On a Roll

Homemade, hand-rolled ice cream brings a taste of Thailand to Cary.

Story by Alex Dixon
Photos courtesy of Milk Lab

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If there’s anything Bin Chen wants you to know about his business, Milk Lab, it’s that the ingredients he uses truly set the hand-rolled ice cream and tea shop apart from similar concepts with which you may be familiar.

While there are several places in the Triangle that serve boba tea, also known as bubble tea, Milk Lab combines its take on the beverage with Thai-inspired hand-rolled ice cream. “There are many other boba tea shops, but we use loose-leaf, high-quality tea and top-of-the-line ingredients for all of our products,” Chen says.  Milk Lab creates a topping for the tea known as a milk cap, which is a blend of heavy cream, cream cheese, and pink salt. “That is something you can’t find in this area,” he says.

And then: There’s the ice cream.

Inspired by Thailand street food, the homemade ice cream base is rolled on a frozen surface with fresh ingredients—everything from sweetened condensed milk to lime, and then topped with more ingredients. Combinations include decadent treats like Monkey Business, with a Nutella and banana base that is then topped with bananas, chocolate sticks, vanilla wafers, and whipped cream. Chen says two of the most popular flavors are Cookie Monster, with Oreo, matcha, and a coffee or vanilla topping, and Unicorn Poop, with Fruity Pebbles, honey, and caramel.

On the tea side, some of the most popular varieties are jasmine green tea and oolong green tea, and Milk Lab has also recently started carrying matcha and Thai teas. The concept has an open preparation area for customers to see the entire process, which Chen says exhibits transparency across all aspects of the business.

Chen and co-owner Sandy Lam met in college while at N.C. State University. They’ve capitalized on the increasing popularity of Thai-style rolled ice cream across the U.S., which has penetrated larger markets like New York City and Los Angeles en masse. And, in the four months Milk Lab has been open, Chen says Cary has proven to be a great home for his business.

“The customer reaction is, by far, all positive; we already have a large following on social media and we have a large group of regular customers,” Chen says. “We’re lucky enough to have a really supportive customer base. Local residents say they are happy that something like this has appeared in the community; Cary is a very innovative city, and people are moving in left and right.”