Before the Coffee Gets Cold – Toshikazu Kawaguchi Reimagines Time Travel

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Gina Gugliuzza, Staff Writer

What would you do if you could travel back in time? This burning question has been asked hundreds of times in the media throughout history- in works such as Planet of The Apes (1968), Superman (1978), and Back to The Future (1985). Published in 2015 by Japanese author Toshikazu Kawaguchi, Before the Coffee Gets Cold tells stories of a Tokyo cafe that gives its visitors the chance to travel back in time– as long as they return before their cup of coffee gets cold. 

The opening chapter sets the stage for the rest of the story as we are introduced to the cafe’s rules for time travel– which heavily differ to the bounds most popular in science fiction. The rules of the cafe are as follows: you can only meet people who have visited the cafe, no matter what you do, you can’t change the present, you cannot change seats once you have traveled back in time – your time starts once the coffee has been poured and ends when the coffee has gotten cold. Under such strict rules, one can only wonder what the point of traveling back in time would be at all?

I fell in love with this book very early on, as I, too, wondered what the purpose of time travel would be without the opportunity to change the present. Kawaguchi spends each of the four chapters expanding on these reasons while also telling the heartfelt stories of the cafe employees and regulars. From cafe newbie Fumiko to employee Kei Tokita, each character has a unique reason for traveling back in time, or even to the future. To relive a moment once more, to say what was once unsaid, or to learn something new about someone in your past is a concept not often explored in time travel media, and it is this concept that makes Kawaguchi’s novella all the more interesting. 

The emotional gravity and incredible writing by Toshikazu Kawaguchi leads readers to grow attached to each character and their stories in only a couple of pages. Before the Coffee Gets Cold is an entirely different approach to the concept of time travel that has been done time and time again, complete with stories both heartbreaking and heartwarming. Albeit short, Kawaguchi’s work is certainly worth the read– just be sure to come back before your coffee gets cold.