What Bulletproof Coffee Is Really About and How To Make It The Shanghai Way

Before you start adding anything into your coffee, let's first get something straight: a cup of black, unadulterated coffee made from quality coffee beans is amazing all by itself. In addition to tasting great, coffee can help improve mental and physical performance, so it's no wonder that so many people around the world start the day off with a cup of coffee in the morning. 

I myself have been a regular coffee drinker since my college days and always prefer my coffee black. In fact, I find it hard to understand how people can truly appreciate coffee after adding so much stuff to it. It’s incredible how much sugar, cream and more sugar you see people adding to their coffee. My theory is that people who do this may not actually like coffee — it is the sugar-high they are after, with a little caffeine thrown in for good measure. 

So when I first heard about how people were adding globs of butter to their coffee, I wondered whether loading coffee up with fat instead of sugar was really all that different. 

Is chasing a fat-high more worthy than chasing a sugar-high?

What Exactly Is Bulletproof Coffee?

"Bulletproof coffee" is a term originally coined by self-proclaimed biohacker, Dave Asprey, to refer to coffee made with his own brand of coffee beans, blended together with healthy fats. Of course, nowadays it seems the term “bulletproof coffee” is used more broadly to refer to any cup of coffee that is mixed with fats such as butter, coconut oil and MCT oil. The idea is that these fats, combined with caffeine, can give you a nice, sustainable energy boost while also making you feel full and satiated. 

Bulletproof coffee is certainly gaining in popularity in the U.S., particularly among athletes and CrossFitters. In a recent three-part series on nutrition in the NBA, CBS Sports even talks about how bulletproof coffee is the "pregame beverage of choice" for the Lakers. A quick Google Trends search for "bulletproof coffee” shows that the term started building steam towards the end of 2012 and has been on the uptrend ever since.       

 Search trend for the term "bulletproof coffee" in Google Trends

Search trend for the term "bulletproof coffee" in Google Trends

What Are The REAL Benefits Of Drinking Bulletproof Coffee? 

If you head to Asprey's website, you can find the following claims about bulletproof coffee:

  • "It makes you feel energized, alert, and focused all day without the crash of commercial energy drinks."
  • "It will keep you satisfied with level energy for 6 hours if you need it, and because I’m having it for breakfast, I’m programming my body to burn fat for energy all day long!"
  • "Try this just once, with at least 2 Tbs of butter, and have nothing else for breakfast. You will experience one of the best mornings of your life, with boundless energy and focus. It’s amazing.”

Now I’m not going to try to refute any of these claims. In fact, I tend to agree with most of them. However, the issue that I have is this: How many of these benefits could be attributed to drinking coffee alone, regardless of whether you “bulletproof” it? 

The first few times you try bulletproof coffee, the "high" is indeed quite intense, and it will feel like you had five shots of espresso. But if you are drinking bulletproof coffee every day, your body will build up a tolerance to it and the intensity will go away unless you keep increasing the dosage.  

Thus, I’ve found that the more lasting and distinguishing benefit of bulletproof coffee that is seldom stressed, perhaps because it is so ridiculously simple, is that you will feel full after drinking bulletproof coffee.  

The fact that you will feel full after chugging generous amounts of butter and oil with your coffee may not come as a surprise. But why I would view it as the key benefit of bulletproof coffee may not be so obvious.

Basically it comes down to the fact that there are only so many decisions that your brain can handle effectively in a day. Therefore, if you want to be truly effective, it is important to minimize distractions and focus on the decisions that matter most.

Bulletproof coffee, in this case, can help you manage your hunger so that it isn’t a distraction. The idea is to overcome the conventional belief that in order to function, you have to or should eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at set times every day. You should listen to your body, and if you aren't hungry, you have the green light to continue conquering the task at hand. 

Is Bulletproof Coffee for YOU?

Bulletproof coffee really does pack a punch, and your first experience will feel like the strongest caffeine high you've ever had.

But beyond the high, it comes down to efficiency and diet

Firstly, if you are already a coffee drinker like me, why not kill two birds (caffeine craving and hunger) with one stone? Adding some butter to your coffee is more efficient and less distracting than having to decide on what to eat for breakfast and then either prepare it yourself or buy it from somewhere. 

Secondly, I think a point often missed by people commenting on whether bulletproof coffee is “good" or “bad” is that many bulletproof coffee drinkers (myself included) are on low-carb diets. Diets that are low in carbohydrate (basically sugar) are typically high in fat. In other words, low sugar diet = high fat diet. Thus while fatty coffee might sound delicious to a low-carb dieter who is accustomed to consuming higher quantities of fat, it is understandable how someone on a conventional diet might find the concept disgusting.  

So to summarize, I recommend trying bulletproof coffee if any of the following statements apply to you:

  • You have an important project/task and want to boost focus and productivity.
  • You aren’t convinced that eating three meals a day is “necessary” and prefer to spend less time eating and more time being productive.
  • You want to simplify your daily routine so that you can focus on the things that matter. 
  • You prefer eating fat over sugar.
  • You are on a low-carb diet.

Shanghai Bulletproof Coffee

 Have you tried Shanghai Bulletproof Coffee? 

Have you tried Shanghai Bulletproof Coffee? 

If you've gotten this far, I'll assume it means you are ready to try bulletproof coffee. Allow me to explain how I make my version, which I'll call Shanghai Bulletproof Coffee. "Shanghai" in the name is recognition of the fact that my less precise (and thus more Chinese) preparation strays from Asprey's strict approach, and it's how I make it here in Shanghai.

Shanghai Bulletproof Coffee is about getting the desired performance boost from your coffee while expending the least amount of time and effort. If at the end of the day, our goal is to reduce decisions and distractions, then getting too caught up in the preparation of your coffee seems counterproductive. 

So here's what you'll need:

  • Coffee - To minimize changes to your routine at this point, simply start off by making (or buying) your coffee as you normally would at home or the office. I haven't noticed any declines in performance when switching between reputable brands of coffee, so I don't stress if mass market coffee (e.g. Starbucks) is the only coffee available. But in general, I do buy coffee that is as fresh as possible. When buying coffee beans, ask the staff when the beans were roasted or look for a roast date on the packaging. As with any type of food, the more recent the date the better. 
  • Butter - Similar to my experience with coffee, I don't notice significant performance differences between brands of butter. So just start off with what's convenient, and then try out various brands until you find what you like best. I usually use unsalted butter, but I've tried using salted butter as well and find that it actually adds some interesting flavor. If all you have in the kitchen is a stick of salted butter, just go with it and adjust later. I typically go with Kerrygold or President butter, which supposedly come from primarily grass-fed cows and are easy to find in most supermarkets. And if you're lactose intolerant like me, don't worry -- butter contains close to zero lactose so unless you are super sensitive, it is unlikely that you will encounter unpleasant side effects.     
  • Coconut oil - The original Bulletproof coffee recipe calls for MCT oil. MCT's, or medium chain triglycerides, are found naturally in foods and are basically fats that can metabolize quickly to provide fuel to your body. I do use MCT oil from time to time when I need an extra boost (it's much stronger than coconut oil), but I typically use coconut oil because it's much easier to find than MCT oil, particularly if you live in China. 
  • Chopstick - Use a chopstick to stir the ingredients together. A chopstick works great as a stirrer and adds additional "Shanghai flavor" into the mix. Using a blender or milk frother will give you a thicker, latte-like foam on top, but I find they aren't worth the hassle. With a blender, it is a pain in the ass to clean up, and the process of transferring the coffee to and from the blender pretty much guarantees that your coffee will no longer be hot by the time you drink it (unless of course you are drinking directly from the blender cup). A handheld milk frother can be more efficient relative to a blender since you can use it to stir directly in your coffee cup, but you will need a very large cup to avoid spillage as the coffee swirls around.  

Once you have your ingredients, make Shanghai Bulletproof Coffee in four simple steps:

  • Step 1 - Add butter and coconut oil to the bottom of an empty coffee mug. I typically add one tablespoon (~14 grams) of butter and one tablespoon of coconut oil per cup. If you aren't concerned with being precise, a tablespoon is roughly the size of half a golf ball. When buying butter, look for measurement markers on the packaging so that you can simply cut through the packaging to arrive at the amount of butter you need. Another easy hack is to buy (or take) the packaged, single-servings of butter that you often find in restaurants (they are typically 10 grams each). If this is your first time, try starting with smaller amounts and then work your way up depending on your energy needs and how your body feels.  
  • Step 2 - Add coffee to mug. Start off by adding however much coffee you feel like drinking and then adjust ratios accordingly based on your personal preference. Just make sure you leave enough room in the mug to be able to stir without spilling everywhere. My machine is setup to make roughly 7 oz of coffee per serving, which fills a standard coffee mug to about three-quarters full.
  • Step 3 - Stir with chopstick until the butter and coconut oil dissolve. You will find that the butter and coconut oil dissolve quite easily in hot coffee so stirring should only take about 20-30 seconds max. 
  • Step 4 - Drink your Shanghai Bulletproof Coffee and feel awesome!

Now go make yourself a cup of Shanghai Bulletproof Coffee! Often the hardest part of trying something new is taking that first step. With my streamlined version of bulletproof coffee, hopefully I've helped make it easier for you to try it and see for yourself. Our bodies are all unique so the only way you will know if something works for you is to give it a try.  

What did you think about this post? Comments are always welcome.