Ethiopian food is getting better known in the West. With its interesting blend of spices and unique ingredients such as teff, a nutritious grain, there’s a lot going for it. What isn’t so well known, however, is tej, the Ethiopian honey wine.
While tej is available by special request at some Ethiopian restaurants in Europe and North America, it’s rarely on the menu. I was lucky enough to try a variety of tej while traveling in Ethiopia, but I resigned myself to not getting much of it outside the country.
Now tej is being produced commercially in the United States and hopefully this unique drink will reach a wider audience. Axum Tej is produced by Araya S. Yibrehu, who was kind enough to send me two free bottles to sample. I know a lot of mead makers and decided to share it with them to see what producers of European-style honey wine had to say.
But first, my own impressions. I’m hardly a tej expert, but Axum Tej is remarkably different than any other tej I’ve tried in Ethiopia or Europe. While the tej I’m accustomed to has a bright yellow, opaque color, with a heavy, sweet flavor, Axum Tej has the appearance of a white wine. It has a crisp, sweet taste with a clean finish unlike any other tej I’ve drunk.
My mead maker friends agreed. They said that it was much lighter than any other mead they’d made or sampled. One commented, “It’s halfway between a mead and a dessert wine.” They did comment favorably on the well-balanced flavor and the high quality of production. We all liked it.
I think perhaps Axum Tej has been lightened up for Western palates, much like the Indian food you get in London or LA is different than the Indian food you get in New Delhi or Calcutta. Mead is not a widely popular drink principally because it’s so rich and heavy, and perhaps the folks at Axum Tej worried that a more traditional recipe would turn consumers off. Or perhaps I didn’t try enough tej while in Ethiopia. This lighter variety may be popular in some regions or venues I didn’t get to visit. I’ll have to hunt around some more when I go back next month! If anyone out there can recommend a good tejbet in Addis Ababa, the Rift Valley Lake region, or Harar, I’m all ears.
If you’re looking for something different in a sweet wine, give Axum Tej a try. It may not be what I was expecting, but it’s certainly a quality, sulfite-free drink that would go well with fish or dessert, or simply by itself.
Axum Tej does not currently have a webpage. You can order by emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 1-888 TEJ-AXUM (1-888 835-2986).