Let me preface this post with the fact that it's a little bit of a rant, don't mean to step on anyone's toes and if you think I'm completely off my rocker here... it's not a problem.
Having said all this, I have decided to halt my bargain hunter's quest for Pu erh. I don't think I've ever tasted more crappy tea than in my misguided pursuit to find pu (both shu and sheng) that gives an unbelievable bang for the buck.
The conclusion I've ultimately come up with - you do really get what you pay for. Hoping that some 2000 mini bricks that cost a few bucks is going to be anything but swill was misguided. $5 for 2006 Menghai Yue Chen Yue Xiang 250g Tea Brick. How could you go wrong?! Well... you can go very very wrong. Heck even the 250g 2003 Xiaguan Tuocha for $16 was painful.
The thing is good Pu Erh often isn't sold at a cut rate, what is sold on the cheap is more often the low grade - sorry if there's a cigarette butt or some rocks in it, big leafs hiding the crap underneath. Also in terms of the young pu erhs it's a hodge podge of semi drinkable sludge that may or may not be unpalatable after carefully storing it and patiently waiting 7-10 years to drink it.
I think there's a huge push in the Tea Chat forum towards finding a diamond in the ruff, discovering that $11 cake that stands up against the one that's 10 times the expense. I don't want to come off like a tea snob, but I really feel that if you add up all the crap many of us have tossed our money away on (not to mention the bad tea we've ingested) we could have put that money towards less but much higher quality tea.
So for me, I'm done with the bargain hunting. I'm planning on saving my money up to buy two extremely high quality cakes a year and for shu some real high quality loose leaf that is more than a couple years old.