A coffee break is a daily social gathering for a snack and short downtime practiced by employees in business and industry. The term was popularized in America and invented by the Pan American Coffee Bureau in 1952, but has become universal in the modern world and is employed whether or not participants are actually drinking coffee. It corresponds with the Commonwealth terms elevenses, morning tea, tea break, or even just tea. However the term coffee break is increasingly used even in those countries. An afternoon coffee break, or afternoon tea, is sometimes had as well.
The coffee break is said to have originated in the late 1800s in Stoughton, Wisconsin by the wives of Norwegian immigrants. The city celebrates this every year with the Stoughton Coffee Break Festival. However, the term was popularized by a Pan-American Coffee Bureau ad campaign which urged consumers, "Give yourself a Coffee-Break — and Get What Coffee Gives to You.
Coffee breaks usually last 10–20 minutes and frequently occur at the end of the first third of the work shift. In some companies and some civil service, the coffee break may be observed formally at a set hour; in some places a "cart" with hot and cold beverages and cakes, breads and pastries arrives at the same time morning and afternoon, or an employer may contract with an outside caterer for daily service.
The break is often held away from the actual work area in a designated cafeteria, tea room or outdoor area. As well as a chance for sustenance, it is a time for gossip and small talk, or a time to smoke a cigarette (thus the alternate term "smoke break"). It is a chance to wind down slightly and "regroup" for the remaining day's work. In Australia and New Zealand this break from work, particularly manual work, is also called smoko.
More generally, "coffee break" is used to denote any break from work in any arena; housewives are often portrayed in popular culture as taking a coffee break in their kitchens.