Why are thousands of low-carb dieters dumping slabs of butter and coconut oil in their coffee?
Well it turns out this trend, started by Dave Asprey and Bulletproof Coffee, is about more than just a tasty morning treat.
Blend your coffee with just the right fats and you have something special: A beverage that’s satiating and energizing. A creamy latte that’s actually healthy. And something that is d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s (we’ll admit to having 3 or more in a single day).
It’s no wonder then that keto coffee (a more general name for fat-enhanced coffee) has become a go-to tool for people on the keto diet looking to jumpstart ketosis, enhance their physiques and energize their lives.
In this article we’ll cover what keto coffee is, where it came from, and why’d you’d be crazy not to start your day with a frothy cup of it. Enjoy!
Looking for a keto coffee recipe? Check out ours for the perfect cup.
Where did Keto (Bulletproof) Coffee come from anyway?
“I’m not feeling so hot,” Dave Asprey muttered as he scaled a remote mountainside in Tibet. What began as a pilgrimage to discover the meditative practices of Tibetan monks, had become an exhausting slog.
Temperatures were now 10 degrees below zero. His breathing was short, and his brain mired in a fog. He was battling altitude – and the mountains were clearly winning.
The only thing sacred about this place was now Asprey’s little bit of unfrozen water in his CamelBak.
Seeking refuge, Asprey landed in a one-bedroom mud hut. “Try this,” a local Tibetan women said to him.
What followed was Asprey’s first sip of what would later become Bulletproof Coffee – and the multi-million dollar biohacking revolution that came with it. He drank it the way Tibetans had for thousand of years – pu-erh tea blended with yak butter.
The Bulletproof name? He stole it – er borrowed it – from a neighbor on a Virgin Atlantic flight from London to San Francisco. But it wasn’t the name that interested Asprey, it was the science.
“I felt a mental clarity come on,” recalls Asprey. Within 5 minutes he could feel the warmth and energy return to his body. He was renewed, and this curious beverage was to thank.
Inspired, he returned to the States, tasting over 100 versions over a 7-year period before publishing the first official recipe online in 2010.
The moment Jimmy Fallon declared “It’s the most delicious thing ever” on the Tonight Show in October 2015, Bulletproof had come of age. It was mainstream. And the revolution was upon us.
Now 4 years into it, the jury is still out on Asprey’s claims.
Has Asprey created a breakthrough performance-enhancing, mind-expanding drink that has forever ended Wheaties’ 60-plus year run as the “Breakfast of Champions”?
Or has he promoted a fad for people to feel good about guzzling saturated fats in search of a guilt-free Frappuccino-esque indulgence?
Intrigued ourselves, we embarked on a months-long journey in search of the perfect cup of bulletproof – or more generally, keto, fat-fueled – coffee.
Our journey involved hundreds of tastings, superhuman mornings, the brink of caffeine overload, and yes… a few hurried trips to the bathroom.
We even stumbled on a new product along the way. (more on that at the end :)).
What is Keto Coffee?
Black coffee, strictly speaking, is keto. 'Er rather it won’t kick you out of ketosis. A cup of black coffee has just 2 calories and zero carbs. You can drink as many cups as your nerves can handle.
But keto coffee is more than a safe option for the keto diet. It’s coffee that’s loaded with healthy fats – the ones that supercharge your body’s ketone production and actually get you into ketosis.
Medium-chain-triglycerides – for reasons we will cover in a minute – promote ketosis better than any other known fat. Since they comes as a flavorless powder or liquid, adding them to your morning joe is about the easiest way to get them into your diet.
Viewed this way, keto coffee is one of the most powerful tools for your low-carb diet.
Benefits of Keto Coffee
There are many health benefits of drinking daily keto coffee. This is why keto coffee has survived the fad phase and continues to grow in popularity. Here are just a few:
- Fat loss. MCTs are less likely to be stored as fat as long-chain triglycerides. And especially compared to the carb-laden breakfasts in the Standard American Diet. MCT consumption been shown to decrease fat tissue and many keto-coffee advocates report impressive weight loss results.
- Improved energy levels. The MCTs in our keto coffee rapidly metabolize in the liver and convert to ketones (our lifeblood on the keto diet). Studies have shown MCT intake increases overall energy expenditure. There is another secret at play. Caffeine is both water and fat soluble. Fat digests slower than water, which slows the release of caffeine bound to fat molecules in keto coffee. The result is a smoother caffeine experience – and fewer coffee crashes.
- Cognitive enhancement. Ketones produced from MCT’s rapidly cross the blood-brain barrier and fuel our brain. This is behind the brain-boosting reports many have drinking keto coffee. Caffeine itself is also a potent nootropic, having shown to increase alertness and performance.
What's in Keto Coffee?
You’ve heard “you are what you eat.” Well we can take it further and say, “you are what you eat, eats.” Pretty meta, but true.
It’s a proven fact that butter from grass-fed cows has more nutritional qualities than butter from grain-fed cows.
Here are the top reasons to start your day off with a heaping portion of grass-fed butter:
High in antioxidants and heart-healthy vitamins like Vitamin A, D, E, and K.
High in Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3’s like EPA and DHA are essential for brain and heart function. They are also sorely deficient in the Standard American Diet (SAD).
- Great source of Butyrate. Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid with anti inflammatory and metabolic-boosting properties. Butyrate is made in your gut with fibers derived from grains, beans, onions, and bananas – all things missing from keto. Fortunately for us, butter is one of the best natural sources of butyrate. After all, butyrate gets its name from the Greek word βούτῡρον, which means butter.
Kerrygold is our go-to option for affordable grass-fed butter at the grocery store.
Coconut oil is oil extracted from the meat of a coconut. It has a pleasant, sweet flavor and aroma that is stronger than most oils.
There are over 1,600 studies on the health qualities of coconut oil in animals and humans (!). Here are just a few of the health benefits shown in these studies:
Lower inflammation. Coconut oil has been shown to reduce inflammation and even treat arthritis more effectively than standard medications.
Immune system boost. Coconut oil is a powerful antimicrobial, antiviral, and antifungal substance.
Improved digestion. The fats in coconut oil enhance digestion of fat-soluble vitamins, calcium, and magnesium. One study even showed omega-3 fatty acid digestion was twice as effective when consumed with coconut oil.
- Improve skin health. It’s anti-inflammatory and moisturizing properties make it great for skin and hair health.
Much of the health benefits of coconut oil is because of a unique class of fats called medium-chain triglycerides, or MCT’s for short. Coconuts have by far the highest concentration of naturally occuring MCTs.
Why are MCTs the secret weapon of the keto diet? We’ll discuss that next.
MCTs get their name from the length of their carbon chain. The chemical structure of Caproic acid, an MCT with 10 carbons.
According to scientists, carbon lengths of 6 to 12 are MCTs. The chains exist as even numbers of carbon. That gives us 4 MCTs:
Caproic acid (C6). Caproic acid is the smallest, and makes ketones (energy) the fastest. That’s the good. The bad is caproic acid has an unpleasant taste (according to Dave Asprey it tastes like “goat”...) and creates a tingly, burning sensation in the throat. It can also cause digestive issues. Coconut oil only contains ~1% of C6, hardly enough to notice.
Caprylic acid (C8). Caprylic acid is the next most efficient MCT and comes without any of C6’s side effects. Because of this, it is the most prized of the bunch. It also comes with the price tag to prove it. Bulletproof’s Brain Octane Oil is pure C8, retailing at $23.50 for a 16 oz bottle. Coconut oil contains ~7% C8.
Capric acid (C10). Capric acid is also an efficient energy source along with few side effects. It is not as energizing as it’s C8 cousin, but its cheaper. Bulletproof sells Capric acid as their XCT Oil for $15.50. Coconut oil is ~8% C10.
- Lauric acid (C12). Lauric acid is the least efficient MCT. So much so that folks questions whether is should even be called an MCT (more on that next). The flipside is it’s the cheapest and most abundant. Coconut oil is over 50% C12.
MCTs are concentrated from naturally-occuring sources like coconut and palm. MCTs are produced through a process called distillation, which uses steam to vaporize and condense the oil to extract individual compounds. Most MCTs on the market are a mixture of C8 and C10, with both C6 and C12 removed.
MCTs are sold as supplements in bulk formats. They are available either as a liquid or powder. MCTs have become popular additives for coffees and smoothies.
The magic of MCTs comes from how they are digested in the body. Most fats go through an intensive process.
MCTs go straight to your liver where they can be quickly converted to ketones. For those on a ketogenic diet, ketones are the currency of performance.
This speed is why users report feeling energized and mentally sharp after taking MCTs.
Coconut or MCT?
Many coconut oil products are marketed as “a great naturally occuring source of MCTs.” Coconut oil, they claim, contains 60+% of MCTs. Why then bother with a tub of chemically-extracted MCTs when you can have the real thing, right from the Earth?
Well it turns out not all MCTs are created equal...
Over 50% of coconut oil is made up of Lauric acid (C12, you’ll recall). The molecule is just large enough that it doesn’t process directly in the liver for rapid ketone production like it’s C8 and C10 cousins. It’s stuck going through that 26-step process that long-chain fatty acids go through.
How then can coconut oil marketers get away with this? Ultra-athlete and keto enthusiast Ben Greenfield explains:
Chemists counted the number of carbon chains and arbitrarily decided what was medium. So lauric acid is a chemical MCT but it is not a true biological MCT because your body does not treat it as an MCT.
This is why you will see the folks at Bulletproof rightly claim that pure MCTs oil is 4 times as effective at producing ketones as coconut oil. One study even found that a 2 carbon length difference produced a 100X difference in fat diffusion (!). Now you know why there’s not a drop of coconut oil in the official Bulletproof recipe.
But does that mean coconut oil is useless for keto coffee? No way! Lauric acid is a powerful anti-viral – more powerful than any of the other MCTs in fact – and promotes a healthy immune system and microbiome. Coconut oil is also delicious, providing a sugarless “sweetness” many on the keto diet miss when cutting sugar out of their diet.
Our take – get the best of both worlds and use a full serving of both coconut oil and pure MCT oil in your keto coffee. MCT for energy and performance, and coconut oil for flavor and body.
To salt or not to salt… that is the question
The official Bulletproof recipe denounces salt in your keto coffee. “Salty coffee is gross coffee,” they declare.
We think otherwise. The original Yak Butter Tea – the same drink Dave Asprey first adapted to make Bulletproof – uses Himalayan sea salt as a core ingredient. The Tibetans believe that salt keeps them warm in brutal temperatures and regulates water balance, which can be strained at extreme altitudes of 17,000 feet or higher. The higher the elevation, the saltier the Tibetans make their tea.
Try this – go to your local grocery store shelf and find the Kerrygold Irish-origin Grass-Fed Butter.
Notice anything? The butter without salt says, “Unsalted.” But the “salted” version doesn’t say anything at all. It is the original, they way grass-fed butter was meant to be.
Salt is not just for flavor. The keto diet – especially in the beginning – drains the body of water, salt, and electrolytes. This depletion is behind the dreaded keto flu. A little salt in your keto coffee can help maintain a healthy electrolyte balance while on the diet.
We recommend trying both to see which you like better. And if the salted butter isn’t enough, try adding some pink himalayan sea salt for flavor and minerals. But be careful – salt can be easy to overdo.
The Coffee. Acidity is everything.
Many factors contribute to the perfect coffee. Coffee roasting is the difference between grapes at the grocery store and the millenia-old wine making craft.
Coffees from Central America – think Colombia and Guatemala – tend to have a more mild flavor. You get chocolate, caramel notes. Most of the keto-marketed coffees, like Bulletproof’s Upgraded Coffee, are sourced from these regions.
There is another region we think doesn’t get near enough attention when it comes to keto coffee. And that’s Africa.
African coffees – like those from Kenya and Ethiopia – have a bolder, earthier taste. They tend to have a fruity, berry notes. They also pack a tomato-like acidity.
Sommeliers have known for centuries that fat and acidity pair well. Acidic food and drinks have a way of cancelling out that “greasy” mouthfeel from fatty foods. It’s why you eat wine with cheese. It’s why a lime squeeze makes a taco so darn tasty.
We’ve tested coffees from virtually every growing region with the classic keto coffee fats. Brazil, Costa Rica, Burundi, you name it. And for our money, no coffee shines through the fats and retains its character like the African coffees. Give it a try!
What about instant coffee?
Bulletproof claims instant coffee can’t be used in keto coffee preparation. How wrong they are.
Making keto coffee would be way easier without the brewing step. The success of Keurig and Starbucks is clear evidence of the effort American’s will go through to avoid having to brew their own cup of joe.
If we could just find a premium instant coffee – one that didn’t taste like that bitter sludge gulped down on camping trips – then we’d be set. We’d be one step closer to making keto living convenient (let’s be honest… convenient is not something anyone would describe keto as).
So we ordered every instant coffee we could find online. We ended up with over 23 coffees to try. Yes, lots of over-caffeinated mornings.
But one thing was clear after our tests: Instant coffee has come a long way. A few inspiring entrepreneurs have taken their experience as craft roasters or champion baristas and put it towards the challenge of changing the way the world thinks about instant coffee.
The good ones we’re told, can retain 96% of the coffee’s original flavor and nuance through the process. Don’t believe us? Try these:
Swift Cup Coffee. These guys are our favorite by far. Try their coffee side-by-side with a Blue Bottle pour over. Betcha can’t tell the difference…
Sudden Coffee. Sudden was founded by the former #9 ranked barista in the world. They’ve got the lion share of the buzz and their coffee is pretty good. They offer one variety – a Colombia origin – and sell only via subscription.
- Parlor Coffee. Solid coffee all around.
What about Mycotoxins?!
There is a dirty little secret in the coffee industry that they don’t want you to know. Over 75% of the coffee you drink is poisoned with microscopic mold – called Mycotoxins. These buggers do more than make your coffee bitter. They put your brain in a daily fog.
All this, according to Dave Asprey.
But is it true??
While a great marketing ploy to sell “upgraded coffee,” evidence is mounting that this is all B.S. Gizmodo exposed the claims:
“For starters, while mycotoxins can grow on coffee beans, the coffee industry has known about this for decades. This is why wet-processing was developed; a technique employed by nearly every roaster in the world, wherein the beans are washed, and nearly all mycotoxins are eliminated.”
Asprey v. Science came to a head on a Joe Rogan podcast back in 2014. Asprey used Rogan’s platform, which included millions of listeners – and the biohacking type – to extol the virtues of mycotoxin-free coffee. Rogan’s site was selling Asprey’s Bulletproof coffee at the time.
Rogan decided to take a closer look. He spent $4,000 testing his promoted Caveman Coffee, Bulletproof’s Upgraded Coffee, and two other mass-market coffees for Mycotoxins. The result? None tested positive.
A separate test run found Caveman Coffee was mycotoxin-free and Asprey's Bulletproof coffee tested positive for 2 mycotoxins.
Oh the irony.
Our take: forget the mycotoxins, and focus on delicious, high-quality coffee.
And if this all sounds like a lot of work…
We get it. Making Keto Coffee every day can be a big pain. Starbucks doesn’t sell it, and Whole Foods or Bulletproof will charge you $6 a cup or more.
If you're looking for a convenient, delicious Keto Coffee solution, then try our instant all-in-one Keto Coffee. Each single-serve packet delivers 16 g of nutritious fats and an uncompromising coffee experience. Just add hot water and blend.
Once you experience the decadent flavor and hours of clean, lasting energy from a fat-fueled keto coffee – there’s just no going back.
Ben & Brandon