Boba battle royale: Ranking Durham's boba shops

It’s not often you get the privilege to review something you love. This is especially true in the hot and humid Durham summer, when an icy cold milk tea is a respite from the heat. 

Boba is chewy, bite-sized tapioca pearls served inside a beverage. For this Boba Battle Royale, I ordered the same brown sugar milk tea with boba from five Durham locations. The rules were simple: All drinks were ordered with default options and the smallest size. No packaged grocery store boba. No boba shops outside Durham city limits.

The rubric was comprehensive. How were the pearls themselves: the texture, the taste and the chew? The milk tea: watered down and flavorless, or a rich and sweet milky delight? The packaging: how did the shop balance presentation with environmental concerns? The ambiance of the boba shop: food court kiosk or cute aesthetic café? Price was an important factor as well, especially when weighed against quantity. With all of these parameters in mind, I have Durham's boba rankings.


5. Yaya Tea: Questionable

For the most expensive boba, I was disappointed by Yaya Tea. This was the only location I had to order delivery from, as it was a little far in downtown Durham. I could not factor in the location itself, but I made sure it had a fair shot. 

Yaya Tea had my least favorite tea out of all five locations. It was sickeningly sweet and tasted like sugar milk and boba. The pearls themselves were okay; they were chewy, tiny and had no syrup. The small serving of pearls was also disappointing. Their packaging was cute and used a simple plastic cup with a plastic covering. The cup was covered in cute iconography and looked very fun. At $7.15 after tax, Yaya Tea’s brown sugar milk tea was the most expensive and most lackluster.


4. Gyotaku: Convenient

Duke’s very own Gyotaku sells boba. The milk tea was a real standout: cool, with a nice subtle tea flavor that blended well with the milk. It felt rich but not overpoweringly sweet or dark. It was well-priced, too, at $5.15 for a brown sugar milk tea with a decent portion size. The boba pearls themselves were bland and hard. They were difficult to chew and were the worst aspect of the drink. Being at WU and accepting food points makes this spot very easy to access for Duke students. The packaging was unique but still felt bland and uninteresting. I think it's a solid milk tea, but a subpar boba.


3. Möge Tee: Mixed Bag

A freshman favorite, Möge Tee on Ninth Street is good, but not amazing. Möge has a solid milk tea. It felt very milky, but that was well contrasted by a strong tea flavor. The amount of ice diluted the milk tea towards the end, which hurt the experience. The pearls are also a mixed bag. The hot brown sugar syrup that coats the boba is fantastic and flavorful. The cold tea contrasts with warm pearls well. The pearls themselves are massive; they struggle to go through Möge’s straw. This often results in the pearls being too chewy and annoying to eat. 

Möge Tee’s clean, white café on Ninth Street is very well located and is cute and chic. It is moderately priced at $6.18 for a brown sugar milk tea, with a pretty good serving size. The packaging is very cute with a bear ear cup that can be re-sealed. Möge Tee is middle of the pack.


2. Quickly: Budget Banger

Quickly is every Duke organization's go-to boba. Quickly is cheap and affordable but also delivers great boba. Quickly balanced their tea fantastically. The tea was a symphony of dark tea and sugary white milk. I liked the tea, but the tea-boba combo shone. The boba featured thick and chewy pearls in a thinner sweet brown sugar syrup. I think the boba was a little tougher than it needed to be, but it was an enjoyable addition. Where Quickly shines is its value and ambiance. Their quaint and cute café is right by Harris Teeter and features board games and a white throne photo-op. At $4.35 for a brown sugar milk tea, Quickly is the cheapest boba place I tried, and it delivers. It is a must-visit.


1. Milklab: Victory Royale

There is something special about Milklab’s boba. Their milk tea was very milk-heavy with tea background notes. It was a little too sweet, but It felt very rich. Their milk tea was complemented by what I thought was the best boba of the five shops. Milklab’s rich black orbs featured a thick and decadent brown sugar syrup. The pearls had just the right amount of chew. Milklab’s boba is fantastic on all fronts. The drink-boba combo is my favorite in Durham. 

Milklab is a kiosk at Durham Food Hall, which features some amazing restaurants and has a great vibe. Durham Food Hall is a significant walk away from campus, but I still appreciated the location. At $6.02 for a brown sugar milk tea, Milklab is pricey, but their serving size is large. I like their sleek and modern packaging. Milklab is amazing, and I hope I can continue to visit!

Arnav Jindal | Culture Editor

Arnav Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and culture editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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