It is one of life’s simple, great, God given pleasures to spend an hour or two with a good book and a good cup of coffee. And when I say good, it’s not because I’ve run out of adjectives (or adverbs? I never learnt this at school [sub parentheses – but I do run out of adjectives/adverbs all the time]), but because good connotes a solid wholesomeness, a sturdiness and tangible fact that can be imbued on the object of book and coffee. It’s appropriate to the tactile nature of book and coffee. It doesn’t have the fleetingness of fabulous, or wonderful, these words are wispy. A chasing after the wind. They are floating in the air, needing to be grasped but impossible to hold, like catching vapour in a net. Good stays put.

That ramble has nothing really to do with this review. I’ll rein it in.

But is ‘Before the coffee gets cold’ a good book? I loved it. It was fanciful, it was sweet, it was odd. It is about coffee and time travel. It was a book for me! I can’t think of two other subject matters I enjoy more. Maybe it is a book for you. I know you like coffee.

Toshikazu Kawaguchi novel takes place almost entirely in a Japanese cafe, wooden walls, wooden furniture, serene, unassuming, ambient. The timeless nature of the cafe belies its mysterious yet very particular power – that when sitting in a particular chair you can be transported back in time. 

But of course there are rules:

  • You can only sit in the chair when the resident ghost leaves to go to the bathroom. Trying to forcefully remove her results in being mildly cursed.
  • You can travel back in time, but not space. If you want to connect with a lover, friend or sister in the past, you can only travel to a time they visited the cafe, but you will only be visiting that cafe
  • You can try to change the future, but it doesn’t do anything. Why? Well, this isn’t a science text book. You just have to take their word for it.
  • When visiting the past, unless you want to become the next resident ghost, you must finish drinking your cup before the coffee gets cold.

The story moves through four acts, each one focusing on a characters’ time travel experience. Some are frivolous, others poignant, none of them grandiose or dramatic. The staff come in and out of prominence in the story, sometimes in the background, sometimes as time travel doula’s, sometimes at the centre. They are always there, a common thread weaving through the book. A quirk in this cafe’s operation style is that each barista has their favourite way to make coffee, be it espresso, pour over (preferably yirgicheffe), or batch brew. Whoever’s on shift, you get what you get and you don’t get upset.

The book elevates the importance of the small moments and little decisions that make up the heartbeat of our lives. It celebrities them as moments worthy of being revisited, and acknowledging the impact they have to shape us and change our course. Kawaguchi takes care in describing the detail, and through immersing ourselves in this world he creates, invites us to care for and celebrate the small details of our own. 

But even if this still doesn’t seem like a book for you, how wonderful to know there’s a book out there that appreciates the life changing, time warping power of a cup of coffee.