by Sarah Assefa March 01, 2019
Tej is a traditional Ethiopian alcoholic drink made from honey. The sweetness of the honey mixed with subtle hints of spices and sourness is truly a mix made in heaven. In Ethiopia, Tej is known as the king's drink, and its production dates back to over 2000 years ago. It is said to be one of the first wines to ever be created in the world. In those days, Tej was only allowed to be produced in the palace for the royal families. The general public was prohibited to produce it or consume it. On special occasions, it would be served to guests of honors or extremely high-class, wealthy people. The drink symbolized royalty and luxury, and that image has lives on till today.
The reason why tej was not allowed to be produced by the general public has not been clear but some sources claim it was because the drink was reserved only for the high-class population of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Others claim that the royals were afraid the honey supply was not enough to allow every household to produce it.
Since the 20th century, the rule that prohibited the general public from producing Tej has been abolished and Tej has been openly produced by households and businesses.
You may be asking why is this drink loved by millions of Ethiopians, even though its production is tedious and can take up to several months. Well, the beauty of Tej is not just the royal feel of the drink or the delicious sweet taste, it is also the fact that it brings friends and family together over chatters, gossip, and laughter. Seeing elders, friends, and co-workers come together to tej bars to spend their weekends or free time is a heartwarming experience.
We also still ensure to have tej on all our religious and cultural events. Tej is also served during weddings, graduations, and other special family occasions.
Production of Tej:
You don’t have to an experienced brewer to make Tej from scratch. It is pretty simple if you have the ingredients and have some patience.
You need water, Gesho (Rhamnus prinoides) and premium quality Honey. The ratio of honey to water usually can be anywhere from 1:3 to 1:5. You mix both of these ingredients together until it is dissolved together properly. Next, Gesho is added to the mix. Gesho is basically the main ingredient that helps in the fermentation process. Once the mix is ready, people add different spices to the mix. Every household/ company/ restaurant /bar has its own special touches that they add to make their Tej unique. The most common variation is adding fresh ginger, but I have also heard of some bizarre additions like coffee.
The mix is then covered and left to ferment for a week to up to months. The longer it is left to ferment, the stronger the alcohol content of the Tej. The taste of the Tej varies depending on the type of honey used, the way the drink was prepared, and even the containers that it gets stored in. The alcohol content of Tej can be anywhere from 5% to 15% depending on the fermentation period. Don’t let the sweet, smooth taste of Tej fool you into drinking too much. Many Ethiopians have at least one story about underestimating the alcohol content of Tej until they tried to pick themselves up from their chair to find themselves stumbling or falling!
If you are wondering where to find the most delicious Tej and nice atmosphere, here are some of my personal favorite picks:
Fendika: located around Kasanchis, this Azmari bet is a whole vibe of its own. They hold different themes on different days of the week (jazz night, cultural night, etc,) Tej is the main drink served, but there are other traditional and non-traditional alcoholic drinks.
2000 Habesha: It is a cultural restaurant famous for its fasting and non-fasting dishes, Tej, and live performances. Great place to visit with friends and family to learn more about the Ethiopian culture
Yod Abyssinia: This is yet another cultural restaurant with live bands, performers, and delicious Tej. They also have a cute souvenir shop inside
Preferred ways of drinking Tej:
Tej can be served solely or alongside other non-traditional alcoholic beverages. Regardless of whether other drinks are served with it or not, it is still the most important drink on the table. Other common Ethiopian alcohol drinks are tela, berz, and areke. Tej is drunk with no ice, mixers, not even tonic. We serve Tej in little flasks called the berele.
The most common dishes it's served with are traditional Ethiopian dishes, especially meat dishes like tibs, shekla tibs, kitfo, etc.
These days, Tej is produced at home mainly by the elderly. The younger generation, usually prefer to purchase it from local shops, wineries, etc to avoid the long process of producing it manually. Usually, shops and cafes sell Tej in recycled water bottles or recycled whiskey bottles.
Tej can be stored for as long as you want as long as it is not opened and is kept in a dim room with a cool temperature. It is actually a popular gift to give to someone traveling or visiting because it is a unique wine they probably won't find elsewhere.
So next time you are here to visit, get yourself a flask of Tej and enjoy the drink with friends, neighbors, and families. Instead of saying “cheers”, it is customary to say “le tenachin” (meaning for our health) before drinking the Tej as it is known to have health boosting properties. Remember to stay safe and always make sure you have a ride if you are not drinking at home.
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Welcome to Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee. The discovery of coffee in Ethiopia dates back to the 9th century. Legend has it that a farmer named Kaldi discovered coffee after finding his sheep jumping with energy after consuming the wild berry.