Book Review: Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Before the Coffee Gets Cold
by Toshikazu Kawaguchi, Geoffrey Trousselot (Translator)

Publication date: 19th September 2019
Publisher: Picador (first published December 6th 2015)
Pages: 208


In a small back alley in Tokyo, there is a café which has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. But this coffee shop offers its customers a unique experience: the chance to travel back in time.

In Before the Coffee Gets Cold, we meet four visitors, each of whom is hoping to make use of the café’s time-travelling offer, in order to: confront the man who left them, receive a letter from their husband whose memory has been taken by early onset Alzheimer’s, to see their sister one last time, and to meet the daughter they never got the chance to know.

But the journey into the past does not come without risks: customers must sit in a particular seat, they cannot leave the café, and finally, they must return to the present before the coffee gets cold . . .

Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s beautiful, moving story explores the age-old question: what would you change if you could travel back in time? More importantly, who would you want to meet, maybe for one last time?

Source: Goodreads


“Before the Coffee Gets Cold” by Toshikazu Kawaguchi took my fancy as soon as I heard about it. It’s Japanese and it’s about a coffee shop that offers its customers the unique, magical experience of being able to travel back in time – sounds perfect for me!

“The first rule – the only people one may meet while back in the past are those who have visited the cafe.

Travelling back in time at this basement cafe in Tokyo is not as easy it it may first seem and if you do want to take advantage of this experience, there are a lot of very strict rules that you’ll need to follow. With so many stringent restrictions, many customers can’t be bothered with the rigmarole but this book tells the story of four people who, after hearing all of the rules, still want to go back, even for a moment.

“The second rule – no matter how hard one tries while back in the past, one cannot change the present.”

I really enjoyed this little book and it was so quirky and full of charm. As we learn the stories of those looking to return to specific point in the past, the story becomes somewhat poignant and certainly thought provoking – if you could go back to the past and not change anything at all, what time would you choose?

“The third rule – in order to return to the past, you have to sit in that seat and that seat alone.”

“The fourth rule – while back in the past, you must stay in that seat and never move from it.”

“The fifth rule – there is a time limit.”

The recurring cafe employees’ background stories are not greatly developed, but I don’t think that this is a real problem and as this book is only 200-odd pages, the focus lies elsewhere.

The story is broken down into four distinct sections, each broadly titled with their relationship label (Husband and Wife, for example). All four of these are distinctive and unique characters and each have their own reasons for wanting to be in the cafe. From the four, I wasn’t such a fan of The Lovers, but I don’t think you’ll find anyone that also wasn’t touched by the other three, especially Mother and Child.

While slightly unusual, this book is full of touching moments and with themes of grief, fear, friendship and unconditional love, author Kawaguchi pulls at your heartstrings in more than one way.

If you’re a fan of Japanese literature or culture, I’d definitely give this a go.

“The last and most important rule […] you must drink the entire cup before the coffee goes cold”

Overall rating: “Before the Coffee Gets Cold” is a charming, clever story about how, no matter what we may try, there is nothing we can do to change the past and we can only learn and grow from our mistakes. I really enjoyed this heartwarming tale and it’s 4 stars from me.

I was kindly sent a copy of this book by Gaby Quattromini at Picador – thank you very much!

6 thoughts on “Book Review: Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

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