Are coffee breaks a product of capitalism?

It’s no secret that the need for consumerism has created some of our holidays. We’ve all been in a conversation with a pragmatist who says that our favourite holidays were just a result of a marketing strategy – Valentine’s day was created by card companies, Halloween was created by sweet companies, Mother’s day was pushed by florists. Now you can’t go a day without some kind of weird ‘holiday’ popping up, like National Onion Rings Day – just what will we buy our loved ones for that? It seems more obvious than ever before that we are being told to buy things because of a date on a calendar. And yes, even holidays like Christmas and Easter have become the absolute golden ticket for companies to convince you that need certain bits of food, decorations and presents

Being less cynical, of course at Coffee Love Co we know that these holidays are wonderful, some a little goofy, but if they bring happiness then who’s to complain? However, often less considered is the fact that things we take as everyday life might have also been created by government campaigners with an agenda to make a little bit more money. Things like breakfasts (we all have a catchy breakfast slogan forever stuck in our brains), weekends and now even coffee breaks? We’re so sorry to be the ones to break it to you all but it turns out that the complete idea of a coffee break was actually just  a marketing move brought to you directly from Pan-American Coffee Bureau lobbyists. Just like a lot of modern Western world habits, the coffee break derived from America – although, we can keep our title as the tea-break-inventors, but how?

The world has basically been living off coffee since we all realised that it keeps our eyes open for a lot longer than tea, making it an obvious sector for the money hungry to hang around. Coffee Conferences actually took place in 1936 and 1937, with the optimum goal being to strengthen the coffee trade, keep demand high and thus, keep the money flowing from the consumers.  It was during these conferences that the Pan-American Coffee Bureau was created, which basically began to heavily advertise drinking coffee. Before this marketing ploy, there would just be specific brands telling you to buy their coffee, but the Bureau started telling you to drink any coffee. A big example of the Bureau’s influence was at Eleanor Roosevelt’s Sunday evening address to the nation about Pearl Harbour. In this speech the announcer introduced the first lady by saying “Uncle Sam can count on Latin America for essential materials, whether oil or tin or copper or coffee”, as a result of the Pan-American Coffee Bureau being a key sponsorship to the speech.

The outbreak of World War II did put a little dint in the coffee industry but an important trend did stem – workers in defence plants were treated to afternoon coffee breaks to keep morale high and the workers, well, working. Companies took advantage of this trend after the war and the Pan-American Coffee Bureau made the decision to make coffee breaks an actual thing.

There’s a lot of extremely dramatic evidence to suggest that advertisements ‘brainwash’ us all, and if this is true then the coffee adverts encouraging coffee breaks are an example of this manipulation. Marketing campaigns which featured office workers confidently relaxing with a cup of Jo, knowing that they will “work better” after their coffee break flooded the media. Pan-American’s campaign new campaign said “Give yourself a coffee break’ and drivers were instructed to take a coffee break in order to stay alert. Although it might be true that a quick coffee break can refresh your brain and obviously keep you alert – pitching it as a marketing technique was a very brave but effective move.

The coffee break became routine and spread to the workplaces. Employees at various companies even went on strike in order to get coffee breaks printed into their work contracts. There’s even a slight theory that the coffee break played a part in President Eisenhower’s landslide victory in 1952 – The National Federation of Republican Women had “coffee hours for Eisenhower” which brought together campaign reps and women in casual meetings, which proved to be incredibly popular, so much so that Eisenhower’s second presidential campaign actively included “Operation Coffee Cup” in which himself and Nixon would meet with housewives themselves, over a cup of coffee, of course.

The idea of a coffee break has now become cemented in everyday life, from workplace breaks, car safety instructions and presidential campaigns. The coffee break seems like an important part of our day, but could it be possible that it is just a tactic to make us buy coffee? Either way, you deserve to enjoy your coffee break and indulge in your favourite caffeinated beverage. Let us know what your favourite type of coffee to have during your coffee break is.


Hello, I’m the blogger for Coffee Love Co, writing about everything and anything coffee related (usually whilst drinking a strong cup myself.) Get in touch with me about my writing by clicking on one of the icons below!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *