I came home from a trip the other day with a small plastic bag filled with 4 ounces of brown powder that, truth be told, made me a little nervous.
The powder had a strong odor that reminded me of badly burnt coffee, with perhaps a note of brown sugar.
I didn’t dare open that bag. It contained crude caffeine, about 90 percent pure. That small bag held as much caffeine as 1,000 tall lattes from Starbucks, or 2,000 cans of Coke or Pepsi. It was enough to kill several people.
This was my first encounter with the substance that comes up so often in daily conversation. We speak of being “caffeinated” — sometimes too caffeinated. We consider the choice of caf versus decaf coffee, and whether there’s entirely too much caffeine in energy drinks. Rarely, though, do any of us ever see caffeine, or consider where it comes from.
It’s mid-morning on a busy day when hunger pangs usually set in and lunch is still but a distant dot on the horizon. But today is different. I’m strangely fortified with a feeling of satiety. I’m brimming with purposeful energy and my conscious brain has a sharp sheen, keeping me focused. What’s more is that I ate no discernible solid for breakfast. Rather, a veritable slick of strong coffee lathered with a heaped tablespoon of butter—the kind of breakfast that Withnail might have cobbled together with leftovers after a big night.
This was premeditated, though. I had drunk a mug full of bulletproof coffee (also known as butter coffee), an old world tradition that has re-emerged as a potent performance enhancer. The term was coined by American health guru Dave Asprey, who has harnessed his experience of drinking yak tea with butter at 18,000 feet in Tibet (it gave him astounding energy levels) into this turbo coffee. Mingma Tseri Sherpa, one of the world’s leading mountaineers and 19-time Everest summiter, tells me, “We often drink tea with yak butter and salt. It’s good for our health and we mostly drink it during winter. It’s very common fuel for sherpas and climbing.”