It’s no secret amongst friends and colleagues that my husband and I are coffee enthusiasts. I’m talking about the sort of person that owns multiple burr grinders, various pour-over and French press devices, a couple of gooseneck kettles, and a number of our favorite travel mugs.
But when the pandemic hit a few years ago and all our local coffee shops and roasters closed their brick-and-mortar stores, we started buying coffee beans in bulk online from them. And though all our local coffee shops have since re-opened, we still occasionally purchase a 5-pound bulk bag because it’s just significantly cheaper and more convenient.
Buying in such large quantities meant we had to figure out how to store the beans in a way that kept them fresh. Thankfully we already owned a couple of Fellow Atmos coffee canisters—and we quickly bought more of them.
Roasted coffee beans start to degrade in quality the minute air hits them through a process called oxidation. Coffee beans (and also the liquid coffee that is brewed from the beans) contain hundreds of flavor and aroma molecules. Those molecules react with the oxygen in the air and bond with it, losing their flavor and aroma the longer they are exposed to air. It’s the same process that causes cast iron skillets to rust if you haven’t properly seasoned them, or a sliced apple to turn brown if left out.
But if you minimize the air that touches the beans, they’ll last longer. Retail coffee bags do this by using plastic one-way valves that are often embedded into the back of the bag. The valve allows gas to exit the bag, but no air to enter it. Freshly roasted beans continue to expel carbon dioxide for up to four to five days after their initial roasting, so the one-way valve is important, otherwise, the bag would expand and potentially explode. Actually, keeping coffee in a sealed bag is one of the best ways to preserve the freshness of beans (as we found in our testing here).
But once you open the bag, the coffee is exposed to air and starts to degrade. Most coffee storage containers try to preserve freshness by creating an airtight seal or displacing the air. But any air already in the storage container with the beans can still degrade and oxidize them, as we found out when we tested three popular coffee canisters. The Fellow Atmos is different, though: it has a vacuum seal.
The trick is in the lid itself. Pour the coffee beans into the container, place the lid on top, then twist the lid. Continue to twist the lid, pumping the air out of the container, until a little button drops down and shows green. This indicates the air has been pumped out. Much like the vacuum sealing cork stoppers for wine bottles, the lack of air in the container means the beans will stay fresher for longer (as we explained here, “it kept coffee the freshest and the best-tasting of the bunch of canisters we tested.”) I’ve found the seal holds up well for two to three deals if left alone. To open the container, just press the center button, and air will be let in, allowing you to lift off the lid with minimal effort.
The Fellow Atmos containers come in matte black, matte white, and clear. The matte black and white are sleek and modern in appearance, a handsome addition to our countertop along with all of our other coffee gear. They also have the added bonus of keeping light out (light can degrade coffee beans, too). But there is something to be said about the convenience of clear glass, as you always know exactly how many coffee beans you have at a glance. And as long as you keep the glass containers behind a pantry door, light shouldn’t be an issue.
Should you store coffee in its bag?
In our testing, we found resealable bags with one-way valves do a fine job at storing coffee. In fact, we don’t think most coffee canisters are worthwhile (read: they won’t keep coffee fresher than the bag its comes in)—with the exception of vacuum-sealed canisters like the Fellow Atmos.