What’s the Deal with… Butter in Coffee

Julia Bainbridge
Food Editor
June 4, 2014

You know that thing? That thing that’s everywhere, and it sounds like something you should already know about, so you don’t really want to ask? Well, we know about it, and we’ll give you the intel. Welcome to What’s the Deal with.

plain bagel with jam and butter and mug of black coffee
plain bagel with jam and butter and mug of black coffee

Maybe you want to put a little bit of that butter in the cup? Photo credit: StockFood / Eising Studio - Food Photo & Video

People have taken to putting butter in their coffee.

The practice is polarizing—it sounds awesome to some, disgusting to others—but really, it’s not about how the mixture tastes. “Clarified butter is a great source of energy, satiates you: I get the draw,” coffee writer Oliver Strand told us on Twitter. “But it’s more about diet than flavor.”

Let’s discuss.

Where It Comes From: Putting butter in morning tea has long been a “thing” in Tibet. “The heart and soul of Tibet” is butter tea, chef Vikas Khanna told us. (Khanna’s cookbook, Return to the Rivers: Recipes and Memories of the Himalayan River Valleys, was nominated for a James Beard Award this year.) It’s almost exactly what it sounds like: tea, brewed normally, and then served with a float of yak butter and Himalayan salt. “It is hard to drink initially—it’s so strong!—but it’s the best thing Tibet taught me.” It was Dave Asprey, though, who most recently imported the idea to States, switching the tea to coffee, adding some other ingredients, and branding it Bulletproof Coffee. Then came the attention from Paleo diet experts and followers of the Traditional Foods movement.

Defining Characteristic: Butter—grass-fed, unsalted butter. But for Asprey, as we said, it’s not just about the butter. His Bulletproof Coffee beans have been grown and harvested “to prevent contamination from inflammation-causing mold toxins,” and his recipe includes “Bulletproof Brain Octane,” which is essentially oil extracted from the hearts of coconuts and is meant to promote brain function and weight loss.

Why It’s Catching On: Full-fat butter sourced from a grass-fed animal carries a significant amount of vitamin A, D, and K2. And that means, as Traditional Foods supporter Molly Chester told us in an interview about her book Back to Butter, it does wonders for your body. Chester’s mother and business partner, Sandy Schrecengost, reversed tooth decay by eating butter. “My mom had a literal chip in her tooth and after a couple years of eating this way, it grew back,” says Chester. “It’s nuts! And you hear that stuff all the time; eating this way really strengthens your bones.” Overall, butter coffee helps keep energy and focus high, and, as a replacement for breakfast it sates drinkers until lunchtime, helping them with weight loss, if that’s a goal. “The idea is that the butter gives a strong, clean energy burn (and evens out the shakes of the coffee),” said fan Nick Michlewicz on Twitter. And Yahoo Food favorite chef Seamus Mullen swears by it. “I’ll go pretty much all day on it,” Mullen told Well + Good.

How to Do It at Home: If you want to go Bulletproof, here’s how to to it. Otherwise, put 1 cup of brewed coffee into a blender with 1 teaspoon butter (again, organic, grass-fed, unsalted butter) and 1 tablespoon coconut oil and mix until frothy. Drink immediately.