A white (faranje) adoptive mother to two Ethiopian (habesha) girls wends her way through
Exotic Ethiopian Cooking by D. J. Mesfin

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Yebunna T'ej (Coffee-Flavored Honey Wine), part I

Now might be a good time to explain how it is I'm deciding upon the recipes that I work on each week.  In the introduction, I mentioned they'd be randomly selected, and, quite literally, that's the way it works.  Recipe #1 is on page 3 of the book; the last recipe is on page 238.  I go to random.org, fill in those numbers, and hit "Generate".  Not too romantic, but I like to be surprised.  

When I was directed by the fates to turn to page 51, I found myself in the alcoholic beverages section of the cookbook; specifically, the recipe is for yebunna t'ej -- coffee-flavored honey wine.  T'ej is very popular in Ethiopia and there are recipes for several different flavors in "Exotic Ethiopian Cooking".  For anyone interested in learning more, there is a very cool webpage on t'ej here, and from that page, there's a link to another page that lists the word for "honey wine" in most, if not all, of the languages spoken in Ethiopia.  My daughters are from the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region, or Sidama.  In the language spoken there, Sidaamu-Afoo, t'ej is also known as malawo.    

This recipe also started to make this project interesting!  Though some of my earliest memories involve the fermentation of dandelion and elderberry wines in my parents' basement, and my mother has distilled apple jack whiskey that could double as paint thinner, I myself have never even been interested in any form of home brewing.  My husband has brewed beer in the past, but was finding some of the ingredients quite unfamiliar, so it was clearly going to be upon me.  

I started with a web search that landed me here, a local home brewery store.  With shopping list in hand, I started my field trip.

I explained my purpose and the sales guy got very excited.  One of the ingredients I was looking for was something listed in the cookbook as "woody hops".  One of the things I like about this book is that they often include binomial nomenclature.  "Woody hops" can translate to many different things, but Rhamnus prinoides is pretty universal (in the book, it's misspelled "phinoides"; I can't say I was surprised).  

The sales guy had never heard of it by any name, but did a bit of a computer search and was excitedly calling out to me "they have whole FORUMS on this stuff".  What he wasn't able to find was a source.  Not surprisingly, people in LA and DC, where there are "Little Ethiopias", were mentioning finding them all over their neighborhood.  Sadly, we don't have the same population make-up here in Hartford.  

He was, however, able to help me with some equipment.  The other thing I like about this book is that in addition to the ingredients, they also offer an equipment list.  My list called for a 3-gallon wooden barrel, which I thought would look kind of cute.  Turns out they don't really make these much anymore, and while you can order one, it costs over $100.  So I ended up with this, instead:

It was about $20.  He also sold me the stopcock thing because "there's the traditional way and then there's the way that will yield better results".  Along those same lines, we talked about what I was going to be using for the fermentation.  The recipe I have pretty much is a natural fermentation process.  You mix together honey and water and let it sit in a warm place for three days.  Which can work great...if it's not the dead of winter in New England and if you're someplace like, say, Ethiopia.  It was suggested that if I really, truly wanted to try a natural fermentation, then I should wait until warmer weather.  He then passed me a small packet of champagne yeast, on the house:

In the end, my wine will be drier, and clearer, than it would if it was made traditionally, but at least this way, I will get wine.  I hope!

Once home, I needed to find the woody hops, also known in Amharic as gesho.  If I needed to, I was going to send my 79-year-old father-in-law in Arlington, VA out looking for the stuff, an errand he would have actually enjoyed, but I managed to find myself an on-line source at Brundo, which has very quickly become one of my favorite on-line sources for ingredients.  (Along those lines, I think I'm going to start a sidebar of on-line sources for Ethiopian ingredients/supplies, so if you have a favorite place, please let me know!)

Within a few days, there was a box on my doorstep with the coveted -- and necessary -- gesho, in both leaf and stick form (I'm still not entirely sure whether just one will suffice; the recipe doesn't really specify, but in other recipes I found on-line, it looks like that some use a mix, so I got both).  

Two packages of leaves and one package of the sticks and twigs.  

With all of what I needed to start, I did just that.  This is about a month-long process, and the first step was simply mixing the honey and the water together, then adding the yeast (going the non-traditional route).  

a picture of the yeast after it had sat for 15 minutes, as directed

a picture of the "brew" after adding the yeast

Now, I just let it sit for three days before proceeding to the next step.  Stay tuned! 


  1. Ooh, I am looking forward to finding out how this turns out! You are on quite an adventure here.

  2. Thanks, Liz! It is an adventure, and I'm really enjoying it. I don't know why I didn't think of this before.

  3. Lemme know if you need any help drinking the results. I love tej and I love bunna. Together? Should be interesting!

  4. I'll be happy to send you some, Katy! I'll have plenty and I'd love to get someone else's opinion on it.