Sometimes I wish I were a chemist.

Many years ago, a good friend of mine whose father is a doctor told me that the stimulant in tea isn’t really caffeine, it’s theine: a related compound that stimulates the brain more than the body, so tea is more conducive to creativity and Deep Thoughts than caffeinated beverages like coffee.

For some reason I believed this. For years.

It’s a quaint idea, if a hundred years antiquated, but it’s now generally accepted that no, the stimulant in tea is indeed caffeine.

Fast forward. You may have seen a beverage brewed from a plant called mate, sometimes sold as yerba mate or mate latte. “Caffeine-free!” the ads claim, usually glossing over the fact that it still contains a stimulant called mateine.

Hm. Tea has theine, mate has mateine. Any warning bells going off?

In The World of Caffeine, I read that mateine is caffeine. Exactly the same chemical, marketed under a different name.

Curious, I did a little research. Most chemical dictionaries list mateine (also spelled mattein) as a pseudonym for caffeine. I mentioned this to a local tea retailer, who checked with the Botanical Society of America or somesuch organization — and they insist that mate does not contain caffeine.

I don’t know what to think. I Am Not a Chemist. If I were, I would actually understand the resources I checked and could form an educated opinion. As it stands, I still don’t know.

Neither do I know why I care. It’s not like I drink the stuff, or avoid caffeine. And if I were avoiding caffeine, I wouldn’t go looking for other stimulants instead. Still, this has been bugging me.