Perry County, Pennsylvania is a land of contradictions. It’s right next to Dauphin County, which is home to the capital city of Harrisburg. It’s also one of Central PA’s most rural counties. The Appalachian Trail runs right through the rolling mountains and dead-quiet backroads that make up most of the county’s land. On the other hand, it’s one of Appalachia’s most economically successful counties, with a growing population and burgeoning arts scene. The young, progressive townsfolk rub elbows with the overwhelmingly conservative farmers of the countryside. The opposites play on each other unselfconsciously, with both sides often crossing the line from archetype to caricature. But the lure of identity is strong in a rootless world, and so Trump stickers and rainbow flags can both be found plastered to the cars lining 4th Street of Newport, PA where Buffalo Brew is located.
In that context, I didn’t know quite what to make of Buffalo Brew. It didn’t seem to take a side in the culture wars, and it this part of the state, that set it apart to the degree that I wanted to learn more about it. After all, the fact that I want to learn instead of shill ideology seems to set me apart these days. Perhaps I’d find a few kindred spirits here. When I walked in, what I found was a very neutral space. There were community bulletins aplenty, but little of the avant-garde art (or attempts at it) that typically crowd the walls of a coffeehouse. The simple tables and chairs could have belonged to an agronomist or an artist. The only kitschy object of note was a toy buffalo sitting on a comfy couch in the corner. Note: Everything around here is buffalo everything. Buffalo Ridge, Little Buffalo Creek, etc. It’s all named after the buffalo that were thought to once roam the area. Evidence seems to come up scarce.
There’s plenty of evidence for a strong coffee culture here in Newport. I counted no less than three on the town square alone, one of them close to Perry County Council of the Arts headquarters. The coffee itself wasn’t too strong; I got the tail-end of the breakfast brew I think. It was a Colombian Sur de Huila coffee, an Arabica bean, and it did have a nice, characteristic nut flavor to it with an airy bit of citrus. The chocolate wasn’t as noticeable to me as the packaging made it out to be, but I’m starting to think I’m the only person who likes a nice chocolate aftertaste to my coffee. That can’t be true, can it?
The muscular gent who sold me the coffee questioned my motives for taking photographs of the place. We live in skeptical times, and people around here are still pretty insular. Rivers have always been highways, but mountains are walls, and we’re surrounded by them up in the center of Perry. I reassured him that it was for blogging purposes only, and the prospect of free advertisement seemed to win him over. On my way out of Newport I almost got lost. I’m thinking that’s a testament to the fact that Newport, although barely registering over 1,500 citizens, is a spot of growth surrounded by townships that are slowly losing their citizens to nearby cities. Like those brand-new Newporters (Newportians?) I came here for a reason. I came here because I need a balance between the city life and the country. Between the liberal and the conservative. Between the political and the apolitical. Between needing art in my life and needing nature. Let’s hope that the center holds in this little town, or that it at least remains a place of many voices. After all, isn’t that what coffeehouse culture is all about? Until next time, stay caffeinated.