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
Together with Anne duk hee Jordan as Mak Maak I will be presenting a fermentation workshop at the Agora Art Collective in Berlin Neukölln on Sunday September 22, 2013. Everyone is welcome to learn and share personal fermentation secrets. We will focus on traditional Korean and Ethiopian fermentation methods to make kimchi, vinegar, te’j- Ethiopian honey wine, and injera the traditional Ethiopian flat bread made with teff. Cost is 10€ for materials and snacks. BYO glass jars to take home the goods. Email Lynn (at) foodsystemsplanning.com if you would like to reserve a spot.
I am pleased to see that the Ethiopian Kitchen Garden has peaked some interest from Facetten-Magazine.
I have to learn the environmental ethics of international seed swapping- there is a complexity of potential environmental, economic and social impact to sift through. I admit. If it’s a crime, I’m guilty. For years now I have travelled with seeds to bring and trade in all parts of the world where I visit. For me, there is no better way to connect with people and place and to continue my relationships with these places through my garden projects at home.
On my last trip to Addis, I brought a handful of organic seeds from Germany. Many from my own stock but also some given to me by friends and from an urban seed saving exchange group I am part of in Berlin called Social Seeds. I tried to gather seeds that grow well in a high-altitude, sunny climate and are also culturally appropriate like tomatoes, basil, kale, and sunflowers.
I shared these seeds with anyone I met who was interested and had a plot to plant them in. I brought the biggest sampling of seeds to the beautiful and abundant Addis Ababa Educational Garden, sprawling through allies in the back of the Itegue Taitu Hotel (see earlier post). In return they gave me handfuls of embryonic red beans, large speckled beans from Konso, and Ethiopian onion seed.
At the Shorla market, red dusted ladies in the spice market gave me handfuls of seed from the dried pods of berebere pepper. And from the teff mills, I wrapped handfulls of the tiny seeds into scraps of torn plastic bags.
Then back in Berlin, 2013. Springtime. Questions flowing through my thoughts as I prepare the my growing beds and plant the seeds. Will anything actually grow? How will they survive the Berlin summer? And what am I going to do with all these plants? And slowly like every year, the marvel of the growing season started as seeds stir into their life form as plants.
And now, spring has yielded to summer and the progression of the plants has been successful. I was surprised at a 100% germination rate. Closing the loop, I was able to re-distribute the seeds and seedlings to all who had donated seeds originally. In my own garden, the beans are growing impressively big and strong- a friend noting how they bombastically burst from the ground to shed their pods and form leaves. The berebere is growing heartily and I wonder if it will actually have enough hours of sunlight to produce peppers despite the often cloudy Berlin summer. The long hours of light help I’m sure. And the teff has managed to sprout into a fuzzy ground cover.
Besides my own rooftop-balcony garden, I’ve planted two mobile Ethiopian themed kitchen gardens. One is in partnership with the Agora Collective, and experimental art and co-working space in Neukölln.The other is the third year continuation of my Gemüse Korb project where I plant gardens in found shopping carts and move them throughout Berlin to occupy public spaces.
The entire project will culminate with a an Ethiopian fermenting and cooking workshop at Agora Collective in late summer. Until then, we ask for sunshine, rain, care from friends and strangers. It is my experience that when we give to plants, they give back. More to come.
Urban agriculture is an important activity in Addis Ababa and is predicted to become more integral to livelihood, food security and the environment as the city undergoes rapid urbanization. An Urban Agriculture Stakeholder Network Creation workshop was sponsored by the FAO (food and agriculture organization of the UN) in February 2012 to bring 60 people from government bodies, NGOs, international organizations and citizens together to share best practices and develop a network to forge the way forward in order to support, strengthen and promote urban agriculture in Addis Ababa. For more detail and information on the steering committee see the proceedings here. FAO UAW_Proceedings_Addis2012