Find the Highest Performance Coffee in Your City
By: Dave Asprey
June 14, 2011
To be in a state of high performance while partaking of one of life’s greatest pleasures, Upgraded Coffee, it’s useful to learn how to avoid getting a cupful of neuroactive mycotoxins along with your caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline. The only way to be 100% certain you are not getting these and other toxins in your coffee is to bring the cleanest beans with you, which is what I do. Like hundreds of other high performance people, including professional poker players, Billboard artists, and CEOs, I carry Upgraded Coffee with me on the road so I can always know how I’ll perform after my morning coffee. Sometimes you just don’t have any Upgraded Coffee with you, and you’re dying for the performance enhancing boost that only coffee gives. Here is what to do to find coffee with a lower than average level of toxins in any city. Sometimes you will still crash from the coffee you find, but your odds of it happening are lower. This came about because one of a readers just wrote and said:
Just found your site via a mention HackerNews. I Googled “Bulletproof Coffee” and that URL was ranking #1. Do you have any suggestions for where I can buy arabica wet process coffee? I went to a high end grocery store in Austin that has at least 50+ coffees and they looked at me like I had a third arm when I asked. Thanks, Jeremy
The easiest solution is to just grow a third arm, so when you ask about coffee at grocery stores, you can be confident that’s why you get those looks. If DIY-biology isn’t your thing, there is still hope. Before the advent of Upgraded Coffee Beans, I became an expert in finding cleaner-than-average coffee in strange places because I’m often in 3 different cities in a single week to speak at conferences (when productivity and focus is massively important). This is a time to be full of energy, but not waste time searching for coffee. The difference in productivity between a bad cup of coffee and a Bulletproof one is so important that I don’t mess around. Drinking mass marketed hotel coffee and feeling awful afterwards isn’t really an option for me before I go on stage in front of 1000 people. Normal coffee makes me slower at word recall, so I grasp for words on stage, and there is a study showing lower cognitive function. Not ok. These days, I don’t waste time on coffee shop roulette searching for cleaner-than-average coffee. I often just bring a tin full of ground Upgraded™ Coffee, or I toss a few of the new Keurig compatible cartridges in my bag. With either option, it takes 3-4 minutes to make coffee in my hotel, which saves time rather than waiting in line for bad coffee in a hotel lobby. Sometimes, I bring a Hario V60, but often I just put some ground coffee in a cup, add hot water, stir, wait 4 minutes, then after the grounds sink, I decant the top and drink it. Redneck french press anyone? You can see me using a Hario V60 to make coffee in this video: On the road, if I run out of Upgraded Coffee, and I was dying for some coffee, how would I know a coffee shop in a random city might have better than average coffee? You won’t be certain of what you’ll get, but I’ve learned how to tilt the odds in favor of feeling good when I (rarely) drink untested coffee. To illustrate, here is my thought process as I find the best coffee in Austin for Jeremy. I’ve used this process to find top rated, likely lower toxin coffee in cities around the US and Canada. Here is what I did: (Note: Picknick in Austin now carries Upgraded Coffee beans and Brain Octane Oil, so I’d just go there…!)
Step 1: Google “Best coffee in Austin.” Yelp usually comes up with a short list. You can ignore most individual reviews raving about coffee because the average person wouldn’t know a great cup of coffee from an average one, so they always use sugar and go by how cool the décor and baristas are. However, the aggregate Yelp ranking is pretty useful.
Step 2: Visit the top ranked sites of the coffee places from Yelp/Google. If a coffee snob, who clearly knows his coffee, has commented, you’re on the right track. Some of the most flavorful coffees are natural process – the fungal load in those is much higher, but a coffee shop that takes the time to select great tasting coffee will often have at least one selection that will help you perform better AND taste great.
Step 3: Look for coffee houses that offer single-origin coffee and do not rely on blends for most of their offerings. Also check for other markers of quality coffee, such as coffee houses that roast their own beans, or hire large numbers of people with tattoos and piercings. In this case, the top 3 were:
Summermoon Coffee Bar – These guys look promising. Their site says “artisan” and they wood-roast their organic fair trade coffee. Unfortunately, when I look at their online store, all the beans are blends. That means they take some beans from here, some beans from there, and mix them until they taste ok. Blending is something you do when you want a specific flavor profile, and it increases the odds that at least one of the sources of beans has the toxins we’re seeking to avoid. It dramatically increases your chances of getting some beans that stray from perfection.
I’d pass on Summermoon unless I was ok with feeling just ok, not Bulletproof. Their coffee probably tastes great, the ambience looks great, (I haven’t been there) but from the data online, the odds are that this coffee isn’t going to make you perform as well as some other coffees that are not blends.
Caffé Medici – One reviewer said, “By far, the best cup of coffee I had while in Austin. In fact, one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had, period. Blue Bottle, LA Mill and Caffe Calabria included…” That means this is probably a good coffee place. The website says they focus on equipment extensively (another good sign). When I read “Our espresso machine is a La Marzocco FB 80. We pull 1.5-2 oz of espresso at 24 to 26 seconds in 18 gram baskets,” I feel slightly giddy. I’m a coffee hacker too.
But then, that giddiness is shattered by the fact that they serve a blend in their French Press. The very best coffee is made by modifying the roast and brewing process to fit the beans, not by mixing beans together. (That is a religious statement to some; to me it’s all about reducing aspergillus infected beans so I can perform that much better.)
Third Roast Coffee – The top Yelp comment for Third Roast said, “Everything else aside (and there is a lot!), Third Coast has the best coffee in Austin. They have a dizzying variety of single origins and blends, every one of which is delicious…” When you log in to their website, you can track the origin of your coffee lot number on the home page. They buy their coffee green and roast it themselves. They actually know the people who grew their beans, and offer Central American varieties.
The website doesn’t say how their coffee is processed, but I’d bet that they have a variety of methods. If you call them, or visit the storefront and asked for their cleanest, wet process (or washed process), high altitude Central American beans, they wouldn’t look at you like you had a third arm at all. They might instead look at you like they would marry you on the spot, because you were an educated coffee drinker who cared about their craft.
And the winner is… Site unseen, if I was in Austin, I’d head to Third Roast Coffee to get beans to make Upgraded Coffee. It doesn’t look like they serve coffee there, which isn’t a problem since Jeremy is looking for a bean source, not a place to drink coffee. If I was going to drink coffee at a coffee house in Austin, I’d find one that used Third Roast Coffee beans, or I’d try Summermoon for the novelty of the wood fired roasting or Caffe’ Medici – but I’d be taking a small risk if their beans were processed by letting them mold in the sun (known as natural process). In San Francisco, I head to Four Barrel, NOT Blue Bottle, because, while Blue Bottle has the most fantastic brewing setup ever and is worth seeing just for that, their coffee is mostly blended or natural process, and I can feel the difference in performance from it. Four Barrel is single origin and usually has wet process beans. Ritual Roasters is a good choice too. In the South Bay, Red Rock Coffee in Mountain View stocks and brews Four Barrel beans. At the end of the day, to be as high performance as you can be, make the decision to either not drink coffee at all or to drink only really, really clean coffee. The difference is profound.