A Second Look: Before the Coffee Gets Cold Brews Up Poignant Regrets

A genre-bender that left me craving not a spaceship ride, but a second chance to revisit that friendship that fizzled out. Time travel here is a metaphor for confronting the past, gaining closure, and cherishing the memories, both joyous and bittersweet. Sure, a chance to travel to the future sounds pretty amazing (and tear-jerking), but ultimately, the novel reminds me that the most transformative journeys are the ones we take within ourselves. So, if you’re looking for a science fiction novel that feels more like a warm hug on a rainy day, “Before the Coffee Gets Cold” is your cup of tea (or, well, coffee). Just be warned, it might leave you yearning for a second chance, a chance to revisit a cherished memory, or simply the courage to express that long-overdue “I love you” before the metaphorical coffee gets cold.

There’s a certain wistfulness to a steaming cup of coffee, a bittersweet reminder of warmth eventually fading. In Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s novel “Before the Coffee Gets Cold,” this sentiment takes center stage. The unassuming cafe at its heart offers a fantastical yet poignant premise: patrons can travel back in time. But there’s a catch (isn’t there always?). You only get one meeting, one chance to fix a broken friendship, confess a long-held secret, or maybe, just maybe, finally tell your co-worker their nail art collection is a tad excessive (we’ve all been there). “Before the Coffee Gets Cold” simmers with the bittersweet beauty of missed opportunities. It reminds me that sometimes, the most potent time travel I can embark on isn’t about battling cyborgs or hurtling through galaxies in a spaceship. It’s about a simple conversation, a heartfelt apology whispered across a chipped mug, or a chance to reconnect with someone who mattered. It’s about reliving a moment, not to change the past, but to gain a new perspective, to find closure, or simply to savour the warmth of a connection before it fades, just like the steam rising from that magical cup of coffee.

As I finished my decidedly non-time-warping cup of coffee, a familiar ache settled in. My mind, a cluttered attic of memories, overflowed with moments like faded Kodachrome slides – conversations where emotions lingered unspoken, bridges left unbuilt due to youthful self-absorption. Perhaps, if the cafe’s magic seeped into my apartment walls, my chipped mug wouldn’t simmer regret, but a potent brew of second chances. I wouldn’t use it for a single, momentous occasion, but rather for a delightful buffet of missed opportunities. This introspective detour, however, sheds light on the novel’s true brilliance. The time travel element, though fantastical, transcends a mere plot device. It becomes a metaphor for the yearning to rewrite the past, to mend fences or express long-suppressed emotions. The ticking clock represented by the cooling coffee adds a layer of urgency, reminding me of the fleeting nature of time and the importance of seizing opportunities, both present and past.

The novel unfolds through four interconnected stories, (think of it as a TV series) each focusing on a character burdened by a past decision. There’s Fumiko, a career-driven woman, heartbroken by an unspoken love. Given a chance to revisit the past, she confronts a turning point in her relationship. Another patron, Hirai, seeks solace in the cafe, yearning to mend a fractured family bond. The poignant ache of loss permeates the narrative. Kohtake, a caregiver, grapples with the slow erosion of her husband’s memories. The cafe grants her a chance to revisit a cherished reminder of their love. Finally, there’s Kei, a woman grappling with a terminal illness, driven by a fierce maternal love.

What truly elevates “Before the Coffee Gets Cold” and the commonalities across all stories, is its exploration of the complexities of regret. The novel doesn’t offer cheap catharsis or a chance to undo past mistakes. Instead, it delves into the bittersweet beauty of revisiting the past. Sometimes, closure comes not from changing what happened, but from gaining a new perspective or simply cherishing a cherished memory. This unique approach transforms the fantastical into the profoundly relatable, reminding us that our most significant regrets often reside in the small, seemingly mundane interactions of everyday life. The characters’ journeys within the cafe become a microcosm of these regrets. Fumiko, consumed by the “what ifs” of her unspoken love, yearns to express her true feelings. Hirai grapples with the weight of a fractured relationship, wishing she could bridge the gap with her sister. Kohtake desperately seeks a connection with the man her husband is becoming, a poignant reminder of the life they once shared. These aren’t regrets born from grand gestures or missed opportunities; they stem from the quiet moments, the unspoken words, the choices made in the ordinary flow of life.

Sipping Science Fiction, Savoring Humanity

Here is a science fiction novel, a label that usually conjures images of gleaming spaceships and laser battles, yet it feels anything but. Instead of dazzling technology or futuristic societies, Kawaguchi weaves a narrative steeped in the deeply human. The time travel element, the fantastical hook, becomes a mere backdrop for exploring the complexities of our emotions – regret, forgiveness, and the enduring power of love. This is a story about Fumiko’s heartbreak, Hirai’s yearning for connection, and Kohtake’s desperate attempt to reclaim a memory. These are experiences that resonate deeply, transcending genre and striking a chord within me, a reader seeking a story that speaks to the human condition.

A Time Machine for the Soul + The Enigmatic Kazu: A Stoic Guardian of Time

Time travel, a potent metaphor here, via a mug brewing a chance to revisit the past. The cooling coffee, a constant reminder of time’s relentless march, pushes the characters, and by extension, me, to confront regrets and seize opportunities. The cafe, a space for introspection, a battleground where characters wrestle with self-doubt, yearn for connection, and ultimately, learn to accept the past.

Presiding over this space, a silent guardian of these time-warping journeys, is Kazu. Unlike the patrons consumed by their emotional turmoil, Kazu is a curious blend of tradition and modernity. While seemingly indifferent during her waitressing duties, she transforms during the coffee-pouring ceremony. Her movements become graceful and efficient, imbuing the act with a sense of ritual. She’s often portrayed as the calm amidst the storm, a silent observer who witnesses the profound transformations that occur within the cafe. Kazu’s enigmatic nature extends beyond her demeanour. The novel offers few glimpses into her thoughts, leaving me to speculate. Does she, too, harbor regrets? Does she find solace in the cafe’s unique purpose, witnessing the characters find closure or acceptance? Perhaps.

There’s also a hint of satisfaction in her when the time travelers learn valuable lessons. Her closing thoughts in the book suggest she believes time travel’s purpose is to empower individuals to overcome their difficulties. In a way, she becomes a symbol of the cafe itself – a timeless entity that facilitates journeys into the past but ultimately guides individuals towards a stronger future.