Chewable coffee and the Apple Watch: Getting started with basic biohacking

The breakout star of South by Southwest Interactive wasn’t a social app or a piece of hardware. It was chewable coffee. Little red and yellow packages of caffeine-packed Go Cubes were all over downtown Austin.

But these weird little latte-flavored gummies aren’t just a novelty snack, or even an easy way to mainline caffeine without having to pee every five minutes. Chewing Go Cubes is the first step on the road to biohacking, or quantifying your body and your brain to achieve maximum productivity.

Most people wouldn’t consider wearing a fitness band that tells you when you’ve walked 10,000 steps in a day, using an app to track your workouts, or logging your food intake forms of biohacking, which, to be honest, sounds like a weird, extreme practice for people who believe we’re closer than ever to The Singularity. But if you quantify your body’s inputs, like food, and its outputs, like exercise, then you’re well on your way to being a biohacker. At least that’s what Nootrobox cofounder Geoff Woo told me.

Nootrobox makes nootropics, or powdered supplements designed to boost your brainpower, but those products have limited appeal for regular folks. So the company just released Go Cubes, a more mainstream way to hack your brain, and there’s a reason its supply sold out in three days on Amazon Launchpad. You can buy a box of 20 four-packs for $59 (or slightly cheaper on the Nootrobox website), and they come in three flavors: mocha, pure drip, and latte. (To be honest, I could not taste the difference between the three.)

Go Cubes are almost exactly as strange as you might imagine. The texture is like a Sour Patch Kid, though a cube tastes almost exactly like a latte. There is a bitter, sour coffee center, which some people don’t taste and others (like myself) taste quite acutely. Unlike liquid coffee, the cubes deliver a concentrated dose of caffeine in a pocket-friendly form. There’s a little more to the cubes than just efficient caffeine delivery, which I’ll dive into in a minute. But first, I had to test these things—and pass them out to unsuspecting coworkers—to see their effects on a range of people.

The benefit of eating a Go Cube instead of just drinking a cup of coffee is the precise hit of caffeine you get: 50mg of caffeine in each chewable. Two cubes equals one cup of coffee. You will definitely feel that concentrated dose, in my experience. On an empty stomach, two Go Cubes made me feel like a jittery mess, where a regular cup of coffee does not have this effect. When I hit my 3:00 p.m. post-lunch slump, two cubes turned me into a machine of productivity, churning out stories and emails like it’s my job (and it is, so that worked out).

Some of my human guinea pigs—my friends and colleagues—couldn’t get past the intense coffee taste, which is much stronger than in a typical cup of the stuff. Others find the effect to be too much like, well, crack.

I cajoled my coworker Leah Yamshon into trying the cubes while we were in Austin. She was tired and needed an afternoon pick-me-up. She gamely ate two cubes, but the look of disgust on her face made me burst out laughing. However, she admitted later that the cubes got the job done—she powered through her afternoon with ease.

“I’d rather have an afternoon iced coffee,” she said.

So they’re not for everyone. But there’s a little more to Go Cubes than a convenient caffeine hit. Nootrobox CEO Woo says nootropics—even the mainstream chewable variety like his coffee cubes—are designed to modulate input and output. So the company put L-theanine, an amino acid found in tea, in the cubes to pump up its cognitive effects. Scientific studies have shown that caffeine and L-theanine together improve your attention while lessening the coffee jitters.

That all sounds legit, but more studies need to be done—and that’s where the self-tracking devices we carry with us all the time, like our phones, fitness bands, and smartwatches, come in.

“The biggest knock on the supplements industry is ‘can you actually show effects’” Woo says. “It’s very hard to track these things because it’s expensive to do clinical trials and you’re not getting enough granular data. With Apple Watch, we have supercomputers on our wrists. We’re not only innovating on the best inputs on the human body, but we can actually capture it.”

Especially if the Apple Watch one day has skin-capacitive sensors that can sense things like cortisol levels in your sweat.

Capturing that data isn’t easy now, but that will soon change, Woo says.

He compares the biohackers of today with the Homebrew Computer Club of the 1970s, which is now recognized for seeing then what few people could—that personal computers would change the world. It was in this club that the kernel of what would become the Apple I was formed. So in a few years, biohacking won’t be such a crazy idea, Woo says. Forget virtual and augmented reality: The next platform of computing is us.

“We’re adjacent to Soylent. They’re about replacing food. We’re about performance enhancement,” Woo says. “Food is one of the primary inputs we put into our system. If we think about the human body as a platform, that correlates with outputs. We have information about how inputs affect outputs, so let’s be rigorous about maximizing outputs with inputs.”

I haven’t tried Nootrobox’s other nootropic stacks, which are designed to activate different parts of your brain during the day, but after experiencing the Go Cubes’ effects, biohacking doesn’t seem like such a bizarre concept. Woo called me in the midst of a 36-hour fast, which all of Nootrobox’s employees collectively do each week to “generate new brain cells,” he tells me. I love food and have never fasted in my life, but by the end of our conversation I was trying to figure out if I could fit it into my schedule. I want new brain cells, too. I don’t know if chewable coffee, nootropics, and an Apple Watch can turn me into the optimum version of myself, but it certainly is seductive to think so.


Caitlin McGarry

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