How the CEO of Bulletproof Coffee turned buttered coffee into a multimillion-dollar empire

While on a remote mountainside in Tibet, Dave Asprey started to feel “really, really crappy.”

In the mid-2000s, the cloud computing executive-turned-biohacking guru trekked to Mount Kailash, considered one of the most sacred places on Earth, because he wanted to learn to meditate from the Buddhist pilgrims who take ritual walks around the base. Temperatures dipped 10 degrees below, freezing his CamelBak. The altitude left him in a brain fog.

Later Asprey stumbled into a one-bedroom mud hut, where a Tibetan woman gave him a cup of tea blended with yak butter. After five minutes, a warmth spread over his body. “I felt a mental clarity come on,” Asprey says. “Everything just felt easier.”

More than 10 years later, that magical cup of tea is part of the lore that surrounds Asprey. He’s built a multimillion-dollar empire around his DIY approach to biology, complete with two bestselling books, conferences, and an executive retreat center where entrepreneurs pay $US15,000 for access to technologies that Asprey says will give them a shortcut to success.

Still, coffee is his biggest claim to fame. In 2010, Asprey posted a recipe online for the original Bulletproof Coffee — a version of the Tibetan woman’s tea that blends grass-fed butter, a proprietary “Brain Octane” oil, and specialty coffee. He claims its revolutionary combination gives drinkers a “mental edge,” satiates hunger for hours, and promotes weight loss.

Last year, Bulletproof sold 48 million cups of coffee, according to Asprey. However, the science behind the brew remains spotty, and it has drawn public scepticism from doctors.

When he was first starting out with Bulletproof, Asprey mixed and matched butters with hundreds of varieties of tea and coffee. “I’d drink it and think, ‘Did it wake me up? Did it smack me upside the head?'” Asprey says. For seven years, he experimented.

He landed on three core ingredients that made him feel good again.

Organic, grass-fed butter is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats can turn the body into a fat-burning machine under the right conditions. A limited body of research suggests that a low-carb, high-fat diet may also dull hunger, promote weight loss, and stave off diseases associated with ageing. However, there’s no scientific evidence that a dab of butter in your morning coffee achieves the same affect as a diet made up of 80% saturated fats.

Bulletproof Coffee uses single-origin coffee beans from farms in Guatemala and Colombia. They’re processed using a proprietary method that minimizes mould, though as Gizmodo’s Brent Rose points out in a debunking of Bulletproof’s claims, there’s no evidence that Asprey’s homebrew has fewer toxins or provides better performance than traditional coffee.

The last ingredient in Asprey’s golden recipe is the creatively titled Brain Octaine oil, which is derived from coconut oil and converted in the body into fuel for the brain.

Bulletproof doesn’t sell a bottled coffee — though Asprey tells Business Insider it’s in the pipeline — and for now offers each of the three ingredients online and in Whole Foods, CrossFit locations, and supplement retailers. Purchased together, the ingredients cost $US65. (A bigger, 32-ounce bottle of Brain Octane is almost double the cost of a similar oil on Amazon.)

Asprey can’t remember when, between the time he posted the Bulletproof Coffee recipe on his blog in 2010 and later when actress Shailene Woodley and Jimmy Fallon gushed about the brew on “The Tonight Show,” his at-home experiment turned full-blown cultural phenomenon. It gathered a cult following slowly, as the recipe spread from one biohacker to another in online forums, while Asprey travelled the world sharing the Bulletproof gospel.

These days, Asprey, who’s currently promoting his book, “Head Strong,” still drinks Bulletproof Coffee everyday. He says drinking it for breakfast outweighs poor decisions he makes later.

“Even if you’re going to have Taco Bell for lunch, [by drinking Bulletproof] you seriously improve the quality of your life all morning long,” Asprey says.

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