Before the Coffee gets Cold

If you could go back, who would you want to meet?

That is the burning question and main theme of Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s bestselling novel Before the Coffee gets Cold.

In an old basement cafe in Tokyo, one can magically go back in or forward to any point in time. However, several rules must be followed:

  1. When going to the past or future, you can only meet a person who has also visited the cafe.
  2. There is only one seat (and table) in the cafe that can take you back (or forward) in time. Unfortunately, that seat is occupied almost always by a ghost. You have to wait for the ghost to go to the bathroom to sit in the special seat.
  3. Once you get to your desired time period, you can’t leave your seat for any reason.
  4. There’s a time limit. Once you arrive at your desired time, you have to conclude your business and drink your coffee before it gets cold to return to your own time.
  5. Most important, whatever happens in the past or future, you can never change the present.

Given all these rules, it’s no wonder not a lot of people visit the cafe to go back to the past despite the publicity it has received. As proof of the rigidity of the rules, the ghost in the special seat was once a customer who went to the past but did not drink her coffee before it got cold and thus was stuck in the past, forever reading her novel, drinking coffee, and occasionally going to the toilet.

The thin volume includes four heartwarming stories, revolving mostly around the owners and staff of the cafe and regular customers. Despite knowing that they can’t change the present, the characters travel through time to say the things they should have said or done what they should have done. However, each one realizes that saying what you need to say in the time it takes for your coffee to get cold, even if you know it’s your last chance, is not as easy as it seems.

Before the Coffee gets Cold is a cute novel that is entertaining if you accept the “facts” and don’t ask too many questions. Adapted from a stage play, I can imagine it would be better presented as a play or a slice-of-life TV series like “Midnight Diner” (“Shinya Shokudo”).

At the end of the day, whether one returns to the past or travels to the future, the present does not change. So it raises the question: just what is the point of that chair?


Before the Coffee gets Cold (2019) – Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Picador; 213 pages (tpb)

Personal rating: 3/5

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