Butter and oil in coffee? Of course, say the proponents of Bulletproof coffee. The recipe for the drink calls for highest-quality hot coffee, coconut oil and the better portion of a stick of grass-fed butter, all frothed together in a blender. It supposedly will give you hours of "level energy," optimize your cholesterol and program your body to burn fat.
Bulletproof coffee started as a niche part of the (already niche) paleo diet community, and has expanded to celebrities and Silicon Valley techies. So I wondered why it appears on the menu at we-are-alchemists-working-through-generations-of-history Vimala's Curryblossom Café.
Like so much of the café's menu, the restaurant's Bulletproof coffee is rooted in Vimala Rajendran's childhood in India. She grew up in the state of Kerala, and her family did not have refrigeration. Fresh milk flavored the morning coffee and then all remaining milk was quickly preserved by culturing it into yogurt.
Butter was taken from the yogurt and then clarified into ghee. The clarification process removed the milk solids and rendered the ghee impervious to contamination. And the ghee became the creamer for the evening coffee.
And if the family didn't have any milk products? "We added coconut oil in a pinch," says Vimala. The coconut oil tasted good, she adds, so they combined the two together. Enter butter and oil in coffee.
Vimala's first memory of the drink is as a 4-year-old. "For people in Kerala, it's a traditional recipe. Of course they have something similar in Nepal and Tibet too."
Yak butter tea is Tibet's well-known cousin of this coffee drink and the inspiration for the paleo version of Bulletproof coffee: "I learned about the power of butter at 18,000 feet of elevation near Mt. Kailash in Tibet" writes Dave Asprey of The Bulletproof Executive, a Silicon Valley investor and technology entrepreneur "who spent 15 years and over $300,000 to hack his own biology."
Vimala's recipe starts with a shot of fair trade, organic espresso. "And then we add ghee, coconut oil and vanilla extract"—and a little bit of sugar too, the barista informs me, when I go in for a taste. And if you want a Bulletproof mocha, they can do that too, with a scoop of their fair trade cocoa.
A cup of Bulletproof coffee is $4; the mocha is $4.50.
"People order it night and day," she tells me. "People come in, and they're already familiar with it."
The Bulletproof Executive's insistence that the "toxins in cheap coffee steal your mental edge . . . but clean coffee actually fights cancer and provides antioxidants" has echoed across the blogosphere, as has their assertion that the coconut oil of the drink "improves brain energy" and the butter delivers "all the benefits of healthy milk fat with none of the damaging denatured casein proteins found in cream."
Though the café doesn't speak to the health claims, "contrary to what the name indicates," Vimala does tell me, "it is not a caffeine shot."
Well it is, she concedes, but not especially so. "It's like any other coffee." People drink it in the morning and mid-day, she tells me, "and it's good as a finish to an Indian meal."
I stop by late on a Monday afternoon and the barista accommodates my request for a decaffeinated version by starting with a cup of pour-over decaf rather than the recipe's shot of espresso. She delivers it to my table hot and in a tall mug, creamy and rich with none of the bitter edge that coffee can have. It's reminiscent of a warm rendition of coffee ice cream and I drink it quickly and easily, wanting more sooner than anticipated.
And if I'm in the market for other powerful food and drink, there's the gunpowder chutney, Vimala reveals. "But that would take an entire chapter in a book to explain," she laughs. So I save it for another day.
This article appeared in print with the headline "If coffee wore kevlar"