Tej- a real taste of honey

Last updated: 06.01.2010 // January 7th is Ethiopian Christmas. Throughout that day, millions of Orthodox Ethiopians will break the fast they have been observing for almost six weeks . Accompanying the meat, egg and chicken-based dishes celebrating Christmas, they will also enjoy “Tej”, Ethiopian homemade honey-wine.

The English traveler and writer William Winstanley  wrote at length in his 1881 account of travelling in “Abyssinia” about the preparation  of tej:

“The component proportions vary from one of honey to four or eight of water. I cannot recommend the latter strength myself, and never made it weaker than one to five. These are placed in a jar, and exposed to the rays of the sun for one or two days, herbs possessed of a bitter flavour (gesho) being previously added, and it is in the quality of these herbs used, and the time they are allowed to remain in the wine, that the great difference in flavour consists. I constantly fancied that the wine offered me was not sweet enough, whereas it would of course be ordinarily the impression that hyrdromel must be necessarily very sweet. The fluid, if made originally strong, is improved by keeping, and will remain good for months; it ought not in any case to be consumed in less than a week later its manufacture. “

Tej has a deceptively sweet taste that hides its high alcohol content, which varies greatly according to the length of fermentation.  Winstantly must also have experienced the “dark side” of tej, because he writes: “that it can produce nausea and headache I am prepared to vouch.”

A sweeter, less-alcoholic version called berz, aged for a shorter time, is also made. One drinks it from a rounded vase-shaped container called a berele.
There are also numerous “tej bets” (literally: tej houses) in which one can acquaint oneself with this unique Ethiopia beverage.



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