Tej, Ethiopian Honey Wine

One of the staff in my building told me about tej when she saw a brewing catalog in my mail. I had never heard of it before despite there being a heavy Ethiopian presence in DC, so I was quite interested. To complement what she told me I found this great site with pretty much everything you need to know about it, and much to my delight she gave me some gesho so I could try to make some of my own.

I followed the basic process on Kloman’s page. I mixed generic grocery store clover honey, water and some sticks of gesho in a jar and let it sit. It took a little while to start fermenting, and I occasionally stirred it. Although I used a clean jar and utensils I made no effort at sanitizing, so it’s anyone’s guess whether the (raw, unwashed) gesho provided the yeast (as Kloman and others suggest) or if I introduced something else.

It turns out I took the gesho out too early, so there was rather little flavor from it. It mainly contributed a surprisingly tobacco-like aroma (like a cigar store, not a burning cigarette). My building’s attendant suggested I boil the gesho in some water to extract the flavor, allow that to cool and put it back in the already-fermenting honey water. Others suggest just letting it sit for a while longer. I confess I took it out because I saw some rather gross-looking gelatinous substance coming out the ends of a few. I strained them out and just kept the vigorously-fermenting honey water. I introduced quite a bit of oxygen at this point by straining it into another (clean, but not sanitized) jar.

Between the fact that it wasn’t bitter enough and the sulfur I got from fermenting in the 80’s it wasn’t quite a success, but it wasn’t awful either. It only fermented a week or so and there was no yeast nutrient, so I don’t think I got much alcohol. It certainly was not strong.  I streaked out the yeast from the dregs. It looks like standard yeast on the plate (malt extract agar). I actually should have kept those dregs to use in another batch but instead I made bread with it. It rose just fine but there was too much unfermented honey left over in the watered down dregs. It was too sweet for a basic bread.

Next time I will make a small starter using just a bit of gesho and step it up once it’s going. It’s not quite traditional but I like the idea. (I understand it’s traditional to use the dregs, but not in the step-up fashion) It’s not supposed to be strong but I figure a healthier fermentation with some yeast nutrient can’t hurt. I’ll also switch to raw honey with the wax intact, which I’m told will help it look more authentic.


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