4. T’ej in Ethiopia Today

By Harry Kloman, University of Pittsburgh

ONCE THE DRINK OF EMPERORS, everyone can now enjoy t’ej, whether or not the emperor and his guests offer it to them. It is, in fact, considered to be the “national drink.” Many people make it at home – for weddings, women traditionally prepare gallons and gallons of it – and Ethiopians will often use t’ej to enhance certain dishes, such as a spicy wot.

Many people drink their t’ej at a t’ej bet or “t’ej house,” a commercial establishment, very often owned and operated by a woman, that specializes in serving t’ej. The alcohol content of the t’ej that you buy in a t’ej bet varies widely, from 6% to 11%, according to studies, and this may account for the custom of dancing with a berele of t’ej on your head.

Workabezu Benti sells her t'ej in Ethiopia
Workabezu Benti sells her t’ej in Ethiopia

The name t’ej refers to an Ethiopian wine made with honey, water and gesho, a species of buckthorn that grows native in Ethiopia. Sometimes you’ll see it referred to as ye’mar t’ej, where mar is the Ethiopian word for honey and ye is a preposition that means “with” or “of.” Thus ye’mar t’ej is “Ethiopian honey wine made with honey.” Why the redundancy? Because you can also make ye’buna t’ej, which is Ethiopian honey wine flavored with coffee (buna), or you can make ye’birtukan t’ej (flavored with orange), or ye’zinjibil t’ej (flavored with ginger), or ye’muz t’ej (flavored with banana), and so on with numerous other flavoring agents – even karya, that is, jalapeno peppers. Ye’mar t’ej simply tells you that the only flavoring, apart from the requisite gesho, is honey.

The sweetness and alcohol content of t’ej depends upon how long you ferment it and what kind of gesho you use. The longer the fermentation process, the more the sugar from the honey will turn to alcohol. T’ej left to ferment for months and months can almost take on the taste and color of liquor (but still with a sweet undercurrent).

The strongest t’ej is called derek, which is the Amharic word for dry. This is often the result of t’ej made with gesho leaf, or t’ej made with gesho stick but fermented for a very, very long time. Derek t’ej made with leaf is slightly bitter, a taste prized by the people who relish it. Next comes makakalanya, or t’ej of “medium” sweetness. This is the t’ej most frequently served in t’ej bets and homes. Finally, there’s laslasa, or “sweet” t’ej, which is usually just birz, a mixture of honey and water, without gesho, that sits for two or three days before consumption. Under the bountiful Ethiopia sun – “thirteen months of sunshine,” the country’s promotional slogan says – that’s enough to get a little bit of fermentation going.

Food and t'ej at Honeymoon Park T'ej Bet in Ethiopia
Food and t’ej at Honeymoon Park T’ej Bet in Ethiopia

The neighborhood t’ej bet is a very popular gathering place in Ethiopia – for example, in Nekemte, there’s Edme Ketle T’ej Bet. The name means “wise leaf.” There are myriad such places all over the country, and even a city in Ethiopia called T’ej Washa, located in the North Wello region of the country, east of Lake Tana and Gondar, the nation’s former capital. The word washa means “cave,” and while I don’t know whether the town’s name truly has anything to do with honey wine, standard Ethiopian dictionaries list no other meaning for the word t’ej.

To make all of this t’ej, Ethiopians need plenty of honey and gesho. Ethiopia is the largest honey producer in Africa, and fully 70% of the honey sold in Ethiopia goes to the making of t’ej, according to an April 2007 report by an Ethiopian research agency. Other reports say the amount of Ethiopian honey used for t’ej is as high as 80%. This means that a valuable export crop is lost to national t’ej production.

But the situation is changing slowly, according to a July 2006 story in Africa News. The piece reported on a lecture by Dr. Nuru Adigaba from the Holeta Bee Research Center:

The presentation made clear that honey is a significant cash crop in Ethiopia with 95% of what is produced coming to the market and generating 360 to 480 million birr revenue for those in the business. But the most striking fact is that almost the entire volume of the honey marketed is consumed by the local demand as an ingredient production t’ej. “When honey is bought for preparing t’ej what matters the most is volume and weight rather than quality, which is key in table honey production,” Nuru said. As a result, the apiculturalists would not be compelled to produce honey that is up to the standards demanded by the international market.

However, he admitted that there was a gradual shift from using the honey output only for t’ej to using it to produce table honey with a growing emphasis given to the sector by private investors. “For instance, currently around seven companies have been involved in establishing honey processing plants, which will collect and process table honey both for export and for local markets,” he said. Today there are probably even more.

The label of Ethiopia's  first commercial t'ej
The label of Ethiopia’s
first commercial t’ej,
Agew Medir (late 1940s)

Gesho, too, is abundant in the country, and some of it is even exported to Ethiopian grocery stores and wineries around the world.

You can drink your t’ej from a glass if you like, but it’s traditionally enjoyed from a berele, a flask-like vessel with a wide bottom and a long, narrow neck, which has been around Ethiopia for a few hundreds years. Long ago, Ethiopians drank t’ej from a wancha – that is, a cow’s horn carved into a cup.

Homebrew t’ej, including the t’ej you’ll drink in a t’ej bet, usually has a lower alcohol content than commercially bottled t’ej, although you can allow it to ferment for many months to give it more kick. It’s even been studied by scientists: A 2005 study looked at t’ej for its yeast and lactic acid content, and another study, conducted in 2001, examined the chemical and nutritional properties of the wine.

Numerous American wineries make t’ej, and at least two wineries in Ethiopia also make t’ej and bottle it for sale: They are called Nigest Honey Wine and Tizeta T’ej – nigest means queen, tizeta means memory – and neither can be easily found in the United States, although one Ethiopian-American importer in Maryland sells Nigest and ships it to some restaurants and markets around the country.

In fact, wineries in Ethiopia have made t’ej as far back as the 1940s, and the first commercially sold brand was Agew Medir (see label above). But you could only get it at a famous restaurant in Addis Ababa near the National Palace (also called the Jubilee Palace). In the 1960s, the more widely sold brand Saba Tej appeared in retail stores and restaurants. That, too, eventually disappeared when the Derg, the communist dictatorship that overthrew the emperor in 1974, nationalized the company, and it later went out of business.

saba
A 1960s ad for Saba Tej in Ethiopia

Winery t’ej always was and still is rare in Ethiopia because most Ethiopians simply prefer to make their own at home or drink it at any of the local t’ej bets that liberally litter the landscape. This t’ej is usually unfiltered, which in Amharic is called defres, meaning muddy or unclear, or lega, meaning young. The “mud” is just the residual yeast – harmless and virtually tasteless. The Ethiopian wineries that make t’ej prepare it tetara, or filtered (literally, “clear”), so it looks like a white or amber table wine.

Commercially bottled t’ej looks and tastes more like a dry or medium-dry white wine, and its alcohol content ranges from 11 to 14 percent, the same as most commercial wines. The restaurants in Washington, D.C., despite that city’s enormous Ethiopian population, almost always sell commercially bottled t’ej rather than homebrew, and one Ethiopian visitor to D.C. noticed the difference: “For the first time,” he wrote, “I also tested t’ej that looked like white wine. I do not know what they did to its color. It tastes like t’ej, it smells like t’ej, it is made out of t’ej-making ingredients, but it looks like white wine.” Of course, it’s illegal to sell homemade wine in D.C., but a few places do it anyway under the radar.

When a t’ej is especially strong, Ethiopians will say it has betam teru moq’ta, which means that it gives you a “very good buzz.” The word moq’ta literally means heat. Incidentally, all factory-made alcohol, including Nigest Honey Wine and Tizeta T’ej, is taxed in Ethiopia, but homebrew t’ej and t’alla (an Ethiopian homemade beer) is exempt from the national alcohol tax.

mealinethiopia

Gesho is the ingredient that makes t’ej t’ej. Without gesho, you have a beverage that the Ethiopians call birz, a mixture of honey and water that is allowed to ferment, very slightly, on its own for a few days before it’s consumed. Birz doesn’t have the spicy pungency of full-on t’ej, and it certainly doesn’t have the alcohol content.

The gesho is a woody plant with leaves on its branches. Both parts of the plant can be used in making t’ej. The woody part of the gesho, when used for t’ej, is called gesho inchet, which means gesho stick. The leaves are called gesho kitel, or gesho leaf. Pieces of inchet can be as thin as a piece of linguini or as thick as your thumb. Kitel comes in two consistencies: Sometimes it’s sold as dried crumbled leaves that look like oregano, and sometimes the leaves are ground into a fine powder that looks almost like flour. This powdered variety is called gesho duket, and it’s best used for making t’alla.

Each type of gesho produces a different color and flavor of t’ej. Most Ethiopians today will tell you that they prefer gesho inchet. T’ej made from inchet is pale yellow and tastes at once sweet and spicy. T’ej made from kitel is amber and usually has more of a pungent flavor. Notice that in the historic accounts of t’ej, many of the chroniclers say that Ethiopians used gesho leaf in making their t’ej. These writers also observed that royalty preferred a sharper-tasting t’ej. In fact, although the chroniclers may not have realized it, the sweeter t’ej they seemed to enjoy may well have been made with gesho inchet. The sharper royal variety almost certainly used gesho kitel or even duket.

Selling gesho leaf in Ethiopia
Selling gesho leaf
in Ethiopia

Just as historical narratives told of t’ej, so do some recent books, newspaper articles and web site. And just some people – particularly the British, it seems – still can’t take it.

Writing in the U.K. Guardian, Bob Maddams decribes an Ethiopian new year’s celebration, warning revelers, “Parties don’t really get going until around midnight and in Ethiopia don’t stop till dawn. Go easy on the t’ej, though. It’s got a kick like an Ethiopian mule, and you might just need another thousand years to get over the hangover.”

Christine Campbell, writing for the The Independent of London, attended a feast in Gondar, where

everyone was drinking t’ej, home-brewed wine made with honey. Hospitality dictated that I must be served a full cup – in this case a large blue plastic beaker. Two or three sips of this potent brew in the already intense heat were enough to convince me that drinking more could prove unwise, and a nearby shrub was the beneficiary. No one seemed to notice. The priests, in robes of yellow and blue of Vermeer-intensity, were cheerfully practicing their English. The women were too busy dicing meat and chopping garlic, onions and herbs with eight-inch scimitars.

And Marie Javins, writing on her web blog about a trip to an Ethiopian t’ej bet, seems to agree: “The women danced, too, jerking their shoulders back and forth in a way that looked shockingly non-PG for modest Ethiopia. We stared in awe, or maybe we were under the influence of the t’ej the group had ordered. t’ej is a sickeningly sweet honey-like wine, finished by no one at our table.” The dance she describes is called eskista.

Matt and Ted Lee toured Ethiopia’s best eateries with the Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised American chef Marcus Samuelsson and offer this anecdote about a t’ej bet:

In a district of luggage makers, we found Gondar T’ej Bet, a barn-like establishment with green walls and rows of long, low wooden benches painted the same hue. In this cool, dim oasis, merchants in dark suits chatted quietly. The bar had its wine-making operation on-site: green fermenting barrels, shoulder-high, open at the top and draped with burlap.

As we took our seats, a man in a blue work suit approached and poured t’ej – the only beverage served – from a stout, blue-enameled tin kettle into bulbous glass flasks. The wine was almost opaque, the luminescent color of fresh orange juice, and deliciously off-dry, like a Riesling spiked with turmeric. After a few flasks of the low-alcohol brew, we were ready for lunch and headed to Habesha, Samuelsson’s favorite restaurant in Addis.

“About a month ago,” writes one sojourner on his web site, “I went up to the now infamous Honeymoon T’ej Bet in Sululta with a friend visiting Addis from the States. We were treated to a jam session with people dancing as if it were their last night on earth. We noticed the unusual dance style of a young man who had no trouble balancing a berele of t’ej on this head as he moved to the hypnotizing beat of Ethiopian traditional music. We immediately reached for our camera.”

The Friends of Ethiopia web site has an articled called “How Microbrew Can Save the World” in which the author discusses the history of homemade alcohol. Eventually, the discussion turns to t’ej:

Consider the case of Ethiopian t’ej and t’alla. t’ej, Ethiopia’s national drink, mixes fermented honey with a variety of herbs and sometimes fruits. Historically, t’ej drinking was reserved exclusively for royalty, but eventually it became a drink enjoyed by all on special occasions. Female household heads brewed t’ej for weddings, naming ceremonies, religious holidays, and other celebrations. T’alla is for common drinking, brewed from locally grown grains and flavored with an indigenous plant called gesho, which has been shown to have medicinal benefits.

T’ej is stronger than industrial beer and much cheaper than imported spirits, so it has slowly become the drink of choice for impoverished men – the same refugees from the country-side who seek economic opportunity in the city, but instead find unemployment, loneliness, and despair. Nowadays, t’ej is more often associated with excessive drinking sessions in debauched t’ej halls than with royal ceremony. Having lost much of its dignified luster, the quality of t’ej has also plummeted. Processed sugar often replaces honey as the source of fermentation, and chemical food coloring is used to approximate the yellow glow that comes when real honey is used.

But the picture isn’t all bleak, and the piece goes on to discuss Tizeta T’ej, which is made by a company started by an Ethiopian man living in Canada. He has since moved home to Addis Ababa to operate his company.

Certainly most Ethiopian t’ej bet are perfectly safe, as are their wares. But during the days of the Communist dictatorship called the Derg, life in Ethiopia was precarious, and a t’ej bet could be nefarious. On the web site of the Ethiopian Student Association International, one blogger recalls this tale:

I know a story of this guy who was sold in the mid 1970s. He was a superintendent some place in Gondar. He was not originally from Gondar, though, probably from the south.

One night he was invited to a t’ej bet by his local friends. His friends were with other strangers that he did not know. They drunk t’ej all night and when it was time for to go home, he was told he was going with the strangers. Guess what: They kidnapped him and took him with them. This was not just a regular kidnapping. Those so-called friends were paid to bring him to the t’ej bet. His whereabouts were not know for several years, and later when the Derg was fighting TPLF [a liberation movement] in northern Gondar, he was discovered by his students.

In her 1994 book A Song of Longing: An Ethiopian Journey, Kay Kaufman Shelemay recounts this tale of a practical joke that led her and a friend to a t’ej bet. Looking for a place to stay for the night, they asked a local for advice:

We followed him to a building across the road. On the porch stood several young Ethiopian women wearing faded, Western-style cotton dresses. They took us inside and poured us each a beer. Looking around at the large room flanked by smaller rooms, we realized we were in the tavern, called a t’ej bet, which serves as both social club and brothel.

As dusk settled our hostess showed us to one of the small rooms, nearly filled by a well-used bed promising unnamed diseases. For a while we set inside with the door open, occasionally, stepping out into the main room to see what was going on. This t’ej bet had no live musician to play tunes on the one-stringed bowed instrument called the masenqo, so as evening fell someone played masenqo music on a small tape recorder. Business picked up as men from the area stopped by to drink and have a good time. We were clearly the subject of many conversations, and as the crowd became rowdier, we began to feel uncomfortable. After a final visit to the maggot-infested outhouse, accompanied by curious neighborhood children and a snarling dog, we retired to our room and locked the door.

We unpacked out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and fruit juice stashed away for just such an emergency and read aloud Philip Roth’s Our Gang by candlelight. As the noise outside mounted we consoled ourselves with the fact that there were two of us. At around 9:00 p.m. the music stopped, and we laid down upon the flea-ridden bed fully dressed in our hooded raincoats and hiking boots, small utility knives open at our sides.

At 5 a.m. we awoke, hurriedly drank coffee provided by the ladies of the house, left a few Ethiopian dollars in payment, and headed toward the bus. As we walked out the door a group of people laughed and applauded. We knew then that we have been the objects of the local equivalent of a practical joke. We waved, adjusted our packs, and walked across the road to the bus.

Made in Ethiopia
Made in Ethiopia

Despite the appearance this account may give, a 2002 study of sex workers in Addis Ababa found that only 1.4% of t’ej bets surveyed had sex workers in them.

Of course, there’s another hazard to t’ej: drinking too much of it. In the April/May 2016 issue of Afro Design magazine, writer Hiwot Wendimagegn wrote a piece about life in Ethiopia called Eat, Sip, Don’t Choke that includes this observation: “More than any other time in Addis, police stations and hospitals are overworked during holiday celebrations. Car accidents spike due to t’ej driving and the ER is filled to the brim with people suffering from a fat and flesh overdose. They then went on to recite instructions on how to give proper CPR to a friend or a loved one choking from a buttery wot and raw meat mixture.”

Curtis Palmer, a member of a New Zealand wheelchair basketball team called the Wheelblacks, travels a lot and once visited Ethiopia. His blog offers this about Ethiopian good and drink: “You eat your meal with your fingers by picking up the veggies and stuff between the injera. You use your right hand only and it can get messy, especially with my gammy hands. My favourite was this stuff called shiro. It’s a bean type mushy stuff that is kinda like bean dip. The locals combine it with smoking chillies and wash it down with this stuff called tedge. Tedge is grouse and it’s pretty much home brewed petrol.” In Aussie and New Zealand slang, “grouse” means “excellent.”

Bienvenue en Éthiopie, a French travel guide, offers this very helpful and interesting account of where to get and not get your t’ej on a cross-country vacation:

Tedj is a mixture of leaves and honey, allowed to ferment, that produces a drink of yellow-orange color and a degree of alcohol of approximately 15%. The quality of tedj depends in large part on the honey used to make it, and often it is replaced in the city by sugar in order to accelerate the process of fermentation. Amateurs must be informed that the mixture of alcohol and sugar can become treacherous. On the other hand, one finds very good tedj in the countryside of Gondar in Arba Minch.

With tedj, or hydromel, don’t drink it if it has too obvious an odor of sugar or alcohol: these are drinks of bad quality, and their consumption is not recommended. In Abra Minch, several tedj bets make tedj of pure honey that will charm the connoisseurs and initiate the laymen. On the other hand, avoid those of Jinka, where the honey is probably of bad quality. One finds good tedj in Lalibela, but it’s better if one ventures into the periphery of the city. For those who travel in the mountains of South Wolo, the countryside will have good quality tedj bets. In Sodo, in Woleyta, there is also good tedj, as well as in Gondar and in Dessie. In these cities, however, do not hesitate to test several places and insist if it appears to you that the tedj contains sugar.

In Addis-Ababa, one should not expect great quality. Rather, taste the tedj of Honey Moon, in the small town of Sulutta 20 km north of Addis on the road to Dabra Markos. There, you can taste excellent meat of raw goat and gored gored, raw ox marinated in butter, as well as kitfo, the Ethiopian tartar, and roasted sheep. However, unlike tedj bets of the countryside, where the berele (small carafe) costs 50 centimes or 1 birr, count on it costing 6 birrs. Assured quality.

Another French guidebook, simply called Éthiopie, tells tourists to look for good-quality t’ej at the Hotel Axum perpendicular to Gebreselassie Road. This establishment is a favorite of Ethiopians, says the book, but it’s frequented almost exclusively by men.

Despite warnings that the t’ej in Addis Ababa isn’t as good as the t’ej one finds in the countryside, each of these books recommends a restaurant in Addis where a patron can find good t’ej: Shangra La, on Cap Verde Street across from the Desalegn Hotel; and Addis Ababa Restaurant, not far from St. George’s Church. There are also many small t’ej bets in Addis and environs that a glossy color guidebook would probably never discover. Good t’ej, it seems, is a matter of preference and taste.

“There is no better place to reconcile husband and wife and restore broken families than a churchyard where the words of God are heard daily through the prayers and ecclesiastical sermons that are conducted,” begins a story in the Aug. 7, 2005, edition of Africa News. The lengthy piece then recounts the mediation of a marital dispute. It ends like this: “The chairman offered an invitation for all of us to share together in some food and beverage. The priest supported the idea, saying that it was a divine idea and that a little wine will chase away Satan and his squad. He seemed to be yearning to dip his lips into a flask of t’ej after all his deliberations.”

58488704_5cc10dfcec

In his book 1970 book Traditional Ethiopian Church Education, Imbakom Kalewold confirms this heavenly indulgence. In a review of the book, Amnon Orent tells us that “people sometimes pay for clerical services with t’alla (a native beer) or t’ej (a kind of strong mead); Ethiopian priests are notorious for their drinking. Assafa Gabra Maryam, an Ethiopian playwright, characterizes a priest as saying ‘if one stops drinking, what else is left in this world?'”

T’ej is also a currency in Ethiopian elections, according to a 2004 story in the Addis Tribune. “Those of us who were around can bear eye witness accounts of the political gymnastic that went into the election of parliamentarians,” says Asratemariam, the author of the piece. “Some of us were astute enough to garner a few ‘bereles of t’ej‘ in return for our votes.”

In 2002, James P. DeWan of The Chicago Tribune did a story on mead to coincide with the Real Ale Festival in the city. Needless to say, the subject of t’ej came up, and it provokes a history lesson:

Like most Ethiopian restaurants, Mama Desta’s Red Sea Restaurant in Chicago serves t’ej. “When Ethiopians make t’ej they add hops,” owner Tekle Gabriel said, “which temper the sweet honey flavor with bitterness.”

That mead is made from honey is what caused its ancient popularity as well as its ultimate decline. Sugar was not widely available in the known world until well into the second millennium. For thousands of years before that, honey was humankind’s primary sweetening ingredient. Since spontaneous fermentation is not uncommon in nature, it stands to reason that ancient cultures would have discovered mead independently of one another.

Even so, Tekle said he knows people in his native Eritrea who claim that mead originated in that region. “In Ethiopia, it’s been going on for thousands of years, and it’s still very common today,” he said. “In almost every Christian home in every village you’ll find people making their own.”

Added to this was the growing popularity of beer. Though honey stored very well, beer’s main ingredient, malted barley, kept well, too, so beer could easily be brewed at any time without having to wrestle a hive of angry bees. Mead soon became relegated to royalty or, for the commoners, special occasions.

Inside and outside a rustic Ethiopian t'ej bet
Inside and outside a rustic Ethiopian t’ej bet

“At certain times some of the Ethiopian emperors thought it should be only for the nobility, so occasionally they outlawed its brewing in commoners’ houses,” Tekle said. “Besides, barley is much more available and beer quenches the thirst better, anyway, so in Ethiopia honey wine mostly is brewed around the holidays.”

Colin Barraclough offers this brief but vivid description in a 2002 piece about his trip to Ethiopia for the Financial Times of London: “At night, I stumble into a t’ej bet, a back-street bar with straw covering the mud floor. I sit on a goatskin rug and listen to the family’s cows lowing. The owner, a gracious woman named Terfi Abouhay, brings me t’ej, a yeasty honey wine served from tear-shaped glasses.”

Writing in The Monitor, a newspaper in Addis Ababa, B. Mezgebu offers this discouraging observation (his opinion, of course) about dining in the Ethiopian capital city:

Quality control of food product is another aspect of the uneasy relationship between sellers and buyers. How much milk is your milk? And how much of it plain water? What are the real ingredients of our local wines? Which vineyards, may we ask, supply the grapes? The uniquely Ethiopian t’ej is nowadays being concocted of so many things (including the herb that can make you permanently fall in love with the brew), the honey part is just a facade. You might say in fact t’ej ceased to be t’ej since the aristocracy in Ethiopia lost that exclusive privilege. Can you recall when it was the last time you ordered keiwot [spicy beef] in a restaurant? Long on berbere and innards and short on the choice meat that keiwot, as we knew it, was made of, people now avoid ordering it as if it were some unfathomable foreign food.

Another of the author’s pieces, posted on a web site, drew this response from a reader: “Spots like t’ej bets are disappearing in Addis. A t’ej bet like Memehere Bet at Legehar was something of a relic for Addis, where old-timers spend time at an affordable price drinking t’ej. But now the spots are being destroyed, as they are needed for large buildings. In the next fifty years, Addis will be like another artificial city, with no monument and shrine of her own.”

Christina and Dan, two San Franciscans visiting Ethiopia with their pre-teen children, report on their blog about a visit in Lalibela to “a traditional Ethiopian t’ej bar. It was, well, interesting. The kids had a non-alcoholic version, which tasted like orange juice (sort of), and Christina and I went for the hard stuff, which tasted like fermented honey, barley and malt (sort of). I don’t think that BevMo needs to start stocking it any time soon, but it was a fun thing to experience, especially in a sort of funky, dimly lit bar with cool Ethiopian music playing and very quality atmosphere.”

Alastair Humphreys, traveling recently in Ethiopia, recounts this anecdote in his book Moods of Future Joy:

While I waited for Rob I wanted to try t’ej. T’ej is Ethiopian mead and I found an unmarked t’ej bar after a little acting on the street saw me pointed in the right direction. My impressions of a buzzing bee, a man glugging liquid, and a man rolling across the decks of joyful inebriation had done the trick. T’ej looks like orange juice and is served in glass flasks, called berele, resembling the ones used in chemistry experiments. It tastes like sharp, fizzy honey. The bar was dark, with wood shavings on the floor. Apricot lights shafted through flaps in the walls and dust motes twirled in the beams. Old men wrapped in white robes leaned on their sticks and smoked hard. The air droned with idle conversation. Nobody minded that I was in their bar. I felt wonderful to be ignored.

nicetejbet

Mark Waite, writing about his trip to Ethiopia for the Pahrump Valley Times, offers this tidbit, which adds another wrinkle to the atmosphere of the t’ej bet: “Jean and I stopped at a t’ej bet, a house to drink traditional honey wine and sit on benches with the locals. The t’ej bet was interesting, with tribes people gawking at the rare sight of a television video where Jean and I sat as we drank honey wine.”

Matthew Kadey, writing of his visit to Ethiopia, recounts this anecdote: “After we had our fill of church hopping, it was time to visit a t’ej bar, t’ej being a hype of honey wine that’s an acquired taste to say the least. ‘You either like it or you never want to try it again,’ one tourist bluntly put it. Paint thinner run through dirty socks is how I would describe it.”

Finally, there’s Seleda, a web site and webzine for young Ethiopian professionals, which lists “The Top 10 Signs You Are Ready To Go Back to Ethiopia.” No. 9 on the list: “Your 857th attempt to brew t’ej in your studio apartment just failed.”

If that describes you, then read on.

Harry Kloman
University of Pittsburgh

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