Pictured are Taro and Winter Melon Boba teas with golden Boba. These are two of the more popular flavors out of many at Ding Tea.
Photo by Leo Baudhuin

Not everyone knows the difference between good and bad milk tea. To set the record straight, let us address what distinguishes the two. Today there is a myriad of flavors available whenever your taste buds crave these sweet, soft, and refreshing drinks. At the most respectable of locations, these drinks are priced at less than five or six dollars. Anything pricier, and it really isn’t worth it. First formulated in Taichung, Taiwan in the 1980s, they soon became a staple beverage consisting of tea, and milk or fruit, to which tapioca balls are added. Since their creation, Boba tea consumers have assessed these drinks not only on consistency and taste but also presentation. And with good presentation comes good Instagram photos, or so say the egoists.

In search of the most worthy milk tea fit for human consumption in SE Portland, we set our eyes and taste buds, upon three establishments who were purposefully unaware of our excruciatingly observant assessment. Among them, you will find Ding Tea located at SE Woodstock Blvd, Zero Degrees found on Harrison St., and Townshend’s on Division. While exploring, we found that the most important factors in deciding where you should get your Boba are pricing, the quality of milk tea (group flavor options, consistency, etc.), and lastly, the quality of the tapioca pearls.

Ding Tea prides themselves on providing “high-quality bob tea, milk tea and fruit juice made fresh to order,” according to their website. It was founded in 2004 by CEO Xu Wei-Xiang, who says, “[Ding Tea’s] goal was to promote a new philosophy for tea drinking, introduce a new trend for beverages and new energy… through price advantages, high quality, small profit, and quick return concepts, [and] to change the conventional perception that quality tea comes at a price so that more people will be able to become familiar with Taiwan’s tea beverage culture through the franchise.” Ding Tea has over 19 flavors of milk tea, ranging from Oolong to Brown Sugar. When it comes to variety, few have Ding Tea beat. Not only can you customize the sweetness of your drink, but also the level of ice at no extra cost to the consumer. So, if you prefer more milk to your ice, order it “slight.” The cost of a milk tea starts at $3.25, and with a tip, (don’t forget that 20%), sums to around five dollars. This is more than reasonable. Their tea is wonderfully smooth and thin without being too syrupy. The flavor is impactful and comes in loads of options. Their tapioca pearls are small, chewy, and slightly sticky, so if that is what you are into, please enjoy! Ding Tea is an impeccable option for those who love affordability and quality in one. However, beware that all extras, including a size upgrade or the colorful golden Boba, are 55 cents extra.

Though Zero Degrees is known more for their Mangonada, a very delicious treat, don’t discount the other options that they have up for grabs. It is a classic Los Angeles type of business, perfect for a summer hangout if you need a good Instagram shot. A bit on the pricier side, their smoothies arrive at $6.00 a pop, milk teas at $4.50-$5.25. If you have commitment issues, you might enjoy their split cup at $6.00, where you can pick two of their fruit juices or milk teas. Their teas are less sweet and more of a classic strong herbal flavor, but still enjoyable. Their milk tea flavor selection is sadly limited and offers few to none when it comes to customization options, so if its milk tea you are looking for, try somewhere else. If you are looking for something less classic and more camp, try Zero Degrees.

Townshend’s specializes in tea. They offer blends from every category, such as black, green, white, chai, and herbal. Their bubble tea (milk tea, or Boba if you prefer) is respectfully sustainable and artisanal, and comes in some basic flavors, with rose and lavender being particularly enjoyable. Their tapioca is also nice, a bit firm and very sweet. The milk to pearl ratio is quite uneven. Though satisfying, there are too many pearls, and I along with Sabrina Sam (12) and Sydney George (12) found it hard to finish the rest of the drink. However, what Townshend’s lacks in its milk tea it makes up for in the environment. The establishment is dimly lit which creates an intimate and relaxing ambiance.

Boba is enjoyable for all, and if you have to pick one place to get it, you can’t go wrong with Ding Tea on Woodstock. Their array of teas and flavors is wonderfully inclusive, and their tapioca pearls are perfectly sized so they never get stuck in your straw. Ding Tea really is the best Boba in SE.

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