What is butter coffee, and why is it so popular?

Coffee 480

What is butter coffee, and why is it so popular?

Butter coffee: It’s the latest taste sensation to sweep the nation. (“Nation,” in this case, refers to America. Apologies to any offended overseas readers. Perhaps this particular taste sensation has already swept up your lands.) It’s supposed to be better for you than regular coffee; it’s supposed to be smarter than cream-and-sugar coffee; it’s supposed to help regulate your heart and your chi and give you more energy. There are whole neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Portland where the very mention of “standard” coffee gets you a hard stare and a big scarlet C you have to sew onto your clothing.

But what is this marvel of modern science? Where does it come from, and why is it so popular? And, perhaps most importantly: What does it actually do for you?

According to Dave Asprey, adventurer and creator of Bulletproof Coffee, the answer is simple: butter is better for you than cream. With it, you get “all the benefits of healthy milk fat with none of the damaging denatured casein proteins found in cream.” There is precious little science to be found on Bulletproof’s site, though. There are plenty of mentions of “natural,” and “organic,” and “satisfying,” and “feel”–and all of that stuff is important, to be sure; there’s no need to eat poor-quality food–but, if you come away from the Bulletproof method feeling like you’ve just gone through some new-age feel goodery, you’re probably not alone.



At the same time, coffee connoisseurs are quick to point out that the OGT butter-in-coffee recipe comes from Tibet, where salt and black pepper are also part of the recipe. (And the butter is yak butter.) And that in Singapore, where the coffee is generally lower-quality, it’s not uncommon for the beans to be “fried with butter in a wok,” and then turned into coffee after that. So there is some historical precedence for butter coffee; it’s just that those precedents seem to come from places where necessity dictated butter’s inclusion.

And a recent butter coffee demonstration on the Today show pointed out that you’re actually at risk of steady weight gain if you make butter coffee a regular part of your diet. A tablespoon of butter adds around 200 extra calories to your coffee, to say nothing of MCT, the coconut-palm oil blend that Bulletproof (and its many acolytes) insist you have to add to the cup to get the full effects of the energy boost that butter provides. The logic is that MCT “promotes weight loss and revs up your brainpower.” There isn’t any science to back that up, though. Today concluded that MCT was simply a placebo–so, if it gets you moving, you might offset some of the calories you’ve taken in. But, if it doesn’t, you’ve added a fattier-than-normal cup of coffee to your diet for scientifically bogus reasons.

In the interest of full discolsure, I should point out that I felt it would be a good use of available resources to make my own cup of butter coffee and drink it while writing this article. My own reflections are these:

-Butter coffee is creamy, but not any creamier than coffee with half-and-half in it.
-It is bitter, but rather less so than black coffee; the butter takes the edge off.
-It is not heavy to drink, but it does sit somewhat heavier in the stomach than “standard” coffee. Probably because there is a tablespoon of butter in it.
-It is a pleasant brown-yellow color. This is not a standard coffee color. Again: The tablespoon of butter explains this.
-It doesn’t appear to be doing anything more or less than coffee usually does.

In conclusion, then: Drink up, and drink whatever the hell you want when you do. Happy caffeination.


(Photo credit: Butter Coffee via Katherine Lim on Flickr)

website statistics