Las Vegas’ only tea sommelier, Lola Zhao, grew up immersed in the world of tea. When she was a young girl, she spent much of her time at her uncle’s quiet tea shop in Shenyang, China. Her father, too, was a tea lover, passing his interest along to his daughter.
“I watched how he brewed the tea and drank it with him every day,” says Zhao, who has turned her passion into a profession, brewing, pouring, and serving tea at Cha Garden inside the Lucky Dragon Casino & Hotel.
“He was my first teacher. He told me tea is an art.”
With 50 kinds of tea, including white tea, green tea, yellow tea, oolong tea, black tea, and pu’erh tea, as well as light Chinese snacks, the tranquil tea shop (like the casino) is open every day. Pots of tea range in price from $10 to $60 and are often served Gongfu style, a traditionally Chinese presentation which enables Zhao to talk to her customers and share her knowledge of tea culture.
Sometimes, it’s a guest’s first experience with tea service. Other times, guests are tea lovers themselves with knowledge of teas from other countries, such as Japan or India. “Then I can learn from them,” says Zhao.
Old Liquors Magazine recently had a chance to chat with Zhao about her job and tea service at Cha Garden.
Who is your tea service designed for?
“Everyone, as long as you are interested in tea culture.”
Is this service exclusive to Las Vegas?
“We have the Top 10 teas from China. We also have a green tea named Qinba Wu Hao that is available in North America only at Lucky Dragon.”
What other types of tea do you serve?
“We serve five series of tea from China, including white tea, green tea, yellow tea, oolong tea, black tea, and pu’erh tea. Our teas are from the famous tea producing region located in the south of the Yangtze River. The soil is fertile, and the organic content is high in these areas.”
What constitutes a quality tea?
“The difference between the quality of tea depends on the color of leaves. Fresh, degree, form, flavor, and taste. High-end tea uses the top or strongest leaves of the plant, but lower-end tea just uses the broken leaves, the bottom of the leaves, and some branches. Organic tea was the first export of organic food with certification in China.”
How are the teas brewed?
“Different teas have different immersion methods. In general, unfermented teas use low temperature and the brew time is longer. Semi-fermented teas and fermented teas are inverse.”
“Customers are usually surprised when they see the tea leaves change after brewing”.
Which tea is your personal favorite?
“My favorite tea is any green tea with a strong taste.”
What are some of the ways people can distinguish between types of teas?
“From the leaves, color, shape, flavor, and the color of the tea soup.”
Are there any similarities between a tea sommelier and a wine sommelier?
“I think any kind of sommelier has a commonality. To providing services, at the same time you also want to share and study the professional knowledge from the guests.”
Do teas, like wine, pair better with certain foods?
“Yes, they do. At Cha Garden, Green teas and black teas are served with a sweet pastry, oolong tea is served with sweet nuts, and pu’erh teas are served with wings cooked in soy sauce.”
What is the best way to drink tea?
“You can drink green tea and oolong tea in spring and summer, drink black tea and pu’erh tea in fall and winter. Green tea and oolong tea are good choice in daytime. Drink black tea and pu’erh tea at night. For oolong, black, and pu’erh tea, wash the tea before you brew it. You should wash all tea before brewing it if you are sensitive to theophylline.
“We do not put anything in the fresh tea, especially good quality tea. We don’t want to affect the flavor.”
What do your customers think so far?
“The customers are usually surprised when they see the tea leaves change after brewing, and when they hear all the benefits of the different kinds of teas.”
Are there health benefits?
“High-quality teas are rich in vitamins, protein, amino acids, and minerals. They are able to adjust physiology function, reduce blood pressure, and aid in weight loss. The most important nutrient is TP (tea polyphenol) which has significant anti-cancer, anti-radiation, oxidation resistance, and anti-aging properties.”
Cha Garden opening hours:
11 A.M. – 9 P.M. WEEKDAY | 8 A.M. – 10:30 P.M. WEEKEND