Butter As Beverage
HIPSTER HAUNT PICNIK BUILDS ON THE CULT SUCCESS OF ITS BUTTER COFFEE WITH THE LAUNCH OF A BOTTLED VERSION
by Hannah M. Hepfer
Photography by Danielle Chloe Potts
What can make discerning Austinites line up, and pay upwards of $10 for a coffee? A curious libation — sold at Picnik’s restaurant and trailer — that blends organic coffee, grass-fed butter, and MCT oil. The drink’s decadent mixture has garnered a devout following since it became available in 2013. Picnik owner Naomi Seifter attributes butter coffee’s appeal in part due to its creamy taste, but also to the drink’s functionality. Customers say the unique mix of ingredients satiates appetite, increases mental focus and stabilizes energy levels — without the typical caffeine crash.
“It’s like a latte, energy drink and protein shake all in one,” Seifter says.
She experienced similar benefits in 2012 after experimenting with the concept of butter coffee in her kitchen. When she opened Picnik a year later, she was so convinced of its potential that she made it the centerpiece on her drink menu. Her instincts paid off — between the two locations, she now sells tens of thousands of coffees per month.
“I was lucky to have an idea that hadn’t been explored in a retail setting,” she says.
Butter coffee was a hard sell at first — even for open-minded Austinites privy to burgeoning food and beverage trends. Seifter spent the early days standing behind the counter persuading customers to “just try it” — and often gave it away for free in hopes of changing their minds.
“People were so confused and wary of the idea,” she recalls. “They’d say, ‘That sounds disgusting’ or ‘Doesn’t it taste greasy?’”
But many skeptics ended up loving it and started buying butter coffee daily. Then, in 2014, the high-fat movement hit and there was a greater focus in the media on the value of fats like butter, egg yolks, coconut oil and avocado. Time magazine even featured butter on the cover with the text, “Eat butter.”
“We were able to do less convincing at that point,” says Seifter. “People were ready for our product.”
She soon started getting requests for the drink in other cities. Her first attempt at a travel-friendly version, a truffle-type product called a “Buttercup” that you could drop into coffee and blend, ceased production due to manufacturing issues and challenges to scaling. Seifter then tried to create bottled butter coffee, but that stalled for three years in the midst of its own logistical hurdles.
“It was a total labor of love with failure after failure,” she says.
Eventually, the bottled version launched this spring and is now carried at both Picnik locations, Central Market, Snap Kitchen and online, with Whole Foods to come in August. The bottled flavors — cappuccino, mocha and chai — were the first on the menu and remain best sellers.
So it seems Austinites are now on board. For Austin realtor Sarah Williams, who drinks butter coffee a couple of times a week, the sustained energy she feels eliminates her need for an afternoon nap.
“It just keeps me laser focused,” she says. “It’s so funny what a drink can do.”
4801 Burnet Rd
Austin, TX 78756
1700 S. Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX 78704
Read more from the Food Issue | July 2017