The Cognitive Coffee at Vibe Health Bar in Oak Park looks like a latte. It’s thick, frothy and steaming, with an aroma to whet a caffeine junkie’s thirst. But it tastes of an unusual additive: butter.
Vibe, which opened this March, is one of at least two coffee vendors in the Sacramento area that have begun incorporating butter into their brews.
Fans claim that butter fat, when combined with an oil extracted from coconuts, boosts cognitive function, imparts a longer-lasting caffeine buzz and speeds metabolism.
The butter coffee craze took hold in Silicon Valley a few years ago, when entrepreneur Dave Asprey started peddling a drink called Bulletproof Coffee. He got hundreds of people on board with promises of weight loss and brainpower.
Experts have voiced doubts about Asprey’s claims, but the trend continues to gain steam among a growing group of consumers who are rejecting carbohydrates and embracing what they call healthy fats from olive oil, avocado, butter and even bacon.
“You’re drinking fat, but it’s good fat,” said Shaun Leeper, owner of Vibe and a butter-coffee drinker for the past three years. “You’re getting good fat in your system early in the day, which speeds up your body’s metabolism and fat burning.”
Scott Estrada, a personal trainer and nutrition consultant, makes butter coffee for his business, WholeHearted Juice Company, which sells its beverages at Sacramento-area farmers markets and yoga studios. He said many people find the buttery taste too much at first, but some get hooked and drink butter coffee every day.
Estrada’s version of Asprey’s Bulletproof Coffee is called SuperHero Coffee, and it sells, cold, for $11 a bottle. Like other butter-coffee concoctions on the market, SuperHero Coffee contains medium chain triglyceride oil, a product extracted from coconuts that proponents say is key to butter coffee’s benefits.
“A lot of the people in the paleo circles and the crossfitters, they recognize those types of benefits,” Estrada said. “The idea is you’re pulling away from sugars and starches that get in the way of cognitive function. Fat is the number one food choice for the brain.”
The movement has its critics.
Toni Brayer, an internal medicine doctor at the Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation in San Francisco, said the rationale for adding butter and coconut oil to coffee is based on false claims without scientific support.
“Somebody made that up,” Brayer said. “There’s no special scientific combo for those three things. Caffeine is a stimulant, and it focuses you. The butter and the coconut oil don’t do anything for brain power.”
She’s not sold on the weight loss theory either. If someone drinks buttery coffee as a substitute for a solid breakfast, they’ll likely get skinnier but not in a healthy way, she said. Brayer expressed concern about the effect the fad could have on people’s cholesterol and lipid levels.
“You’re taking in empty calories that give you no nutritional value at all,” she said. “You’re drinking a fairly heavy saturated fat load in the morning, and it’s not the ideal way, scientifically, for your body to fuel itself.”
Liz Applegate, director of sports nutrition at the University of California, Davis, said people are better off starting the day with yogurt and fresh fruit or eggs and toast.
“Get some fiber and protein. The body needs those more than it needs what’s in that coffee,” Applegate said. “If you like the way it tastes, drink it, but you have to look at other items you need in your diet.”
Mark Oliveira, a 26-year-old app developer who splits his time between Sacramento and Austin, Texas, said he has been making an at-home mix of coffee, MCT oil and butter almost every day for the past year. He considers it a more-filling alternative to his usual nutrition shake and drinks it with a banana before hitting the gym.
At a recent visit to Oak Park’s Vibe, he said he was excited to see a local establishment offering the beverage. The shop’s Cognitive Coffee comes in vanilla and mocha flavors and sells for $6.50 a cup.
“It’s something about the MCT oil,” Oliveira said. “I don’t really know the science. It makes me a fast (calorie) burner. It’s a more stable energy.”
The trend is hot among health fanatics, but it may not make it to the mainstream coffee world.
Sean Kohmescher, founder and co-owner of Sacramento’s Temple Coffee chain, said he thought adding butter to coffee sounded “ludicrous.”
“Butter? Really? Is butter the new thing now?” Kohmescher said. “We could start adding bacon, too.”