Thoughts on Tej, Ethiopian Honey Wine

“Attila the Hun believed steadfastly in its [honey’s] stimulating power. He drank so much mead (wine mixed with honey) on the day of his wedding that he died of cardiac arrest, much to the jubilation of his enemies and possibly even his bride.”

Lana Citron, Edible Pleasures

A colleague recently returned from Ethiopia bearing gifts…one was a selection of berbere and the other was a bottle of tej (sometimes spelt t’ej, and pronounced sort of tedge).

I viewed it with suspicion, and not only because it arrived, very sticky, in a clearly already much washed, reused and vintage Johnny Walker bottle.

Another aspect of this drink which caused a raising of the eyebrow was the colour – a sort of milky yellow. Frankly, it looked evil.

Tej is slightly fizzy type of Ethiopian (also Eritrean) mead made from honey and flavoured with powdered leaves and a bittering agent which is a sort of woody hops called gesho. It ferments naturally without additional yeast. Like its fellow Ethiopian ingredient berbere, it is pretty knockout – not like berbere in terms of hot spices, but in terms of alcohol (there is a less alcoholic version called berz).

It certainly has the sort of resiny, grainy taste of honey but it’s not as sweet as you might expect so obviously the gesho plays its part, at least it did in the brew that I was sampling. There’s something not unpleasantly antiseptic-tasting about tej.

For a very full description of the history of tej, and the process for making it, go to this blog.

For a post about the Ethiopian spice mix, berbere, follow this link.

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