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Thoughts from a well-seasoned boba consumer


Boba has taken the world by storm: the delightful, chewy tapioca submerged in sweet, silky milk tea–or more recently, an endless variation of fruit teas, slushies, creams, and more. Originating in Taiwan in the early 1980s, boba, or bubble tea, has been fully absorbed into cultures around the world. I, myself, am an avid boba enthusiast, which, I believe, qualifies me to write this comprehensive, opinionated guide on the best boba and where to find it in Atlanta. 

  When describing the landscape of boba today, I can’t help but recall a concept I learned in my Culture of Entertainment Dance JanTerm: transculturation. Boba in American shops now is a transculturation of the original boba milk tea in Taiwan, for better or for worse. While I applaud the innovation and creativity invested into new drinks and adore some of the avant-garde creations, sometimes a line must be drawn. With that in mind, I will discuss my criteria of a good boba, and its location in Atlanta.

  While every boba store has its different take on boba, you can almost always expect each store to have the quintessential, classic milk tea with boba, often made with black or green tea. The remainder of the boba selection is what I like to classify as “American-catered” or authentic “East Asian-centric” boba stores. While there are some exceptions, the majority of Americanized boba shops use flavor powders to make their drinks: taro, strawberry, honeydew–all artificial flavors that produce boba suitable for those with less refined tastes (I’m kidding…). While I hold nothing against the supporters of these powdered flavors, I prefer the real fruits and ingredients that are found at more authentic stores. I must admit, I had a rude awakening when I realized that almost every store uses milk powder and not actual milk for their milk teas! Moving past just the milk and boba, many stores offer toppings such as popping boba (yuck), grass jelly (yum!), sago, egg pudding, fruit and coffee jelly, and much more. At more authentic stores, you’ll find fresh fruit in the teas (mango, oranges, strawberries, you name it), real taro, and fresher ingredients in general. Some boba stores, like Xing Fu Tang and Onezo, even go as far as to making their own boba rather than buying it en masse from a wholesaler. Other customization options at boba stores are the sugar and ice levels. My personal preference is 50% for both, as boba tends to run on the sweeter side, almost into a dessert. This is, of course, an exception for the Chinese-owned boba stores, because “not too sweet” is our marker of good. 

  Now, where to find good boba. Atlantans, I’m afraid to report that you will hardly find good boba in the Atlanta area. If I had to choose a favorite (among weak competition) it would have to be Unbelibubble. While still dependent on flavoring powders, they still have an incredible honeycomb toffee latte you can get with boba. Moge Tea is also a decent pick; however, a 20-minute trip to Doraville will offer you a much better selection. Some of my favorites there are Glazetea, Meet Fresh, and 4.0. I can guarantee you’ll find solid drink choices at all three (and each satisfies the *not too sweet* criteria). Of course, we have the standard bobas as well, that I must say are entirely average at best, like Sweet Hut (sorry, not sorry) and Ding Tea.

If you have a little more time on your hands and want to find an even wider array of options, venture out to Duluth, where a lot of Asian businesses have grown and flourished. One of my favorite spots in Duluth is ForGood Tea, which incorporates many trendy East Asian flavors like osmanthus, durian, and mango pomelo. Here the boba is almost more amazing to look at than eat! You’ll be able to see that the owners invest a lot of effort into the creation of each and every one of their drinks. I highly recommend the osmanthus strawberry drink, which blends floral tones of osmanthus flower syrup with the tartness of strawberry and a fluffy cream cap. 

  Another great choice in Duluth is Onezo, one of the two stores in the Atlanta area that make their own boba in-house. In the back of the shop is a display window that allows you to view the industrial-sized mixer that churns out the next batch of themed boba: Captain America, reindeer, Halloween. The other boba spot that makes their boba fresh is Xing Fu Tang (XFT), a wildly popular chain whose claim to fame is the brown sugar boba milk. Here’s my unpopular opinion: my experiences at this location have led me to conclude that it is entirely just okay, great for a quick fix but a far cry from the toasty creamy boba milk I had at its New York location. Somewhere in the process of pursuing excessive drinks, like the gold-leaf boba and Fluffy Unicorn Candy tea, they lost sight of maintaining the quality of their classics. If you want fancy done right, take a three-minute drive from XFT to Mootea: their purple yam mochi latte somehow makes three different textures–mochi, purple yam, and boba–fuse into a delicious, harmonious symphony.

What I’ve just mentioned is only the surface of the incredible tapestry of boba spots around Atlanta and beyond. Just like with your go-to coffee fix, your boba order might look completely different from mine, so take these words with a grain of salt and forge your own boba rapport.

Edited by Sunanya Guthikonda

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