Fall is my favorite time of year.  Senses become stimulated and saturated with deeper, richer colors and flavors, and new sounds and fresher-feeling air begins to envelop us.  Baking and braising feels new again: home and heart-warming breads, braised stews and meats, and colorful, spicy soups return to my repertoire.  This homecoming prompts a return to many favorite tea pairings.  Here are my Top 5 for Fall:

Yunnan Goldtips: So luxurious, premium-quality “gold” Yunnan has natural affinities with many rich foods, but during the Fall, my favorite picks are any deeply colored squash, sweet potatoes, maple syrup, and chocolate.  One of our cooks developed a slow-roasted butternut squash crepe with bacon, and it seems to cry out for the peppery, malty notes of the Yunnan.  To me, this velvety, full-bodied tea is often the perfect complement to pumpkin bread, roasted sweet potatoes, braised shortribs, or a chocolate pot de creme.

Irish Breakfast: There’s nothing like a hot bowl of old-fashioned oatmeal with some diced apples, cinnamon, and flaxseed on the first cool Fall day!  I love the way the maltiness of the Assam picks up the creaminess of the oatmeal and how the Ceylon in this tea offers just the right amount of brightness and astringency to cleanse the mouth of proteins between bites and after the last bite is taken.  This classic tea is also great with pumpkin or oat scones, banana bread, and even popcorn (yes, popcorn) on cold, wet nights.

Oriental Beauty (Bai Hao oolong): One of the first oolongs I reach for when the mercury dips.  Honey, spice, light florals, and hints of earth are characteristics of the Oriental Beauty we have.  We love this tea with baklava, roasted mushrooms and mushroom soups, braised tofu, and red lentil curries.  It was also fab with some soft pumpkin cookies I made recently.

Rooibos: No, it’s not really a tea, but it has a deep, hearty body, with a lightly sweet finish. It seems to be made for bright sunny days filled with buckwheat caramel-apple crepes.  We often like to poach apples in rooibos and apple cider, and then sweeten the reduction with a bit of maple syrup.  For a soothing, hot beverage, simmer some apple cider and rooibos for about 15 minutes, strain, and enjoy.  Swirl in some good caramel sauce – if you’ve got it – for another layer of flavor and sweetness.

Houjicha: Admittedly, houjicha is pretty much my favorite tea year round, but when the air gets nippy and I feel like soaking in the changing leaf colors midday, I often reach for the toasty, mild nuttiness of houjicha.  It’s light and cleansing, but somehow feels more substantial than a sencha or gyokuro if I’m looking for a green tea.  I love this with a light snack of senbe (rice crackers), onigiri (riceballs), buckwheat crepes, smoked salmon, or even banana bread.