Book Reviews

Book Review: Before the Coffee Gets Cold – Toshikazu Kawaguchi

What would you change if you could go back in time?

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 – translated from Japanese by Geoffrey Trousselot – 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?

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Before the Coffee Gets Cold was one of the last books I bought at Waterstones before lockdown came into force. I also received a second copy of the book through a monthly book subscription – always a risk!

The book is the story of a tiny coffee shop in Tokyo where customers can travel back in time to any point they like. There are several rules though: whatever they do in the past won’t affect the present day; they cannot leave their seat in the cafe and they MUST return to the present before their coffee gets cold in the past.

I must admit I very nearly didn’t finish this book. It’s a very slow burner… I stuck with it largely due to the rave reviews I’d had from other reviewers and authors. It wasn’t until the final few chapters that it grabbed me right in the feels. Written as 4 separate stories the book features the main staff, owners and customers of the cafe and their lives. In the beginning there doesn’t seem to be any real connection to the stories but suddenly they all weave beautifully together giving us a truly wonderful understanding of the people and a particularly emotional ending.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold is one of the many Japanese books which have been translated and released in the past few years – think along the lines of The Travelling Cat Chronicles and If Cats Disappeared from the Earth… while this one has no cats (boo) it does have the classically Japanese moral at the end of the book. I have developed a real love for Japanese fiction as a result of reading these books and I cannot wait to add more to my collection.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold is an inoffensive, sweet and genuine story of friendship and love. Perfect reading as a pick me up when you’re feeling low or just want a good wholesome read.

If you do decide to read it, please stick with it – it’s a classic in the making.


I bought my own copy of Before the Coffee Gets Cold from Waterstones and also received a second copy from my Big Green Bookshop Book Club subscription.

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