Bulletproof Coffee, The New Power Drink Of Silicon Valley

Move over, green juice. Startup execs, Hollywood A-listers, and regular joes are now swearing by butter-infused Bulletproof coffee.

Cloud computing pioneer Dave Asprey took a trip to Tibet in 2004 to learn how to meditate. But it was the yak-butter tea he tried there that ended up transforming his life.

"I had so much more energy and I didn’t feel sick at the altitude at all. I realized: There’s something going on here. I just felt so good,” he remembers. He returned home and spent several years fiddling with ingredients, aiming for “a hot version of a Frappuccino without the milk and sugar.” He started with a base of coffee instead of tea because he’s an aficionado; he says he got his only undergraduate “A” the semester he discovered espresso. And the ban on milk and sugar was one of the many biohacks he had practiced over 15 years (and $300,000 in doctors and 3-D radioactive scans of his brain metabolism) trying to rid himself of “brain fog” and 100 pounds of extra weight.

Dave AspreyPhoto by Allan Amato

After years of fiddling with a coffee recipe to rival the yak-butter tea, he arrived at a well-frothed blend of low-toxin joe, one to two tablespoons of unsalted grass-fed butter (though he personally uses up to six), and 1 to 2 tablespoons of medium-chain triglyceride oil, a replacement for coconut oil “because I didn’t want my coffee to taste like a tropical beverage,” Asprey says. He called his concoction Bulletproof coffee and posted it on his blog in 2009, suggesting people drink the fat-filled, 460-calorie plus beverage instead of breakfast, promising that it removed cravings, promoted weight loss by triggering ketosis, and had “a massive impact on cognitive function.” Asprey claims that drinking the coffee and other health hacks helped boost his IQ by more than 20 points. (Marjorie Nolan Cohn, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says improvements in mental clarity “can’t be scientifically substantiated,” though “fats are beneficial for brain function.”)

So far, so gross? Well, the recipe--which fans say tastes like a delicious creamy latte--took off. Actress Shailene Woodley tweeted about it (“one of the greatest of human achievements”), Jimmy Fallon discussed it with Maya Rudolph on his show, and Silicon Valley execs such as Dan Scholnick, a partner at Trinity Ventures, are so addicted they travel with coffee-making equipment (whole beans, a grinder, an Aeropress, and a battery-operated milk frother), plus butter (Scholnick freezes it the night before) and the MCT oil. “I’ve made Bulletproof coffee on a plane at 30,000 feet,” Scholnick says, noting that a little tube of MCT oil is “under 3 ounces.” Scholnick even invited Asprey to talk to the some 50 CEOs of Trinity’s portfolio companies. “He’s had the biggest impact on my life of anyone in the past five years,” Scholnick says.

Meanwhile, some 7 million people have downloaded Asprey’s Bulletproof Executive podcast, where he extracts live-your-best-life type nuggets from guests such as Arianna Huffington, Tim Ferriss, and the Los Angeles Lakers’ head of nutrition, and promotes the diet he’s devised of healthy fats and no grains or dairy (a lot like paleo, but with more focus on the fats he says improve brain function).

The coffee drink recipe is free, but Asprey’s building an empire on top of it. The company--which has grown to 20 employees--now offers a variety of Bulletproof-branded products in its “Upgraded Self” online shop, including low-toxin coffee (Asprey claims mycotoxins, or mold toxins, play a role in obesity), MCT oil (Asprey calls his “Brain Octane Oil”), sleep induction mats, heart-rate variability sensors, and an $895 “Focus Brain Trainer” sensor headband.

"I have an MBA from Wharton and I know products,” Asprey says. “Did I throw a handful of products up against a refrigerator and see what stuck? No. Anything that increases human performance is fair game."

He won’t reveal sales, but says revenue at the company, whose first product in 2011 was the coffee beans, has grown 700% since last year. Bulletproof coffee products are now served and sold at roughly a dozen restaurants and cafés, including Picnik Austin. “For the first three months we served mostly black coffee because nobody would try the buttered version,” says owner Naomi Seifter, who discovered the drink when her mother sent her a link. “But now the Bulletproof coffee is hands-down the biggest aspect of our business. It’s really become what we’re known for.”

Savvy marketing obviously has a role in the brand's growth, but fans say the coffee would have taken off no matter what it was called. “The branding is genius but you don’t keep drinking it because of that,” says Omid Ashtari, Twitter’s head of sports and entertainment partnerships. He raves: “The first time I tried it I wasn’t sure what to do with myself because it hit my brain so hard. It was like an out-of-body experience.” (Ashtari currently is trying to convince Twitter’s head chef to stock Bulletproof products.) Asprey himself also downplays the name’s role in winning converts. “I’m a pretty credible guy. I’ve had a good career and I’m clearly not nuts,” he says of the reaction when he first posted the recipe.

But he admits he had a lucky break a few years ago when he got an upgrade to Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class cabin on a flight from London to San Francisco, where he sat across from Herb Kim, founder of England’s Thinking Digital Conference. Asprey told Kim about a book he wanted to write about how to have more energy. He planned to call it “Total Human Performance.”

“Nah, you need to call it something more like ‘bulletproof,’” Asprey says Kim told him. Asprey wrote the name down and ended up using it for his coffee, which Kim says he now drinks every morning.

Next up for Bulletproof is a mitochondrial energy optimizer supplement called Unfair Advantage that will sell for $60 for a month’s supply. A ready-to-drink Bulletproof is also in the works. “If selling coffee and oils and supplements can help fund the growth of a platform to share really good information about health and human performance, it’s a good business model but it’s not a business model I learned about at Wharton,” Asprey says.

In the first quarter of 2015, Asprey is opening a standalone Bulletproof coffee shop in Los Angeles, the city with the most visitors to Asprey's website. Asprey wanted to open in Silicon Valley but "San Francisco real estate is out of control, and paying living wages in San Francisco is really, really hard," he says. "In Los Angeles the level of health and fitness consciousness won out. And it feels like San Francisco did 20 years ago--there's a young entrepreneurial vibe."

He’s also finally gotten around to writing that book he told Kim about, which will include weight-loss testimonials from Jeremy Piven (who had his coffee on the Entourage movie set made for him by Bulletproof team members) and Brandon Routh, (aka Superman). Its name: The Bulletproof Diet, of course.

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[Photo by Celine Grouard for Fast Company]

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36 Comments

  • ahmelia

    They behave like speed-freaks, the bulletproof guy and 'bulletproof babe'! Getting their daily hits.

  • Peggy Ar

    I am overweight due to meds the doctor says I must take for the rest of my life. I started at 200 lbs and am now 245 (2 years it took). The drug is Lyrica for Fibromyalgia. I am 5'8" and cannot and should not carry that much weight. I also, according to doctor have neuropathy in my left leg after a complete knee replacement on same side. I have no thyroid left as it was radiated out years ago. SO..my point, I am not looking for the "miracle"....I suffer from extreme brain fog and memory loss. I want to feel better and want my body to work like it did before this surgery. I am contemplating gastric bypass surgery now.I own a coffee shop and have recently added DR SMOOTHIE...which is an excellent, although spendy drink and an alternative to coffee. I also added Matcha Green Tea Lattes which are good, but you have to add honey or vanilla syrup otherwise it tastes like grass.I am interested in your Bulletproof coffee phenominim. contact me at annie5298@gmail.com.

  • We've got a shop that's been serving coffee with butter in it for years. Is Orlando ahead of Silicon Valley in something? Granted, they call it a stoner drink or something.

  • Man... this makes out tech guys to be a bunch of gullible schmucks. selling overpriced coffee based upon vague unsupportable claims? no worries, the tech press will be happy to promote you.

  • Kiki Woodham

    I can personally attest to the results of a HFLC diet - after 6 months on one, my total cholersterol (which was at the high end of normal) dropped by about 1/3; good was up and bad was down (I can never remember which is LDL and which is HDL).

  • tough to answer on its own. but overall a high fat, low carb diet, in many people has hugely positive affects across the board on triglycerides, HDL and LDL. However, everyone beginning a HFLC diet should go get a blood test before starting and keep an eye every six months or so. A butter/MCT oil coffee a day isn't going to do anything on its own.

  • Patrick Lydon

    The world would probably be better off if he had actually learned to meditate on that trip.

  • angela

    I first started drinking my own version "bulletproof" coffee, because I had been trying to ditch artificial sweeteners for years. I loved my coffee sweet. I began adding 1 TB of cold-pressed, organic, unrefined coconut oil to my coffee, with almond milk. I use ground Starbucks coffee. So, I'm not following the exact script, but I have achieved more than giving up sweeteners. I lost 9 pounds in the first month. I feel so full and satisfied during the day. I do eat scrambled eggs with my coffee and I'm usually not hungry until around 6:00 p.m., after drinking the coffee in the morning. I do force myself to eat a light lunch, despite the lack of hunger. Say what you will, but this has all but cured two decades of emotional-eating. It's like an effective, side-effect- free, weight-loss supplement. This is not a cure-all. But it is helping me to control impulses that no longer rule my life, so I can make healthy choices.

  • Joe Rogan had this guy on his podcast and bought his claims hook, line, and sinker. He then called Asprey out on the next episode after doing some research. He's a scam artist who makes bogus claims that all commercial coffee chains sell moldy coffee. Turned out to be complete BS.

  • Anyone tired of these leads? Rich white guy. Worldly adventure. Random cultural experience. New product! Do these Silicon Valley guys stand around polishing these stories over Bulletproof Coffee? Do they castigate each other when someone errors from the script, putting a book or a Google search in the place of the wise Tibetan yak farmer? Is every cultural experience a product waiting to happen?

  • Gavin Kwek

    this supposed "new" invention has been in Asia for a long time. Or rather, South-east Asia. In Singapore and Malaysia, we have butter-infused coffee (coffee-beans roasted with butter) for probably half the century and Im not joking. Also, some of the older folks add in a stick of butter into their coffee for that extra oomph. And yes, this practice has also been around for perhaps 50 yrs

  • sin42ster

    although everything already has happened before somewhere, it has not yet happened to everyone everywhere.

  • What is your point? That it's not new? And where does that leave us? Congratulations for making such a valid but completely worthless point.

    For the record to all you, "this isn't new" people: Fast Company has no obligation to report on stuff you've never heard of. Please. Just remember that. Nobody gives a single shit about whether you've heard of it or not.

  • Gavin Kwek

    Valid but worthless? If it's valid it aint worthless. Case in point, he's simply hyping something that is rather the norm elsewhere. Well well, are you the official spokesperson for FastCompany or something? And also, im not faulting FC at all, but just bringing a fact to the discussion.

    Btw, have you heard of the quote "opinions are like arseholes...