First there was Bulletproof coffee, a precise mixture of low-mold coffee beans, butter from grass-fed cows and a coconut oil extract made from medium-chain triglycerides. The elixir promised (with very little scientific evidence) to suppress your appetite, provide long-lasting energy and make your brain work better.
More recently, there was CBD coffee, which similarly (again, without much proof) vowed to grant you the energizing effects of coffee while also curbing your anxiety and preventing the caffeine-induced jitters.
Now, there’s mushroom coffee, a concoction that contains shroom-derived adaptogens believed to help the body adapt to stress and resist fatigue. While mushroom coffee might sound like something a third-grader would make when left to their own devices in a coffee shop, these coffee-hacking business are actually booming: Bulletproof, for instance, has grown by 80 percent since 2012, and you can find its products in high-end health food stores — like Whole Foods and Sprouts — around the country.
For starters, we’re obsessed with coffee in general: A recent study commissioned by the National Coffee Association found that 64 percent of Americans drink at least one cup of coffee every single day, which is the highest percentage since 2012. In fact, Americans all together consume 400 million cups of coffee each day, which makes the U.S. the leading consumer of coffee in the world (Finland, however, consumes the most per capita). It’s not hard to see why the coffee business is still an incredibly lucrative one: Coffee shops currently have a seven percent annual growth rate, and Starbucks remains one of the largest “restaurants” in the world.
The fact that coffee is such an integral part of American life, then, makes it the ideal vessel for whatever miracle health powder is currently being peddled, simply because pretty much everyone digs coffee. “Coffee is likely the most ritualized thing we consume,” Charles, a barista at Go Get Em Tiger, tells me. “Piggybacking on that is an easy way to find success.”
Ted Jamison, who works at Toby’s Estate Coffee Roasters in Brooklyn, adds that coffee also has certain characteristics that might encourage people to get their hack on, so to speak. “There’s a vast contingent of people who view coffee as a sort of utilitarian beverage — one that can facilitate productivity, energy and so on,” he explains. “That sort of mindset could be extended by adding various ‘hacks’ — tacking on further enhancements or attributes to an already tonic-like beverage. Also, coffee’s susceptibility to infusions in brewing and its strong flavor to potentially mask the taste of additives might make it an ideal beverage to hack as well.”
Jamison mentions, however, that such hacking is generally frowned upon by the hardcore coffee community. “For the most part, I’d say coffee purists view it as corny, gimmicky or as just another way to squeeze profit out of whatever substance is trendy at the moment,” he says.
“Gimmicky” seems like a fair assessment: As one Gizmodo article concludes after debunking some of the many health claims made by Bulletproof, “You can’t jumpstart your metabolism. Losing weight is hard and requires real lifestyle changes. Butter in your coffee might taste good, but that’s all it is. Do what you want but don’t feel like you have to waste your money on someone else’s fever dream.”
So yeah — hacked coffee might sound cool and all, but at the end of the day, it’s about as legit as those Instagram-famous tummy teas.