5 Coffee Break Traditions From Around the Globe

Socializing is a key part of coffee breaks, both in the U.S. and in other cultures. . (Photo: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)

Coffee drinkers are excited about recent studies that indicate heavy coffee consumption may lead to a longer life. Three cups a day may lower the risk of death from conditions like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and kidney disease. Anyone — including me — who finds solace in coffee throughout the day is probably thinking, "If this is true, I'm going to live forever."

We don't, however, become coffee drinkers because we think it's going to help us live longer. We become coffee drinkers because the hot beverage helps us wake up or stay awake. We become coffee drinkers because we enjoy the taste — often mixed with milk and sugar at first. We become coffee drinkers because it's simply something steeped into our culture, and many cultures have their own traditions for taking time out during the day for an intentional, satisfying cup.

Here in the United States, that timeout is known as the coffee break, and it began around the same time as unions gained the rights for workers to have a break during their eight-hour workday in factories, according to City Lab. Coffee was the drink of choice for workers who had a short time away from their tasks. Today, we take frequent trips to the break room for a cup of Joe that is consumed back at the desk or elsewhere on the job.

How do other cultures handle their coffee breaks, and what do they call them?

Buna Tetu

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony
The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is a time-honored tradition. (Photo: Cameron Whitman/Shutterstock)

In Ethiopia, Buna Tetu, which means "drink coffee," is the name for the coffee ceremony that can take up to three hours to prepare — and it happens three times a day. Buna Tetu is a time to socialize, and it's an important part of the culture. The ceremony is performed by a woman and starts off with a ritual that wards off evil spirits. It consists of everything from roasting the raw coffee beans to grinding them to making the coffee, according to the Spruce. It's an involved process with several specific steps.

When the coffee is served, if there is a small child, she will serve the oldest person at the ceremony, and then the hostess will serve the rest of the family or guests. Guests can have up to three cups of coffee, each getting progressively weaker. Three cups of coffee three times a day? According to those recent studies, Ethiopians' coffee habits may lead to very long lives.


coffee Swedish pastry
A typical treat for Fika — coffee and pastry. (Photo: Catcha Snap/Shutterstock)

In Sweden, Fika is a daily coffee break that's a regular part of the workday. Office workers have a chance to chat and enjoy something sweet in the form of a pastry. According to Mahabis, workers earn up to five minutes of coffee break for every hour they work. Coffee houses are designed around the Fika concept, set up so people can take their time, relax, socialize and savor their coffee.

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coffee, croissant
A mid-afternoon break in Latin America known as merienda may consist of coffee and croissant. (Photo: macin jucha/Shutterstock)

Is it still a coffee break if the beverage of choice isn't always coffee? Merienda is the afternoon tea or coffee break in some parts of Latin America. It's a small meal between lunch and dinner, according to Inside Buenos Aires. A traditional Argentine merienda may consist of coffee with milk and croissants, tea with milk and toast, or submarino — hot milk with a piece of chocolate dunked in it. In the summer, hot beverages may be pushed aside for a banana smoothie. Kids have merienda, too. It's an afternoon snack for them to give them some energy mid-afternoon.


In countries like Austria and Germany, Gabelfrühstück, literally "fork breakfast," is a second breakfast. The first breakfast eaten before work is consumed quickly — maybe coffee and a piece of fruit or a pastry — but between 10 and 11 a.m., the tradition is to take a Gabelfrühstück. People have another cup of coffee and sit down with something more filling that requires utensils to eat. Even schools have been known to have this mid-morning break, according to the Kitchn (perhaps without the coffee, though).


coffee cigarette
In New Zealand a smoke break also includes coffee. (Photo: Alena A/Shutterstock)

When manual laborers won the right to afternoon and morning breaks, those breaks became known as smokos — a time for coffee or tea, frequently accompanied by a cigarette. The term isn't used only for work breaks anymore; smoko is slang for any coffee break or between-snack. For the longest time, smokos were required by law for workers, but in 2014 Parliament took the right away, according to Stuff.