Re: Your favorite "bargain" shisha brand?
Thanks to Dunkel and Honestpuck I have seen the light and smoke Nakhla almost exclusively now. It almost makes me sad I need to smoke the rest of my 50g AF flavors. Nakhla is inexpensive and, in my opinion, is consistently good. I've yet to try a flavor that made me go "meh, this is horrible and I may never smoke it again". I'm not saying Nakhla doesn't have any lackluster flavors, but I have read and watched enough reviews to know which flavors to stay away from.
The Sheherezade, Fakhfakhina and Mizo lines will run you $1-$2 more, but are still reasonably priced in both the 50g and 250g sizes. For 250g of regular Nakhla you're going to spend about $3 less than AF and almost $10 less than for Starbuzz.
The only downside is that if you value cloud density you're going to go through coals a lot quicker. I have found that 2 naturals are sufficient to get get flavor, but 3 are necessary to get dense, fluffy clouds. Nakhla is not known for it's huge clouds, but is known to be very heat tolerant and if you throw one or more coals than you normally would on the bowl you'll get big clouds. Me, personally, clouds aren't that important. Yeah, they're fun and they impress your non-smoking friends, but if I can get consistently great flavor and save some coals I'm fine with medium'ish smoke.
As far as the buzz is concerned, I have to be honest and say I don't get the infamous Nakhla buzz. I think it's probably because I smoke American Spirit cigarettes and have for years, so .5% nicotine isn't going to get to me the way it would someone who doesn't smoke aside from hookah. You just have to be careful. There's a difference between being pleasantly buzzed and sick from smoking incorrectly. For some people both yield similar results and, therefore, find the buzz unpleasant. Nakhla, being an unwashed tobacco, commands a certain element of respect. Don't smoke on an empty stomach. Take adequate pauses between draws. Stay hydrated during the session.