Will Bulletproof Coffee make you more awesome? The new cafe in South Lake Union sure would like you to think so. But how does the coffee — and the food — actually taste?
“TAP INTO THE UNLIMITED POWER OF BEING HUMAN,” the wall at Bulletproof Coffee commands. Self-consciously futuristic music bleeps and bloops over the airwaves in the self-consciously futuristic cafe. The clean lines and angular graphics are interrupted only by the enthusiastic humans who work here and the rows of boxes, bottles and jars of Bulletproof-brand supplements, which extend practically unlimited promises to make you “YOU. ONLY BETTER,” as another wall shouts.
Headquartered in Bellevue, Bulletproof’s butter-enhanced coffee made a media splash a few years back; the cafes started in L.A. before one finally opened in Seattle’s South Lake Union this October. At the counter at the new location, a question about some prepackaged ampoules labeled Unfair Advantage reveals that Bulletproof’s founder raised his I.Q. 30 points by taking them four times a day. This, anyway, is what the person working says; the Bulletproof blog indicates the increase was “at least 18 points” and was aided by “brain training” called “Dual N-Back” (“the cool stuff … 20 minute computer lessons designed to challenge every part of your brain necessary to boost your cognition”). The counterperson calls the founder “Dave” — that’s Dave Asprey, author of, among other works, “Head Strong: The Bulletproof Plan to Activate Untapped Brain Energy to Work Smarter and Think Faster — in Just Two Weeks.” Dave is big on “biohacking.” The tiny tubes of Unfair Advantage look like free samples. They cost $2.50 each.
Bulletproof’s coffee beans are, a sign says, certified mold-free, raising the possibility that we’ve all been drinking coffee made with moldy beans all this time. I’ve been a barista, and I’ve never seen a coffee bean with mold on it, nor ever heard of this hazard. But, then, I’ve been laboring under the delusion that the power of humans seems distinctly limited, and I’ve been drinking coffee sans Brain Octane Oil (for “Amplified Energy & Mental Performance”). I’ve also been riding my bike instead of standing on a motorized platform called The Bulletproof Vibe for 15 minutes a day, which, Bulletproof says, equals an hour of actual exercise. It costs $1,495.
307 Westlake Ave. N. (South Lake Union), Seattle; 206-466-5428; bulletproof.com
Open Monday-Friday 6 a.m.-7 p.m., Saturday-Sunday 7 a.m.-4 p.m.
As a box of Bulletproof Instamix coffee packets tells me, “Being Bulletproof is a science-based approach to nutrition and life — tried, tested and proven to help human performance in athletes, mathletes and anyone who wants to be more awesome.” Gizmodo took down some of the company’s early claims, including the mold-scare, in a 2015 post entitled “Bulletproof Coffee: Debunking the Hot Buttered Hype,” but here the new cafe is anyway. It makes as much sense as anything among the shiny new buildings of Seattle’s Amazon territory. Bulletproof seems ready-made for the Soylent crowd — those aspiring to be titans of tech, blasting off into space, investing in the search for eternal life, helicopters awaiting to take them to secret bunkers when the world hits the fan. I’m sorry, am I getting ahead of you? I’m drinking Bulletproof Coffee right now.
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Bulletproof Coffee costs $4.75 for 12 ounces, $5.75 for 16. The Brain Octane oil and grass-fed butter it’s larded with aren’t free, people. Removal of the compostable lid reveals a layer of foam made up of tiny, shiny, buttery-looking bubbles. It smells faintly of chocolate or maybe carob, and also of wood or cardboard, though maybe that’s the cup. The coffee itself is murky tan in color. The first sip rings intensely bitter, with a lingering sour aftertaste akin to awakening on a very bad morning. Despite the powerful flavor — sharp, bitter, acidic — the texture is thinly dishwater-like. And despite tasting thin, the coffee’s butter coats your mouth and palpably shines your lips, giving the whole experience the kind of staying power that’s ideally reserved for, well, something good. (When I later entreat my colleague, beverage expert Tan Vinh, to try this coffee, he will pronounce it “an insult to coffee everywhere.” If you put a cup of Bulletproof next to Seattle’s Vivace or Analog, they’d probably back away slowly.)
A coffee hacker — that’s what baristas are called at Bulletproof, according to the wall text next to the cafe’s Vibe machine — passes by my table. “How’s the coffee?” he asks solicitously. I smile and nod weakly. The Bulletproof effect seems to be starting at the nape of my neck and pressing somewhat forcibly upward inside my head. I notice I’m clenching my jaw. I feel less “more awesome” and more “more insane.” I’m only half a small cup in. The coffee begins to taste, frighteningly, more normal, like this is what coffee is.
Some food would be good. Founder Dave is also the author of “Bulletproof: The Cookbook: Lose Up to a Pound a Day, Increase Your Energy, and End Food Cravings for Good.” The cafe offers three grab-and-go items. They are gluten-free but vegan-hostile.
First, the breakfast burrito, which they’ll heat up for you if you like. With the exception of the wan porkiness of the bites that include floppy bits of uncured bacon, it’s more of a textural experience than a taste sensation, like eating a gummy, tasteless cloud. The tortilla, made with coconut flour, seems to thicken in the mouth, spongy and faintly sweet. The scrambled egg is also spongy and seems free of any supplements like salt or pepper. Grains of rice precipitate out of the loosely wrapped configuration; while golden in color, with the label promising turmeric, the rice is flavorless. The label also claims avocado, of which there is none. I have selected a burrito with an expiration date two days hence instead of one of those set to expire today, a degree of extra freshness that doesn’t seem so helpful. The breakfast burrito costs $11, and it is not large.
Dave also apparently approves of deviled eggs. All of them available in the refrigerated case expire in two days, which is longer than you want a deviled egg to sit around, in my humble opinion. Labeled “bacon hollandaise,” my specimens perform the trick of having double the normal yolk volume, but zero extra flavor. The yolk-balls are dense; the whites, rubbery. The cost is $5.25 for two eggs’ worth.
The Bulletproof scones, pucklike in shape, are described by a coffee hacker as “really good,” “as if shortbread and a snickerdoodle had a baby!” Made with rice flour, coconut flour, cinnamon, “lots of butter and a little bit of xylitol,” it crumbles to the touch, chews like damp sand, and tastes slightly less bland than everything else. It’s four bucks.
I don’t eat much of any of it. Maybe the Bulletproof coffee is ending my cravings for food? Jitters, definitely not supposed to be a Bulletproof byproduct, are happening; my brain seems to be skipping from thought to thought on shuffle. There, outside the window: What is on that man’s head?! The man is standing in front of a sign; the sign only looks like it’s on his head. He swipes at his phone. It’s OK!
“Hey guys, how’re you doing! Need some coffee!!!” one of the coffee hackers enthuses to some new arrivals at the counter. He explains, sort of, what Brain Octane Oil is. “It’s GOOD! It’s definitely better than what you get at Starbucks!” he says.
My Bulletproof coffee provides me with the unsettling feeling that I’m forgetting something for the subsequent several hours. Another day at the Bulletproof cafe, I will sign the two-page waiver indemnifying Bulletproof Nutrition, Inc., for any bodily injury, partial and/or total disability, paralysis and death that is required to try out the Vibe machine. I will stand on the platform, trying the different poses depicted on the wall, while it vibrates with a force that seems meant to dislodge the teeth from one’s head. I will drink another cup of Bulletproof coffee. For the rest of the day, I will feel unusually aware of my spine, with the possibility crossing my mind that signing the waiver may not have been the best idea. But maybe I am just more awesome.