LAS VEGAS, Nev. The International Specialty Tea Association (ISTA) hosted its inaugural awards program June 16 with a spectacular seven-course gourmet tea pairing at the Alize Restaurant on the 56th floor of the Palms Hotel & Casino. Founder Austin Hodge presented the first ISTA awards for promoting specialty tea standards. Recipients included Kevin Gascoyne, a partner at Camellia Sinensis in Montreal, Canada; Raj Boorah, director Thengalbari Tea Estate in Jorhat, Assam; Professor Rajen Baruah, with the Assam Agricultural University; Jennifer English, broadcast journalist and culinary expert and Dan Bolton, founding editor/publisher Tea Journey magazine. All received the ISTA award for promoting standards from Austin Hodge, founder of the ISTA and owner of Seven Cups Fine Chinese Tea in Tucson, Ariz. Barbara Fairchild, the former executive editor of Bon Appétit, emceed the event. Special guests included Robin Leach, star of the 1984 TV show Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous. Hodge introduced the program with a short explanation of the ISTA mission. The association seeks to establish consumer-friendly standards that will help identify the characteristics that make tea special. He pointed out that without recognized standards any tea producer can claim their product is special. Hodge noted that the establishment of standards by the specialty coffee industry unlocked enormous value for growers and introduced consumers to single-origin and estate coffee. The meal, prepared by Michelin-star Executive Chef Mark Purdy, was served in eight courses beginning with an oolong apéritif served before the meal to stimulate the appetite. The complete menu was previously reported in World Tea News. Wine was not served during the meal and except for a celebratory toast of champagne. The beverages of choice were teas that ranged from a Jun Guan Yin Anxi Wulong Tea (that accompanied the Amuse Bouche) to a Lao Shu Hong Cha Old Tree Yunnan black tea served with Angus beef carpaccio. A Ming Quian Anji Bai Cha green tea accompanied the Nduja crusted scallop served as a third course and a characteristically mineral Que She "Sparrow's Tongue" Wuyi Rock Wulong tea followed. A Junshan Yinzhen Yellow tea was presented with veal Wellington and Wang Zhe Zhi Xiang “Emperor’s Orchid” Flower Scented Tea accompanied the cheese course pictured at left. Yin Hao Long Zhu “Silver Dragon Jasmine Pearls” Flower Scented Tea accompanied the meyer lemon cheesecake dessert. In closing remarks Jennifer English, who commented on her passion for tea, praised the association for its mission "to insure that the tea they sell is what they say it is. The ISTA website describes the ideal in processing, tea making, cultivars, origin, and plucking and leaf uniformity. "Hodge thanked his wife and staff for the many hours spent hours choosing and preparing selections with Chef Purdy. "Events like this help guarantee that this level of tea continues to be made and that growers take the risk," he said.