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Tej Recipe; Ethiopian mead/honey beer.

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#1 menoetes


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Posted 03 June 2013 - 06:11 PM

Hi guys,


I know I'm fairly new to this forum (and even brewing for that matter) but while searching for tips on brewing with honey I remembered an interesting little brewing class my father and I attended a few years back held by an Ethiopian friend of the family. He showed us and a few other interested folks how to make Tej; an Ethiopian drink that falls somewhere between mead and beer (if I remember it properly) and tasted amazing. I searched the forum and was a bit surprised to see no results come up for the name.


The interesting thing about Tej is that it uses wild naturally occurring yeasts to ferment itself. That's right, no dry or liquid yeast is to be added! Using fresh unboiled and unpasteurized honey is actually recommended and generally a bottle from the last batch is used to prime the next. Our friend informed us that the more batches you make using this priming method would improve the quality and flavour of each consecutive batch as you continue on. He even gave us each a few bottles of his own batch to start us off but I fear that mine are long gone (through a sorry lack of self-control on my part).


I haven't tried making it since then but I did hold onto the recipe as he emailed it to everyone after the class. I would be keen to make a small batch of it some time again soon (just as soon as my new fermenter frees up) and thought I would share the recipe here for more experienced brewhands to look over and even maybe play with.


without further ado, here it is;







  • 1 litre of Tej to start the brewing process (If you can’t get this by you can do it without it.  It won’t be as good but it will provide you with tej for your next batch)
  • 5 litres of honey (7.5kg)
  • 20 litres of room-temperature water
  • Small amount of hops, approximately the size of one matchbox.  (Pride of Ringwood from Tasmania is recommended.  It is a leaf hops.)




  • 25litre container with air-tight lid or fermenter.
  • 3 litre (or larger) jug for measuring.
  • 1 bucket with good pouring lip
  • 1 chux (cleaning cloth) cut in half.
  • 1 large knife
  • 1 large wooden mixing paddle (They can be purchased from the home brew shop or you can use a clean piece of pine timber)
  • 25 x 1 litre bottles or 34 x 750ml bottles (They must have a good seal.  You can buy them from a home brew shop.)
  • 1 funnel to help pour the tej into the bottles.
  • Cool place to store the brew
  • Optional - calico material for straining and some extra hops (see recipe)




  1. Thoroughly wash your hands and arms to the elbow.
  2. Pour approximately half the honey into the bucket.  Use the large knife to cut the honey and stop the flow.
  3. Add approximately 1 litre of tej and approximately 1 litre of water.
  4. Mix thoroughly with your hand until the honey has dissolved thoroughly. The warmth of your hand starts the brewing process.
  5. Fill the rest of the bucket with water.
  6. Pour the contents of the bucket into the 25 litre container.
  7. Pour the rest of the honey into the bucket.
  8. Add approximately 2 litres of water.
  9. Mix thoroughly with your hand.
  10. Fill the rest of the bucket with water.
  11. Pour the contents of the bucket into the 25 litre container.
  12. Fill up to the 25 litre-mark with water and no higher to make sure there is space for expansion.
  13. Put the lid tight on the 25 litre container.
  14. Leave for 4-5 days in a cool place. 
  15. Slowly open the container.  Be careful as it might spray from the pressure of the expansion.
  16. Gently stir with the large mixing paddle.  If you are too brisk it will frizz-up and overflow.
  17. Wrap the hops in the chux and tie a knot in the chux.  This is so it can be put in the 25 litre container without dispersing.  If you add too much of the hops to the tej, it will become too bitter.
  18. Leave for 4-5 days in a cool place.  Don’t leave it longer as it might explode.
  19. Slowly open the container and taste it.
  20. If it tastes right, bottle it in air-tight containers, refrigerate and enjoy!
  21. If doesn’t taste right (if it is too sweet), add a small amount of crumbled up hops directly to the tej.  Check it every ½ day until it is right and then strain the tej through calico material before bottling and refrigerating.

Tip:  The longer the brewing time the more alcoholic the Tej.  To stop the brewing, bottle it and put it in the fridge.  It will store for years in this manner.


So there it is as he gave it to me, I'm sure many minds present on this forum will have something to say of his methods but his end product did taste pretty damn good!


Traditionally Tej is a very light drink in terms of alcoholic content (less than 1%) but this can be changed in a number of ways, the easiest of which is adding more honey or just plain sugar (as they do with the stronger Tej they serve in their bars over there).


The predominant taste to the drink is obviously of honey, but not in as heavy or sweet way as you might expect. I clearly remember it being very light with a mellow sweetness (not over-powering) and very easy to drink when good and chilled, almost like drinking a homemade lemonade.


I'd also be interested in tampering a little with the recipe to up it's alco level to something closer to a light beer (maybe 3%), I have no doubt that the more experienced brew folk that inhabit this forum could work wonders on this recipe if it takes their fancy but for real traditional Tej, there you have it: from a native Ethiopian to me to you.




Edited by menoetes, 03 June 2013 - 06:26 PM.

#2 Airgead


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Posted 04 June 2013 - 09:39 AM

Hi Meno


That looks nothing like other Tej recipes I have seen which were based on a beer made from sprouted barley which was then flavored with honey but I suspect that tej is one of those drinks that will vary enormously from region to region and even family to family.


That amount of honey, if you let it ferment out will give you something like 12% alcohol. Its only by storing it in the fridge (or drinking it while still ferementing) that it would be low alcohol. From all I have read on tej, in Ethiopia it is the kind of thing that is made in the morning and drunk that evening. Don't, whatever you do, ever leave one of the bottles out of the fridge. Boom.


To make it stronger, just leave it fermenting longer. Hard to guess with wild yeast (or yest recultured from a tej bottle) so you would need to check the gravity as you go and stop it when its strong enough.


You could also use a spoon to stir rather than your hand. the heat from your hand won't be starting the brewing process. I suspect that's a bit of folk wisdom like the magic stiring stick that maketh the beer to froth. What you may well be doing is adding some natural yeasts and lactic bacteria from your hand which may start fermentation. I'd use a spoon.


I'd also fit your 25l container with an airlock to stop the frothing/explosion problems you mentioned. We have the technology...


I'll see if I can dig out one of the barley based Tej recipes for comparison.



#3 Airgead


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Posted 04 June 2013 - 10:23 AM

Here's one...


Ethiopian Tej, Honey-flavored Beer RECIPE

Tej begins with unhusked, sprouted barley, which is dried and ground. The Ethiopian name for this is Bikil.

Ingredients for Tej:

1/2 kg – raw, unhusked barley grains

1 level disposable plastic cup full of Gesho leaves

1 – 1/2 kg. semolina flour

500 grams whole wheat kernels


2-4 cups honey

1. Prepare the Bikil: sprout 1/2 kg. barley in its husk. This may take a week or more, depending on the season and the ambient temperature. Take care that the sprouts don’t go moldy. That would spoil the Tej and possibly make it toxic.

Then grind up the sprouted barley in a coffee grinder or strong blender. Air-dry it and put aside.

2. Mix Gesho with 1 liter- 1 quart room temperature water. Allow to steep, tightly covered, 2 days.

3. On the third day,  mix semolina with enough water to make a loose dough. Semolina soaks up a lot of water; make sure that the dough is quite loose and sticky, not like conventional bread dough. Cover with cling film or put the bowl into a plastic bag, tie, and leave out overnight.

4. Next morning (fourth day), dry-fry or bake cakes from the semolina dough. Take a large frying pan and drop in enough dough to cover the bottom. The dough will be sloppy and flexible, more like pizza dough than bread dough. This will make 5 large, heavy semolina cakes. Cook each cake on both sides till covered in dark brown spots and the cake seems cooked through. Set aside and allow to cool thoroughly. Cooling off will take hours, as the cakes are very thick and will continue cooking the dough while hot. Plan on doing the next steps in the evening.

Note: allow each cake plenty of time to cook. Each side takes about 20 minutes on a medium flame. Mrs. Makonen would not turn them over or remove them from the frying pan till they were very, very brown and well baked.

5. Put Gesho water into a clean bucket. Add 1 1/2 liters water to the Gesho in the bucket.

6. Break the cooled semolina cakes up into pieces about 2 inches big, and add them to the Gesho water  Note: figure on about 1/2 hour to do this. The cakes are heavy and hard to rip up. Or take a  big knife and chop it all up.

7. Add about 3/4 of the Bikel. Stir with something strong, like a rolling pin, and allow all to dissolve and ferment for 2 1/2 days. The semolina cakes should be mostly disintegrated by that time. Cover the bucket well; the odor of the fermenting Gesho and semolina cakes will quickly become strong.

8. Cover the bucket and stir once daily for 2 days.

9. On the third day, you will have a something resembling spinach soup with coarse cornmeal floating around in it. This is as it should be; do not be put off. Strain out the big pieces of un-dissolved semolina cake  with a seive.

By this time, you will see fermentation and get a head full of alcoholic odor from the dark green, grainy brew. I tasted the brew at this point; it is reminiscent of beer. Not unpleasant, but somewhat thin.

10. Wash the wheat grains. According to my friend, the wheat makes the drink more alcoholic. Dry-fry the wheat, still moist, till dark brown. You need to stand over the grain in the frying pan, stirring constantly. As it dries and toasts, it turns quite dark and a smell something like popcorn rises from the pan.

11. Grind the toasted wheat coarsely – a coffee grinder works well. Add the ground wheat to the Gesho water, plus remaining Bikil.

12. Stir and cover the bucket tightly. Allow to ferment another 2-3 days.

13. Two or three days later, add 3 liters water to the contents of the bucket. The ladies directing me say to add the same amount of water as the contents of the bucket. I think that in Ethiopian kitchens this is done almost intuitively and that it won’t make a major difference if there is 1/2 liter or so difference. Leave 1 1/2 days.

14. At this point, what you have is “Tallah”, the beer upon which Tej is based. The honey is for added fermentation and for flavor. The drink isn’t called Tej till the honey is added and fermented. There will be plenty of sediment at the bottom of the bucket. It will look unappealing, like a thick pea soup.

15. Now strain the Tallah; use as fine a sieve as you have. This is a long and tedious process because of the great quantity of fine and coarse sediment. Allow the Tallah to settle for the rest of the day.

16. Siphon off the clear liquid and put into a clean bucket. You can drink the Tallah now if you wish, leaving some with which to make Tej.

17. Add honey to taste: I added 3 cups and it was on the sour side, although not unpleasantly so. Mrs. Makonen was concerned that I use good quality honey; her mother uses honey with the honeycomb still in it, as they did in Ethiopia. She says that some people prefer their Tej much sweeter.

18. Cover the bucket again, or put the Tej into a demijohn with an airlock. Either way, leave it 2-3 days.

The Tej is finally ready to drink.


Its taste is unique, somewhat like Western beer but more sour, with the Gesho and semolina cake tastes coming through. The color is a cloudy yellow, like pineapple juice. My vinometer says that it has 16% ABV; I can say that Tej packs a nice little punch

Note: if kept more than a day in the fridge, the Tej will turn green. Ethiopian grandmothers make Tej to be drunk young and not stored for the future.

Serve chilled, and after all that hard work, enjoy!



#4 menoetes


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Posted 04 June 2013 - 03:42 PM

Hey, thanks for responding Dave,


I suspect you're right about Tej being a regional thing differing from place to place. The gentleman who instructed us said that most households brew and drink their own, so small surprise when the recipes differ.


I can also see sense in what you're saying about the alcohol level going up as you let it ferment for longer periods. That would be why he instructs us to store it in the fridge immediately upon bottling, to keep it from getting too strong and probably blowing the bottles with the released gases. If I get around to making a batch I'll take your advice and use a hydrometer to keep an eye on it until I think it's strong enough for my liking then refrigerate it (crash chilling, is that what it's called?) to stop any further fermentation.


As for the hands-in-fermenter method, I was a bit leery of that too, a spoon sounds good enough for lil' ol' me, as does an airlock. It seems stupid not to make use of gear you have handy if it's going to help keep the brew going smoothly.  I'm not so traditional or recipe-rigid that I would let the poor brew suffer for it :)


I have seen the recipe you posted before... but semolina flour? I have trouble wrapping my head around that, and I know that my Tej didn't go green from sitting in the fridge for a few weeks before I finally cracked and drank it all but as you say different recipes for different folks.


I will start with a small batch and if that is successful, I might try getting a run of small batches going so the cultures in the priming bottles can mature and get up to scratch.


I'm getting ahead of myself though, gotta wait for my kit to free up before I can even consider doing anything new.