Similar to a mead, this Ethiopian drink is simple to make and easy to enjoy.
Tej in the simplest sense of the word is Ethiopian mead. It’s a honey wine flavoured with an indigenous herb, known as gesho, which acts much like hops in creating a bittering agent to counterbalance the sweetness of the honey. Tej could easily be mistaken for orange juice on account of its hue and slight viscosity.
The drink is usually homemade, but throughout Ethiopia it is available in bars called “tej houses”. The traditional vessel for drinking tej is a rounded vase-shaped container called a berele, which sort of resembles a flower vase.
Don’t let the simple appearance fool you, tej is not a drink to be underestimated. Tej of good quality has a yellow colour, a sweet taste and is cloudy and bubbly due to the presence of yeast bacteria from the gesho. The alcoholic content can range from a mere 2.7% to as high as 21% depending on how long it was left to ferment or age. Because of the traditional wild fermentation, and no set timing on completion, no two bottles of tej are the same.
While tej is traditionally drank on its own, some bartenders have been taking the base spirit and finding ways of creating some cocktails. Like the tej cocktail from Nunu’s Ethiopian Fusion in Toronto which uses two ounces of homemade tej mixed with two ounces of spiced rum and an ounce of freshly squeezed lime juice; this is then topped with club soda and garnished with a maraschino cherry and orange slice.
If you do manage to enjoy this drink, don’t forget to make a toast the Ethiopian way, saying ‘’le tenachin’’ meaning “to our health”.