The story behind today’s butter coffee trend, believe it or not, begins with the shaggy-coated, domesticated yak.
Yes, exactly. That animal that looks like a hairy cow and lives in the higher elevations of Tibet.
Yak have been used as beasts of burden by Tibetan herders for thousands of years. They provide almost everything needed for survival:
Over the years the Tibetan herders developed innovative ways to use the yak. One such innovation helped them get the healthy calories from fat in a delicious delivery system.
Yak butter tea.
They used the yak’s milk, along with strong tea (usually black), to create a calorie-dense, frothy, and interesting drink concoction.
In other parts of the world, like Ethiopia, mixing spiced butter with coffee is an age-old tradition.
Like most people, I was introduced to the idea of butter in coffee several years ago by the guy behind the Bulletproof health brand, Dave Asprey.
He revealed to the world, via the Joe Rogan Experience, that he learned about this healthy and robust drink when he was climbing in the Himalayan Mountains.
On one particularly grueling day, he was simply sapped of energy. He was given the frothy yak butter tea, and he found the effects on both his energy and clarity to be profound.
Upon returning home, he substituted the yak butter for Kerrygold (the easiest to find) unsalted grass-fed butter, along with a healthy oil like coconut oil (or specifically, MCT oil), and good quality coffee. This new concoction had the same effect as his drink in the Himalayas.
Did You Know? MCT stands for medium chain triglyceride (or medium chain fatty acid), and grass-fed butter is much healthier than traditional butter because it contains CLA, many times more Omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin K2 (of which most people are deficient).
Thus, butter coffee in America (or, in his case, Bulletproof coffee) was born.
“Whoa, slow down,” you might be thinking.
Let’s break this down now that we know how it all started.
MCT oil essentially is coconut or palm oil that has been processed to extract specific medium chain fatty acids from it, creating a highly concentrated product with numerous health benefits.
The reason they’re medium chain (as opposed to long or short) is simply an indication of how many atoms are present in the chain.
The acids necessary to make MCT oil are the following:
Medium chain fatty acids — like those in natural coconut oil or concentrated MCT oil — are able to bypass your digestive system and head straight for your bloodstream. Here they’re transported directly to your liver, which naturally converts the oil into ketones (pure energy!).
Your liver then releases the ketones back into your bloodstream, where they’re transported throughout your body. They can even pass the blood-brain barrier to supply your brain with energy, which feels like sharp mental focus and pliability.
Typical fatty acids — not the medium chain ones — must be processed through your stomach and small intestine until they’re absorbed into the blood stream, which is much slower.
Did You Know? Medium chain fatty acids are fast-absorbing whereas typical fatty acids have to go all the way through your digestive system, which takes much longer.
Besides the fast-acting energy, there are a few other benefits of MCTs:
Either way, whether you choose to add either MCT oil concentrate or natural coconut oil to your coffee, there’s a definite health impact that can’t be understated.
Grass-fed or grain-fed butter — that is the question. And there are definite health benefits to choosing grass-fed as your “creamer.”
In nature, cows graze over large areas. Indeed, the main staple of a healthy cow’s diet is grass.
Cows that are fed corn, soy, grains, and other food products aren’t receiving optimal nutrition, which is why traditional butters are naturally devoid of such essential components:
Grass-fed butter also tastes a lot better, in my opinion.
Lastly, you just need a good coffee to complete the package for delicious, nutritious butter coffee.
But let’s talk for a second about toxins in coffee.
This deserves a small mention but is not something I focus much on personally.
Dave Asprey recommends looking for coffee that is free of mycotoxins, a class of mold toxins that he believes saps people of their mental edge and causes health issues.
There has been quite a bit of research on mold and coffee. The roasting process seems to decimate mold populations, so it’s unclear how much of an effect there is on people. I recommend finding a high quality coffee that you’re comfortable drinking and have no adverse effects when drinking.
Related: Best Low-Acid Coffee | Best Espresso Beans
Mold toxicity is no small matter, clearly, but if you’re drinking a particular coffee that isn’t giving you noticeable side effects already, you’re probably in the clear.
Although Americans don’t tend to live in the high elevations of Tibet, or operate a nomadic or hard-scrabble farmer’s lifestyle, the nutrition-packed, frothy goodness of butter coffee is still a rational choice for a typical American’s lifestyle.
Let’s look more deeply into why.
In some parts of the world it was believed that fats were bad for us, and that grains should be eaten with reckless abandon. This dangerous notion has been patently and thoroughly falsified in recent years. Human beings need healthy fats to live, as your body can’t produce them on their own.
In recent years these awesome fats have made their way back onto the plates of the average American, and for good reason.
Many of these foods contain beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential to the many phases of a human’s natural development, along with helping to thwart severe illness. They play an important role in the prevention and treatment of modern maladies such as coronary artery disease, arthritis, cancer, high blood pressure, and inflammation in general.
Fats in general also help the body absorb vitamins A, D and E. These vitamins are fat-soluble, meaning they can only be absorbed with the help of fats.
Dr. Jeffrey Gladd, purveyor of a healthy anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle, reported that putting butter in coffee, “…keeps hunger at bay and has enhanced my mental clarity and sharpness 20 to 25 percent.”
The doctor believes that a morning dose of almost pure fat may help stimulate the body’s fat-burning potential in general, leading to easier weight loss.
And we all know that coffee itself possesses these properties already.
Perhaps most importantly, beyond all the dietary benefits of healthy fats, adding butter and oil to your coffee offers the added bonus of keeping sugar out of your diet.
Sugar is now known to be the culprit of many maladies we experience today, and that stuff is just plain everywhere. The simple act of avoiding sugar while drinking butter coffee has a profound impact on your health.
Did You Know? Someone who consumes a favorite Starbucks drink that might contain up to 25 spoonfuls of sugar!
While you could just put butter in coffee and stir, there are better ways of preparing the drink (to make it more palatable). One way to prepare a cup of butter coffee is to utilize the Dave Asprey Bulletproof method.
The foam is a surprising byproduct of this method, and it’s as creamy and smooth as any espresso you’ve ever had.
Now, when Dave Asprey was experiencing this phenomenon for the first time high in the Himalayas, there likely was a blender to aid in the mixing of the drink. That probably wasn’t the case centuries ago.
What’s the purpose of the blender? It ensures that the coffee is emulsified, as the oil would separate and severely alter the consistency and taste. Mouthfeel is going to be important on this adventure, so if you decide to go the non-blender route, you might have to get creative to achieve the goal.
Think Tom Cruise in Cocktail. Or, buy a blender bottle (even a sealable bowl would work) to achieve the same effect.
Either way, stir, shake, blend — or churn, if you DO happen to live on a farm — those three ingredients until you have a nice, foamy, emulsified drink, and enjoy!
Putting butter in coffee might sound like a fad.
In fact, butter coffee might be a fad, but it doesn’t change the fact that there are serious positive health impacts to occasionally adding it your your routine.
As with anything, evaluate how much healthy (or unhealthy) fat you’re currently taking into your diet before you jump into any change like this. Talk to your doctor, even.
If you’re in a position to dive in, though, have fun and enjoy the ride — you may just find something you unexpectedly love!