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 to 10 degrees below 0, freezing his CamelBak. The altitude left him in a brain fog.
Later, Asprey says he 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 said. “Everything just felt easier.”
More than 10 years later, that magical cup of tea is part of the lore that surrounds Asprey. He has built a multimillion-dollar empire around his DIY approach to biology, complete with two best-selling books, conferences, and an executive retreat center where entrepreneurs pay $15,000 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.
When he was starting out with Bulletproof, Asprey mixed and matched types of butter 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 said.
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 aging.
However, there’s no scientific evidence that a pat of butter in your morning coffee achieves the same effect 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 mold, though as Gizmodo’s Brent Rose points out in a debunking of Bulletproof’s claims, there’s no evidence that Asprey’s home brew 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 bottled coffee – though Asprey tells Business Insider it’s in the pipeline – instead offering the three ingredients online and in Whole Foods, CrossFit locations, and supplement retailers. Purchased together, the ingredients are $65. (The cost of a 32-ounce bottle of Brain Octane oil is almost double that of a similar oil on Amazon.)
Asprey can’t remember when his at-home experiment turned into a full-blown cultural phenomenon, between when he posted the recipe on his blog in 2010 and when the actress Shailene Woodley and Jimmy Fallon gushed about the brew on “The Tonight Show” in 2014. It gathered a cult following slowly, as the recipe spread from one biohacker to another in online forums, while Asprey traveled the world sharing the Bulletproof gospel.
Asprey, who’s currently promoting his book, “Head Strong,” still drinks Bulletproof coffee every day and says having it for breakfast outweighs poor decisions he makes later.
“Even if you’re going to have Taco Bell for lunch,” he says, by drinking the coffee, “you seriously improve the quality of your life all morning long.”