Backpacking with grass fed butter in Southeast Asia

Coffee and grass fed butter have been my staple morning diet for the past four years. It continues to be my go to while I’m traveling through Southeast Asia. I plan to have it every day as much as I can. There’s no better way to stay lean, dense, and energetic than with healthy fat to start the day.

It’s much easier and nicer to have butter coffee at home: beans pulverized by a hefty burr grinder, stove top boiled water in my Hario kettle, and brewed over a ceramic pour over cup on a nice wide countertop. Butter coffee that’s blended at home in a high tech appliance like VitaMix can’t be beat. The drink is foamy, creamy, and just heavenly. The ingredients, like chocolate powder and vanilla bean, mesh better with the coffee and butter. It comes out like a dessert. But on the road, I don’t have such luxury.What I do have is a 24-oz. Thermos, a handheld coffee bean grinder, and a small pack of all my ingredients in ziplocked bags. I did allow myself the weighty luxury of my Hario dripper kettle, to store my powders and to have a vessel for hot water. And I just couldn’t let it go.

The trickiest things about butter coffee on the road are getting and keeping grass fed butter. In Southeast Asia a lot of quality butter comes from Australia and New Zealand. Anchor and Allowrie were two I’ve used so far. Small towns rarely have these available, so I’ve had to shop in the busier areas for it. It hasn’t been a great problem, except in Railay Beach where I missed my chance to get some in Ao Nang during an excursion. I was fortunate enough to have met a French chef at a nice hotel restaurant, who gave me a stick of precious unsalted French butter. I’m still living off of that, three days later. So grateful to that man.

That’s another thing; on top of finding grass fed butter, I need the unsalted product to make my coffee. Surprisingly, in Southeast Asia it’s pretty easy to find unsalted butter in most medium-sized grocery stores. Hero and Coco markets in Indonesia, and Makro in Thailand have been stocked when I went.

Keeping butter fresh and solid as a backpacker is the other fun problem. It’s regularly between 80 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside, even at night. So when I move from one locale to the next, it’s best not to have leftover butter. I time my butter shopping for the beginnings of my stay in one place, so that I can have access to a fridge while I have it. And if I have a bit left over on the day I leave, I dump it all into my Thermos with other ingredients, sans coffee. I can then pack, keeping the Thermos accessible, and find good coffee shop later to add to the Thermos. Shake and serve.

The more difficult scenario is having a lot of butter left on the day I need to get on a bus, plane, or boat for a long trip. It does happen, for various reasons. I have been bringing a small, rectangular tupperware lent to me by my mother-in-law to store butter while on the move. The day before, I freeze the remaining butter if possible. I wrap plastic over the original wrapping, put it in a ziplock, and then in the tupperware. It’s not good to have the fat in direct contact with plastic, so I keep the original wrap on it. Plastic will degrade when in contact with fat.

I keep the butter in my day pack, or a separate bag from my pack. It goes on board with me on flights. This hasn’t been an issue at all. Packing butter into a check in bag risks the bag being left out in the sun during cargo loading. Think popcorn butter. Big mistake if you don’t have a nice glass container without wrappings. While backpacking, it hasn’t been an option for me.

The first thing we always do upon check in at our next stay is unpack and throw the butter into the fridge. Most places I’ve stayed have had freezers, fortunately. One time in Bali we had the butter kept in the inn’s kitchen freezer. It worked without any issues for the four nights we were there. A good way to interact with the staff, too. A regular fridge will suffice as well. However, plan to finish the butter before leaving, as it’s risky to bring butter that’s not frozen on long rides in the tropical heat.

One last thing about butter coffee: remember the water. You can’t make coffee without water, and it’s not fun getting drinking water from the store first thing in the morning. In this region, tap is not the best option. Even when boiled, it’s a risk for health.

When all else fails, and you can’t find butter, and you can’t make coffee? Go without. Better to intermittent fast and eat a late lunch than to eat a heavy touristy breakfast. With that being said, I have trouble passing up eggs, bacon, and pastries every once in a while. I know the consequences and have to deal with them, though. To each their own.

Live powerfully,

Steve

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