Tej -ጠጅ (Ethiopian style honey mead) could possibly be the oldest alcoholic beverage in Ethiopian history dating back to the era of Queen Sheba of Ethiopia or longer. Tej is still widely consumed in Ethiopia.
The traditional way of brewing tej in Ethiopia varies from region to region, but the three main ingredients steering the ship of tej making are raw honey, water and gesho (ጌሾ) - a species of buck thorn, the botanic name for rhamnus prinoideone). Gesho (ጌሾ) is added to the must (water and honey) for preservation and fermentation, relaying only on natural or wild yeast.
You could ferment tej without the help of any commercial yeast and people all over the world have done it and still doing it. But when the commercial yeast producers have created different kinds of cutting edge yeast strains designed to do many things, you kind of say the heck with the uncertainty of wild yeast. They even have stuff to kill the bad yeasts in order for the good yeasts to thrive responsible for converting all the sugar to alcohol. Because of the antibacterial properties of honey, mead making needs fermentation boosters’ in addition to the actual commercial yeast.
Please note that proper washing and sanitizing all your fermenting and bottling equipment's is part of the tej - honey mead home brewing. A little mishap and you end up with a batch of moldy tej, which is no fun at all.
As shown below on the display a simple power bottle washer attachment to your faucet, bottle drying tree and bottle rinser will make bottle washing easy.
Below on display shown - after the primary fermentation of tej, which took about one month and a half, till most of the conversion of sugar to alcohol is completed.
The fermentation locks or airlocks as shown on the above disply are a device used in brewing that allows carbon dioxide released during fermentation to escape the fermenter, while not allowing air to enter the fermenter, thus avoiding oxidation.
As shown on the display, you may also improvise and use balloons with small holes on top of your bottle, which more or less will deliver the same purpose as the airlocks.
Just by applying some techniques, you can ferment your home made tej to your desired alcohol content ranging 5 - 12% ABV (alcohol by volume) even more. But if you plan to stabilize and leave to age your tej for longer period of time the ideal preservation ABV is 12.3%.
One of the easiest ways of eliminating the guessing game of your tej alcohol content is using this simple hydrometer shown below. It even lets you measure the BRIX (sugar content) of your must (fermenting tej).
It's easy and an adventure to brew tej in your kitchen. You can also be creative and upgrade your tej (honey mead) to a range of exotic flavored mead for sophisticated palates by just adding some ingredients like coffee, tea, spices herbs and flowers.
Shown below on displays are different herbal/flower and spice tej in the making.
The initial fermented tej -mead is racked into a secondary fermenters, where it will get clearer and clearer after a few racking anywhere from 2 to 4 or more months. Your fermentation room temperature also plays major role. Too warm temperature ferments your tej fast, but not enough time for depth. The ideal solution is to ferment in a cool or cold area where there are little or no temperature variations. After the second fermentation, the rule of thumb is that you can bottle your tej and drink after 6 months, if you're not tempted to open it.
To each their own and I know people love their mead weeks after they bottled it. But, in general, I have seen vast improvements after a couple of months of aging - the more ageing the merrier; hence the saying “If ever Patience was a Virtue it is with tej"
The aging process allows the flavor nuance to develop in order to further enhance aromas and give the tej - mead a nice touch. It's not a cliché to say your tej gets better with age, but a proven fact.