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Why Ethiopians Love Beer


Ethiopia is a country that venerates tradition. Some customs date back to biblical times - one lasting love there, beer. Here's a postcard from NPR's Eyder Peralta.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Medhin Tewelde (ph) sits in a little corner of Mercato, a sprawling open-air market in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa. She is directing the shopkeeper to keep sifting to give her the best sorghum.

MEDHIN TEWELDE: (Foreign language spoken).

PERALTA: She makes tella, a traditional Ethiopian beer mixed with bread and made out of wheat, sorghum or a local grain called teff. Medhin Tewelde makes it just once a year to celebrate the Virgin Mary.

TEWELDE: (Through interpreter) She blessed me because I was sick. And when I shower with the blessed water of St. Mary, I get well.

PERALTA: Beer is everywhere here in Addis Ababa. At lunch, workers rush to bars for a pint and a chat. There are more than a dozen big brews, mostly lager but an occasional ale. But tella is different because it is not brewed commercially. So it's made by families or by individuals for special occasions.

TEWELDE: (Through interpreter) I invite friends, families and neighbors. I prepare food and this drink.

PERALTA: I walk across the market to the Maladu Birra House (ph). Melkie Tilahun (ph) is up front, serving tella in tin cans.

MELKIE TILAHUN: (Foreign language spoken).

PERALTA: Tella, she says, is healthy. It allows the body to make more blood. She, of course, offers me a taste.

It's more bitter than I expected - the taste.

The bitterness comes not from hops but from gesho, a shrub that grows in the highlands. But as you hit the bitter note, they are tempered by chunks of barley bread. Melkie tells me that she has been brewing tella since she was a child. Her mother ran this beer house before her, and her grandmother opened it. Tella, she says, is what gives Ethiopians a push to keep working on a hot day. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Addis Ababa.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.