The variety of fermented drinks from Africa are many. There’s Bouza, Palm wines, Muratina and Uragua, Kaffir, Wanzuki and Gongo, Kofyar, Banana beer, Ikigage, and Tchoukouto, just to name a few. Each with their own cultural traditions. Each with their own variations.
Let’s get started.
Ethiopian Honey wine
Ethiopia is home to a fair number of drinks, such as Tej, Tella, Borde and Shamita. Tej is a fairly well known drink. And by well known, I mean you actually get results when you google ‘Tej wine’.
Tej is a mead brewed with gesho (Rhamnus prenoides). According to Vogel and Gobezie (1981) it is prepared with one part honey with 2 - 5 parts water, covered, then left to ferment for 2 - 3 days. A portion (Im not sure how much) is boiled with the gesho root, then put back into the fermentation pot. Then its left to ferment till completion (5 to 20 days), then filtered.
There is some folklore with Tej, once the reserved drink for Royalty, now considered the national drink of Ethiopia. Even in the Ethiopian episode of Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain heads to a local Tej Bet (a Tej bar) for a drink. The segment is short, and Bourdain only mentions that Tej is a fermented barley and honey drink. Not much, but at least it’s some tv coverage of the beverage.
It has been argued before [Hayden et al., 2013] that honey was one of the only simple sugar sources available to prehistoric man, and thus Tej could be used as an example for potential Neolithic beverages.
It stands to reason that Tej, or any other form of mead, was one of Man’s first alcoholic brews. If honey is exposed to some water, the simple sugars present will provide the energy for yeast to start fermentation. Whether or not archaeologists will be able to prove this is another story.
Turning to the section regarding honey and Africa, Dr. McGovern in Uncorking the Past mentions that the Roman geographer Strabo [63 BC - 24 AD] noted that Tej was brewed by the nomadic peoples of the area and consumed exclusively by the ruler and his advisers. When this drink transitioned from the drink of royalty, to the drink of the commoner I do not know. According to McGovern, Tej is made by mixing five to six parts water with one part honey, allowing it to sit for a few weeks to ferment, resulting in a mead around 8 - 13% alcohol.
McGovern doesn’t go into Tej any further, but instead diverges into a brief history of mead in the area. Something I should get back to. Given that McGovern is discussing the beginnings of Tej, it is entirely possible that Tej was a mead which evolved into something else in the future. Plus, given the cultural diversity of Africa, one village could make it entirely different from another. This section, although a fun read, is just another blip of information.
More to follow next week
Hayden, B., Canuel, N., & Shanse, J. (2013). What was brewing in the Natufian? An archaeological assessment of brewing technology in the Epipaleolithic. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 20(1), 102-150.
McGovern, P. E. (2009). Uncorking the past: the quest for wine, beer, and other alcoholic beverages. Univ of California Press.
Vogel, A., Gobezie, A., 1983. Ethiopian ‘‘tej’’. In: Steinkraus, K.H. (Ed.), Handbook ofIndigenous Fermented Foods. Marcel Dekker, Inc, New York.