Delightful Boba at Ding Tea

April 23, 2022

I first came across boba tea, also known as bubble tea or pearl milk tea, when I was 8 years old. My parents spent their early lives as enthusiastic and enterprising immigrants at America’s periphery. They would take me to the international food supermarket to stockpile Vietnamese groceries, and going there was definitely not a leisurely grocery shopping trip. It was a carefully formulated plan of attack where my frugal mother practiced bargain-hunting as a blood sport, and my dad assisted her as he trudged through the aisles carrying hefty bags of rice and glass bottles of fish sauce.

Invariably, we would always find ourselves inside the Asian bakery that was across the street afterwards. At first, we purchased inexpensive Vietnamese desserts like sponge cakes and mung bean pastries that melted in my mouth. Later the bakery began to sell a newfangled drink called “boba tea.” I would see other kids drink the boba tea with the brightly colored jumbo straws and what appeared to be shiny black pearls at the bottom of the cup. Out of curiosity, I asked my mother if I could try it, and even though a cup cost more than would have liked, she agreed. This tiny victory tasted as sweet as the drink itself, and this ubiquitous symbol of Asian identity soon became a minor obsession.

Ding Tea – A Taiwanese Tea House on Speedway

As I have grown up, I have watched boba tea rise in popularity. More boba tea shops are blooming all over the United States and are no longer limited to the ethnic enclaves they once resided in. Today, new flavors and a variety of toppings have been added to menus. They are popping up in malls, outdoor shopping centers, and even near college campuses and high schools. This makes them perfect spots where students can study or hang out.

Ding Tea at 2739 E Speedway Blvd is one such example in Tucson, Arizona. As a boba connoisseur, I began my hunt for an ideal boba tea shop after moving here to in 2021. I went to many different boba tea shops, and Ding Tea is my favorite thus far. Because I have visited multiple times, this is a take on my most recent visit there to study! 

Every time I walk into Ding Tea, I am always impressed by the airy aesthetics of the interior. The environment reminds me of an extravagant coffee shop. The open and brightly lit space is a perfect place for friends and families to hang out, play games, catch up, or to study. As I walk excitedly into the shop, there is music playing in the background coming from a large TV screen across the entrance, the sound of orders being made, drinks being shaken, and the voices of people chatting. On the left side of the entrance, there is a wall of white flowers and a pink couch, and the unoccupied tables have fresh flowers in vases. On the right are shelves with games and puzzles with a large screen above that showcases different drinks on the menu. There’s also a large screen displaying their most popular drinks, frequently asked questions and answers, and each of the employee’s recommendations. On the right side near the register is a wall with the words “Ding Tea Tucson” in black and gold letters and another pink couch. 

The customer lines are usually not long and there were a number of customers in the shop when I visited last. As I gazed at the menu displayed on a large screen, I had a difficult time deciding what I should order; there were a variety of options from fresh teas, fruit teas, fruit juices, fruit milk teas, slushes, yakult/ yogurt, classic milk teas, to lattes. There was also a guide that showed “How to Order ” next to the menu screen where I could adjust the sugar and ice level and add a variety of toppings. Andrew, who was working that day, made the ordering process quite easy. He made recommendations based on if I wanted a milk tea or a fruit tea and if I wanted something sweet or tart. Since I wanted something fruity but not too sweet, he recommended the Blueberry-Lemon iced tea; I ordered this in a regular size with grass jelly and normal ice and slight sugar. 

I walked towards a table near the entrance and set down my backpack, eager to study as I enjoyed my order. Taste was where my anticipation lay. My order was ready in about five minutes—pretty impressive for an impatient person like myself. I punctured the top of the cup with the wide boba straw and took a sip. I was NOT disappointed. The drink itself was refreshing and tasted like sweet blueberries with a slight tartness from the lemon; the tea was not too strong, and the grass jelly added a mild herbal taste with a hint of mint and chewy texture. The ice level was good as well; there was just enough where the drink was kept cold throughout the hour that I drank it. 

Personally, I love studying in busy places with moderate levels of ambient noise, so there was no better way to study than to study with a delicious boba tea! The music, people coming in and out, the sound of drinks being made, and soft chit chat of the shop helped motivate me and kept me focused on the tasks at hand. Overall, my experiences here, whether it has been to study, hangout with family and friends, or to just swing by to pick up a drink, has always been wonderful. 

So, what is boba tea anyway?

If you have not had the chance to visit Ding Tea or experience the magic that is boba tea, and you find yourself perplexed at the overwhelming menu, I am here to guide you on behalf of Andrew. First off, bubble tea, boba, or milk tea, “is a tea based drink that was invented in Taiwan that is shaken with different flavors and/or milk or creamer.” Boba itself refers to the chewy pearls that are sipped through an oversized straw; they are made from tapioca that is derived from cassava roots. At Ding Tea, the boba pearls are cooked and soaked in brown sugar and honey and can be an addition to any tea or milk tea. Moreover, the bubble tea drink is prepared in a traditional Taiwanese fashion. The teas that are served (jasmine green tea, Assam black, and oolong tea) are brewed and kept hot to maintain freshness to capture the flavor of the teas. Then, they are mixed with fruit jams, non-dairy creamers, or even Yakult (a Japanese dairy probiotic drink) and are shaken 15 times with ice. 

Half the fun of going out to boba tea is being able to customize your drink perfectly to your tastes. There are so many different flavors, textures, and combinations that can be made. “From sweet and creamy to light and creamy, fruity and refreshing, and fruity and creamy, there is something for everyone and every mood.” As you look at their menu, the main categories are fresh teas, fruit teas, fruit juices, slushes, fruit milk teas, yakult/ yogurt, classic milk teas, and lattes. Their fruit teas are made with jasmine green tea, assam black tea, and oolong tea and are shaken with jams and syrups. Their milk teas are often made with Assam black tea unless otherwise stated (jasmine, and oolong milk teas), a tapioca-based non-dairy creamer, and an assortment of flavors such as (Hokkaido caramel, brown sugar, honey, or fruit jams). Their slushes are drinks blended with ice, which is perfect for when you’re in the mood for something cold and refreshing! The majority of their slushes are fruity, but they offer creamy slushes such as the taro, matcha, and Hokkaido coffee slush. Yakult is a Japanese probiotic drink that is both sweet and tart, and the drinks are prepared by shaking it with the fruit jams and syrups. The Yakult drinks do not have added sugar and are sweetened by the Yakult itself. The yogurt drinks are the Yakult drinks with the addition of non-dairy creamer; these drinks are creamier and less sweet compared to the Yakult counterparts. 

Regarding the toppings, at Ding Tea, you can add golden boba, black boba, crystal boba, popping boba, egg pudding, grass jelly, star fruit jelly, coffee jelly, rainbow jelly, passionfruit jelly, aloe jelly, red bean. There are also foam options which are sea cream, cheese foam, and tiramisu foam. My personal favorites are the black boba and grass jelly. The golden and black boba are both tapioca pearls that undergo the exact same cooking process and are soaked in a brown sugar honey. The differences are subtle; the golden boba is slightly softer whereas the black boba is chewier. Ding Tea suggests that “golden [boba] pairs well in both fruit teas and milk teas, while black boba pairs well in milk teas.” Crystal boba is an agar pearl with a bouncy texture, and is similar to the tapioca pearls in chewiness, but are slightly more jelly-like. Popping boba are pearls filled with an assortment of fruit flavored juices and pop in your mouth when they are bitten. It’s like a fruity explosion in your mouth! I think that popping boba pairs well with fruity and refreshing drinks! 

You can also adjust your sugar and ice levels. The optimal sugar and ice level depends on the drink and topping combinations, as no two drinks are the same. For their signature milk tea, “most guests prefer 75% sweetness and normal ice, and for most fruit milk teas, guests tend to prefer half sugar!” All in all, there are an infinite amount of combinations that can cater to everyone. There really is something for everyone, and each drink can be a different and an exciting new experience!


The most popular order is the Monster Boba Latte, which is a “brown sugar milk drink” where they “coat the walls of each cup with Taiwanese brown sugar molasses, followed by a serving of boba soaked in molasses sauce, ice, fresh whole milk, and finished with a dollop of cream cheese foam.” I usually prefer fruit teas, but doesn’t that just sound AMAZING?! The employees also highly recommend the yogurt drinks, especially the grapefruit and blueberry yogurts. Other customer favorites include the Signature Milk Tea, Kumquat Lemon Ice tea, and Strawberry Milk tea. I can definitely say that the Kumquat Lemon Ice tea and Strawberry Milk tea are phenomenal! 

Katie’s “take” on this Tucson treasure

Ding Tea strive to provide a place where people can socialize, relax, play games, or just study for classes!  Andrew and the rest of the staff consistently maintain the quality of their drinks and has provided great milk tea. According to Andrew, Ding Tea is grateful for their opportunity to serve the diverse Tucson community and especially its student populations. They take the expectations of the boba-loving community into consideration and continue to do what they can to live up to and earn the community’s support. They would also like to put out that a second location is under construction and that you can look forward to its grand opening soon! I am definitely excited and will be taking another visit!

Boba tea is not just a drink; it can be a night out, a new experience, a safe place and, for me, a part of my identity. 


Katie T. is an undergraduate student majoring in Biochemistry at the University of Arizona.