I found this explanation of coffee break on Wikipedia: A coffee break is a daily social gathering for a snack and short downtime practiced by employees in business and industry. The Pan American Coffee Bureau popularized the term in the United States in 1952, but it has become widespread in the modern world and occurs whether or not participants actually drink coffee.
The coffee break corresponds with the Commonwealth terms “elevenses”, “morning tea”, “tea break”, or even just “tea”. However people outside the United States increasingly use the term “coffee break”.An afternoon coffee break, or afternoon tea, sometimes occurs as well.
The coffee break allegedly originated in the late 19th century in Stoughton, Wisconsin, with the wives of Norwegian immigrants. The city celebrates this every year with the Stoughton Coffee Break Festival.In 1951, Time noted that “[s]ince the war, the coffee break has been written into union contracts”.The term subsequently became popular through a Pan-American Coffee Bureau ad campaign of 1952 which urged consumers, “Give yourself a Coffee-Break — and Get What Coffee Gives to You.”An alternative legend of the advertising world credits John B. Watson’s work with Maxwell House for helping to popularize coffee breaks.
Coffee breaks usually last from 10 to 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.
Gatherings for coffee breaks often take place away from the actual work-area in a designated cafeteria, tea room or outdoor area. As well as a chance for sustenance, the coffee break provides time for gossip and small talk, or a time to smoke a cigarette (thus the alternate term “smoke break“. Australians and New Zealanders may also refer to this break from work (particularly manual work) as smoko). Coffee breaks give workers a chance to wind down slightly and “re-group” for the remaining work of the day.
More generally, people can use the phrase “coffee break” to denote any break from work in any arena; popular culture often portrays housewives as taking a coffee break in their kitchens. Celebrity magazines use the term “coffee run” to describe people going for a short coffee break in the morning at a nearby cafe.
In some companies a mock carpet rule is used in order to remind colleagues not to discuss work in the tea room.