coffee shouldn’t be taken out of context. It adheres to Paleo diet principles at its core and is designed to be consumed as a meal replacement, in theory retraining the body to glean its energy from fats rather than carbohydrates as part of a diet that is high in unprocessed food, protein and healthy fats and very low in complex carbohydrates.
Mixing up elements, as with any diet, could be a recipe for disaster and potentially result in weight gain. So, you should avoid having a croissant with your butter coffee.
Another nutritionist I spoke to had concerns about cutting out a whole meal or two a day and the impact of omitting vital nutrients garnered from fruit and vegetables.
Let’s just say, butter coffee is not going to work for everyone.
I was keen to speak with Kickstarter project Black Sheep Coffee who are trying to raise funds for a permanent shop, having recently concluded a pop-up residency at Old Street station.
Along with their controversial, robusta blend beans, I’d heard they were serving Bulletproof coffee. Turns out, after speaking with them, that their version is not quite as full-on as its namesake. Co-founder Gabe Shohet explained they weren’t actually that keen on the avour or texture of butter in coffee, relying instead on whole milk for creaminess, to which they add a tablespoon and a half of coconut oil and a sprinkling of cinnamon. Gabe is an avid believer that their robusta is superior to arabica in the bulletproof scenario. Thanks to its high caffeine and low acid levels, the beans punch through the heavy drink sufficiently and the low acidity is better for athletes who are his core market for the beverage, of which he sells up to 40 cups a day.
Although Black Sheep maintain and are proud of a consistent espresso recipe, it seems some of the effects of their bullet coffee may suffer due to a non-prescriptive approach beyond that espresso shot; I’m told the customer can add anything they like to the drink, including syrups if they desire, effectively turning the drink into a nutritional time bomb. I wonder if they advise against eating with the drink or if that is left up to the customer, too.
I first encountered butter coffee several years ago when I was in the grip of a nutrition and fitness obsession, and found a small but devoted group of advocates on various forums. It was at a time before I really drank coffee and, despite curiosity, it was the larding up of a drink I couldn’t quite get my head around. Now, I’m more than comfortable consuming butter (possibly more than I should) but less happy with corrupting what has become one of my favourite morning rituals.
The suggestion of Bulletproof to anyone in the speciality coffee world is almost universally greeted with an eye roll and a quick rebuff, dismissed as the latest fad.
Faced with a beast of a week at work, I took a deep breath and committed to sullying my tenderly made morning brew every day for a week.
I’m not going to lie; it tasted like crap. If, like me, you don’t even like milk or sugar in your coffee, then butter and oil is never going to be an easy transition. I persevered, partly because I’m stubborn, but also because I felt like I was bene ting from its effects; yes, I felt more focused, there was a clarity of thought that helped me speed through the most mundane chores and I didn’t feel remotely hungry. Placebo effect? Maybe, except the science, along with the number of testimonials
I gathered while writing this piece, all seem to ring true.
WILL IT LAST OR IS IT A STEP TOO FAR?
Will we see Bulletproof coffee in speciality cafes? I honestly doubt it. Bulletproof is not a beverage to be sipped, savoured and enjoyed. No, it’s a means to an end, essentially transforming coffee into a drug, or another sports drink. I expect that if it could be popped as a pill, no one would mourn butter coffee’s existence, how many advocates do you hear rhapsodising over the flavour? And I think that’s the crux of the issue. At best, we can hope this brief moment in the spotlight may introduce a new demographic to speciality beans, but I fully expect it to disappear from whence it came before long.
The speciality coffee industry is dedicated to careful sourcing, roasting and preparation and then the appreciation of the clarity of flavour achieved; Bulletproof coffee has no place here.
So what if you’d like the effects without messing with your coffee? I reckon scrambled eggs pimped with grass-fed butter and MCT oil, maybe some avocado and a coffee on the side, just the way you like it, would be a pretty good substitute. I think it goes without saying, that it should be enjoyed as part of that old adage; a good balanced diet; clean, unprocessed foods, perhaps a little heavier on the proteins and healthy fats and lighter on the carbs than you’re used to.
Me? Well, I think I like bread a little bit too much for all that.
Chlöe Callow blogs about food and coffee at faerietalefoodie.com.
How to make butter coffee
If you want to experience it for yourself follow the steps below.
1. Make a cup of coffee by your usual means, we’d recommend using a V60 or Chemex with some locally roasted speciality coffee beans.
2. Pour the rest of the water into your blender to pre-warm it.
3. Empty the blender of the water and add the freshly brewed coffee, 25g of unsalted grass-fed butter and 15ml of MCT oil per cup brewed.
4. Blend until there is a thick head of foam on the top, this could take a while depending on the power of your blender.