This article was originally written by Janel Navarro, student at California State University and a 2017 winner of the Café Del Futuro scholarship essay contest

Being Mexican, you’re pretty much obligated to know how to cook; it’s kind of like an unspoken rule. But I’m going to cut to the chase here real quick and say, I only go as far as tacos.

Between being a full-time student, having a job and wiggling in time to hang with my family and socialize with friends, there isn’t much time to prep the Mexican dishes I adore so much. Read: if you’ve never tried bacalao, carne asada or pipián, you haven’t truly lived.

Yes, it's true I didn’t acquire as many culinary skills as I would have liked to after growing up in the kitchen with my parents and abuela. However, that doesn't mean I didn’t learn many other valuable lessons that I’ve since taken with me into “adulthood.”

Not Just Your Average Cup o’ Joe

Original artwork designed by New York artist, Hyesu Lee

I started drinking coffee with my family at the age of five. In the Latino community, coffee is an experience shared with family and friends. Every morning, sitting in the kitchen together over a cup of café con canela (made best with Café Bustelo, “the real deal” when it comes to Latin coffee), my mom would remind me that it was another day closer to reaching my long-term goal of becoming a social worker. My abuela, on the other hand, would remind me that I “didn’t have time to be a housewife” because I had things to do!

As the daughter of two immigrants who’ve always worked so hard, I valued this morning ritual more than anything. To me, coffee was not only an AM necessity, but also a reminder of how valuable family time truly is.

Incorporating Latin Flavor into Every Meal

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Like I said, even though I can’t cook exactly like my mom after all of that time spent drinking coffee and literally growing up at the kitchen table, I’ve developed some of my own food preferences and tips.

One: If it’s not spicy, I don’t want it! Chile and salsa are staples in my home.

Two: Café con canela is the simplest, most delicious coffee beverage you can make from the comfort of your home – all you need is coffee, cinnamon sticks and piloncillo. Nada mas!

Three: food is one of the most persistent traditions found in most cultures. If tamales aren’t present at Noche Buena, is it really even worth celebrating?

Four: Spanish lattes (yes, that’s a thing!). If you are pressed for time, this is a simple coffee beverage you can easily make in your dorm or at home, consisting of just espresso and condensed milk for added sweetness.

Five: The longer you marinade, the better. To make the most epic carne asada, my mom marinates beef for almost an entire day in a mixture of beer and orange juice. Trust me on the last ingredient.

juice, sweet, cocktail, orange juice, smoothie, ice, milk, orange squash
Jocelyn Hsu

My last tip is a little cheesy, but worth it: If you don’t have your own set of rules when it comes to the food you love, make them! Spend time with your fam or roomie in the kitchen exploring the foods each of you can’t get enough of or try new foods you’ve always wondered about. Creating a routine around coffee and tamales (or whatever you want) may sound simple, but it can mean so much more than keeping yourself fueled and it’s kind of awesome.

This post is sponsored by Café Bustelo.