The Butter Coffee Trend: We Tried It So You Don't Have to
Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of ridiculous health food trends. I say generally speaking because there are a few exceptions including, but not limited to, quinoa and everything fermented. Many “health food” trends are nothing more than thinly-veiled attempts to shame us into spending money in an effort to look and feel good. But if a health food trend is delicious AND nutritious in ways that make sense, I’m keen to try. Why not?
When I first read about the butter coffee craze a few months ago, I balked. Surely people must be over-stating the love of butter coffee by the caffeinated masses. Upon further research I found that Matt Perger, former World Barista Champion and employee at Australia’s famous cafe St. Ali, is a fan. Now, Australia is one of the world’s coffee trendsetters — if you go to a good cafe in London or New York, there's a good chance it’s owned by an Australian. Ditto Berlin and Paris. The coffee snob in me is quick to ignore an American coffee trend but if an Australian World Barista Champion is a believer? Well fine, I’ll give it a go.
Butter coffee hasn’t made the transition from an at-home drink to a take-away staple yet. Most drinkers, who hail butter coffee as filling, delicious, and appetite suppressing, make it at home. Enthusiasts claim that homemade butter coffee is nutritious, and they suggest grass-fed butter and MCT (medium-chain triglycerides) as key ingredients to ensure that the fat content is “good fat.” Starting the day by consuming healthy fats is good for immune function, balancing hormones, and cognitive function, which we already knew. Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids have already been heralded as necessarily elements of healthy diets, in the form of nuts, fish, and avocados.
So I decided to try butter coffee, even though it goes against everything I know to be true about a healthy, balanced breakfast. Everything I’ve grown to love about my floral, nutty, smooth Australian-style coffee is abandoned in an effort to understand what all the fuss is about.
Rather than attempt to make it myself, I headed to my favorite coffee shop just outside of inner-city Melbourne. When I told the baristas what I wanted, they stared blankly. Like me, they hadn’t heard of the trend. Like me, they felt that the former World Barista Champion’s endorsement gave it marginally more legitimacy.
The barista pulled a perfect shot of espresso and added 3oz of hot water. She then added two pats of butter quickly whisking to avoid splitting. We decided to forgo the MCT oil because there wasn't any on hand, and the recipes vary widely anyway. My chef and former barista boyfriend watched anxiously, muttering what a waste of perfectly good espresso this experiment would prove to be. He also attempted to explain how we were making cream backwards, which may be of interest to the molecular gastronomers among us.
So here’s the verdict:
Butter coffee tastes like butter in coffee. If you are a fan of hot buttered rum, you may like this. I thought it was absolutely revolting. The barista enthusiastically remarked that it was perfect for a day like today in Melbourne: windy and rainy. My boyfriend said it made him feel nauseous, and the cafe owner refused to try it. As for the claims that butter in coffee emphasizes the buttery notes in the beans, I did not find that to be true at all. Mostly, it just tasted like hot coffee-flavored butter.
One of the alleged benefits of butter coffee is that it keeps drinkers fuller for longer after breakfast. This was decidedly not the case for me. True, it does feel heavier than a standard coffee, but I did not feel like I needed less food when lunchtime came around. My boyfriend didn’t have lunch because his butter coffee stomach ache lasted well into lunchtime, so I wouldn’t necessarily call that a win for suppressing appetite. When I checked if he felt this was accurate, he wanted me to add that he does think it has potential for it to be enjoyable with a few tweaks, including adding a sweetener and playing around with the quantities.
While it may be true that “healthy” fats are associated with a multitude of benefits, there are lower-calorie options that taste a lot better. How about avocado or nut butter on toast? That way you get the benefit of fiber and protein as well! And most importantly, you can continue drinking your unmolested delicious morning coffee.
Still curious? Try it for yourself:
1 cup of black coffee
1 to 2 tbsp of unsalted grass-fed butter
1 to 2 tbsp of MCT oil
Blend until frothy (about 20-30 seconds)
1 cup of hot freshly brewed coffee
1 Tablespoon of coconut oil, virgin preferably