Review: Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (translated by Geoffrey Trousselot)

I was drawn to Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi for several reasons. First, it is translated Japanese fiction and I am really enjoying reading Japanese authors at the moment. Second, it has a very intersting premise as it’s presented as four short stories – and can be read as such – but with a continuing narrative that runs the whole way through too. Third – I LOVE coffee, so that reference combined with the delightful cover had me straight away.

Opening sentence: ‘Oh gosh, is that the time? Sorry, I have to go,’ the man mumbled evasively, as he stood up and reached for his bag.

Funiculi Funicula is a mysterious basement cafe. With dated decor, a still but calm atmosphere and it has a very interesting claim to fame: if customers sit in a certain chair – and they wish to – they can time travel. Primarily to the past, but the future is possible too.

It was daytime outside, but in this windowless cafe, there was no sense of time. Dim lighting gave the cafe a sepia hue. All this created a comforting, retro atmosphere.

The cafe is owned by Nagare and Kei, they are (for the most part) watchful observers of the people that come to their cafe hoping to return to the past. Waitress Kazu performs the little ceremony that transports people back and makes sure they know the important and, some would say, restrictive rules that mean they can have a safe time-travelling journey.

‘Are you listening?’ Kazu continued. ‘When you return to the past, you must drink the entire cup before the coffee goes cold.’

The four short stories

What is lovely is how all the characters have their own stories, but feature later on too. The first story focuses on a woman whose boyfriend ends their relationship and she is desperate to go back and say everything to him she feels she should have at the time.

The we meet a woman whose husband has Alzheimer’s, so wants to go back to a time where he still remembers her. (Yes, cue the tears.) A similarly emotional story follows about a cafe regular and her sister and then the cafe owners come into play for story four and we learn more about them.

Make yourself a coffee and enjoy…

One of the reasons I am enjoying Japanese fiction is there seems to be a signature move through all the books I’ve read so far – the ability to take complex emotions and break them down in such a nuanced way as to make them seem magical and instantly relatable.


Coffee was far more pleasurable when it was hot.

TOTALLY AGREE WITH THIS QUOTE.

While there was a lot of repeated info throughout the stories – specifically about the rules of time travel – I was really captivated by the heart-warming theme and ideas that this book has. So much so that when I finished it, I actually jumped straight into the newly released second book of stories set in the cafe. Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Cafe starts six years after events in the first book and you can read my review of that one here…

  • Published by Picador September 2019 (Published in Japanese 2015);
  • 213 pages;
  • My rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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