How to Make Honey Wine (T`ej)

Yesterday we discussed the differences and similarities between honey wine and mead – today we`ll share the process of making a simple honey wine in based loosely on the style of Ethiopian T`ej.  Ours is currently in process so I can`t comment on the final flavor yet but am pleased with how the flavor changed in the initial days.  We`ll be dipping into our stock before the New Year – and if you act fast, you can too!

These instructions are based on the recipe presented in Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz.  Sandor (also known as `Sandorkraut`) is an amazing ambassador of fermentation and his book, website and forums are amazing resources any that those interested in fermenting  would appreciate.  The recipe is based on a bunch of further reading on T`ej and Mead that produced yesterdays article.

My research showed me that the term Tèj is almost as generic as the words wine or  beer.  There are many varieties across Ethiopia and other places where it`s made.  It`s base ingredients are always water and honey.  Gesho (a bittering agent) is added by many (with hops replacing it where Gesho can`t be found).  The third most common variation adds fruit; from there it`s a free-for-all of variations.

We`ve decided to make a straight-up honey wine – I suspect with time we`ll evolve the recipe and variations and hoping by next summer to do several small-batch versions with seasonal fruit.

To make T`ej it`s simplest to start with a crock.  You could use a mason jar but the large surface area of a crock will offer increased access to natural yeasts that will get your fermentation rocking.

Here`s how to make it:

  1. Pour honey into the crock.  Unpasteurized honey is critical and raw is best.
  2. Add an equal measure of room-temperature water and stir until dissolved.
  3. Add 3 more measures of water (the total ratio is 1 honey to 4 water.  Stir well to ensure a consistent texture in the crock.  Have a taste – it will be very sweet.
  4. Cover with a dishcloth or cheese cloth.  You want to keep dust and critters out – but allow natural yeast to access your liquid.
  5. Store in a warm place (ideally between 60 and 80 degrees).  We kept ours on the table (our dog loves sweet things) which was 65-70 degrees.
  6. Stir often; at least twice a day but as often as you`d like.
  7. It will take 3-6 days (the colder, the longer) for the initial ferment to occur.  You`ll know it`s occured when it gets fizzy.  I couldn`t see the bubbles in our crock but could clearly hear it when I stirred it.
  8. Syphon into a fermenting vessel.  I bought 1-gallon jugs at a DIY wine store.  If you don`t have enough to fill the bottle you can add honey and water in the 1-4 ratio.  Because I had 2 jugs, I filled each to roughly the same height so that each had the minimum possible addition of fresh honey-water.
  9. Cap the jar with an airlock (again available at such a wine store).
  10. Place the mixture in a warm area for 2-4 weeks.  You`re waiting for the bubbling to stop.
  11. Syphon the honey wine into bottles (you can buy them, use your own with a sealer or use Grolsch type bottles with the snap tops).  Drink fresh (as is commonly done with T`ej) or age as long as you want; many will age for years.

I tasted it as I stirred it over days.  For the first few days the mixture was awfully sweet.  As the ferment began to take hold I could taste the brew starting to ground itself and really liked the taste by the end of the 6 days I let it mature.  It`s flavor will develop over time in the bottles as well and I`ll try to keep a bottle or two to the side to see what happens.

Have you made or drank T`ej before?  What did you think of it?  What do you do differently?

Leave a Reply

  1. If you’re going to drink it immediately it might not be an issue, but if you’re looking for long-term aging you might want to make sure to sterilize everything that comes into contact with the T’ej. Wild yeasts and bacteria can be unpredictable and while it’s possible nothing bad may happen, I doubt you’d want to deal with a bottle of exploding honey wine or pop open a bottle months later to find it smells sour or like wet hay.

    Very cool recipe, though. Small batch, quickly fermented beverages are a favorite of mine. I’m currently making some kvass, which is made from dark rye bread. 🙂

    • Big Onion, like Greg’s comment, I am much appreciative of the clarification – will edit the post to emphasize that. Most thankful.

      Going to do some research on Kvass now – cus that sounds wicked. 🙂

  2. I’ve been wanting to try Sandor’s recipe (I have the book at home – waiting to have time to make several of the items!). BUT – I’ve also had T’ej in Ethiopia a few times.
    Over there they usually have 3 different styles available when you go to a “T’ej House”:
    -Soft – Pretty fresh mix, barely any alcohol…more like honey water
    -Medium – ~5-6% ABV – Still sweet – but getting drier and fizzier
    -Hard – ~6% and above ABV (Usually 9% I want to say…but it was a late night for sure! The walk home was long!)

    For long-term stability – I’d certainly make sure everything is very very clean and sterilized before bottling or kegging it. (Homebrew! Woo!). Possibly some preservative – although – that’s one of the first things my local drinking companions would tell me – “You never get a hangover because there are no sulfites!”. So – it strays from the original fermentation.

    Love T’ej – I also have a few recipes for flavored/infused varieties from an Ethiopian Cookbook that I’d be happy to share if you want to try them! (My brewing/wine making has taken a huge back seat of late to the rest of life!)



    • Greg, awesome listing – much appreciated. I’ll edit the post to emphasize that – and will share the cleaning procedures (that are old hat to you!) when we bottle. It’s a great catch, thank you. I really love the guidelines around the percentages – very grateful you shared. 🙂


  3. Thank you for this. My husband & I just sampled some of our second batch of T’ej this evening. Our first batch– using Katz’ precise recipe & using a sterilized jar– turned moldy in 5 days. I’ve been going through his book & find the recipes an excellent resource– but have noticed with his ginger ale & kombucha recipes, like with the T’ej, something seems missing. I’ve used more than half the book’s recipes– everything from kraut to bread & with perhaps the exception of the kraut, some of the information presented could’ve been more thorough. But– for what he has in his book, it’s an excellent resource.
    I actually followed his suggestion for an herb-infused T’ej, which calls for leaving the herbs in the crock with the honey-water mixture. We also had a bit of a cold snap here, so I wasn’t sure if that was the issue with that first batch. The herbs used are organic & kept under controlled circumstances. I’m an herbalist & haven’t had any issues with mold in my herbs.

    The second batch I adapted a little– to rather good success.
    First– I followed a method similar to how I make kombucha. I boiled the water & honey together, added the herbs & allowed to simmer for 20 minutes. I shut the heat & allowed the mixture to cool for between 1-2 hours.
    After the mixture was cooled to room temp, I carefully strained it using a fine mesh strainer.
    I poured the mixture into a gallon jug and added a scant 1/2 cup of the ginger bug I have already in the fridge from my soda making escapades. The bug has a rather high alcohol content and a very dry, neutral flavor.
    I had bubbles in a matter of hours.
    I’m sure my adaptation isn’t classic T’ej– but it’s certainly a nice concoction.
    Thank you for your article.

  4. In terms of making sure the batch doesn’t go bad; make sure to use raw honey as it still has it’s bacteria fighting properties.