Te’j Bet / Te’j House in Lalibela
I love thy tangy sweetness and ancient power that transforms honey, the sweet soul of the flower into an elixir to sweeten the soul of man. Your magic has seduced me.
I’ve successfully made Te’j using two different methods. Open fermentation is most common in Ethiopia, which is the most ancient and basic format. It is essentially using an open vessel to create an inviting feast of sweetness that attracts wild yeast. It’s actually very simple and takes two to three weeks. The second variation introduces a glassballon and airlock after a short period of open fermentation. The air lock limits the amount of air in contact with the te’j while also letting gasses escape while the yeast slowly eat the sugars and convert them to alcohol. I found this method takes longer, but yields a sweeter, lighter taste with slight bubbles.
The recipe is pretty basic using honey and water, but what distinguishes te’j from other honey wines like mead is that it is also made with gesho (Rhamnus prinoides) known as ‘Ethiopian hops.’ Unlike the herbaceous hops plant used to make beer, gesho is a woody twig with thin brown bark of African origin. It imparts a bitter quality to the te’j and adds a depth flavor that makes it uniquely Ethiopian.
Liquid Honey- 1 Kilo (darker honey will make more intense Te’j)
Broken Gesho- 300-400 grams
Water- 3 Litre
Big container with wide-mouth
Method 1- Using Open Ferment- About three weeks
This method was explained to me by the honey vendors at Mercato in Addis Ababa. Mix honey and water, let sit in open container covered with cloth for three days (filter if there is residue in your honey.) Add Gesho and cover tightly. Let it sit in a warm place for about one week. Open every 2-3 days and stir with a dry stick. Do not let water get into the container. It’s ok if it gets moldy. When you can see it fermenting (in other words, bubbles form and fermented odor) strain out the gesho. Return to container, cover tightly and continue to ferment. After about 20 days it should be fully fermented. The longer it sits, it will get more alcoholic and a stronger taste.
Method 2- Using Glassballon and Airlock- About one month or longer
This method is a hybrid that I developed using different techniques. Mix honey and water, let sit in open container covered with cloth for three days (filter if there is residue in your honey.) Add Gesho and cover tightly. Let it sit in a warm place for about one week. Open every 2-3 days and stir with a dry stick. Do not let water get into the container. It’s ok if it gets moldy. When you can see it fermenting (in other words, bubbles and fermented odor) strain out the gesho. Pour into the glass ballon and fasten airlock. Let it sit for four weeks in warm place. After this time, you can test it to see how the flavor has developed. If you like it bottle it in clean glass bottles with flip lids and store in the refrigerator. It will also age, getting more alcoholic in the refrigerator, but slowly. Or if you want it to be stronger, faster, return it to the glass ballon with airlock. But remember, once the air comes into contact with it, the fermentation process will speed-up so it’s best to keep it air tight as best as you can.
Supplies (in Berlin)
Blue Nile Ethiopian Restaurant sold me about 500g of Gesho for $10
Glassballon & airlock at Gläser und Flaschen GmbH