Jasmine Yamanaka/HIGHLANDER

Overall Satisfaction Scale:

Drinks 9/10
Ambience 8/10
Price $2-4 per drink


When Ding Tea opened on University Avenue in July, ecstatic boba fans across Riverside suddenly left their Boba Tea House and Boba Fiend drinks behind and headed straight for the highly esteemed new competitor. Ding Tea in Riverside is located in a desolate, largely unoccupied building, but the unsightly exterior didn’t seem to interfere with the shop’s crowded grand opening, which reached out the door. Those who had already been enchanted by the taste of Ding Tea, a renowned global chain, knew that the thirty-plus-minute wait would be fully worth it.

If you have tried boba in Riverside and have not been impressed, drop everything and go to Ding Tea right now because it hits every mark that a boba store should and exceeds past every one of its Riverside competitors (sorry Boba Tea House and Tim Boba — you served us well!). Every one of its offerings is crafted to perfection and yet somehow, none of their menu items exceed $3.45 (not including tax) with the average price of boba being between $2.50 and $5. It’s safe to say that if you’re drinking boba anywhere besides Ding Tea, you’re simply doing it wrong.

The classic black milk tea can be hard to get right since the black tea can be bitter and there are no others flavors to mask the bad quality of milk and tea. However, Ding Tea’s signature milk tea (as it is named on their menu) left a great first impression. The soothing tea and fresh milk were adeptly balanced to be both creamy and refreshing. I also noticed that the milk tea had no powder residue, a sign of inadequate blending and something that even the drinks of its closest competitor, Boba Tea House, include. I would soon discover that none of their drinks leave behind powder residue: Ding Tea is the real deal with their fresh ingredients. On top of that, their golden boba, which is a dazzling amber color instead of the usual brown shade of tapioca, was bouncy, chewy and had the slightest hint of a cake or chocolate candy texture that made every chew fun. Ding Tea proved that the most plain flavor can taste amazing without any external toppings and add-ons if it is a quality product.

Their taro milk tea had that delectable almost-coconutty pudding taste that evokes feelings of comfort. However, I made the mistake of ordering it with the coconut jelly, which I should give a PSA about for all boba drinkers: Do not order coconut jelly with anything besides a fruity drink! Coconut jelly has a tangy rather than indulgent sweetness and therefore only pairs well with items that are lighter and fruit-based. However, the taro milk tea was so good that I continued drinking it despite the odd combination and endured every wince-inducing sip of coconut jelly just for that dreamy, pillowy taro.

Yes, Ding Tea got me so excited that I continued experimenting with their toppings, which I usually set my guns to regular tapioca with, but unfortunately made yet another unflattering blend of matcha latte with red bean. Don’t get me wrong: matcha and red bean could pair splendidly since they are both neutral, earthy flavors. However, in this case, the red bean had too much of an almost grass or dirt-like taste, indicating it could have been spoiled, and which didn’t pair well with the delicate matcha. The milk tea itself lacked that velvety creaminess that the best matcha lattes have but perhaps my appraisal of it was distorted by the mismatch of toppings.

Similarly, with the classic milk tea, Ding Tea invigorated my taste buds for an item that I usually don’t order, in this case fruit drinks. The strawberry yakult with crystal boba was so refreshing that it gave me that feeling of just having run a mile on a hot day and drinking an ice cold glass of water even if I wasn’t that thirsty — it was just that gratifying. The strawberry flavor was bursting with natural sweetness and fruitiness, and mixed with the yakult, which was a major throwback to the little yakult yogurt drinks I drank as I kid, it tasted like a yummy strawberry candy. The drink was so crisp and pleasant that it somehow reminded me of Sprite even though it didn’t have any carbonation. The little bits of strawberry added a soft, lovely texture, and this time, I made the right choice of pairing it with crystal boba, which had the chewiness of lychee and kept me sipping on the drink over and over again to my surprise since I usually don’t like fruit drinks.

To seal the lid on my eye-opening experience at Ding Tea, I ordered the Monster Bobo Latte, which is essentially their brown sugar boba. I’ve seen pictures of these mouthwatering brown sugar boba drinks, characterized by brown syrup dripping around the cup, all over Instagram and felt delighted to get my first taste of it at Ding Tea. What I received was a multi-faceted drink with creamy milk tea at the top and rich, maple-syrup-like brown sugar at the bottom; together, they were like a couple that balanced each other out — both light and indulgent, smooth and full-bodied, refreshing and robust. I highly recommend pointing the straw up so that you get more of the milk tea portion, for the bottom contains most of the heavy syrup, but at the top where the flavors have merged, you get both elements in perfect equilibrium.

Most of the customers at Ding Tea stayed for at least forty minutes. Many people seemed to go there for one-on-ones, which indicated to me that Ding Tea is viewed as a place worthy of spending quality time with loved ones or catching up with friends. Several people also went there to study, which is not common at a boba store. Aside from the clean, modern ambience full of plant terrariums, mirrors and floral decorations, perhaps the close proximation to great boba brought comfort to the busy college student in need of a rest.

Ding Tea makes the milk tea experience easy because they just get everything right, from the flavor to the price to the atmosphere. If you are not a fan of boba, I would suggest going to Ding Tea right now because every boba you tasted previously was made incorrectly. Their ingredients are optimally sourced and blended to be of the freshest, most authentic of flavors and the toppings are springing with fun, chewy textures. When combined — tea, milk and toppings — you’ll be left wondering if this is boba or if this is the ingredient itself: Ding Tea masters boba in its purest form — this is what real boba tastes like.