Lucky Dragon’s tea sommeliers educate guests about flavors, service

On a stone slab at the bar, Lola Zhao heats six petite terra cotta cups by pouring hot water into them. She then rinses the delicate green tea leaves before steeping them in a teapot shaped like a pumpkin. After brewing for a mere 15 seconds in 180-degree water, Zhao pours the pale green tea into the six cups, each just large enough to hold a couple of sips.

Zhao can repeat the process with the same leaves, from a tea variety called Qinba Wuhao, as many as six times, with each infusion drawing out new flavors, colors and mouthfeel.

The presentation — known as a Gongfu tea service — will be a familiar sight for visitors at the new Lucky Dragon casino’s lobby and Cha Garden, a 24/7 tea room. The process is more functional than ceremonial. Presented with few flourishes, the steps ensure guests will enjoy the tea’s optimal flavor.

Gongfu service will be continuous at Lucky Dragon, offering tiny cups of tea to incoming guests. Visitors can also take a seat at Cha Garden, choose a tea from the list of 50 and order it either in a pot or Gongfu style. The entire Gongfu service takes as long as 45 minutes.

The Lucky Dragon’s tea program, developed by beverage director Joe Muscaglione and Zhao, the tea sommelier-in-training, is part of the new property’s immersive experience, one that begins with a greeting from the doormen in Mandarin. The master tea list includes green, white, black, yellow, oolong and pu-erh varieties, all from mainland China or Taiwan.


Some, such as the Qinba Wuhao green tea that Zhao prepared, aren’t served anywhere else in the U.S., hotel officials say. At Lucky Dragon’s Cha Garden, prices range from $10 to $58 for a pot, depending on the type of tea. A pot serves about two people. Guests at Phoenix, Lucky Dragon’s fine dining restaurant, can also choose from the master tea list. Elsewhere, a list of eight teas is available, and three complimentary teas will circulate the casino floor.

“Las Vegas will also lead the nation in this tea movement,” Muscaglione says of Lucky Dragon’s program.

Zhao and Muscaglione — both of whom could be considered tea sommeliers — source the teas and provide guests with education when they visit Cha Garden. The title “tea sommelier” doesn’t require any formal training or certification; it can essentially be applied to anyone with a high level of expertise, though a “tea sommelier” does differ from the traditional tea master, which in China refers to someone who processes the tea.

Zhao, a student in UNLV’s hospitality program and Muscaglione’s apprentice, hails from the northeast Chinese city of Shenyang. She grew up drinking tea, visiting her uncle’s tea shop and watching her father drink tea every morning, though he drank it “Grandpa-style,” a less precise brewing method in which the tea leaves are put in a glass of hot water, and once they sink to the bottom, it’s ready to drink.

“Since I was little I was hanging around the tea shop and getting to know the teas,” Zhao says.

Though Muscaglione began his career working with wine (his resume includes positions at Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali’s Babbo in New York City and at Tao Asian Bistro), he’s been working with tea full time for the past several years. Most recently, he developed the tea menu at Chinese restaurant Niu-Gu on Jones Boulevard.

Though organic certification is more complicated in China, Muscaglione does try to source from small, family-owned farms that don’t use pesticides or herbicides. The relationships with these individual growers have been developed over many years and are maintained via WeChat, a Chinese social media platform. From the high, foggy tea fields, Muscaglione will get a message describing the latest crop. If he’s interested, those tea leaves can then be shipped to him within days.

“Some of them only make 12 kilos a year, and we get half of them,” Muscaglione says. The grower’s family name, growing elevation and the harvest date are listed beside each tea on the menu.

As Lucky Dragon’s tea sommeliers, Muscaglione and Zhao educate patrons about the wide variety of teas and their sources, and suggest teas that may fit their taste or introduce something new. The idea that certain varieties pair well with certain foods is an American one; in China, people primarily drink tea from their region. Nonetheless, Muscaglione says, teas can enhance certain foods.

“There’s actually some pairings that are wonderful together, which is why I’m an advocate for promoting it in this country even though it’s nonexistent in China,” Muscaglione says. “For example, something that’s maybe a fattier dish, you want something that’s maybe a little bitter to cut into some of that fat.”

Above all at Lucky Dragon’s Cha Garden, there’s something for both novice tea drinkers and connoisseurs. Anyone from either China or the U.S. can find something new and unfamiliar to try.

“Two people could come here — it’s a perfect first date — they can come here for as low as $12, sit for 45 minutes, maybe an hour, learn about tea, drink something that’s actually healthy for you, delicious,” Muscaglione says. “And it’s $12.”

Contact her at and follow @sarahcorsa on Twitter.

Tim Burton's imaginative artwork coming to Las Vegas
Tim Burton's imaginative artwork coming to Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Holiday poultry with Tim and Chemaine Jensen of Village Meat & Wine
Tim and Chemaine Jensen of Village Meat & Wine explain the different types of poultry available for the holidays. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Spring Preserve kicks off its Holiday Express
Springs Preserve hosts its Holiday Express, which includes a train ride, visits with Santa, SNOW, and a village winter wonderland.
Artists from Cirque du Soleil contribute art to Las Vegas art exhibit
Artists from Cirque du Soleil contribute art to Las Vegas gallery exhibit
Red Plate on the Las Vegas Strip serves a cocktail made with blooming jasmine tea
Red Plate on the Las Vegas Strip serves a cocktail made with jasmine tea
Benny the Ice Skating Dog
Benny is a Las Vegas Labrador who was rescued by former pro skater Cheryl Del Sanyo, and trained to ice skate. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Nevada State Museum
The Nevada State Museum of Las Vegas, located at the Springs Preserve, covers all eras of the state, from prehistoric to today.
Throw a better dinner party
Cash appears at Baseball Winter Meetings
Lights FC mascot Cash plays the electronic drums at the EZ Inflatables’ booth on Tuesday at the Baseball Winter Meetings trade show at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
5 albums to soundtrack your holiday gatherings in style
1. Various Artists, “Holidays Rule," with Rufus Wainwright, The Shins, Calexico and more. 2. Various Artists, “We Wish You a Metal Xmas and a Headbanging New Year," with Lemmy Kilmister, Alice Cooper, Chuck Billy and others. 3. Various Artists, “Christmas on Death Row," featuring Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg to name but a few. 4. Bright Eyes, “A Christmas Album.” 5. Various Artists, "The Motown Christmas Album." (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Inside the kitchen at Springs Preserve
The staff of Divine Events do party preparation in the kitchen at Divine Cafe at Springs Preserve. With nine parties the following day, this is a particularly busy time for the crew. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
WinterFest in Henderson.
Miss Rodeo America Fashion Show
The 28 women contestants of Miss Rodeo America compete in a fashion show at the Tropicana on Dec. 7, 2018.
Tournament Of Kings Holiday Show
Wizards and warriors are ready for the holidays at Excalibur's Tournament of Kings Holiday Dinner Show.
Take a dive with the Silverton mermaids
A visit to the Silverton Casino Hotel is not complete without taking in the popular, and very unique, mermaid show.
Cowboys and western aficionados can buy virtually anything at Cowboy Christmas
Vegas Golden Knights Christmas Display
In the Las Vegas Valley, the chances of getting a white Christmas are slim. But this year, you can have a “Knight” Christmas. A Henderson resident has a Christmas lights display that is synchronized to the entrance music for the Golden Knights. GG Misa’s Knights light show is played every 30 minutes from 5 to 10 nightly. His light show consists of two songs: Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and the entrance music, “Le Castle Vania,” from the movie “John Wick.” The display is located at 730 Bollons Island St. (Richard Brian/Las Vegas Reivew-Journal)
Holiday Hooch At El Cortez is Just in Time For Repeal Day And Christmas
Holiday Hooch At El Cortez Is Just In Time For Repeal Day And Christmas. Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal
TV's LGBT superheroes
Green Valley Ranch's Winter's Village
The Mob Museum
Best Friend Menu Reveal Wednesday
Chef Roy Choi tells us what to expect from Wednesday’s Facebook Live Menu Reveal for his new Park MGM restaurant Best Friend. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Quick Chat With Criss Angel
James D. Gish and Susan Anton rehearse
Susan Anton will be special guest at James D. Gish’s holiday concerts Dec. 7 at Summerlin Library and Dec. 9 at Clark County Library. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bellagio Winter Wonderland
"Majestic Holiday Magic" at the Bellagio Conservatory.
Underwater Santa At The Silverton
Santa takes a dive Sunday, December 2, at the Silverton Casino Hotel. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Cowabunga Bay Christmas Town
Las Vegas Natural History Museum
Las Vegas Natural History Museum, which opened in 1991, has exhibits of mechanical dinosaurs and taxidermied animals, along with live snakes, fish and sharks. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Magical Forest Lights
Cirque Du Soleil Performers Team Up For New Show "Kinekt"
Through dance, acrobatics and aerial arts, “Kinekt” tells a story all too familiar to modern families: how to maintain a human connection in the digital age. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Local Spotlight
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like