how to make honey wine - ethiopian honey wine making

How to Make Honey Wine: Mastering Ethiopian Honey Wine Making

Honey wine, widely known in Ethiopia as “Tej,” is a cherished beverage that combines the ancient art of winemaking with unique local ingredients. This traditional drink is deeply woven into the fabric of Ethiopian culture, symbolizing hospitality and community. Making Tej involves not only a mastery of basic fermentation techniques but also an understanding of the specific cultural nuances that define this exquisite honey wine. This guide will explore the intricacies of making honey wine, particularly focusing on the Ethiopian method, and will discuss how using specific types of honey, like the deep mustard/turmeric yellow varieties high in pollen content, can enhance the flavor and quality of the wine. We will also touch upon the personal and familial nature of Tej recipes, which are often unique to each family that brews them.


The Essence of Ethiopian Honey Wine (Tej)

Ethiopian honey wine, or Tej, is distinctively made using honey and water, fermented with the addition of ‘gesho’ leaves or buckthorn, which act as both flavoring and a source of bitterness, balancing the sweetness of the honey. The finest Tej is known to require honey with a high pollen content, and it typically prefers honey varieties that are deep mustard or turmeric in color, known for their rich flavors and aromatic properties. For an authentic Ethiopian honey wine, using Bore Raw Honey, which is harvested from the nectar of flowers in the lush, biodiverse regions of the Bale Mountains, adds a layer of depth and complexity to the flavor profile of the wine.


Ingredients and Equipment Needed

To begin your journey into making traditional Ethiopian honey wine, you will need:

  • High-Pollen Honey: About 15 pounds, preferably a deep mustard/turmeric yellow variety for its rich flavor and aroma.
  • Water: Approximately 4 gallons.
  • Gesho Leaves or Buckthorn: Acts as the bittering agent and flavor enhancer.
  • Primary Fermenter: A large food-grade plastic bucket or a glass carboy.
  • Secondary Fermenter: Typically a glass carboy for the aging process.
  • Airlock and Stopper: Essential for allowing gases to escape and preventing contamination.
  • Siphon Hose: For transferring the wine between containers without disturbing the sediment.
  • Hydrometer: To measure the specific gravity or sugar content.
  • Sanitizer: Crucial for ensuring all equipment is clean to avoid contamination.


Step-by-Step Guide to Making Tej

1. Preparing the Must

Begin by mixing your selected high-pollen honey with warm water in your sanitized primary fermenter until the honey is fully dissolved. The water should be warm but not hot to preserve the natural enzymes in the honey.

2. Adding Gesho or Buckthorn

Once the honey and water are thoroughly mixed, add the gesho leaves or buckthorn. The amount can vary depending on how bitter you prefer your Tej, but starting with a handful is a common approach.

3. Fermentation

Introduce wine yeast to the must, stirring gently to distribute. Seal the fermenter with an airlock and store it in a cool, dark place. The fermentation process can take several weeks to months, depending on the desired strength and sweetness of the wine.

4. Racking

After the primary fermentation slows down, siphon the Tej into a secondary fermenter, taking care not to disturb the sediment at the bottom. This step helps clarify the wine and further develop its flavors.

5. Aging

Age your Tej in the secondary fermenter for several months to improve its taste. Aging allows the flavors to meld and the wine to mellow, reducing any harshness.

6. Bottling

Once the Tej has aged to your satisfaction, it’s time to bottle. Use sanitized bottles and ensure they are sealed properly. Tej can continue to age in the bottle, often developing richer flavors over time.


Cultural Significance and Variations

In Ethiopia, the recipe for Tej is often passed down through generations and can vary significantly from one family to another. Some may use different types of honey or vary the amount of gesho, creating a range of flavors from sweet and floral to robust and tangy. This personal touch adds to the allure and mystique of Ethiopian honey wine, making it not just a drink but a living tradition.



Making Ethiopian honey wine is a delightful way to connect with ancient brewing traditions while enjoying the natural sweetness of honey. Whether you’re using Bore Raw Honey for its exceptional quality or experimenting with family recipes, each batch of Tej is a testament to the rich culinary heritage of Ethiopia. As you embark on this brewing adventure, remember that patience and attention to detail are your best tools for crafting a honey wine that celebrates the spirit of Ethiopia.

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