Challenges in translating Brazilian Coffee Text
I recently finished translating a post-harvest coffee textbook – Pós-Colheita do Café by Flávio Meira Borém – from Portuguese to English. The new English version, Handbook of Coffee Post-Harvest Technology: A Comprehensive Guide to the Processing, Drying, and Storage of Coffee, is available at www.postharvestcoffee.com. While working on the book I was often challenged to find the best English word for a Portuguese coffee term. Like many languages around the world in countries with long histories of coffee agriculture, Portuguese is rich with descriptive terminologies for countless physical states, processing steps, tools and machinery, plant biology and morphology, and many other coffee-specific phenomena. My challenge in so many instances was to find a “best fit” English word or term where the transliteration of the Portuguese simply did not work.
I thought I would bring online some of the conversations we had and choices that were made for these translations. Please feel free to chime in if you think a better alternative is out there that we missed.
To start, what do we call the coffee unit that is harvested from the tree pictured here?
• Berry – The botanical definition of a berry is “A fleshy fruit in which all three layers – endocarp, mesocarp, and exocarp – are soft (grape, tomato) (Mauseth, 2003). The endocarp, or parchment, of coffee is hard. Although the word berry in its more general usage can refer to berry-like things such as coffee fruit, to maintain the integrity of the text we decided against it.
• Cherry – This is perhaps the most common word used to describe the coffee fruit. The translation of cherry into Portuguese is cereja. This Portuguese word, when used to refer to coffee, not only refers to the fruit, but also to a ripe maturation state. (The likely etymology is that cherries are usually red, like ripe coffee fruit.) The word cereja has been expanded to refer to all ripe coffee of any color. For instance, if I tell a grower I want only his cereja, that means that I want only his ripe coffee, not his underripe or overripe coffee.
• Drupe – This is a botanically correct definition for the fruit. From Wikipedia: “In botany, a drupe (or stone fruit) is an indehiscent fruit in which an outer fleshy part (exocarp, or skin; and mesocarp, or flesh) surrounds a shell (the pit, stone, or pyrene) of hardened endocarp with a seed (kernel) inside.” However, the intent of the translation was not only to make available the text in English, but to make it accessible to a wider audience of coffee enthusiasts and roasters/baristas. To this end, we decided against drupe.
• Fruit – Good ol’ fruit. We decided to go with this general term as it maintained the scientific integrity (the word points to the right thing), and the use of such a common word makes the text less daunting.