First, there was Zuka Juice, started by some enterprising BYU students. They introduced a revolutionary concept -- a chain that actually used real ingredients to make comestibles, fruit smoothies, in this case. They actually had real strawberries and real mangoes and real oranges that they juiced in a spiffy machine to make orange juice. They advertised "fresh-squeezed" on the front window; although this is usually a corporate lie (or at least unverifiable), you knew they weren't lying because they were juicing oranges right before your eyes! It was incredible. I believe the business started in Salt Lake City, Utah, and then moved throughout the Southwest.

Recently (late 1999?) Zuka Juice was bought by Jamba Juice, a similar chain built on the same concept. Although all the posters and leaflets said that the same quality would be kept up despite the merger, I have not found that to be true. I no longer frequent the place, and now I have to drink Mountain Dew instead of tasty, healthy fruit drinks.

Zuka/Jamba Juice has a health-food/pseudotribal theme. Their drinks had names like "Lime Sublime", "Mango Mango", and "The Cold Warrior", which contained 2000% of your daily requirement for Vitamin C. Most of the drinks are made with orange juice as the base -- they get juice from their juicing machine, put it in a blender with ice, frozen fruit, and sometimes sherbet, and blend it up. Zuka had a few drinks that weren't based on fruit (like coffee or nonfat milk), but they were predominantly a smoothie joint.

In keeping with the faddish health-kick business, Jamba Juice will add a "booster" to your drink free of charge (additional boosters cost some $0.99 or something). These include ginseng, creatine, wheatgrass juice, and so on.

To Sum Up: If it had actually kept Zuka's quality standards, this place would have continued to be the godsend to the city of Tucson that it was. In the blistering 110+ degree-F heat of our wretched summers, Zuka Juice was the place to go. Real fruit juices (unadulterated by high fructose corn syrup) are hard to find these days.

The other problem with Jamba Juice in Tucson is that they are in very inconvenient locations: one almost in Marana and the other near Sabino Canyon -- neither of these locations are very compatible with working or living in the actual city. Oh well.

Very few people realize this, but some of the best drinks at Jamba Juice are not on the menu. If you ask an employee to substitute or remove some of the ingredients from a drink, they will gladly do it. There are even specific buttons on most of the registers for this purpose. Don't be afraid that asking to do this will upset one of the employees; most of them will probably be glad you did, because it tends to make things interesting, and breaks up the monotony of making dozens of Caribbean Passions or Strawberries Wild. Most of them will probably also be interested in getting to try a new concoction. I can tell you this because I am a former Jamba employee

One of my favorite drinks was created by a friend and coworker. You won't find it on any menus, but try asking an employee to make one for you. My friends and I refer to it was a SweetTart, and it is created from the following ingredients:

That will make one 24 oz. SweetTart; you'll have to play around with the amounts to find the right proportions for different sizes. It's quite tasty, pretty sweet, but with a nice twist from the lemon juice. Be creative the next time you're in a Jamba, think about your favorite fruits and what would go good together.

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