Butter Coffee: Fad or 'Bulletproof' Breakfast?

By: Lauren David  | 

butter coffee
Butter coffee, also known to many as "bulletproof coffee," combines coffee, butter and medium-chain triglyceride, or MCT, into a creamy concoction that has purported health benefits, but a whole lot of fat as well. Shutterstock

In one of the first scenes of the Hulu original series "The Old Man," title character Dan Chase, played by veteran actor Jeff Bridges, talks on the phone while making himself a cup of coffee. He swipes a huge hunk of butter off a butter dish, plops it into his coffee and stirs. Wait, what? I, for one, hit the rewind button. Did he just dump butter in his coffee? Yes, as a matter of fact, he did.

Drinking coffee is a morning ritual for people all over the world. The jolt of caffeine helps them wake up and get their day started. And everyone has their preferred way to prepare their cup of joe: Some like it black, some prefer cream and sugar and others opt for soy or almond milk with agave or stevia to sweeten it. No one will bat an eye at these different coffee preparations, but if you add butter to your coffee, you may get a few raised eyebrows.

That's because a lot of people have never heard of butter coffee. This beverage has become popular among people who follow the ketogenic diet, a low-carbohydrate, high fat diet. The diet focuses on the body breaking down stored protein and fat, a process known as ketosis, which, when done correctly and with the supervision of a medical professional, can help with weight loss.

Many coffee shops in both the U.S. and the U.K. offer butter coffee and, although this drink can seem like another fad, in other parts of the world, such as Tibet and Ethiopia, adding butter to tea or coffee is intertwined with culture and tradition and what's available.

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What Is Butter Coffee?

"Butter coffee is a hot, blended beverage in which you blend freshly brewed coffee with butter, and often an additional fat: usually MCT oil," says Ariane Resnick, CNC, private chef and bestselling author of five books, including "Wake/Sleep: What to Eat and Do for More Energy and Better Sleep." MCT, or medium-chain triglyceride, is a type of fat considered easier for the body to digest than other fats.

To make butter coffee, she explains, you blend brewed coffee with a tablespoon of butter and, if you want MCT oil, a tablespoon of that, as well. Adding a sweetener is typical but for those following keto, they'll opt for liquid stevia or allulose, since caloric sweeteners aren't allowed.

Butter coffee is often a breakfast substitute. "I recommend it as a breakfast replacement and that's its usual role," says Resnick. "It's too much additional fat to have with breakfast unless you have high fat and calorie needs."

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What Does Butter Coffee Taste Like?

"It tastes fairly similar to coffee with cream, provided it's blended thoroughly enough," says Resnick. "It's rich and creamy, but it can definitely be oily and greasy if not blended well." If you take your time to sip your coffee, or leave it in a room and then come back to it 30 minutes later, you may have to rethink your coffee habits if you opt for butter coffee. Because the ingredients are blended, it's best to drink it while it's still hot to avoid separation. "It can't sit for long, as it will separate or [need to] be refrigerated," she says.

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The History of Butter Coffee

Combining butter with your coffee isn't new — in some cultures it's part of tradition. In parts of Ethiopia, they are known for adding clarified butter to their coffee, and in some areas of Tibet, they drink yak butter tea called po cha. Vietnam and Singapore also have their own versions.

It was in Tibet that Dave Asprey, founder of New York City-based Bulletproof Coffee, was feeling exhausted from hiking in freezing temperatures and coping with high altitude, when a woman offered him yak butter tea. Soon after, he felt more energized. Inspired by the beverage in the Tibetan mountains, he created his own version when he returned to the United States — adding MCT oil — and named it bulletproof coffee. "He claims to have brought the concept to the west, and I would say that appears to be true," says Resnick. "He definitely publicized it and made it famous." Butter coffee and bulletproof coffee are often considered the same beverage. They are similar, but there are some distinctions. "His version recommends using his brand of coffee, which is low in acid and free of pesticides, along with certain brands of butter and MCT oil," she explains.

Choosing organic coffee beans, grass-fed butter and an organic MCT oil, such as coconut oil, will not only make your butter coffee taste better but also provide potential health benefits.

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The Benefits of Butter Coffee

The health benefits of butter coffee are purported to include an increase in energy, mental clarity, feeling full longer and thereby reducing appetite, and not having the jitters after drinking a typical cup of java. "The biggest benefit is that fat slows the absorption of caffeine into your system," says Resnick. "Because of that, users experience a more mellow, drawn-out happy feeling, rather than the rush and crash of coffee without fat." So, if you want a more sustained caffeine buzz, butter coffee may be the answer.

The benefits are also dependent on the ingredients. "There are numerous health benefits if you use grass-fed butter, which contains anti-inflammatory butyric acid and MCT oil, which is converted to energy without being fully absorbed by the liver and is considered good for your brain," explains Resnick.

More research is needed to understand how butter coffee can help with mental clarity and increase energy.

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Is All That Fat Bad For You?

Although there can be health benefits to be had by using grass-fed butter along with the MCT oil, you'll want to carefully consider whether this creamy and indulgent liquid breakfast is right for you. "It's a lot of fat to add to your day," says Resnick. Packed with calories and saturated fat, indulging in butter coffee every morning could lead to putting on pounds.

"If you're doing keto, this is less of a big deal, but if you have a regular American diet, it can lead to weight gain, especially if paired with a high sugar or carb-laden breakfast," she says. "Your body will burn the sugar/carbs first and store the fat." For some, making butter coffee part of your daily morning routine may make sense. Just make sure that, along with your joe, you're eating a balanced and nutritious diet with plenty of wholesome foods.

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