BOOK REVIEW: Before The Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi


If you had the opportunity to, would you return to the past even for a short moment? What would you change if you had the chance to do things differently? And now would you still do it if you knew nothing you do would change the present?
Before The Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi is set in Funiculi Funicula, an underground coffee shop in Tokyo where visitors can choose to return to the past to relive a particular moment in their life. 

Visitors quickly discover though that time travel isn’t simple at all, and there are a few non-negotiable rules they need to follow in the process – three major rules to be exact. Whilst one may return to the past, nothing they do will change the present. During their time in the past, they cannot move away from a particular seat no matter what. And possibly the most important rule, they must return to the present by drinking the entire coffee before it turns cold, or they’ll be stuck there forever. Furthermore, a ghost woman who seats in the same chair all day, except to go the bathroom is a clear reminder of what happens to visitors who fail to abide by the rules. 

The story is divided into four parts – The Lovers, Husband and Wife, The Sisters, Mother and Child – and each one follows four different women who choose to go back in despite knowing nothing they do will change the present they’re living through.

With each woman having a different reason to redo the past, the novel is able to cover themes such as regret, love, loss, duty and, family, hope. Will their journeys to the past be worth it in the end?

“I was so absorbed in the things that I couldn’t change, I forgot the most important thing…”

Before The Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
Kindle cover of Before The Coffee Gets Cold pictured next to cup

So since you’re here to know what I thought about the book, I won’t hold back.

I read Before The Coffee Gets Cold at a very busy time in my life, hence, it was my way of winding down after long busy days. I’m sure having a lot going on might have had a bit of an impact on how I felt about this book… 

For a relatively short book, it took me weeks to get through the pages, and whilst being busy might have something to do with it, a part of me could only take this novel in small doses.
I discovered only after reading it that by Toshikazu Kawaguchi is a play writer and suddenly all the gripes I had with the book started to make better sense.

I’m usually a fan of books that are written quite simply and straight to the point, but can a book be written in a tone that’s too simple? Whilst reading Before The Coffee Gets Cold, perhaps I discovered it was certainly possible. Maybe, it’s due to the fact that the book is a translation and I’m sure it probably reads a lot better in Japanese.

If I could choose, I would have made this book even shorter as the author spent a lot of time describing the same things over and over again rather than just moving along with the plot. Whilst the entire story is set up in one place the entire time, the coffee shop descriptions are over-emphasised throughout the book but without necessarily adding much more to the overall development of the novel.

Now, you may be wondering: “What did you like about Before The Coffee Gets Cold then?”. Well, I think I’m still trying to unpack that. The simplistic tone made the book relatively easy to read so whenever I did pick it up, although I was reading it in little blocks each time, it didn’t feel too like a chore. 

Each woman in the book had an intriguing reason to want to return to the past so I guess my curiosity kept me going. My favourite character was Kazu, the staff member who took charge of the time travel rituals. Although she didn’t say much, she left an impression on me and had my full attention.
Not to pile on even more but in terms of the storyline, I struggled with accepting the way things turned out for the characters. With one giving up her entire freedom out of guilt or remorse and another choosing to have a child despite knowing full well it would kill her, these were tropes I just couldn’t get behind.

I know many have on the internet confessed to crying a lot whilst reading this novel, but I can’t say the same. I don’t think I managed to get myself fully immersed into the world within the walls of the coffee shop, so my emotions were never really that heightened. 

Would I recommend Before The Coffee Gets Cold? Yes, but tentatively. I do see its appeal and I understand why so many love it. 
For me, however, it was a mid-tier read. Not terrible enough to hate, but not remarkable enough to leave a long-lasting stain on my memory. I’d class it as an okay read, but I cannot promise you won’t want to travel to the past to get your time back!

Rachy’s Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Your restless romantic roamer

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