Updated: Sep 19
What does coffee have to do with community? Well, in some respects, not much. But in other ways, quite a lot. You see, they are both at the heart of why my wife and I decided to open our own coffeehouse.
Hello, my name is Eric. My wife, Sarah, and I met in our early college days at the tight-knit campus of St. Vincent College. Shortly after graduation in 2015 we were married, bought a house, started our careers, and have lived in Irwin ever since. We were officially in The Real World now.
I knew The Real World would come with its share of struggles. But we quickly ran into struggles that we didn’t expect: What happened to all our friends? Our community?
I’m sure many of you can relate to this. The gears of life churn on, moving people to distant jobs and filling our schedules. It takes effort be with the people you know and love. And if you aren’t diligent, your social life can be reduced to countless evenings watching reruns of The Office in your living room.
This was far from the rich sense of community that Sarah and I cherished at our tight-knit Alma Mater. In The Real World, there were no casual snack runs, informal gatherings, or running into friends in a common hangout area. If you didn’t plan it, it didn’t happen.
But then a profound thought hit us: That’s not cool!
Was this just how The Real World would be? We had a hard time accepting that this is the new normal.
But then another though immerged: What if we could change that? What if we could build a community of people, with things to do, places to gather, and new and old friends to meet?
And that is exactly what we started to do. Working with local churches, we started a young adult group, REV316, which has continued to grow and flourish over the years. In our spare time we served as co-founders and co-chairs in the community, leading a small Core Team of members who were responsible for most of the group's innerworkings. Over the years, the REV316 community has restored a sense of community in our lives that we missed so dearly.
If at this point you’re wondering how on earth any of this has anything to do with coffee, sit tight.
I’ve had a fascination with coffee since my high school graduation. I started out small: the occasional face-meltingly sweet Mc Donald’s Frappuccino. Then I moved to lattes, then coffee with a healthy dose of cream and sugar. Eventually cream and sugar went the way of the dodo bird.
Soon I began roasting my own coffee beans, experimenting with the many different coffee brewing methods, and even hosting coffee tasting events for friends and family (more on coffee tastings later). While Sarah enjoys a good cup of coffee, she’s spent several years on a similar path with tea. We both love our warm caffeinated beverages.
Now, you are probably still wondering what any of this has to do with community, right?
Well you see, more so than coffee and tea, my wife and I love going to coffee shops. Sure, it feeds our coffee and tea nerdiness. But that isn’t the only reason we go. We go for the unique social settings they create, a setting that is hard to find elsewhere in society.
Think about it. I can do at home many of the things a coffeeshop does. Coffee, muffins, breakfast sandwiches? No problem. But I can’t start a casual conversation with a stranger in my living room. I can’t unintentionally run into a friend in my dining room. And I certainly can’t “get away from life for a while” at my home or work.
A New Type of Place
There is a name for this type of place. Sociologists call this a “Third Place”. You live at your first place, you work at your second place, and most of your time is divided between the two. But we all need our social hub, our home away from home.
Starbucks CEO described a third place as “a warm and welcoming place, outside of our homes and our workspaces, where we connect and build community.” The theme song for the sitcom, Cheers, summed it up in simple words: Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.
There aren’t many places like this anymore. Society is shifting away from personal interactions. The internet has made us more connected than ever, yet we have fewer and fewer encounters with real people. I can have food and materials shipped straight to my door without stepping foot in a store. And I can opt for contactless delivery so that I don’t even have to meet you at my door.
Coffee shops provide a natural remedy for this modern trend. The food and beverages they offer is only a means to this type of environment. Where else can you pay $2.90 for a beverage and hang out for hours? These places provide a cheap, neutral ground for anyone to come and partake. Bring something to work on, a board game, a book club, or nothing at all. The world is your oyster in a coffee shop (Overstated? Maybe a little).
There will be much more to say on third places later.
Enter: White Tree
Our favorite local coffee shop, the Cheesecake Caffe, closed its doors in September 2021. Sarah and I were crushed when we heard the news. But this sad news brought us to a new chapter in life that we never saw coming. We began to think crazy thoughts. What if we opened a coffee shop?
Surely this was too crazy to work in The Real World.
Or was it? Could it be just crazy enough? Time will tell I suppose.
We’ve spent years forming community within our local churches. Why not take it to the next level by creating a place for community to flourish, a social hub? Why not take our passion for creating community and combine it with our passion for coffee and tea?
And thus was born White Tree Café & Coffeehouse in Irwin PA.
It is our hope that White Tree Café and Coffeehouse will become a home away from home for people; a place to meet new acquaintances or catch up with old friends; a place to blow off the stress of the day or relax on a sunny Saturday; a place where everybody knows your name; a place where we can all live as a community in The Real World.
As we become more established, we intend to expand our hours of operation so that we will be open into the evenings.